Shadow Hearts is a story of love.
The two games starring Yuri Volte Hyuga have a variety of villains and nefarious plots to foil; in the case of Shadow Hearts: Covenant, it's almost like working your way through separate story arcs in an anime. But what holds the narrative together as a cohesive whole? The relationship between Yuri and Alice. At the outset of the original game, Yuri takes a few minutes to punch the face off of a man in a top hat, then starts traveling with Alice. Their fire-and-ice personalities are at first a total clash: Yuri's a roughneck and a slightly perverse metamorph, and Alice is a sweet and innocent girl that fights with a book and casts healing spells. But over the course of their journey together, they form a bond of love that winds up with Alice sacrificing her own life to save Yuri's soul.
Yuri spends the entirety of Shadow Hearts: Covenant struggling with the loss — in fact, his two-game character arc revolves around finding meaning in his own life through his relationship with Alice and then having it torn away. He is despondent throughout the sequel, sees Alice in his dreams, promises that they'll meet again, and even resorts to magic to (unsuccessfully) try to bring her back to life in one of the most heart-wrenching scenes you'll ever see in an RPG.
Throughout the game, a curse is robbing Yuri of his soul; his memories, his experiences, everything he ever was, including (to his horror) his all-too-brief time with Alice. In the end, it falls to the player to decide how his journey ends, and whether or not he finds a way to reunite with Alice.
No game romance tops this one. It informs everything about the experience and the story, and it is one of the reasons why Yuri is one of my all-time favorite RPG heroes.
Final Fantasy VIII was centered around the theme of love, and yet I was not overly fond of the title couple. I thought Rinoa was a bubblehead and found Squall's about-face abrupt and not at all believable. The "lover being dead for half the play" worked for Romeo and Juliet but did not work for Squall and Rinoa. That being said, I did like the attention to detail in the subtle character movements. Rinoa's movements and mannerisms made that awkward romantic scene at Fisherman's Horizon surprisingly endearing. I'll also admit that I would have liked to know more about her past with Seifer since she said she was with him at one point.
But I digress.
Despite not being sold on Final Fantasy VIII's theme of love and its main couple, there was one romance in the game that I particularly enjoyed: that of playing wingman to hook the lovably clueless Zell up with the unnamed "pigtail girl" from the library who was too shy to tell Zell that she liked him. Going all around the school and even Balamb town to try and get those two goofy kids together was by far the most adorable sidequest I've ever done in an RPG, and I wished that Zell, the library girl, and even her two friends trying to help her out could have been explored further. Were her friends always supportive of her crush on Zell, or did they laugh at first, but eventually come around? Zell doesn't strike me as the reading type, but he loves the Pururun books. What made him go to the school library in the first place, and was there any spark in his first encounter with the girl? They seem like such a polar opposite couple, but they see something in each other, so what is that common ground? I liked how the whole thing felt more like a high school romance between a couple of awkward teenagers rather than a botched Shakespearean tragedy. It was simple, fun, and left me wanting more.
And I'll admit, the scene during the ending when she assists Zell when he's choking on a hot dog shows that she does like guy for who and what he is, no pretenses. It's hard to find someone like that, so Zell, I'm telling you: that girl is a keeper. You'd better take good care of her.
When we're introduced to Estelle and Joshua, they're presented as an adoptive brother and sister. They bicker, but they care about one another, much like a real pair of siblings. Their relationship starts to shift, however, when Estelle finds herself feeling something more than sisterly love for Joshua. Her brash personality makes it difficult for her to express herself, and as a result, she can never quite find the right words to tell Joshua how she feels. When it finally comes time for her to confess, a surprising turn of events puts a temporary kibosh on their romance, and I ache to see their story continue in the next game.
Though their "official" status as a couple is up in the air for North American fans, there's no doubt that they make a great pair. Joshua's calm and collected demeanor is the perfect complement to Estelle's vivaciousness. He can be oblivious at times, and tends to keep secrets, but he always prioritizes Estelle's safety above all else. Better yet, their relationship isn't based on gender roles; they work as a team and Joshua never pulls the "but you're a girl" card on her. Props.
