Harry Potter, the Lord of the Rings, and Game of Thrones represent three of largest catalysts for the arrival of fantasy in pop-culture. Our embrace of these worlds largely stems from their vast and storied lore, the novelty and presence of magic, and the dynamic nature of their political systems. We love fantasy due to the immediate availability of escape into those foreign lands. But when it comes to romantic relationships between characters, love often takes a backseat to the other elements of plot. At best, romance serves as superficial justification for action, or simply as sideplot; Arwyn and Aragorn in the Lord of the Rings movies are largely overshadowed by the destruction of the ring, for example. For aficionados, however, love has existed in some of the its most exciting forms in fantasy, and in works that have not yet reached mainstream appeal. Some of the best love stories exist, to the surprise of many, in video games and high-fantasy novels (as represented by the more enticing love between Arwyn and Aragon in the LOTR books, compared to the films). Here are four love stories in video games worthy of exploration (be aware, minor spoilers may arise):
- Squall and Rinoa - Final Fantasy VIII: Square-Enix (formally Squaresoft), the company responsible for the Final Fantasy series, is credited to have some of the most engaging and detailed role-playing games in history. Most of their plot-structure focuses on the take-down of an overwhelming enemy by a rag-tag team of heroes. And while Final Fantasy VIII certainly does not break from this tradition, at it's core lies a deep, gut-punching love story between two of it's protagonists, Squall Lionheart and Rinoa Heartilly. Squall, a student at a military academy, meets Rinoa for the first time through his and his companions' collaboration with a local rebel group. While tensions between S and R arise initially, their relationship swells over the course of the story, sending Squall all the way to the moon for his beloved. With profound musical accompaniment and nuanced personality, this love story is not to be missed.
- Alex and Luna - Lunar Silver Star Story: In the original Sega CD version of the hugely successful Japanese hit, Luna, Alex's childhood friend and sweetheart, did not accompany him on much of his journey and played a smaller role in the overall plot. In the Playstation re-release (suffixed by Complete in the title), Luna is included as a party member, and her's and Alex's romantic development will pluck at anyone's heartstrings. So much of what makes their relationship beautiful is how music informs their characters; Luna's sweet and simple singing acts as a major source of both magical power and emotion, and Alex plays his ocarina to awaken Luna near the game's end. Both the game and the love story hold dear places in many gamers' hearts.
- Drizzt and Cattie Brie - The Dark Elf Series: Writer R.A. Salvatore impresses in The Dark Elf series with complex and dexterous allegory. Drizzt is a Drow Elf: dark-skinned and hated for it. Cattie-Brie, a salt-of-the-earth human girl with wisdom beyond her years comes to love Drizzt despite her initial terror. This is a major simplification of a relationship that faces incredible adversity: from Drizzt's own struggle with identity and self-worth, society's judgment of the drow population and interracial coupling, and even Cattie Brie's romance with another of their party, Wulfgar. If you're looking not only for an incredible illustration of the Forgotten Realms world and heart-pumping action, but for subtle and thoughtful storytelling with complicated and rich relationships, you'll find it all in Salvatore's work.
- Hawke - Dragon Age 2: The protagonist of the second Dragon Age game, Hawke, is listed independently here as who she or he pursues romantically is entirely up to the player. The game's design allows for flexibility in the plot's outcome, with a couple of major ending-shifts depending on how playtime has progressed. Specifically, with whom Hawke develops a relationship with is guided based on how she or he is instructed to act with party members. While this idea isn't exclusive to the Dragon Age games, developer Bioware handles it with precision. You watch these people move from introductions to self-serving alliance, to slowly approaching vulnerability with the main character, to final romance. Even how these characters operate sexually shines with authenticity and diversity. The relationships are complicated, often strange, but entirely real - despite the fantastic nature of the world they inhabit. While none of these works are absent of the genre-defining qualities that make us pursue them, each approaches romance with the same level of care and attention that we expect from realistic-fictional drama. For those looking for a delicious love story and their favorite fantasy tropes, these are only a handful of excellent works to explore.