Most great stories feature a compelling romance. Books, television, and movies frequently match two people that don’t seem to belong together so that the audience is left rooting for their success or arguing that they never belonged together.
One of the great legitimizers of video games in popular culture is the inclusion of more romance elements. With the rapid advancement of game technology, the inclusion of voice acting and motion capture, and more life-like visuals, romances are much more common and believable. These romances are mostly found in single-player and narrative-driven games where players are given a selection of characters they can choose to “romance,” or in other cases the romance plays out without the player’s consent.
But just like in other forms of entertainment, not every game does this well. Here are a few games where it all went wrong compared to titles that got it right.
Best: Geralt and Triss (The Witcher)
From book series, to video game with three entries in the series, to a Netflix show starring Henry Cavill, The Witcher has proven to be a compelling and interesting fantasy world. One area where the game has both intrigued and disgusted is its relationships.
Geralt is a monster hunter who has lost all memory of his past. This includes a relationship with Yennefer, a sorceress. Upon learning of Geralt’s amnesia, Triss swoops in to stake her claim with the buff, complicated, and seemingly anti-hero who gains the favor of many people across the towns and cities he visits.
The relationship between Geralt and Triss begins with the original Witcher, with Triss lying about their relationship. But throughout the series, based on player decisions, you find that Triss is a faithful companion to Geralt, helping him on several grand quests and developing into a more powerful monster hunter. Of course, there is some literal magic involved to win him over, and the inclusion of Yennefer complicates matters, but fans don’t seem to mind, preferring to choose the red-haired Triss over the brunette top of Yennefer.
Best: Lavellan and Solas (Dragon Age Inquisition)
Bioware is well-known for making many romance opportunities available for players in their games. Unfortunately, this often leads to shallow and unremarkable love stories that unfold over just a few conversations and seemingly end in one night stands, with both parties agreeing to just be friends.
In Dragon Age Inquisition, players were faced with a more complex relationship between Solas and Lavellan. Solas is the main protagonist in the game but with darker intentions revealed in the Trespasser DLC. It isn’t hard to argue that their relationship was shaky, but some will say that both Solas and Lavellan truly loved each other, while others have found reasons that claim that Solas was using Lavellan, and vice versa.
You will have to play Inquisition and its DLC to figure out which side you are on.
Best: Chloe and Rachel (Life is Strange: Before the Storm)
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is a prequel to the excellent Life is Strange. In Life is Strange, players were put in control of Max, and were given a choice to befriend or romance her once-friend Chloe. In Before The Storm, the story is focused on showing the story of Chloe and Rachel’s romantic relationship, which is a plot-point discussed in Life is Strange but never delved too deeply into.
If you were a fan of how DontNod handled Max and Chloe, and were devastated by your choice at the end of the game, then you can’t miss Before the Storm as it will have you feeling beautiful and melancholy feelings.
Worst: Everyone (Stardew Valley)
Stardew Valley is an engrossing and deep farming and adventure simulator that lets you grow crops, raise animals, mine for minerals, slay monsters, and win over the affections of a colorful cast of NPCs. It is easy to get lost in Stardew Valley, giving up hundreds of hours of your life completing tasks and activities.
While much of the game is great, the friendships and romances don’t come from complex dialogue choices, spending long hours together, or truly getting to know everything about the other character. Instead, each NPC has gifts that they like or don’t like. Give them the right gift, and you will get them to ten hearts in no time. Everyone typically favors diamonds, emeralds, and strawberries. However, give them the wrong gift, like an albacore fish, and they will like you less.
Yup, you have to win people over with things, not your intellect, passions, or charm. The amount of time it took you to acquire the item doesn’t matter either. It’s not a great lesson for people or for making your relationships very compelling, but it is what you have to do if you want to advance through the friendship and romance portions of the game.
Worst: Bruce Wayne and Talia (Arkham City)
Bruce Wayne has a dark and troubled past, lots of money, and dresses like a bat to fight crime. In terms of datability, well, if you don’t like people with emotional hang-ups or them running off in the night and not telling you where they are going, you should probably pass.
But in Arkham City we are greeted with the developer’s attempt to give Batman a compelling romance. It didn’t work out.
Talia is the daughter of Ra’s al Ghul. She is a skilled assassin, an honorable opponent to Batman, and has her troubled past. This is compelling stuff, except that it doesn’t play out that way. In the game, players found that the primary source of interaction for the two are during fight sequences, when she needed rescue that one time, and when Bruce put all of Gotham at risk to save her for some reason. Worst of all, after Talia is shot and the Joker dies, it is the body of the Joker that Batman carries out into the night and not the body of the woman he so seemingly loved.
Undecided: Red and Unknown Consciousness (Transistor)
Supergiant Games makes beautiful and fun adventure games. In Transistor, they take you to the futuristic city of Cloudbank under attack by a robotic army known as the Process.
You control Red, a famous singer, who awakens to find she has been spared from assassination and can no longer speak but can still hum. Lying beside her is a man with a sword in his chest; this man’s consciousness is now in the sword, known as the Transistor. Red and the man had an unknown relationship before the attack.
Now on the run and seeking a way to remove the man’s consciousness from the sword and find her voice, the game ultimately ends in a Romeo and Juliet moment, which depending on what side you fall on, may bother you.
On the one hand, Red needed to move on and live life and build new relationships; on the other, well, there is no need for a physical body when you can just impale yourself on the same sword and join the conscious voice of your former partner for all eternity inside of a sword.
Is it a great ending? We aren’t sure.