When people think about games, they can think about the different themes and elements in them. But there’s one that people might not always point out: romance. Lots of games make romantic themes a priority. Sometimes, they help advance the plot. Other times, they are there to give characters direction. But when things get really fun, they can influence the gameplay and give people a chance to pair up their favorite characters.
Sometimes, the romantic element can be somewhat subdued. The Super Mario games work for this situation. There’s a certain implication that Peach and Mario are involved. When she’s kidnapped, he goes off to her rescue. While this does end up a bit subverted, especially with one recent release that has an unexpected edge to their relationship, for the most part we know that Mario and Peach are together and that togetherness inspires him to help her out.
Other games make romance a bigger deal. Final Fantasy games are great about that. Final Fantasy IV partially revolved around the love story between Cecil and Rosa, with their dedication to each other playing a huge part. People loved to debate whether Cloud belonged with Aerith or Tifa in Final Fantasy VII. In Final Fantasy VIII, we watched as Squall was drawn out of his shell as he became closer too and developed a romantic relationship with Rinoa. We see Yuna and Tidus grow closer together throughout Final Fantasy X. Final Fantasy XV begins with Prince Noctis heading off to marry Lunafreya, a neighboring kingdom’s princess. Relationships help guide the course of each of these games and influence their stories.
We also have games like Fire Emblem. In this series, certain units will develop relationships if you have them fight near each other in battle. This will build up support statuses that will provide buffs when they are close by one another in the field. It can also mean little story segments where you see them interact. In the case of games like Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Fates, certain romantic relationships will result in child units appearing, and these children will be strong warriors in their own right.
Then, there are the BioWare games. Like Fire Emblem, these titles attempt to blend relationship elements into gameplay. Games like Mass Effect 2 had loyalty missions, where you helped increase people’s odds of survival and build relationships with them through specific quests. Talking to them would give you the possibility of seeing squadmates in relationships with Commander Shepard. This popped up in the Dragon Age series too, with companion quests and interactions influencing your party’s feelings about you. There are even friendship and rivalry ratings here, showing if relationships are cordial or tense.
Love is all around us in games. Sometimes, it’s part of the reason for the whole adventure we’re going on. At other moments, things are incidental. But what really gets neat is when games try to work romances into the gameplay. It might not be for everyone, but it is interesting to see what happens when developers experiment.