Happy Valentine's Day! Six Games for the Retro Romantic

by Jennifer Calheiros-Martin

AdobeStock_60747680 (1).png

Okay, maybe Valentine’s Day isn’t the most fun ever. If you have a partner, there’s so much pressure to do something! And if you don’t, well, it can be a lonely time. A better option is, of course, to stay home and play video games. Here are six romantic games to play instead of blowing money on an overpriced dinner!

6. Analogue: A Hate Story (Windows/Mac OS/Linux, Love Conquers All Games, 2012)

We’re already starting off on a bit of a different foot here. Analogue: A Hate Story is a visual novel designed and coded by Christine Love, and it’s totally unlike any game you’ve ever played. The game begins with the player character being tasked to retrieve text logs from aboard an abandoned ship, the Mungughwa, which lost contact with Earth over 500 years before the beginning of the story. The ship, a South Korean generation ship, has seemingly had its culture shift into a highly rigid and conservative structure echoing pre-modern Korea.

As you enter the wreckage of the ship and access the logs, you are greeted by an AI named *Hyun-ae who helps you look through the logs. However, everything from here changes drastically, but I don’t want to spoil another line of this masterful game.

Love’s deftness with environmental storytelling, dialogue writing, and unconventional visual novel design is breathtaking. I was crying my eyes out by the end.

5. Final Fantasy VIII (PlayStation, Square, 1999)

Oh, sue me why don’t ya. Yes, other Final Fantasy games like VII and X have great romances, but I don’t think any game really centres its romantic elements like the messy, imperfect Final Fantasy VIII. Squall and Rinoa are both unlikeable, immature characters as the game begins, but what’s genuinely cool about FF8’s storytelling is that as they mature their growing love seems real, and genuine. Plus, the flashback romance you occasionally cut to with soldier-of-fortune Laguna shows what kind of a person Squall will become, with time.

4. Persona 4 (PlayStation 2, Atlus, 2008)

The Persona games have always had lots of romantic and sexual elements baked in, but for my money nothing beats the tenderness and depth with which Persona 4 treats a sexually ambiguous character like Kanji. This was really groundbreaking stuff, especially for 2008. And it’s even better when you consider that the series itself hasn’t always been top of the totem for queer representation.

3. Gone Home (Microsoft Windows/Mac OS/Linux, The Fullbright Company, 2012)

“Walking simulator!” The YouTube commenters scream at me, “This is just a walking simulator!”

And? Gone Home is a remarkable game, one that broke some many molds and created something wholly fresh and original. Perhaps some of the games that arrived in Gone Home’s wake haven’t reached such lofty heights, but the game’s ability to tell a complete story (with a touching romance in tow), is nothing short of miraculous.

2. Life is Strange (Multi-Platform, Dontnod, 2015)

I’m going to confess a little bit of ambivalence to the game itself, which combines point-and-click adventure tropes with some of the lazier “karma system” mechanics we’ve seen in other games. That being said, the romance between high schoolers Chloe Price and Rachel Amber is touching, genuinely moving, and it gets you through some of the game’s weaker points because you’re trying to save this beautiful relationship. One of the best written depictions of an LGBT relationship in gaming.

#1. To the Moon (Microsoft Windows, Freebird Games, 2011)

I don’t want to tell you anything about this game. I want you to rush on over to Steam and buy it, and play it. I want you to marvel at the gorgeous pixel art, the exceptional design, the beautiful music. And I want you to give your heart and soul over to this game, because you will be rewarded. To the Moon is one of the most unique, exceptional games I have ever played.

To_the_Moon_cover (1).png