Ah… Valentine’s Day, a holiday that really is for lovers only. If there’s one thing that everyone can take away from this special day, it’s that love comes in many different forms. Sometimes it’s extreme and abusive, other times it’s sweet and gentle. Then there is love that is just plain odd, but regardless, love is love. While other mediums have been tackling the subject for quite some time, video games rarely delve into this ocean of emotion. Some have tried to capture this primordial feeling and failed, but among their rotting hearts you can find a few rare examples of excellence.
Catherine – Desire
Catherine is a unique game that is very hard to pin down. With its mixture of psychological horror, block puzzles, and dating-sim elements, the game is memorable to say the least. It’s also a rare example of a game that has romance as one of its key aspects. The main character, Vincent Brooks, is a simple thirty-something bachelor who is slowly growing nervous over his girlfriend Katherine’s need for commitment. She wants to settle down and he wants to keep having fun with his friends and remain somewhat free. Then comes along the beautiful temptress Catherine, who offers him the simplicity and freedom that he’s craving. Of course this comes with a price as she turns out to be a complete psycho. She soon starts showing up unannounced and threatening his life if he ever cheats on her. As Vincent juggles both women at the same time, his life spirals out of control and he is trapped every night climbing a sadistic tower to stay alive. In Catherine, love is a battlefield and the relationships are full of obsession, paranoia, and infidelity. It’s not pretty, but it sure is interesting.
Katawa Shoujo – Gratitude
If you’re looking for another kind of unconventional love, then Katawa Shoujo is your next best bet. Literally translated as “Disability Girls,” the game is a visual novel created entirely by fans. What makes it notable is the subject matter at hand, as the game focuses on the difficulty and trauma associated with being disabled. You take the role of a young boy named Hisao Nakai who suffers from cardiac dysrhythmia and a congenital heart defect. Due to his condition, he is transferred to a school for disabled children where he meets both friends and potential love interests. The girls he meets, however, all have some kind of disability like blindness, deafness, amputated limbs or severe burns. While it may sound offensive on paper, Katawa Shoujo handles this idea with care and respect, with all the characters having strong will and determination despite their disadvantages. The game’s overall message is definitely worth praising, as it teaches players that no matter what a person looks like on the outside, it’s really their inner beauty that counts in the end.
Final Fantasy X – Hope
When you’re describing romance in games, it’s hard not to bring up JRPG’s like Final Fantasy. While not every game in the series deals with love, the ones that do tackle the subject stand out the most. One in particular really tugged on my heartstrings, and that was Final Fantasy X. The game tells the story of a young man named Tidus, a carefree blitzball player who is whisked away to the mysterious world of Spira after his home is destroyed by a rampaging monster named Sin. He eventually meets a young summoner named Yuna, whose sacred mission is to use her powers to vanquish Sin. As the game progresses, Tidus and Yuna fall in love and become devoted to each other. This ends up making her pilgrimage much harder, as she eventually learns that defeating Sin might also end her life. Knowing that the person you love has to sacrifice themselves for a greater purpose is tragic, and Final Fantasy X handles the subject extremely well. It’s the kind of love story told of in myths; pure, beautiful, and selfless.
Shadow of the Colossus – Courage
When most people think of Shadow of the Colossus, they usually get a mental image of a guy on horse battling monsters the size of skyscrapers. Sure, that is the main focus of the game and battles are quite spectacular, but it’s important to remember why this happens in the first place. The main character Wander travels to the Forbidden Land with only one goal in mind, resurrecting a beautiful girl named Mono. In order to do this, he is tasked by a mysterious entity with slaying sixteen powerful creatures called colossi. If he can do the impossible, then the girl will be revived as promised, but at a price. While Wander and Mono’s relationship is not explicitly described and not a single line of dialogue between them is heard, it’s obvious that the bond they share is formidable. The fact that Wander is willing to continually risk his life just for a chance to bring back the girl he loves is quite courageous and proves his devotion. While sometimes forgotten, the romance found in Shadow of the Colossus is all about self-sacrifice and commitment against all odds. And the ending packs quite an emotional wallop.
Shadows of the Damned – Suffering
Another game with the word shadow in it? Yes dear reader, I went there. But you will never get these two titles confused, even though they share some characteristics. Shadows of the Damned deals with self-sacrifice, but throws in more dick jokes than I thought was humanly possible. Don’t let that throw you off though, there’s plenty of romance to be found, it’s just a tad bit more weird, kinky, and dysfunctional than the other games on this list. The story is simple enough, Garcia F. Hotspur is a veteran demon hunter who is in a committed relationship with a voluptuous blonde named Paula. But when the Lord of Demons, Fleming, shows up at his apartment and takes her away Garcia has to fight his way through a bizarre version of hell to save her. Once there, he’s forced to watch his beloved get killed over and over again in ever more gruesome ways, as she blames him for failing to save her. Regardless, he remains resolute and strives to bring her back. Paula is crazy. Garcia is loco. Together, they actually end up making a pretty good couple.
Honorable Mention: Gears of War – Trust
Love sometimes comes in strange packages, and the perfect example of this is the bromance between Marcus Fenix and Dominic Santiago from the Gears of War series. Over the course of three games these two men have endured much heartache. From losing comrades in battle to losing family and entire cities, all of these events brought Marcus and Dom as close as two men can possibly get. Not quite lovers, but not quite brothers either, their relationship lies somewhere in the proverbial gray area of love. While it is never outright stated, even the game’s creators hint at what may lie underneath those rugged exteriors through a number of appropriately titled achievements (I Can’t Quit You Dom). Their love may not be accepted, but I just wouldn’t feel right not including these two hunks.