Persona 4 is a game in which several girls are available as romantic interests, and you can choose none, one, or all of them in a single playthrough. And yet, when I played, there was only one choice for me from day 1: Chie. All of the girls have things they need in a man, but Chie seems to be the only one who really needs a companion. A partner in life who can stand beside her and be there for her, but equally important is that he trust her to be there for him.
She's a tough girl who's into kung fu movies and is accustomed to being overshadowed socially by her pretty, rich friend Yukiko, whom she has spent years protecting. As a result of that friendship, she's very nervous about trying to look pretty, and it's clear that her tomboy nature does not arise out of disdain for being girly. The protagonist, Yu, is kind of a blank slate, but the path that leads him to romance with Chie is a good one. He supports her when she goes outside her comfort zone, helping her to gain the confidence she's lacked for so long. And yet, he doesn't try to push her to be something she's not or give up on the things she loves. As a result, their relationship feels like a two-way street, and they're not just high school boyfriend and girlfriend; they're a loving team.
Geralt's almost preternatural love for the sorceress Yennefer is so strong that it haunts him even in his amnesia. When he awakes after uncertain events and learns of his witcherness, Geralt goes on a quest to defeat malicious Salamandra, but his love echoes throughout his adventure in bards' tales and the ghosts of memories.
Dandelion's song — And Geralt married a sorceress and they live somewhere on the happy isles
— isn't quite the whole story. Before long, Geralt learns the truth.
Yennefer died trying to save Geralt, who fought a racist mob, and they were both brought back to life by their adoptive daughter. The King of the Wild Hunt, who remains a mystery, had other plans, however, and he kidnapped Yennefer. Geralt gives chase and eventually confronts this extra-dimensional enigma and exchanges his life for his lover's. A supernatural romance: the stuff of legends — each gives their life so that the other might live.
Yennefer lives and though she may be plagued with the same amnesia that once oppressed Geralt, we can be sure that she will remember the White Wolf when the two meet again.
Wandering swordsman Adol Christin has a knack for two things: saving the world and breaking hearts. As the protagonist of the Ys series, he inevitably ends up in some kind of trouble no matter where he goes, usually mixing up an innocent girl in the process. Lilia, Elena, Terra, Olha, and Aisha all fall prey to Adol's silent charm, but in the end, he leaves them behind to embark on further adventures. Or is there another reason?
While he only has a small role in Ys I & II, the impetuous Dogi becomes a major character in Ys III, leading Adol to his home village of Redmont. From then on, wherever Adol goes, Dogi is not far behind. His muscular build makes him unusually adept at crushing walls, a skill that comes in handy throughout Adol's travels, and the two form an unwavering friendship. In Ys Seven, Dogi takes an even bigger role as a playable character, fighting alongside Adol in earnest for the first time. These are the kinds of experiences that bond two people for life.
Adol isn't much of a talker, but when given the choice between settling down or gallivanting with his blue-haired pal, he always chooses the latter. I could be completely off the mark here, but perhaps the reason why he can't seem to find the right woman is because he's already found the right man
And the whole "saving the world" thing? One hell of a cover-up there, buddy.
It's true that both genders of Commander Shepard have plenty of romance options: human, alien, opposite-sex, same-sex; but few are as well-developed as the female lead's relationship with Garrus Vakarian. The initial mentor-protege relationship grows more personal when Shepard shows up in Mass Effect 2 at the one moment Garrus needed a friend the most — on Omega, where his life and attitude had quite drastically changed, in part due to Shepard's own death.
Their first romantic encounter is as awkward and adorable as any interspecies relations can get, but their relationship has its best moments in the final game. With the Reaper War already raging on, Shepard and Garrus find their way back to each other on — appropriately — a battlefield, and it's evident that theirs is now a relationship of equals, and they treat each other as such. Yet along with the sweet moments come heartbreakingly sad ones, so much so that it becomes nearly impossible to complete Mass Effect 3 with dry eyes and zero Kleenex.
Besides, nothing in Mass Effect says romance like debating hanar poetry and shooting bottles in restricted areas of the Citadel.