Love in both gaming and real life can be as strange and erratic as Tetris pieces. Sometimes the tetriminoes fit, but just as often jar against each other, jammed into disjointed layers that we hope will eventually layer into completion. There have been lots of strange romances in gaming, as perennial as Mario's attempts to rescue Princess Peach, and here are a few to ponder on Valentine's Day along with overpriced prix fixe menus and misplaced love.
****There are spoilers to follow in the video game entries below****
It's pretty normal to get a letter from your wife asking you to meet her somewhere for lunch. Not so normal when she's been dead for three years. James Sunderland receives a letter from his dead wife, Mary, asking him to meet her in Silent Hill. And from there begins what is arguably the greatest work of gaming horror, rooted in the gruesome echoes of Sunderland's tragic romance. Nothing can deter him from reaching the Lakeview Hotel, not even a maniacally violent Pyramid Head, nor a strange wife-clone that acts even more bizarre than the monsters in the city. Sunderland sunders moral choices that eschew traditional relationship dynamics, and his view is as foggy as the city he gets lost in. His dedication is seemingly unflinching, entrenched in the agonizing final choice he made. How far would you go to prevent the suffering of the one you love?
James Gunn is best known these days as the director and co-writer for 2014's hit movie Guardians of the Galaxy. The quirky, fun writing attributed to making the characters loveable, down-to-earth and flawed. A tame character study perhaps compared to the over-the-top madness of another James Gunn movie called Slither, where slug like parasites mind control the inhabitants of a small town. The central characters' relationship could be boiled down in one amazing (NSFW) song that played as the credits rolled:
The weirdness of that dynamic is more aligned to James Gunn's writing and goings-on of Lollipop Chainsaw's star-crossed lovers, lead character Juliet and her boyfriend Nick. Nick was infected during the zombie apocalypse and saved by Juliet through some black magic, love, and a gruesome beheading. Nick and Juliet are attached at the hip. Literally — Juliet hangs his talking head off her hip like a lucky rabbit's foot keychain. Her cheerleading antics in her fight against the zombies ensures Nick has nothing but amazing, dizzying views. His direction and commentary, provided by Michael Rosenbaum, is colourful and hilarious. Even as a head, the former jock contributes to Juliet's zombie slaying in creative ways and moves. True love never dies in Lollipop Chainsaw. No, it just becomes a freaky trophied head of emotions and sarcasm.
One of our favorite childhood memories is swinging from level to level as Nathan "Rad" Spencer, using the bionic arm to infiltrate the "Empire." Little did we know that in order for bionics to achieve perfect syncs, they have to connect on both the physical and emotional level. Mr. Spencer's wife had no idea what she was signing up for when she agreed to stay together for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do them part. She was immortalized as Spencer's bionic arm. Even death can't do them part unless someone chops that bionic arm off. Valentine's Day is probably an awkward night for both of them.
Love is a battlefield — full of sliding block puzzles, stray sheep and mutations of your deepest fears. Atlus' Catherine is a complicated sort of game, broaching topics of complicated relationships (as relationships are wont to be). It's certainly a bizarre love triangle, and the refrain to Frente!'s yearning cover of the New Order song of the same name reverberates here, even if a little more literal as to the game's visuals than in context, though that point can be argued in defense of it too.
"Every time I see you falling, I get down on my knees on pray."
So it goes that Vincent Brooks is caught in a love triangle. One partially of his own making through a series of morality choices — and fraught with religious symbolism throughout Catherine's in-game world — in which his decisions lead him to fall for Katherine on a path to marriage, fall for Catherine on a path to the underworld, or fall for himself — a self-fulfilling, very human but not necessarily selfish quest (with gameplay that has him falling to his death if he missteps).
That's what is great about Catherine. It tries to set players to investigate their own moral codes. While "good", "bad" or "true" endings are things that result in interesting pathways for Vincent and you as the player, it's acutely aware of the journey in getting there — and all the complex relationship choices and truths that build the game into something strange, wonderful and downright scary. The strangest relationship in Catherine may not be the secure future, or the other-worldly one… it may very well be the one the player engages in as Vincent as an exploration of self and internal reflection.
Why does their romance get so much hate? What's so bad about an iconic anthropomorphic hedgehog getting it on with a princess that has a monster sealed inside her body? She can't even cry without risking the annihilation of the world. At least she didn't end up falling in love with a generic prince-like character and instead, a strange blue hero. Is this a case of plumber-envy? (We're just kidding- we found it pretty strange too. Please don't hate on us).
Phoenix Wright was not always the straight, determined attorney we got to know in the course of his case defending history. He was, at some point, a smitten fool hanging on every word of a murderous woman named Dahlia whose true motivations were veiled behind a petite frame and manipulative smile.
Though as anyone who has played Phoenix Wright knows, it's never as simple as a murder, nor is everyone always as they seem. There are layers upon delicious layers of poison, spirit channeling, false accusations, shocking deaths, rivals turned friends, multiple stories unraveled, and at the very least (but no more than) 17 cups of coffee to get through before Phoenix Wright's greatest love story and murder mystery case can be closed.
In what appears to be the epitome of a romance cliché, Tim wants to save the princess. The whole brilliance of Braid is in reversing the roles. You're no longer playing a "Mario" to the rescue, but "Bowser," holding the princess captive. You are the monster. Actually, we all are. Reverse time, play with it, and the mechanics are as convoluted as memories and perceptions. Who hasn't said or done something they've regretted to loved ones? Actually, some people have theorized the game is a metaphor for the atomic bomb. What does love have to do with fusion?
