Romance in video games range from subtle, sometimes unrequited romantic relationships to a romance that's a prominent subplot. Games where a romance is an integral part of the plot, however, are few and far between.
According to the official site:
Set in the award winning Sime~Gen Universe by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and Jean Lorrah, Ambrov X casts players in a far distant future as leaders of an unlikely but elite crew tasked with planting space beacons which allow for faster than light space travel. The Ambrov X saga unfolds into an action-packed story of first contact. Complete with epic battles and emotional decision making, Ambrov X brings to life the single-player, story-driven RPG through a thrilling space opera adventure. Ambrov X is scheduled for a 2015 release on Windows, OS X and Linux. With alternate releases for XBOX, PS4, iOS and Android to be released at a later date.
When Loreful announced that Bioware’s Jennifer Brandes Hepler had joined the team, a significant sci-fi romance related detail about the game emerged:
“Ambrov X” is a science fiction RPG focusing on a future humanity that has split into two separate and symbiotic races, forcing players’ characters to enter a tight, emotional, both predatory and romantic relationship with a single bonded companion character.
According to Loreful founder and CEO Aharon Cagle:
…We have seen a significant market hungry for more story-based RPGs and in 2012 we witnessed an incredible response to the power of episodic gaming, particularly around telling emotionally engaging stories. With the episodic model at the core of our design strategy, we intend to start where the need is the greatest, in the Sci-Fi genre.
Tags like “romantic relationship” and “emotionally engaging stories” tell us that Ambrov X is invested in the romance aspect of the game. It promises the theme of “love against the odds” in a futuristic, tech-based setting.
One perk is that by its very existence, Ambrov X acknowledges the vast number of women gamers, especially those interested in character-driven RPGs.
Jacqueline Lichtenberg, a longtime fan of science fiction romance, is the one attempting to deliver this gaming experience. She was writing romantic SF and was involved in Star Trek: The Original Series fan fiction long before sci-fi romance ever had a name. She gets it and knows there are other like-minded fans out there.
Ambrov X is designed to incorporate the conventions of science fiction romance in a visual medium. It’s also a savvy attempt to capitalize on the success of the Mass Effect franchise, one of the first video games to make various romantic relationships an integral part of the game.
How often do we come across that kind of mix? Rarely.
Seems to me that video games featuring a strong romance subplot or a romance that drives the story are ripe for developing. The key to success, at least initially, may be creating stories with strong cross-over appeal and that are more gender neutral (as opposed to a strong use of the female gaze).
Marketing, of course, is another issue since such games will likely be targeted to *cough*male*cough* audiences who are still adjusting to not only the idea of story and character-driven games, but also ones that lack sexism and other problematic gender issues. Perhaps the Mass Effect marketing model is one to emulate.
Granted, it may be awhile before companies with enough clout make romance heavy games a regular part of their release schedules. Still, a gal can hope.
If you're looking to experience a romance in a video game or are looking to put another notch in your belt, I compiled a list of games that feature a romance of some kind:
- Max Payne—Mona and Max
- Uncharted—Elena and Drake
- Halo—Master Chief and Cortana
- The Darkness—Jackie and Jenny
- Mass Effect—Shepherd and various characters (including aliens!)
- Red Dead Redemption—Bonnie and Marston
- Final Fantasy (various installments)—Cloud and Tifa or Aerith; Squall and Rinoa; Tidus and Yuna
There's also the Harlequin Presents: Hidden Object of Desire game (available at Big Fish Games). It's a hidden object game based on a romance story. Good for when you need an easy, no pressure palate cleanser after a round of Halo or Mass Effect!
Do you have a favorite video game romance? Which games incorporate romance elements well, and how do you think they achieve such success? What would be your ideal romance and video game mix?
Heather Massey is a lifelong fan of science fiction romance. She searches for sci-fi romance adventures aboard her blog, The Galaxy Express. She’s also an author in the subgenre. To learn more about her published work, visit heathermassey.com.