Caution: Spoilers for Lunar: SSS, Valkyrie Profile, and Final
Strong romantic plots seem to be difficult to find in RPGs. Often the romance comes across as forced, unimaginative, and sudden. I'm someone who doesn't believe in love at first sight, but I find it rather dreadful when games use this as a tactic to create a romantic plot. Often romantic plots seem tacked on, and to be frank, doesn't make me believe that the couple's love is natural. That's not to entirely rule out love at first sight, I believe that the best written romantic plots allow love to be something that grows naturally and intensifies. The struggle, the loss and the reunion - these are the romantic plots we shed a tear for.
It's hard to make romantic plots seem completely believable. Lunar: Silver Star Story was one of the few RPGs where I truly believed in the romance between Alex and Luna. Although Alex's quest is to become a "Dragonmaster" is important, his desire to rescue Luna is what drives him to complete his task. Following in the footsteps of Dragonmaster Dyne, Alex comes to recognize that he would be willing to give up his childhood dream to be with Luna. As the game continues to progress, you see Alex's love for Luna intensify to the point where he is in pain and refuses to accept the situation that has come between him and his lady love. At the end of Lunar when Alex climbs the steps to face the Goddess Althena, he is constantly reminiscing about his past life with Luna, and it is his cherished memories that snaps the Goddess from her trance. In the end, despite a brutal battle, true love conquers all.
Valkyrie Profile is another game where romance is gradual and love is what essentially shapes the characters, particular the leads, Lenneth and Lucian. Finding out that Platina's parents have sold her into slavery, Lucian decides to take matters into his own hands, and he and Platina escape the village of Coriander. After inhaling the poison of the Weeping Lily Meadow, Platina dies in Lucian's arms and he cries out to the heavens. After Platina is reincarnated into Lenneth, the game gradually shows how Lenneth regains the memories of her former life. After Lucian becomes an Einherjar, he takes Lenneth back to the Weeping Lily Meadow, and her memories begin to flood back. Before she sends him to Valhalla, Lucian and Lenneth share a kiss, but she tells him that love between a human and God is impossible. When Loki tricks Lucian into using the Water Mirror, he gives Lenneth a token, a small earring, and tells her to find its match. When Lucian is punished for his disobedience, Lenneth becomes tormented by the loss. She searches and finds the earring, and suddenly the memories of her past are restored. The game constantly leaves the player on a cliff hanger – will they or won't they be reunited? While the game is tragic, it makes the player want to believe wholeheartedly that love will triumph, and that Lenneth and Lucian will be together at long last.
While those are just two examples of games that make a romantic plot believable, these are games that use the romantic plot as the driving focal point. With love, their is loss, and with loss, their is rebirth. Unfortunately, there are other games where the romantic plot is suppose to be the driving force, but the plots tend to become so convoluted that the romantic plot is far from actually being "romantic". I am referring to Final Fantasy VIII, as that game gives us one of the most bizarre romantic plots I have ever encountered. Why? Because we never entirely understand why Squall falls for Rinoa. Once Rinoa goes into a coma after receiving Edea's powers, Squall becomes obsessed with her, and it happens so suddenly. There's no gradual build to how their romance blossoms – it just happens. When Rinoa is abandoned in outer space by Ultimecia, it's up to Squall to rescue her, but again there is no build up. I can't even remember their being indications where Squall starts to develop feelings for her. While it can be argued that Rinoa's character is suppose to open up the brooding Squall Leonhart, it seems forced to the point where there is no magic between them, yet this is suppose to be the driving focal point of the game.
Although I have provided strong examples of good romantic plots, I cannot help but feel that many newer games have gone beyond the golden years. Somehow it has become difficult to lace together a strong, beautiful and blossoming romantic story line. Instead, now we have situations where romantic plot is tacked on, or forced upon a character to give them some "development", but it's so shallow that often we come to overlook the romantic tones of the game because we are not made to care about the budding romance between the characters. Romance is suppose to help characters grow and mature. Romance is needed to remind us that we are human, and that we feel the pains and joys of what someone else can provide us. I wish their were more RPGs to make us believe in true love once again.