Frolic might seem like an unusual place to talk about video games; after all gaming is more commonly associated with combat and bloodshed than true love. But in recent years, more developers have been giving gamers the option to play out relationships with the Non-Player Characters (NPC’s) who inhabit their game’s worlds and it’s awesome.
So, in the spirit of E3, the gaming industry’s largest annual trade show, that wrapped up last week, allow me to take you on a trip through the greatest hits of romance in gaming!
In the Uncharted series, you play as the rakishly handsome, Indiana Jones-esque treasure hunter Nathan Drake who falls for the brilliant and compassionate journalist Elena Fisher. The love story between these characters is so good that it’s actually hard to believe that it comes out of one of the largest action franchises in modern gaming, and not an action packed romance novel. Their romance is heavily developed, charmingly written, and extremely entertaining to watch.
In the beginning of the series, Nate has a single-minded focus on riches and glory, causing him and Elena to butt heads every time they cross paths. But as the characters grow closer a real sense of trust and mutual respect develops that blossom into affection, and then love.
They challenge each other and make each other better people, which is something that all of us should be so lucky to find in a real life partner.
2. Final Fantasy
One of the longest running franchises in gaming history, Final Fantasy features fifteen core games and countless side titles and sequels.
While each installment contains various romances and tales of love, perhaps the one with the largest impact on the plot of a game is the relationship between Yuna – a priestess on a journey to protect the world from destruction – and Tidus – her guardian with a mysterious past – in Final Fantasy X.
Like Nate and Elena in Uncharted, this romance develops slowly, allowing the characters time to get to know, trust, and like each other before they fall in love.
While the plots of Final Fantasy games are notoriously complex and esoteric, the romance between Tidus and Yuna beautifully anchors the soaring tale of Final Fantasy X in reality.
The love story in Halo is quite unconventional when compared to others on this list. Nonetheless, it’s impossible to see the relationship between the genetically engineered super soldier, the Master Chief, and his AI companion, Cortana, as anything other than a romance.
Though Cortana – when she’s not a disembodied voice – manifests as a tiny, blue hologram woman and the Master Chief is the archetypical stoic male protagonist who never takes off his armor, the two trust, depend on, and care for each other above – and sometimes at the expense of – all others.
The fourth game in the Halo franchise focuses almost entirely on their relationship. While the pair fights valiantly to stay together, in the end, the impossible odds win out, turning their love story into a heart-wrenching tragedy, famous for making even the most harden of gamer bros shed a tear.
4. The Witcher
All three of the high fantasy, sword-and-sorcery Witcher games have plenty to offer a player looking for fun romantic subplots. But in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, love steps out of the background and into the spotlight.
Playing as the legendary warrior Geralt of Rivia, you are presented with a difficult choice: continue pursuing a relationship with the charming Triss Merigold, who has been by your side since the first game, or reconnect with the mysterious and alluring Yennefer: Geralt’s long lost first love. In a departure from games where the love stories are pre-determined, Wild Hunt puts the reins of the romance in the player’s hands.
As the story plays out both women are given enough depth of character that it truly makes deciding between them quite difficult. Though it’s a choice that you as the player must make, lest Geralt lose both of them forever.
5. Assassin’s Creed
The Assassin’s Creed series boasts a mind-boggling eleven games that each tell a part of a single, massive story, though most of the games take place in different parts of the world, during distinct periods in history.
Some entries in the franchise feature more traditional romance subplots such as the love story between the Italian Assassin Ezio Auditore and the bookseller Sofia Sartor in Assassin’s Creed Revelations. Set against the backdrop of 1500’s Constantinople, their relationship is flirtatious and built on mutual respect and fascination over the course of the game.
Other games, such as the latest installment in the saga, Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, set in Ancient Greece, give the player greater choice about not only what gender they wish to play as but also the gender of the NPC’s they wished to romance. This allows the player to role-play their Assassin as any sexuality they so chose, a refreshing change from the previously much more limited options – to a point.
Assassin’s Creed developer, Ubisoft, released a final chapter to the story of Odyssey that included a scene where the protagonist marries and has a child with a partner of the opposite sex. This was a move that surprised and upset many LGBTQ+ fans, who had previously seen the game as a step forwards for representation in the world of video game romance.
6. Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic
Set in the Star Wars universe, long before the Prequel Trilogy, Knights Of The Old Republic gave players multiple romance options and also placed an emphasis on romance as an important element of the game’s overall story arc.
The player takes on the role of the amnesiac Revan, who is bound by a mysterious Force connection to the Jedi Knight Bastilla Shan. While there are many potentially romanceable NPC’s in this game, it’s the relationship between Bastila and Revan that Lucasfilm considers the canon option.
In KOTOR, these two force each other to confront their own beliefs and prejudices. Both characters fall to the dark and return to the light over the course of the game and always, it is the love that they bear for each other that helps them regain their balance.
The choices that the player makes determine the final outcome of this romance, but if you put in the work it is possible to give these two a happily ever after in the Galaxy Far, Far Away.
7. Dragon Age
Around the same time as they were conquering space with KOTOR, developer Bioware – who ruled the Roleplaying-Game-Plus-Romance genre in the early to mid 00’s – also launched the Dragon Age franchise. Dragon Age sweeps players away to the high fantasy land of Thedas, which is practically overflowing with romanceable NPC’s.
Each of the three games in the Dragon Age series stars a distinct protagonist, and grants the player the choice of gender and the ability to customize the physical appearance of their avatar for maximum immersion.
In addition to control over the superficial, the games present the player with a wide variety of diverse NPC’s to fall in love with, including romance options for players of any sexuality.
My personal favorite romance is that between the female protagonist of the third game in the series, Dragon Age Inquisition and the commander of her armies, the fallen Templar Cullen, who is a man shaken by trauma and struggling to retain his faith in a world on the brink of disaster.
Some relationships in these games end happily and others will break your heart in ways you can’t imagine until you’ve experienced it for yourself. But each relationship will change the experience of the game. Watch out though; it’s very easy to find yourself obsessively replaying Dragon Age to unlock new relationships and content!
8. Dream Daddy
One of the most surprisingly diverse entries on this list is Dream Daddy: A Dad Dating Simulator, which is a game where you play as a single father who is getting back into the swing of dating… by meeting and romancing other single dads! Developed by the Game Grumps of Youtube comedy fame, this game sounds like the setup for a bad joke, chock full of homophobia.
And yet! Dream Daddy is sincere and wonderful. It addresses serious emotional moments while maintaining a light-hearted and hilarious tone without resorting to punching down and insulting or belittling LGBTQ+ people to get cheap laughs.
Dream Daddy allows you to customize your dad avatar (dadvatar?), even letting you play as a trans man, which is a first in any game I’ve ever encountered that was not entirely about the experience of being transgender.
The cast of romanceable NPC dads is diverse in race, body type, and interests and the game itself is relentlessly charming.
9. Dating Simulators
In the same vein as Dream Daddy, no list about romance in video games would be complete without talking about Dating Simulator genre.
Known also as “Otome” or “Visual Novel” Games, Dating Simulators tend to be illustrated, text-based adventures, mostly played on your phone or tablet. They’re romance-based choose your own adventure stories, and there are so many on the market that it’s actually impossible for me to pick just one example.
Whether you want your love story to take place inside of a spooky occult murder mystery (The Arcana), over text messages (Mystic Messenger), or in a high school populated by pigeons (Hatoful Boyfriend (I’m not kidding!!!)); truly there’s something out there for everyone.
10. Mass Effect
While this is not an ordered list I must admit to saving my favorite series for last. The Mass Effect trilogy – also made by Bioware – puts the player in the role of Commander Shepard: a space-fairing human soldier on a mission to save Earth and all life in the galaxy from a mysterious threat.
In each game, the choices that you make as Shepard and the relationships you establish with NPC’s build on each other from one game to the next in a way that no other series has ever accomplished. Shepard establishes friendships and rivalries, a reputation and romantic relationships that have cascading effects throughout the series.
My personal favorite romance option is your alien crewmate – Garrus Vakarian. Garrus might look kind of like a space dinosaur but his witty banter, genuine care, and sincere respect for Shepard is so endearing that I guarantee you won’t be hung up on the particulars of interstellar dating for long.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of every game that treats romance with the respect that it’s due. More and more developers are realizing that there’s a market for diverse games, and games that focus on emotional connection and character development. If you’ve never played a video game or it’s been a while and you think there’s nothing out there for you; I’d encourage you to take another look! You might just be surprised how quickly you too fall in love with gaming.