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Week of Love: Games with Unrequited Love
(Slight Mass Effect and Knights of the Old Republic Spoilers Below)
We’ve all been there before–your character meets an attractive person. Over the course of your adventures, you bat eyelashes with them, share the most intimate details one can offer, and may even eventually profess the burning love you harbor within. But nothing can prepare you for what happens next: your character is unable to act on that love through the pacing of the story or through the sick design of the game mechanics. In short, the love you or your character has goes unrequited. It can be almost as disappointing as a let-down of a story by itself. Below are my examples of the more egregious offenders.
Hero and Wife/Husband (Fable)
Fable left more than a few things on the cutting room floor when it was released in 2004. Still, it would be more than difficult not to enjoy the world the story takes place in. In a world filled with magic, whimsy, and talking doors, you play as the Hero, bound to the convictions of none but his own.
In every town, the Hero is able to court a lovely young person. This often consists of showering her with gifts and the aptly-timed charming gesture. Assuming you already own a house, the hero can then purchase a ring to propose. A cutscene ensues, depicting the the day on stained glass, and the two are now married.
What is married life in the world of Albion? In this case, it often came down to showering your male or female partner with gifts until they were in the mood, at which point you could retreat with them to the bedroom for further whimsy of an intimate nature. This was the extent to which you and your partner could interact, and it was a bit of a shame that more couldn’t be done there. In Fable 2, your partner will ask you to think about the toll being an adventurer takes on your family.
Dragonborn and ______ (Skyrim)
Skyrim follows suit in the Fable execution of marriage. While requiring a few more steps to become married, there aren’t as many interpersonal dialogues that form. Sure, my Skyrim wife will share some of her merchant earnings with me. That time where she rushed a dragon with a dagger was as entertaining as it was mortifying. Yet, there is still a slight longing for than just hearing “my love” when I entered my home. As was similar with Fable, however, I was too busy being the paragon of good to really notice.
So far my list has been a breakdown of games in which romance wasn’t quite expressed, or couldn’t be because that level of expression simply was unable to be worked into the game. But what about the entries where Player A swears to be true to Character B?
Shepard and Liara (Mass Effect)
The good folks at Bioware know a good tease. The Mass Effect series is arguably one of the best endeavors in interactive storytelling, but the recency of the franchise means I won’t elaborate on the tale. Rather, I’ll share my romance decision and why it means I’m a terrible person.
My male Shepard began a relationship with Liara T’Soni, the asari researcher. As customary with all love interests, Liara gives you a bit of the cold shoulder in ME2, having other concerns. The relationship does earn a chance at redemption in Lair of the Shadowbroker, where upon defeating the Shadowbroker himself, Shepard and Liara can remain friends or continue the romance that was rekindled in the first Mass Effect title. Liara proceeds to cry, expressing concern over your death from the beginning of the game.
Players can choose to comfort her by saying that things won’t go the same route in the battle against the reapers and that’s exactly what happens in most variances on the ending. Choosing to destroy the reapers (the red ending) is the only ending that yields a cutscene showing what is largely accepted to be an alive Shepard. I chose the green ending, meaning that I ultimately told my asari love interest I wasn’t going to die again, only to repeat that history. That’s reopening an old wound if I’ve ever seen it. With an axe.
Revan and Bastila Shan (Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic)
Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic still serves as an example of fantastic storytelling in a galaxy far, far away that doesn’t have to involve the Skywalker clan to be great. In assuming the role of the main character, players become hero-turned-villain-turned hero or villain Revan, battling the their once-protege Malak, as he seeks to move forward with the starforge to claim the galaxy as his. Over KOTOR’s journey, Revan does learn a great deal about the company in which he or she travels, and in some cases gains the option to express romantic sentiment. As a bald man, I chose to converse with Bastila, faithful padawan to the Jedi Order. Towards the end of the game, Revan and Bastila enter a battle of ideology, and assuming you’ve chosen the right dialogue cues (unlike Mass Effect, there was no clear indicator what the character would want to hear), you could reconcile with Bastila. During these moments, male players who’ve said the right things throughout the course of the game can even tell Bastila that they love her. Of course, all of this is said right before the end game with Malak.
By all means, the concept of confessing to such feelings in the face of the unknown can be romance at its finest. Yet, the story continues in KOTOR 2, where an exiled Jedi combats another evil 5 years after the first game. Back in the game is Bastila, but where is Revan? It turns out that Revan remembered a greater threat to the galaxy and wishing to keep his wife and child out of it, sought to combat it alone. Players would never learn of Revan’s fate, or how it affected his family in KOTOR 2, as the book discussing it would be published in 2011, six years after the game’s release date. Revan is captured during Star Wars: The Old Republic, and it isn’t until the events of Star Wars: The Old Republic that we learn that Revan was held prisoner for 300 years. His wife and child knew that he succeeded in his mission, as the threat never came to pass, but let’s also not ignore the fact that they’d never reunite in that lifetime.
Talk about a buzzkill.