Romance is an essential theme in all types of artistic expression, even video games. Portraying love and the process of falling in love has never been easy in an interactive medium, though. Even now, many games fall back on superficial tropes and nods towards love, rather than trying to show it in motion. From time to time, however, developers have found ways to offer layered, heartfelt stories of romance, and if you want to play a game where you can watch love bloom this Valentine’s Day, we have a list of romantic games you should check out.
Florence does more poignant storytelling in its hour of runtime than most AAA games do in 30-plus hours. An interactive visual novel, Florence tells the rise and fall of a relationship between two twenty-somethings. The main character has fallen into a monotonous routine, of work, TV dinners, and disagreements with her mother over the phone. Then she stumbles upon a cellist in the park named Krish, and their relationship begins to blossom.
The interactive elements of Florence are simplistic but profound. Each dialogue bubble must be put together using puzzle pieces. The number and shapes of the pieces change based on the tone and difficulty of the conversation. It’s subtle but it paints a surprisingly vivid picture of what it’s like to fall in love for the first time. Florence accurately remarks on the perfection we feel when we first find that truly special someone. And then it catalogs the fall of the relationship, with equal deftness.
Rounded out by a stellar soundtrack and a bright, welcoming art style, it’s an incredibly relatable and one of the best examples of a love story done right in video games.
Florence is available on iOS and Android.
Final Fantasy X
Final Fantasy is known for its intricate plots, eccentric characters, and “save the world” storylines. Nearly every entry in the series includes a love story. but out of the 13 entries (excluding the MMO), Final Fantasy X is the only one that feels organic. Star-crossed lovers Tidus and Yuna’s relationship stands at the center of a much larger tale. More importantly, FFX tells an actual love story. We get to see Yuna, a grand summoner, and Tidus, her guardian, meet and fall in love, rather than simply declare their romantic feelings for each other.
If you need further proof of Tidus and Yuna’s great love, look no further than the infamous laughing scene. While it’s often mocked as awkward, over-the-top, and unusually long, it serves an important purpose, showcasing Tidus and Yuna’s tangible connection. Silly sequences like this reveal how and why Tidus and Yuna feel the way they do and we feel it with them.
Final Fantasy X is available on PS4, PS3, PS Vita, PS2, and will be available on Nintendo Switch and Xbox One on April 16.
The Mass Effect trilogy
BioWare’s Mass Effect series (sans Andromeda) builds exceptional characters through quality writing and, more importantly, player choice. The many conversations you have as Commander Shepard not only affect the course of the story, but your relationships with other characters throughout the series. This clever system allows for courting successes, failures, and those ambiguous moments when you don’t know where a relationship stands.
Over the course of the series, Shepard’s romantic options expanded and became more integral to the Mass Effect experience. While the original Mass Effect only gives players two options for both male and female Shepard, Mass Effect 2 increases this to six potential romantic partners each. Mass Effect 3 gave male Shepard nine and female Shepard seven (unfair, we know). The bonds you choose to pursue evolve organically, using branching conversation options and relationship building missions throughout each game. Who do you want standing beside you when you save the galaxy?
The Mass Effect Trilogy is available on PS3, Xbox 360, and is backwards compatible with Xbox One.
Stardew Valley, the product of one man’s quest to make a Harvest Moon-style game, offers one of the more realistic depictions of courting romantic partners in games. Your character escaped the hustle and bustle of the city for a quiet, comfortable life on the farm. But tending to your crops can get lonely. Luckily, six bachelors and bachelorettes are looking for romance, and you might just be their perfect match.
Stardew Valley is all about love, so wooing a prospective life partners doesn’t move too quickly. You have to establish a budding friendship before someone becomes your partner. You do this by talking to them, running errands, giving gifts, and asking them to be your dance partner at festivals. Finally, when you achieve the perfect relationship (10 out of 10 hearts!) you can purchase the Mermaid’s Pendant and ask them to marry you.
The most interesting part about romance in Stardew Valley is that no relationship status is inevitable or permanent. Your romantic interest can reject you or your marriage can dissolve if you don’t give your spouse enough attention, and you’ll be left at square one. That’s probably not what you want to hear on Valentine’s Day, but Stardew Valley offers a positive, deep take on relationships that could actually make you think about the successes and failures of your own romantic endeavors.
Stardew Valley is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and iOS.
To the Moon
Simply put, To the Moon tells one of the most moving love stories in a video game. Johnny Wyles wants to go to the moon before he dies, and Sigmund Corp. has the technology to place the memory of doing so in his mind. Instead, Johnny’s real memories tell a love story for the ages.
His childhood sweetheart, River, died a few years earlier after what was seen as an unhappy marriage. As the game hops in and out of space and time, working backward through Johnny’s life with River, we get a much clearer understanding of Johnny’s odd desire to reach the moon. The love shared between Johnny and River is a stellar example of video game romance done right. You might want to keep a box of tissues on hand.
To the Moon is available on PC, iOS, and Android.
Dragon Age: Inquisition
Dragon Age: Inquisition treats romance like both Tinder and eHarmony. That is, you can have one-night stands and develop serious relationships. Heck, you can have a discreet interaction while off on a quest and return home to the one you’ve been courting. That’s wrong, of course, but Inquisition factors in all sides of the dating game.
