Love Is a Many-Splendored Thing
Romeo and Juliet. Jack and Rose. Conan O'Brian and the Tonight Show. Tragic love stories have gripped us throughout history, making our hearts ache and excuses about something in our eyes flow. Video games have embraced the tradition with ready joysticks, giving way to such soul-rending pairs as Farah and the Prince, Mono and Wander, and Tidus and Yuna.
The seventh generation has been no different, and as the eighth generation begins to emerge it feels like a good time to recognize the couples of the last ten years that have made us laugh, made us cry, and then made us cry some more. What follows are 10 tragic video game love stories of the last generation, and I suggest you bust out the tissues. You're gonna need them.
Gordon and Alyx (Half-Life 2)
There's just something about these two. Maybe it's the way she finds his quiet demeanor endearing and likes his prowess with a rocket launcher. Maybe it's the way he goes on a death-defying mission to the ant lion's den to save her life. Maybe it's the way they are metaphorically joined together body and soul by magic science energy. Whatever it is, these two just click, which is why it's so sad that they may never end up together.
It's not to say that these two have no chance--the gaming world is certainly pulling for them, Valve keeps making room for cute moments here and there (wait did... did she just wink at him?), and they even have her father's unsubtle blessing. But as much as they care about each other, our heroes are fighting against the odds to save humanity, and with death around every corner there's no guarantee they'll both make it out alive. Theirs is the tragedy of being so close and yet so far--like entangled atoms, in a way.
Link and Midna (Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess)
For all Midna's impish orneriness and Link's unreadable bearing, these two make a charming pair. Starting as partners of convenience when she breaks him out of prison, they grow closer during their journey, wearing away at each other's concealing exteriors to show a more affectionate Midna and caring Link underneath. When the evils that plague both the Twilight Realm and Hyrule are abolished, it seems like things might turn out, with Midna noting that she and Link could meet again as long as the Twilight Mirror remains intact.
But Midna's no fool. Even if she wasn't around to hear Ganon's final claim that the history of light and shadow "will be written in blood," she knows that leaving the path open between the realms invites evil to try and take over both again. So, saying her final goodbyes, she destroys the mirror and returns home alone, sealed off from Link for eternity. (Or until fans cry loud enough for her return--there's hope there, right?)
Edward Kenway and Mary Read (Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag)
Some fans think these two were made for each other, their love born out of mutual respect and companionship. Others think that romance would cheapen their deep and abiding friendship. Both interpretations work, and regardless of how they love each other, they still clearly do, which is what makes the end of their story so heart-crushing.
Over the course of Black Flag, Edward and Mary become close allies and confidants; she sticks her neck out for him constantly, and he relies on her for guidance and camaraderie. Even against Edward's stubborn greed and pleasure-seeking, Mary holds out hope that he will realize his potential. However, things take a turn and something very bad and spoilery (sort of; is it a spoiler if it happened for real in the 1700's?) happens to Mary, and Edward's selfish exploits put him in a position where he can't help her until it's too late. This event ultimately shows him the error of his ways and guides toward a better path, but it still feels about as good as a hidden blade to the chest.
Professor Layton and Claire (Professor Layton and the Unwound Future)
Most probably wouldn't regard the Professor Layton series as a hotbed of romantic intrigue. However, a love story does manage to sneak into The Unwound Future in the form of Professor Layton's relationship with his long lost girlfriend Claire, and it's good enough to tug a few heartstrings.
In the midst of Layton and Luke's puzzle-solving shenanigans, they end up ten years in the future. There they meet a woman who turns out to be Claire, who was sent twenty years into the future by a time machine explosion that Layton thought had killed her. Several flashbacks paint a sweet picture of their lives together, all domestic and scientific bliss, and when they meet again it seems like things are going to turn out all right. However, Claire reveals that she has to return to the past and die in the explosion to set the timeline right. Layton isn't willing to accept it, but she goes anyway and he has no choice but to let her. What the heck game! I came here for puzzles, not feelings!
Bill and Frank (The Last of Us)
Sometimes love pops up where you least expect them--like between two gruff, post-apocalyptic survivalists who seem to hate each other's guts on the surface. That's Bill and Frank from The Last of Us, who at first appear to have just been two guys helping each other survive, before a tragic love story begins to slip through.
Bill at first seems to be an unshakable bear of a person, but that changes when the trio find a dead man hanging in an abandoned house whom he shakily identifies as his "partner" Frank. A nearby suicide note fills in the gaps, revealing that Bill and Frank had a falling out and Frank killed himself after being bitten. As vicious as both Frank and Bill's final words to each other are, there's a sadness there that two tough guys can't seem to put into words. There's mention of Bill's porn collection for those who didn't pick up on Naughty Dog's hints, but for many the ache in Bill's voice as he cusses Frank out one last time is all that's necessary.
