Trendy as it is to treat videogame romance like some great undiscovered frontier, the truth is that involving, even genuinely touching romances have been a key part of game stories for decades. Some are sappy, some are tragic and some are slow boils that have taken years to really bloom. Whatever their circumstances, the 14 that follow are our favorites.
1. Link and Midna (The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
First met when: She sprang him out of prison.
Why they're the best: It's easy and cliched to say that Link and Zelda are the classic videogame couple, but if you really examine their relationship across all their various appearances and incarnations, theres never been any real chemistry between them. Sure, they've gone so far as to adventure together in a few titles (Ocarina of Time, Wind Waker and Spirit Tracks), but for the most part they've never progressed past rescuer/rescuee, and have shared a grand total of one (implied) kiss in the last 23 years.
Enter Midna. Not only does she subvert Hyrule's normal gender dynamics by rescuing Link (who's been turned into a wolf) from captivity, but her relationship with him is constant, symbiotic and at times a little touching. She's also genuinely interesting, chattering away at Link and goading him onward without ever quite coming off as annoying.
Oh, sure, her innate nastiness rubbed us the wrong way at first, and the fact that she spends most of Twilight Princess as a squat, sinister-looking imp makes the idea of an actual romance troubling. But as the game progresses, her harsh exterior (and, eventually, her weird appearance) melts away, revealing genuine feelings for Link or, at least, as close to genuine feelings as anyone in a Nintendo games ever expressed. (Spoiler alert!) And Link, for all his staring muteness, clearly felt something for her as well just look at the surprised almost-expression he made when she disappeared at the end of Twilight Princess:
2. Dom and Mario Santiago (Gears of War series)
First met when: They were 11 years old!
Why they're the best: Gaming has its share of Romeos and Juliets, but to know just how tragic the saga of Dominic and Maria Santiago is, you would've had to engage in our absolute least favorite element of Gears of Wars gameplay: the books.
Most of you know Dom as the loyal sidekick to Marcus Fenix, but did you know that Dom and Maria grew up as next-door neighbors, only to become parents at the age of 16? As if that weren't an ominous beginning for familial happiness, just when the couple was starting out on their new life, both of their children were killed by Locusts on Emergence Day. And thats why they're the best couple! (No it isnt.)
Fenix is too high on his own testosterone to express this thing called love, drawing a sharp contrast to Dom, who reflects on Maria often most notably during a domestic daydream while on a field trip through an aliens asshole in Gears 2. Unfortunately, the loss of her children sent Maria into a spiral of depression that ended with her just vanishing one day without a trace. By the time Dom found her in an underground prison years later, she was too emaciated and traumatized to speak to or even recognize her devoted husband. They shared one final, heart-wrenching embrace before Dom cut the reunion short with a single bullet of merciful euthanasia.
Tragic? Sure. But as some of these other entries will demonstrate, sometimes its the saddest love stories that leave the most lasting impressions.
3. The Prince and Farah (Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time/Two Thrones)
First met when: His father invaded and sacked her fathers kingdom, kidnapping her as a prize.
Why they're the best: Drawn together by adversity when the Sands of Time were unleashed on the kingdom of Azad, Farah and the Prince rapidly developed a strong bond that would change them both. While he initially viewed her with distrust, the Prince eventually came to rely on Farah's level-headed help, as well as her skill with a bow.
More importantly, her strength of character and realistic outlook helped the Prince grow from a spoiled, annoying brat into someone far more likable and considerate. By the time they had a dreamlike, implied love scene near the games end, the Prince was a changed man, trading in his short-sighted ideals of honor and glory for a little wisdom and maturity. And then, in the name of stopping the evil of the Sands from spreading, he changed the past and erased his adventure and his romance with Farah from existence.
Unlike some of the other, more tragic couples on this list, the Prince and Farah got a happy ending years later in The Two Thrones, when thanks to the Princes mucking around with time they were reunited as the Sands of Time were unleashed again, this time on the Princes fathers kingdom. This Farah had a harder edge to her, but given time, the two were able to rekindle their romance and end the Sands of Time trilogy on a high note.
4. Ico and Yorda (Ico)
First met when: He jumped on her dangling cage, releasing her from captivity.
Why they're the best: Trust. Its the very heart of Ico and Yordas relationship. Even though they both speak different languages and are poorly equipped to handle the labyrinthine castle that imprisons them, they both take off, hand in hand, on a quest for freedom. However, even though they're fast friends, theres an ever-present melancholy to their escape, as both Ico and Yorda are outcasts who may have nowhere to go even if they find a way out. All they have is each other, and as a player, you become inextricably connected to them and their intimate escape. Fable III is touting touching as a groundbreaking feature Ico did it wonderfully nearly 10 years ago.
Despite being a very G-rated romance, their feelings are no less intense, as instead of hearing about saving a spoken-for damsel, or rescuing a princess in the final act, Ico is constantly by Yordas side, always ready to pull her away from the smoky demons and their ruthless queen. Then, when its all over, its Yorda who carries a weakened Ico to safety. Stay past the credits and you find that shes stuck around, likely ready to see what else will happen with her horned (not horny!!) savior. Truly one of the most heartwarming and feel-good moments in all of gaming.
5. Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley (Secret of Monkey Island series)
First met when: He broke into her mansion to steal an idol.
Why they're the best: For starters, Elaine and Guybrush are a complete reversal of what we've come to expect from the traditional videogame hero/heroine relationship. She's a strong, competent pirate who's introduced as nothing less than the governor of a pirate-infested island, and he's a stumbling nebbish who just happens to have a rare knack for solving puzzles and dueling with insults. And yet, they complement each other surprisingly well.
