Romance can be found in nearly every genre of video games. From first person shooters to racing simulators to dating simulations, it’s inescapable. In that case though, why do we constantly see the romance itself being handled so poorly?
Excluding the uniqueness that is dating sims and their wide variety, it often seems that video games handle romance in one of two ways. The first way is that a character will be shown to have an extreme crush or outright love for another character, who is usually clueless or misinterprets it. The second way is that the romance comes out of seemingly nowhere to blind side players. A variation on the second way is that a relationship that had very little standing or evidence for it will suddenly be full blown love with nothing to show for how it got there other than ‘reasons’.
To give an example for the first way, let’s use Cheria and Asbel from the game Tales of Graces. Throughout the whole game, Cheria constantly tries to get Asbel to acknowledge her feelings for him, which usually just flies over his head. It actually becomes a running joke in the game. To make matters worse, Asbel makes it clear that he doesn’t think of Cheria romantically, calling her his best friend and even implying that he thinks of her like a sister. Actually, this game also does the second way as well, in the after-story Lineage and Legacies that was included with Tales of Graces f for the PS3. [spoilers data=1 title=”(Click to see spoiler)”] In Lineage and Legacies, it’s actually more of a contest to see who doesn’t get together over who does. Aside from the main couple of Cheria and Asbel, this story is filled with ‘pair the spares’ couples, to borrow a term from fandom. Asbel suddenly loves Cheria out of the blue, doing a near complete one-eighty from how he previously was towards her. The characters Pascal and Hubert suddenly have crushes on each other, going from just being hinted at in the main game. It’s even hinted that the character Malik is interested in Pascal’s older sister Fourier, who’s also hinted to return his affections. [/spoilers]
To give a better example of the second way, let’s look at Final Fantasy X. In that game, the players are shown that Tidus has a crush on Yuna that develops into honest affection for her. It’s hinted at first that Yuna might like him back, but that could also just be her showing interest in Tidus’ odd ways and character. Then suddenly we find out that Yuna really does love Tidus and just didn’t tell him to save him the pain of what would happen at the end of her Journey. The game just springs this on players and expects them to go along with it.
While I will admit they have a couple good romantic scenes (the spring especially), Tidus and Yuna’s relationship overall feels like they were paired together to try and give the game’s ending a more dramatic and emotional meaning. Something that could have easily been done without the romance, had earlier plot points of the game been put to better use. Instead the game ends almost awkwardly on a shoe-horned in romance that was likely only put in to give Final Fantasy X-2 a plot point to build off of. Again, something that could have been done without the romance.
Still, these are just the two main ways a video game can ruin a romance. While there are a few games out there with great romances, they’re unfortunately drowned out by the many, many bungled romances of other games.