Inquisition‘s dating element is effectively a fantasy counterpart to the dating from Mass Effect. They are both Bioware games, after all. With dialogue trees aplenty, the words that you choose have consequences, leading to lasting bonds or sad, sad rejections.
You can flirt with NPCs who aren’t looking for anything serious, or you can work your charm and turn friendships into something more. If you want the most options (and who doesn’t?), play as an elven female. Elven females have six potential suitors, human females have five, and all others only have four opportunities for serious love.
Dragon Age: Inquisition is available on PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3, and PC.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Do you like playing matchmaker? If so, Fire Emblem Awakening has you covered. The excellent turn-based strategy game actually compels you to play Cupid by putting units near one another on the battlefield. As in other Fire Emblem games, keeping two characters near each other through a string of battles will cause a bond to develop.
For certain characters, that bond is platonic, but in many cases, it will eventually lead to a relationship. In Awakening, though, things can take a weird, intense turn. When your soldiers develop a romantic bond, it may lead to a new character joining your army — their child!
Fire Emblem Awakening is available on Nintendo 3DS.
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt
The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is a dazzling and overwhelmingly massive open world RPG that gives the player plenty of control over Geralt of Rivia’s choices and progression. This includes a myriad of opportunities to seduce and develop relationships with women throughout the sprawling world.
While the first two games also have solid romance features, The Witcher 3 finally brings Yennefer into the picture, complicating Geralt’s and Triss’ relationship. A sorceress, Yennefer was mentioned in the first two games as a love interest in Geralt’s past life, but he had no clear memory of her. They share some serious history, enough to make your choice between her and Triss pretty difficult.
Throughout your adventure, you will have choices of when to show affection, who to side with on quests, and more. Being somewhat of a ladies man, you can also woo several other minor characters for a night of fun. But in the end, you’ll have to choose between Yennefer or Triss, or lose them both. Decisions, decisions.
The Witcher 3 is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC.
Gone Home tells a very complicated tale of teenage romance, and it does this through notes and letters found scattered around your family’s home. You may discover them out of order or you may not even find all of the clues, but through compelling, deeply relatable writing, even the tiniest scraps of paper further your understanding of this love.
Gone Home builds a living, breathing romance without ever bringing the characters on-screen. We cannot say much more than that without spoiling the experience, but Gone Home captures the messy nature of young love in a way that few games do. Gone Home is an absolute gem that touches, rather brilliantly, on numerous aspects of love and longing.
Gone Home is available on PS4, Xbox One, Switch, PC, and iOS.
The Uncharted series
Naughty Dog’s Uncharted franchise follows the adventures of treasure hunter Nathan Drake, but it also tells a more universal story of love between him and his partner in both adventure and life, Elena. Drake and Elena offer an incredibly refreshing depiction of a couple, at least among video games.
Where most in-game relationships are predicated on one saving the other, these two prove time and again that they don’t need each other to survive. Yes, they save each other from certain death on occasion, but they live their own lives still. They have their own interests and pursuits. While their connection was clear from the very beginning, they often went their separate ways.
After Drake’s Fortune, Elena becomes an investigative journalist in Among Thieves, and later becomes an international news correspondent in Drake’s Deception. Only in A Thief’s End do we finally see them together in relative normalcy. And even then, it’s unclear if they can work as well as a team as they do individually. Uncharted tells a long-form story of love, rife with the ups and downs and uncertainty of all lasting relationships.
The first three Uncharted games are available on PS3 and PS4, while Uncharted 4 is only on PS4.
Persona 4, like all Persona games, is quite quirky. The high school simulator/role-playing game wraps an excellent murder mystery inside a turn-based dungeon crawler, which also happens to feature a dating sim on the side. Set in a rural Japanese town, you control the new boy in town, who naturally draws a fair amount of attention at school. As your relationships with other students grow, you can pick and choose who you want to spend time with and form a relationship.
Like real life, though, young love can be fickle. Your romantic endeavors (or lack thereof) have consequences. If you forgo an opportunity to get a girlfriend, that person will never be interested in you like that again. Rough, right? If you cannot make up your mind, you can try your hand at dating multiple people at once. Just know that your current partner might randomly drop in on your date, which creates an understandably awkward situation. Persona 4 captures the dynamics of teenage relationships and gives relationships room to both blossom and wither over the course of its 50-hour story.
Persona 4 is available on PS Vita, PS3, and PS2.
In Dream Daddy, you move to a seaside town with your daughter. Luckily for you, all of your neighbors happen to be single dads. Now you just have to figure out which bachelor is right for you. A traditional dating simulator, Dream Daddy is part-visual novel, part mini-game compilation, and one of the few dating simulators about gay male relationships. Heartfelt and humorous writing, combined with an engaging visual style, make Dream Daddy stand out amongst traditional dating sims. Each of the seven dateable dads stand out, and chances are you’ll want to get to know all of them.
Its approach to dating is genuinely endearing, and the mini-games are integrated quite well. In one path, you play an ode to Pokémon in which you must lower the other dad’s HP by impressing him with your daughter’s accomplishments. It’s absurd, funny, and surprisingly effective in its methods of flirtation and relationship building from the lens of single dads looking for love.
Dream Daddy is available on PS4 and PC.