While their romance is ridiculously improbable, their affection for each other is genuine, and its been tested by everything from voodoo curses and the repeated advances of ghost pirates to a game-length breakup and actual death. Whats more, their personalities are a smooth fit, as Elaine's toughness and strong personality make her a good counterweight to Guybrush's passive ideals and jaw-dropping incompetence.
And yet, Elaine needs Guybrush, mostly because its somehow Elaine who's always getting kidnapped or otherwise swept up in some kind of trouble (sometimes because of Guybrush's own bumbling) from which only his unique skills can free her. So its a little codependent - so what? They're in love and the series wouldn't be the same without them.
6. Gordon Freeman and Alyx Vance (Half-Life 2)
First met when: She was a child at Black Mesa. He then spent about 20 years in stasis before encountering her again in Dr. Kleiners lab.
Why they're the best: They're the quintessential odd couple who are totally obviously OMG in love but may never ever speak of it. That might have something to do with Gordon's inability to actually speak, ever, but aside from his muteness, he's apparently bound by some unmovable fate which, tragically, even Alyx's love cant fully disrupt. Stupid G-Man! Alyx, however, is less resigned to her life's path she's a boisterous, optimistic, and empathetic heroine, and she's one of the few who can access the humanity beneath Gordon's shell of stoic selflessness.
And their love only grows. In Episode 2 (spoiler alert!), Alyx is critically wounded, but is revived when Gordon daringly steals the larval extract of an antlion colony, and their lives become entwined by more than just circumstance. Yeah, pretty cheesy shit, but Alyx is so damn likeable that we eat it up, and it helps that Gordon's lack of personality allows us to easily insert ourselves into their scenario. Did we just say insert ourselves? Yes.
7. Jackie Estacado and Jenny Romano (The Darkness)
First met when: They grew up in the same orphanage.
Why they're the best: First-person shooters have been around for a long time, but it wasn't until The Darkness that one of them asked us to interact with a woman in a believable, relatable way.
Mob hitman Jackie Estacado might be a cursed, supernaturally tough killing machine when wandering the streets of New York, but when he's face-to-face with his lifelong sweetheart Jenny, he's as vulnerable and flawed as anyone. That not only makes him more human, but it makes his relationship with Jenny one of the most bittersweet things games have ever given us.
If you played The Darkness when it came out, its possible you've forgotten the details of Jackie's time with Jenny. You might not remember trying to hide the dark truth from her, or trying to tell her everything only to have her shrug it off as a bad joke. You might not remember that she bought Jackie a birthday cake with his name misspelled, or that her apartment was filled with boxes because she was just moving in. But one thing you likely do remember is sitting on the couch with her in the dark, watching To Kill a Mockingbird and hearing her whisper something about needing to pee before she fell asleep (and gave you an Achievement).
It was, in short, the closest thing to a real relationship that wed ever seen represented in a game, and it made Jenny and Jackie instantly endearing. It also made it that much more heart-wrenching when, later in the game, they were pulled apart by the actions of evil men.
Jackie and Jenny were a sweet onscreen couple, but their relationship helped elevate The Darkness's story from mindless action to emotionally involving art. If nothing else, we desperately wanted to see them together again and isn't that what makes a good couple good, really?
8. Ryu Hayabusa and Irene Lew (Ninja Gaiden trilogy)
First met when: She snuck up behind him in a bar.
Why they're the best: In a time when most game romances were me save you from castle, you kiss my cheek now, Ryu and Irene were about as close to a normal couple you could find. When they first meet, Irene tranquilizes Ryu and hauls him off to a cell in the middle of nowhere. After this rocky, adversarial start, the two embark on a mission to recover creepy-ass demon statues and keep them out of evil hands, all while discovering their feelings for one another as the world teeters on the edge of destruction.
As a member of the CIA, Irene is far from a usual damsel in distress. Shes' a capable, reliable agent who's a perfect fit for Ryu's no-nonsense ninja training. However, as an agent, she's prone to double crossing, and after you've saved the day she's ordered to kill Ryu and take that statue for the CIAs own use. Having gone through so much, Irene not only disobeys the order, but also admits her feelings just as Ryu does the same.
This bond carries through the second and third games, though Irene's status does weaken from badass operative to Derp! Guess who's been kidnapped!? She's stabbed and sacrificed in the second, but Ryu's own purity of heart and passion for his partner revive her (with a lil help from some ancient magic) and in the third game she's believed to have been killed by Ryu himself but it turns out to be a clone. Such interesting lives.
Its a sweet, genuine romance thats only become more relevant now that Ninja Gaiden is synonymous with big-titted sex-toys passed off as women. These two went through hell together and came out not just normal, but in a lasting, loving relationship.
9. Master Chief and Cortana (Halo series)
First met when: She chose him as her carrier to aid in the Battle of Reach.
Why they're the best: Trust and loyalty are fundamental elements of any good relationship, and these two are balls-deep in trust and loyalty. No matter what, Master Chief and his holographic artificial-intelligence girlfriend stick by each other. Even when the Gravemind had Cortana under its control, and she lured Chief into a Flood trap, he followed her. If fighting hordes of zombie-like horrors while your woman is losing her mind and constantly nagging at you throughout a level that looks like an anus isn't love, then we dont know what love is.
An all-out space war is no match for this Bonnie-and-Clyde duo, either. Even during the most intense situations, Master Chief and Cortana still find time to flirt, whether they're actively bombing the Covenant in Halo: Combat Evolved (Unfortunately for us both, she says, I like crazy.) or just joking, in the novels, about which of them is better at blowing things up.