Maybe it’s a sign that I am growing soft as I get older. Maybe, beneath my crusty, cynical outer coating, there has always been a fledging romantic struggling to get out. Or maybe it has something to do with the fact that I’m less than a week away from getting married. Whatever the cause, I’ve been thinking about romance in video games a lot lately.
It has been mentioned that video games are the most interactive of all media, that because we control the main character, we are more prone to feel whatever it is that they feel. For me, this has never been more true than in the love stories. Oddly enough, it is the romance in video games that have given me the greatest lessons in love. So, in order to celebrate my wedding next week, here are the love stories that have had the biggest influence on me over the years.
Chrono Trigger: Crono and Marle
I have talked before about my love for Square’s time travel themed JRPG, Chrono Trigger. Any time you are see a “Greatest Games of All Time” list, you’re almost guaranteed to see this game on it, and for good reason. Between the tales of redemption, scantily clad cave women, and strobe light dancing robots, it has had a huge influence on the genre. There are a lot of tropes in there, but the romance subplot is one stands out.
How, you ask? Well, in a major plot spoiler for a twenty year old game, Crono, the character you control for the entire first half of the game, dies in an effort to save his friends. What follows is a long quest to return the hero to life so that he can save the world (and complete all the side quests, of course). All of this is led by Marle, the rebellious princess (because of course she is) of the kingdom who, up to that point, had often been the one in need of rescuing. In a refreshing take on the usual “Save the Princess. Save the World” plot, it is Marle who makes the trek up the affectionately named Death Peak for just the chance to see him again.
So why do I love this story so much? What makes it so special? The answer is in the subtlety of it all. No declarations of love and affection. No grand proposals. Just little snippets into it. Watching Crono dream of a life with her. Seeing them both speechless and share a quiet moment under the stars when they’re together again. Most of all, I love seeing Marle, who up till that point had been the damsel in distress, take charge of the mission to bring him back. I like the idea that she might not always be the strongest person in the world, but she is always strong enough to be there for him. Even if it means mastering time and space to cheat death itself.
Lesson Learned: Love will give you the strength to do the impossible.
Link and Ilia: Twilight Princess
Every time I hear someone complain about the mythical Friendzone I think of two things: The Phantom Zone from Superman II (complete with Zod floating through space in a 2D triangle) and Link of Legend of Zelda fame. Say what you want about the guy, but he enjoyed a completely platonic relationship with the titular princess until Skyward Sword in 2011 cast the pair as young friends on the cusp of romance. He’s also enjoyed fleeting romances with the Zora princess in Ocarina of Time, though he was just a kid for that one. But Twilight Princess, released in 2006 was the LoZ romance that I’ve always enjoyed the most.
Ilia may as well be Zelda for most of the game, of course. She spends most of it fitting into the usual damsel in distress role, being in need of some form of rescuing. Whether it is from goblins, illness, or her own amnesia, Link begins his epic journey not to save the world or to defeat evil. Things get complicated along the way, of course, but even while the fate of Hyrule hangs in the balance and he’s got two princesses on his back (one quite literally), Link finds the time to keep Ilia safe. In the beginning, it was a desire to protect his teenage sweetheart that set Link on the path to becoming the hero that Hyrule needed.
Lesson Learned: Love will put you on the right path
Hershal Layton and Claire Folley: Professor Layton and the Lost Future
You might not guess it by looking at him, but Professor Layton, world renowned archaeologist and puzzle solving hero, wasn’t always the man he is today. Not that he was ever really a “bad” guy, but he certainly wasn’t the perfect example of the English gentleman that he would become known as. He was once just a simple college student when he met Claire Folley. The two would court over the course of their studies until he would finally work up the courage to ask her to marry him. It’s a beautiful, simple, pure love story…
…right up until the point where she dies tragically in a time machine related accident. Because Japan doesn’t do things by halves.
After losing the woman he loved, Layton would take to wearing her final gift to him at all times, a tall hat and swearing to always be the perfect gentleman. It was at that moment, nearly crippled with loss and heartbreak, that he ceased to be Hershal and truly became the Professor Layton we all know and love. The impact she had on him both in life and in death would give him the courage, strength, and determination to become a hero in his own right.
Lesson Learned: Let love become what defines you.
So there are the gaming couples that have taught me how to be a big, cheesy romantic. I’ll see you all in a few weeks when I get back to the UK, but, in the meantime, let us know what your favourite gaming couples are in the comments below!
An American trying to infiltrate and understand English society, Trent is a writer of novels and player of games. He has a serious addiction to JRPGs, the weirder the better, and anything that keeps him distracted from work.