It’s Valentine’s Day and you know what’s as good (sometimes better) as real romance? Fictional romance. And my favorite fictional romances are from video games. There’s an intense emotional investment when you’re controlling one of the members of a romance. You become them,so the romance become yours. Below are my favorites. They may not be the best, or the most realistic, but they’re the ones that I felt deep down and instigated a permanent change in me in some way, shape, or form.
1. Dragon Age: Origins
Typically, when people talk about the Dragon Age romances, they smoosh them all together and reference them as one. Not all Bioware romances are made the same, however…
Warden (player character) and Alistair
There are four possible romances in Dragon Age: Origins, and they’re all fantastic in their own way. Alistair’s though, has this little extra something to it that the others lack. Part of it is the way you can totally tank your whole relationship with him by getting one little line out of order, after which he becomes a big whiny crybaby (and how realistic is that, amirite?). Another is the way the repercussions of your relationship play out through the other two games. Yes, you can see hints of the other romances, as well, but none so detailed as Alistair’s. As for the romance itself, Alistair’s the epitome of inexperience, a virgin who grew up in a semi-religious order that favored conformity and vigilance. A noble cast out of his own home, denied a throne that rightfully belongs to him that he doesn’t actually want. And then he falls in love with you, and it can either lead him to his ultimate destiny, or it can destroy him. In the end, he might even die for you, an action far removed from the flippant, sarcastic, disenfranchised youth you meet in the beginning.
2. Dragon Age II
Hawke (player character) and Fenris
Again, the Dragon Age series has awesome romances, and this is, I think, the best one from this installment. Fenris is an escaped elven slave that’s had magical tattoos forced upon him that enable him to phase through human flesh briefly. They hurt, constantly and his whole life is an obsession with making the proper parties pay for what they have done to him. To build a relationship with him, you have to break through his walls, first. A physical altercation acts as a catalyst to turn the friendship into something more. And then, after one passionate night, it all stops. Because when you’re together, when you touch him, he gets strong flashes of his life before the pain of the tattoos shattered his memories, and it tortures him. He can’t bear it, and leaves you naked on the bed. Then three years pass. You’ve maintained your friendship,but you’ve never discussed your one night together. It’s been burning under the surface all this time, ripping at the both of you. When a final confrontation with old slave master allows him his revenge, however, he finally feels free and sees that your love had a part in that. That vengeance is bitter and love is sweet. That you can be the new centerpoint of his universe. In your final scene, “Nothing will keep me from you,” he says.
Then, in the third game, the whole thing is thrown away in with a single line.
“Fenris would have killed himself to protect me. I didn’t want to give him that chance.”
3 &4. Dragon Age: Inquisition
More from Dragon Age, but this is the last, I swear. Of the six possible amazing romances available to you, it’s Iron Bull and Dorian that take the cake.
Inquisitor (player character) and Iron Bull
In all, Iron Bull is simply one hell of a character. He’s at once sincere and lighthearted, polite yet brusque. And you have soooo much sex, a departure from the typically more fluffy rendezvous presented in the rest of the series. There’s implicit BDSM and explicit consent, which is doubly fantastic coming from this giant, mercenary, bull-man. Depending on how you play the dialog, you can keep it casual or make it heavy, but the whole relationship is very loving and full of trust and compassion as well as containing the funniest cut scene in the whole game.
Inquisitor (player character) and Dorian
Dorian is one of the first gay romanceable characters in the series (Sera is the other), and this fact plays an immensely important role in his romance and friendship with the Inquisitor. Coming from his family background, Dorian has a role he’s supposed to play, and preferring the company of men gets in the way of that. His father goes so far as to use taboo magic to try to change him. These facts are permanent parts of him and paint his relationship with you with shades of reticence and caution. Trysts like yours are held in his homeland only in secret and in shame. To openly love you and be loved in return is something he doesn’t know how to enjoy, but he wants to desperately. In the end, even though there’s still so much world to save, you know that’s he’s found that ability in you.
