When I’m in the Valentine’s Day spirit, I tend not to think about my favorite romantic comedies (My favorites being Crazy Stupid Love, Bull Durham, and Enough Said, by the way…), and instead I think fondly of all my favorite video game love stories!
Now, obviously I can’t go into every single one of my favorite in-game romances, as there are truly too many to count, but since it’s February 14th and since I’m feeling the Valentine’s Day vibes, let’s talk about just a handful of my absolute favorites!
Final Fantasy X – I’m sure it comes as a shocker to no one that I’m including Final Fantasy entries in my list (two of them, in fact!), but it’s safe to say that Square Enix, and Squaresoft back in the day, know how to tell interesting and impactful love stories. Kicking off my list of favorite love stories, we’re starting with one of the more iconic RPG love stories around, Tidus and Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Now, this duo is iconic not only for their odd and quirky chemistry (which if you need an example of that quirkiness, just take a look at their now-infamous laughing scene…), but because as an audience we see this amazing love bloom between these two people – a love that we as the player know is doomed, since once Yuna’s quest is completed, she’ll die. Yuna’s desire to protect the inhabitants of Spira clearly had an impact on Tidus, who discovers near the end of the game that Sin, the evil entity they are seeking to defeat, can actually be destroyed without Yuna dying, but it requires Tidus to make the sacrifice instead. Now, there’s a LOT more to this wild and crazy story the involves all kinds of weird alternate realities and timelines, but all you need to know is the final shot of Tidus holding Yuna before he disappears from existence is one of the most heartbreaking moments in video game history. I’m not crying, you’re crying!
Red Dead Redemption – Now, I have to admit something… I haven’t finished Red Dead Redemption 2 yet, and I know there are a lot of connections the sequel makes to the original, but even without that additional context, I can safely say that the love story and relationship between John Marston and his wife Abigail is truly one of the best relationships in video game history. In RD1, John Marston makes his return to a life of crime to avoid his wife and son being taken by federal law enforcement. He’s tasked with tracking down his old gang and taking them out to save the love of his life and his son – how much more loyal and loving can you be? Well, turns out, a LOT more, because consider this: You’re playing a wild west outlaw in a world of shenanigans and debauchery, in a game made by Rockstar which absolutely does not shy away from allowing characters all kinds of freedom with who they want to, ahem, have “relationships” with, and despite all that you never stray from your wife – no matter what. And it’s this amazing show of love and loyalty throughout the game’s story that makes it an even harder pill to swallow when things go they way they do at the end of RD1…
Final Fantasy VIII – Now, this might have caught people by surprise but I gotta tell you, the love story between Squall and Rinoa is one of the most beautiful in any game or movie I’ve ever seen. Now, the game gets some justified heat for some of its storytelling and dialogue (…whatever), but in the end FF8 is one of my all-time favorite games and definitely one of the best that Final Fantasy has to offer – including a great love story that actually goes quite a bit deeper than most realize, which is why I said it’s one of the most beautiful I’ve ever seen. First, the obvious surface level love story between the two is great, and culminates in some really great moments like Squall literally flying himself through space on low oxygen to save Rinoa – that whole sequence in and of itself is one of the more heart-pounding moments I’ve had in an RPG, and results in a pretty great romantic scene on the Ragnarok between the two. However, the second aspect of this love story is even cooler because you have to take a look at who their parents are. The long and short of it here is Squall’s dad is Laguna, and Rinoa’s mom is Julia, and in the past timelines you visit throughout the game, you see that these two were madly in love with each other and things just didn’t pan out. Fast forward several years and both Laguna and Julia married other people and had Squall and Rinoa. Fast forward several MORE years and that love that their parents could never have was given to the two of them instead – which when I first played it as a 12-year-old went WHOOSH right over my head, but after playing through it as an adult it hit me right in the feels.
The Last of Us: Left Behind – When you think of The Last of Us, you don’t necessarily think about romantic love, but instead about familial love; the love of a man protecting someone the way he would protect his daughter, two people fighting against all odds for survival. TLOU is one of my absolute favorite games, and the sequel/prequel/DLC Left Behind adds some incredible depth and context to Ellie’s story – including the introduction of her beautiful, and heartbreaking, love story with Riley. In the DLC we see Ellie prior to the events of The Last of Us meeting up with her friend Riley, who has revealed to her that she will be joining the mercenary group, the Fireflies. The worst part, though, is that the group Riley has been assigned to is in a different city, which means Riley would have to move. Ellie is clearly pretty bummed about this since they’re living in a world without any real way of staying in touch with each other would make it incredibly difficult for the two to remain close. The entire conversation and subsequent argument end in the two of them making up and revealing to the audience that they are, in fact, in love with each other. They share a kiss, which is rudely interrupted by infected that chase them down and bite them. The two believe, of course, that they’re doomed and choose to spend their last few hours together. We know now, as the audience, that Ellie survives the bite, miraculously, which means she was left to watch her love turn to an infected before her very eyes. So, this gaming moment was huge for a lot of reasons, not that least of which being that LGBT relationships are discussed in a video game, but it’s certainly almost never handled with the level of respect and finesse that Neil Druckmann was able to achieve as the writer and creative director for this DLC. But it was also one of the most realistic and heartbreaking portrayals of true of love in a video game that turned me into absolute mush and made me feel things that you just don’t often feel when playing a video game.
Honorable Mentions – A couple of titles I easily could have included are Final Fantasy 7 and The Witcher 3, both of which include some interesting sort of love triangles. FF7 included two love stories for Cloud, one with Tifa (unrequited love between lifelong friends) and the other with Aeris (love that just couldn’t quite bloom, thanks to the end of Sephiroth’s sword). TW3 showcased the culmination of the three-part story for Geralt of Rivia, which includes the culmination of his love story arc – do you stay with Triss, whom you’ve been with in both Witcher 1 and Witcher 2, or do you be with Yennefer, the mysterious sorceress you’ve been chasing throughout the entire series? Either way, love will conquer all (unless you try to pick both of them, in which case… no love for you!)