Altair and Maria (Assassin's Creed)
Some love stories are tragic because they never get off the ground, and the lovers don't ever really get the chance to be together. Others, like the story of Altair and Maria, are tragic because they do get to build a life together, spending decades as each other's life companions, before it's all torn apart.
From antagonistic beginnings in Assassin's Creed Bloodlines to elderly bliss in Revelations (with an, ahem, interesting scene in ACII) Altair and Maria are an odd but endearing couple, fighters who grow close through mutual respect and understanding. They raise children and lead the Assassin Brotherhood together, take family trips to kill Genghis Khan and suffer tragedy side-by-side when their youngest son is killed. But the real calamity comes when a furious Altair attacks his son's killer and Maria is mortally wounded in the process. Altair ultimately goes into isolation with the strong implication that he suffers dementia in his old age, reliving the realization of his wife's death over and over again. Oh God, right in the heart.
Jackie Estacado and Jenny Romano (The Darkness)
There's something instantly charming about Jenny Romano. She's cute, playful in a genuine way, and fun to interact with even in scripted scenes. That's all thanks to the way Jackie Estacado sees her: his lifelong love, she is the one bright spot in Jackie's life in the midst of the well, Darkness that surrounds him. So naturally, when it comes time to hit Jackie where it hurts, there's only one place to go.
Against the backdrop of ludicrous violence and incredible evil that defines The Darkness, Jackie's time with Jenny serves as a sharp contrast and welcome respite. Sitting in her apartment watching a movie seems shockingly normal compared to everything else going on, giving Jackie a sense of humanity and grounding--and let's face it, they're pretty adorable. Which is why, as the Darkness forces Jackie to stand on one side of a locked door and watch her die, the player can't help but feel exactly how the game wanted them to feel: that something beautiful has been destroyed, and there's only darkness left. Ouch.
Master Chief and Cortana (Halo)
What Bungie started in the original Halo with Master Chief and Cortana's witty banter, 343 Industries finished in Halo 4 with a love story. While not all fans buy the romantic angle, it's hard to deny that the two are compatible partners: an emotionless human soldier and a very human computer program, they each bring something to the table that makes them a winning team. They are fiercely loyal to each other, each taking bullets (literally and metaphorically) for the other regularly. In a prime example of their dedication to each other, Cortana lets herself be kidnapped by Gravemind to protect Master Chief, and his promise to return for her is what keeps her sane through the ordeal.
So, when Cortana is succumbing to rampancy, of course Master Chief jumps at the chance to help her. But then when everything's gone right and the mission's a success, it becomes clear that Cortana's still not coming back, and there's nothing Master Chief can do this time. Dangit, someone get me a crazy space gun so I can shoot my feelings.
Corvo Attano and Jessamine Kaldwin (Dishonored)
Many love stories follow a tried and true formula: the two meet, fall in love, go through rough patches and then end up together or, in the case of a sad story, tragically separated. Such stories usually don't start with the separation part, but Dishonored did it, and it tears out more than just the player's heart.
After Empress Jessamine Kaldwin is murdered in Dishonored's opening sequence and Corvo is framed, he goes on a crusade to bring her killers to justice. At first it just seems like the action of a dutiful bodyguard; however, taking the time to search the game's various locales reveals interesting tidbits about their relationship, from comments about moments they shared to a letter she wrote him but never delivered. Slowly a tale of companionship and love begins to unfold, showing just how much they cared for each other and how much Corvo has lost in losing her--and how, in ways he never could have foreseen, his journey to avenge her is maiming her spirit. My heart is at peace indeed.
Dom and Maria (Gears of War)
Anyone who's ever seen a war movie knows it's time to worry when someone busts out the family photos. Dom Santiago from Gears of War is no exception: he keeps with him a photo of his wife Maria (oh no), his childhood sweetheart (NO) and the mother of his two children (UGH NO), and that story ends about as well as you could expect.
Dom and Maria apparently had a wonderful life together before Emergence Day, when their children were killed and Maria spiraled into depression before vanishing without a trace. Years later Dom gets a tip about her location, and when he finds her he sees her happy and healthy as he remembers--right before the illusion fades and he realizes she's a lobotomized victim of Locust processing. His apologies to her are heart-wrenching, the contrast between what she once was and what she has become creating a powerful sense of horror and loss. Ultimately, Dom puts the love of his life out of her misery without her ever recognizing him. That is love, and man, is that pain.