5. Mass Effect Series
Commander Shepard (player character) and Garrus
Because you’re playing the same character through the whole trilogy, Bioware was able to bring a few romances through all three games in more substantial way than they did with Dragon Age.
Garrus Vakarian is one of two romances (the other is Tali) that travels through all three games*. Though you can’t actually romance him in the first game (due to design limitations, as I understand it), he’s a very involved party member that you can get to know extrmemly well. The clever side effect of this, story wise, is that Garrus is a dear friend before you even start to make romantic machinations on him. He’s not just this dude that you start hitting on immediately; he’s a comrade with whom you’ve shared immense peril and seen things beyond imagining. Your relationship with him is adult and unhesitating (if maybe a little awkward in the beginning), a romance built on a solid foundation of friendship and camaraderie. He calls himself your boyfriend, and had things gone differently at the zero hour, it’s not a stretch to think that you could have built a real life together once the galaxy was done being saved.
*I’m not counting Kaiden, Ashley, or Liara because they’re pretty much a passing cameo in 2.
6. Dramatical Murder
Aoba and Koujaku
Out of Bioware RPG’s and into a Japanese visual novel that’s really just a vehicle for a romance story at its core. I like the Aoba/Koujaku storyline so much though, that I can’t ignore it. Koujaku is one of 6 (ish, VN’s are weird) possible romance options for our protagonist Aoba, and he’s the childhood friend. It’s something of a cliché role for these sorts of things, but I very much like the way it played out. For much of the game, there isn’t a real romance brewing between the characters, just the traces of a close friendship. Koujaku had also disappeared for a number of years previous to the story starting, so you get the notion that both parties are still trying to adjust to new parameters in their relationship. When they find themselves hip deep in danger at the halfway mark, however, the truth of Koujaku’s time away starts to reveal itself. He’s been filled with rage and turmoil, and he’s not the man that Aoba knew once upon a time. But, at the same time, he is. In the end, he uses the raw rage that’s built up inside to save Aoba’s life, and Aoba uses his special brand of psionic trickery to save Koujaku’s heart and mind. In the process, they both come to understand each other and begin to help one another heal.
Then they admit they like each other and engage in one of the most adorable romantic scenes I’ve ever seen. Koujaku gets so excited he gets a nosebleed. Freaking dorks.
Tim and The Princess
Tim, through a series of platforming and time manipulation puzzles, must save the princess from a monster. A princess in peril because of his mistake. A princess that he may never be able to retrieve, because, in the end, Hero and Monster might not be so cut and dry.
The designer himself gives the best explanation of how this relationship plays out.
Vincent and Catherine/Katherine
Vincent and Katherine have been together a decade, but their relationship has gone nowhere. They’re at a breaking point. This might either be the beginning or the end. Enter Catherine, and he begins an affair that he’s only barely grasping. And with Catherine comes nightmares, nightmares that may kill him. As the days progress, Vincent is faced with a choice: truth or lies, stability or passion, life or death, Katherine or Catherine. And there is no right answer.
9. The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword
Link and Zelda
First Zelda/Link is best Zelda/Link and this variation of the famous couple is the start of it all in the chronology of the Zelda universe. This is the only game in the series (if I recall, correctly) in which Link and Zelda actually have a relationship that reaches back before the start of the game. They’re friends, and they care deeply about each other even if that affection never turned to deep love. But she must sacrifice herself for not just their futures, but the world’s future, so they never get to have their fairytale romance ending. The way their relationship is portrayed, though, does more for the entire Zelda canon than the individual game. In this prequel, the patterns are set for every other entry in the story. Every iteration of Link and Zelda will always find each other, through space and time and the universe unending. All because of these two.
10. Saint’s Row IV
Kinzie and The President
There aren’t words to completely describe the poignant and touching nature of this relationship. So, instead, here is captured footage from my actual playthrough, because their words for each other are better than mine could ever be.