Sun
Nov 17 2013 3:30pm

Romancing the Video Game

Ambrov XRomance 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.

I was reminded of that fact when I learned about Ambrov X, a role-playing video game based on author Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s Sime~Gen Universe. It's currently in development at Loreful.

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.

Very 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.

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9 comments
Christopher Morgan
1. cmorgan
My favorite game ever features a romance. I remember the first time I played through Baldur's Gate II and from that opening where your character is comforting Jaheria after she finds out that her husband is dead, well I've been playing that game since 9th grade now.
Denise Garofalo
2. denise99
I'm a big fan of the Mass Effect trilogy. Whether you play a male or female Shep, there are romance choices throughout the series. My favorite is femShep and Garrus (alien)
Estara Swanberg
4. Estara
There are lots of romantic casual hidden object games at Bigfishgames.com, mostly with the female as the heroine trying to save the male.
I especially liked the first game based on Marjorie Liu's Tiger Eye and the Nora Roberts Vision in White hidden-object game.

One rpg series that has DEEP romance and in general deep relationships up to the characters leaving the hero/heroine to their fate - is the Dragon Age series. There are even m/m and f/f options available.

Neverwinter Nights 2 also has the option of romance for hero or heroine - and especially it's extension Mask of the Betrayer.
Alana Abbott
5. alanajoli
Oh, glad to see Tiger Eye already mentioned!

I think a bunch of the BioWare games did great romance options -- including Knights of the Old Republic, but especially Jade Empire.

The second Knights of the Old Republic game (by Oblivion, I think?) also did a good job with romance options, and had a really cool influence dynamic, so you as the player could change the characters that accompanied you -- character development in a video game!
Jenn B
6. Jenn B
I second the comment about Dragon Age! The first game in the series had one of my all-time favourite video game romances. But BioWare in general does romance very well. I think they realized early on that romance is a key way in which to get a player invested in the game. That makes any new BioWare game a must-buy for me...and I'm eagerly awaiting fall 2014 to see what Dragon Age 3 has to offer!
Jenn B
7. Copper Payne
I see Baldur's Gate 2, Neverwinter Nights, Dragon Age and Mass Effect already mentioned, which I think is grand, although coming at the earlier games from a female standpoint, I found the romances rather lacking, until one of the NWN expansions, Hordes of the Underdark (Valen, yay!). In BG2, female characters got...Anomen, the paladin. And that was it. Apparently the other romance option, Haer'Dalis (the hottie tiefling *cough*) was cut for budget/time/in my opinion BS reasons, but you could thrill to him flirting with one of the other female NPCs instead. Male characters got Aerie, Jahira, and Viconia. Granted, coming from a gaming era when it was fantastic to just be able to *play* female characters, this was a step up, but after seeing newer games (Like DA and ME), I look back on the older stuff and despair, a little, really. In fact, I find it a little amusing that the newer games include same-sex options, which is a major step up and I remember a, well, it's not quite an easter egg, but in BG2, you could manipulate a f/f, m/m relationship with the girdle that swapped your gender. Of course, this was only superficial, as dialogue didn't change, but you were now the same gender as your LI.

Of course, there's still hurdles to be overcome (references to a little project called Remember Me come to mind, heh), but seeing things like this and just the steps forward that gaming has done gives me hope that we'll see more in the future.
Jenn B
8. larainey
If you're willing to go japanese I have many. Otome games or maiden games are geared women sometimes with m/m or f/f. Game developers like Voltage and NTTSolmare make games in both languages. Some titles for non-phones/tablet are Swwet Fuse and Hakuoki. Both are just great.
Heather Waters (redline_)
9. redline_
Just saw a promo for a game called Battlefield 4 that looks like it could have romance. Nice!
Jenn B
10. Copper Payne
Ah! Hakuoki! I have that for my PSP. I don't remember what I was browsing on Amazon and it was a "recommended for you" and I clicked on it and went "Hmm. Visual novel and looks like it's for girls, too." And then I started reading about the plot and my history enthusiast gf goes "Wait, the Shinsengumi?!" and she starts geeking out over *that* so I decided to get it, figuring I could look at the pictures and take wild guesses. Then it showed up and I flipped over the back of the box and went "Wait a tick, this is in *English*!" I was so happy, since a lot of the visual novels, well, AREN'T. Which makes me very, very sad because, well, for one, there's a broader market for female gamers in that genre and, well, some of the games look really really really cool. One of my favorite series of all time, Suikoden, has two called Suikogaiden (I think, both number and name. Been a while.) and I remember thinking how awesome they looked but alas, never to see the light of day over here in the States because gamers can't be bothered to read . I wouldn't mind checking out more Otome games, even in Japanese, but I find they can be a bit pricey (like the Amnesia series. Whoo!) Recommendations are always welcome, especially for ones in English and either for PC or PSP (gotta love no region coding.)
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