SPOILER WARNING for The Darkness, Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater, Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.To answer Otacon's question from the original Metal Gear Solid, it hasn't been easy for love to bloom on the battlefields of video games. From Dontnod's struggles with Remember Me — with the company explicitly being told "You can't make a dude like the player kiss another dude in the game, that's going to feel awkward" — to titles like Overwatch with characters that have relationships away from the actual game itself, it certainly seems that games are not particularly lucky with love. Thankfully, that hasn't stopped developers from trying, so for this Valentine's Day, I thought it would be worth taking a look at a few of the times they did things right.
Honourable mention: BioWare
To be honest, BioWare's way of developing a romantic relationship in their role-playing games — say nice thing to romantic interest, do quest (or two), get sex — seems rather simplistic nowadays, which might be why there won't be any romance in their next title Anthem. However, a sizeable studio putting a focus on relationships, both platonic and romantic, in AAA series like Mass Effect and Dragon Age certainly played its part in pushing the conversation of relationships in games forward. Others that have later done it better were surely inspired by the famous studio.
Even when video game characters do have a love interest, there can be a tendency for that love interest to be killed off in the first act to motivate the character to take down the game's antagonists, and Starbreeze's 2007 first-person shooter The Darkness is one such title that falls foul of this trope. Thanks to the simple act of allowing our lead Jackie Estacado to spend some time with girlfriend Jenny Romano early on, however — to the point where players could sit down, cuddle alongside her and watch the entirety of To Kill A Mockingbird if they so chose — the relationship has a feeling of authenticity and the motivation actually feels earned, putting it well above many of its peers. Like BioWare's efforts, it's imperfect to say the least, but it's a touching scene and a unique one too. No one else has really tried this sort of thing.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater
It's safe to say that Hideo Kojima his Metal Gear series has had a... complicated history with women characters. He and his team have created some of gaming's best female characters but also a few of the most infamous, especially later on in the long-running franchise. Alongside the more maternal The Boss in the same game, EVA in Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater may stand as one of his best. Throughout the years, gaming has certainly not been short of scantily clad women but EVA's case may be one of the few times where it has been for more than simple player titillation. With a great performance from the mysterious "Suzetta Miñet" (a pseudonym for a still unknown actress), EVA seduces Naked Snake as part of her mission. Of course, she still ends up falling for our hero — and who can blame her with a smile like his? — but she's almost always in control of her situation for the entire game, completing her mission in the process as she works as the perfect example, and yet also a subversion, of the girls from the Bond movies that Snake Eater was lovingly inspired by.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
In Dontnod's original Life Is Strange, protagonist Max Caulfield's sexuality and relationships are dependent on player choice: kiss the girlfriend, kiss the boyfriend, kiss both or kiss neither. Deck Nine's prequel Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is a slightly different beast however with protagonist Chloe Price having had relationships of her own and "dreams" about certain Blade Runner characters before the events of the game, hinting at if not outright confirming her own sexuality before the player has chosen a single thing. While players can attempt to play Before the Storm as "just friends" with deuteragonist Rachel Amber, what unfolds is essentially a three-episode series about young love.
The highlight of this is episode two's "The Tempest" scene where Chloe, Rachel and others are performing Shakespeare's play. The show will go on regardless, but when the "right" choices are made, Rachel essentially bares her soul to Chloe to the point where even the in-game audience has picked up on their chemistry. Immediately afterward, the two make their way down the street full of excitement and butterflies, and at this point, the player can choose to ask for a kiss, and it is almost as perfectly awkward as you might expect — from Chloe's side at least. It is certainly not the perfect romance and relationship — those who have played the original know that it is ultimately doomed — but Before the Storm may be one of gaming's best examples of teenage romance, where it can burn brightly from the first spark, but can also burn out so fast.
I'd love to hear what some of your favourite romances are. I expect to see at a few mentions of The Witcher's Geralt and either of Yennifer or Triss, at least. Whether you're single or in a relationship, have a happy Valentine's Day and remember that, at the very least, the chocolate goes on sale tomorrow!