In our Majora's Mask retrospective, we called the Couple's Mask: "The most useless mask" that also "takes the longest time to gain. But the chance to connect these mismatched lovers is also one of the most emotionally resonant sidequests in Majora's Mask."
Kafei has been cursed by the Skullkid and turned into a child. His new found youth in combination with his sense of shame at losing the Sun's Mask is preventing them from being together. If Link helps them over the course of three days, even retrieving the Sun's Mask in one of the few instances where a Zelda game had a non-Link controllable character, they'll finally be united with only a few minutes left. It's literally the end of the world as they know it and they feel fine since they're together.
That is until a few minutes later when the moon destroys them and you rewind time and Link no longer carries out the mission to get them together. Sorry Kafei and Anju! We already got your mask.
Among the many underhanded covert plots and stabbing deaths of countless sprites, there was one that culminated in the ultimate act of tragic betrayal. The characters in Final Fantasy Tactics facilitated a lot of alliances of necessity and gain within its plot. It was no surprise that the most genuine relationships were that of Ramza and his sister, while the hardships of war strained Ramza's and Delita's. In the interwoven narrative of power struggles, it's not so strange that Delita's rise to power ended in a marriage of convenience and his will to be King; nor is it too strange that his betrothed stabbed him in an attempt of murder and in self-defense, he laid waste to her as well. What is sad are the flowers that litters the scene of a double murder (?) — and Ovelia's realizations that Delita had not one iota of love for her, and his questioning on whether his ambitions for power ridden with treachery were worth the price paid.
What do you get if you mix rabbits, Inception, and JRPG-styled sprites? One of the most moving love stories in gaming. Play this if you have any interest in knowing what's so special about going to the moon.
Ninja Gaiden for the original Nintendo was really the story of what a relationship between a CIA agent (Irene Lew) and a dragon ninja (Ryu Hayabusa) would be like. That is, fraught with murder, betrayal, ritual sacrifice, demonic battles, gun wounds, stabbings, slashing, and occasional exchanges of dialogue amidst dramatic backdrops that stunned gamers with their gorgeous visuals. Ryu's dates took them all over the world, nearly getting them killed at every turn. Roses were painted in blood and chocolates came from hell. When they retired, they realized they'd had enough excitement to last multiple lifetimes. They settled on opening a curio shop together. We've bought stuff from them multiple times, including a pair of Light and Shadow statues. There's some mysterious guy on Ebay named Jaquio who's willing to pay a fortune for the pair. Off to enjoy our riches!
Rose, I'm sorry I don't know what day today is. I'm a little busy on this mission to try to save the world. But Raiden, what's today? I can't believe you forgot. Rose, there is a terrorist group who has kidnapped the president and they are all trying to kill me. Some guy sucks people's blood and runs on water. There is another lady carrying a portable rail gun who is so lucky, bullets swerve around her. Can we talk about what today is later? Like maybe when I'm not being chased by guards with guns? No Raiden. You need to remember what today is. Is it Valentine's Day? Wait, are you even real?
Seriously, what is with these male protagonists who sacrifice their loved ones so they can gain a powerful weapon? In Bionic Commando's case, it was his bionic arm. In Lament of Innocence, it was Leon Belmont's betrothed, Sara, who died to empower the legendary Vampire Killer. Is there an option B? Who wouldn't rather spend Valentine's with the love of their lives than fighting off the blood sucking villain who'll come back in another year anyways? We enjoyed this attempt at taking the Metroidvania formula and rendering it in 3D, making for a solid and underrated outing in the series. But in doing the research for strange romances, one strange fact struck us. With most protagonists being male, there were very few romances told from the perspective of a female hero. We both lamented that fact and wondered how much the narrative landscape of gaming would change with more heroines. At the least, there'd be a weapon or two requiring the sacrifice of a man for his woman warrior, rather than the reverse.
Okay, maybe there is at least one other instance we can think of where a woman is wielding her man as a weapon. It may not have been a sacrificial, intentional weapon in the making nor may the true nature of The Transistor be so cut and dry, but Transistor was certainly a breath of fresh air. A convoluted, sci-fi, breath of fresh air.
It's no secret that Transistor had us scratching our heads at that ending, and questioning whether Red made a selfish decision. Throughout the course of the game however, we pick up on their need to protect each other — Red's lover guiding her as her voice and as a physical weapon to destroy her attackers, and her will as the driving force to avenge them both. But there's no denying that her relationship with her love lead her to make that decision where they'd be together forever — though where that forever may be, we're not entirely sure.
Love has many permutations. In both gaming and real life, romance is a whole lot like Tetris, the perfect allegory for the polygonal fittings and misfittings of romance and Valentine's Day.
These are just the 14 strange romances in video gaming that we thought of and wrote mainly for some Valentine's fun. Disagree? It's totally cool. Don't see a strange video game relationship that had your heart aflutter in agony (like the alien love scenes from the Mass Effect series or a weird romance in a JRPG)? Feel free to drop your fun pick in the comments below.
For anyone wondering why Hatoful Boyfriend was not on our minds when this article was created, we were not trying to slight our feathered friends. But fear not for it was certainly on the mind of another... so much so that @Nach212 couldn't help but include it as having one of the best Valentine's Day Love Songs in Video Games.
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Peter (Kafeiryas) Tieryas turned into a kid two days ago and is still angry at Skullkid for making him relive adolescence and teenage angst. The saddest love story he ever heard about was two goats in Terranigma.