I have a trend of opening up about myself on these posts. Even though they’re often informative or for fun-type subjects, I tend to share a lot about myself in these. Possibly too much. Well I hope you’re ready for more, because today I’m talking about something I’m a big sucker for: Good romance. Specifically in video games since it’s a much more personal feeling than watching people fall in love in a movie, and it’s also much more vindicating knowing that you made the right decisions to lead to this outcome. Whilst I tend to like a lot of different types of romances in games, there are a few things that I find will make a romance particularly impactful, and whilst I’m referring mostly to video games these things do apply to romance in non-interactive forms of media as well. The three big factors are ‘The Hook’, ‘The Trials’, and ‘The Payoff’. I’ll be using Lohse from Divinity: Original Sin II to help explain these points as we go, so beware some spoilers for her if you’re concerned about that. I may be a week late for Valentine’s Day but it’s never late to learn about love! (I’m sorry)
First up we have ‘The Hook’. Much like with a good story hook, a good romance tends to have a good hook as well. This is the most subjective of the three factors so what I find to be a good hook might not qualify for you, but there are a few major ways this can be done. There can be an inciting incident of sorts where you are introduced to the character in a strange event or in the middle of an action scene. Usually there is something about the method of the event that takes place here that really draws your attention to the character based on the way it plays out. Perhaps they show up as reinforcements in the middle of a crisis but the method they use to help is strange, perhaps they explode into the room confidently only to realize they had the wrong door and awkwardly retreat. Whatever it is, it garners your attention, interest and possibly even fascination.
Introductions are important but ‘The Hook‘ doesn’t just come from an event; often with our favorite romances we find ourselves drawn to specific features and/or traits about the character (often multiple). It could be a strange way they speak or act, a unique aesthetic that intrigues you, an interesting set of abilities/skills they showcase or just the initial personality on display. Again this is going to be subjective, so what draws me in may not work at all for you, but think back to some of your favorite romances and think of the earliest scenes of them and see if you found something that instantly drew you in. So how does Lohse fit into all this? Firstly she has a unique aesthetic that immediately caught my attention, a white streak in her orange hair. But she also drew me in with her ‘inciting’ scene and overall personality. The first line Lohse says to you is, “There you are *ahem* husband!” and you figure out she’s entertaining some kids on the prison boat you find yourselves on and pretending to be someone else. It’s an immediately endearing scene that shows she has a good sense of humor, a kind heart, and a soft spot for kids. However immediately after you say your goodbyes her eyes briefly take an ominous and black hue and dark veins creep up her face, with a cruel sneer covering her face. Then just as quickly as the ominous feeling appeared it vanishes, and she smiles as if nothing had happened. It sets a good precedent for what to expect too, as if you travel with her more she continues to be a good natured individual with a penchant for levity but there is clearly something wrong as well that you must uncover.
Now that we’re hooked in and interested, we need to earn their comradery. ‘The Trials‘ are a rough measurement of the balance the media maintains between the difficulty to obtain the relationship and signs of progress. In essence a good romance makes you feel like you’re really working to achieve it, that there is genuine risk that you could mess it up and fail, but also that you’re making steady progress and growing closer to the individual. If it’s too easy to achieve it can cheapen the feeling of success, and if it’s takes too long with no signs of progress whatsoever it can feel impossible or frustrating and potentially convince you that there isn’t any sort of relationship to achieve. Balance is key here, and a good romance will make sure to keep reeling you in without the boat or the waters ever fully leaving sight. You’ll feel clear signs of progress as you make the right moves and will notice setbacks and consequences if you misstep or misspeak. Harkening back to Lohse, along the way you find out more and more about the sinister presence that has taken a hold of her and how possessive it is. It is an evil entity that is constantly fighting to take over her and won’t hesitate to kill anyone who threatens it. It’s a different type of trial that stems from an external source. Often times in other romances the conflict comes from you trying to woo, impress, or get close to them and failing. Here the difficulty comes in the fact that she doesn’t want to get close to people whilst she’s not sure if she’s fully in control at any given point and is afraid she might hurt them, and as you take steps to free her up you end up getting closer and closer to her.
Last but not least we have ‘The Payoff‘. We’ve fallen in love with the character and worked our asses off to get to know them better and enter our relationship, so what’s the payoff? Almost every romance has a payoff in the form of new scenes and a new look at the character(s) that you wouldn’t of seen if you hadn’t of gotten to know them better. That in and of itself can be a good enough reward, especially when the scenes are fleshed out and high quality. However that is more the baseline, and many times games will have other rewards for you. Typically this takes at least one of a few forms. Some games like Persona 5 give you mechanical benefits that strengthen your team/character. Another staple is access to a plethora of new and unique scenes with the character, as well as dialogue options and even unlocking unique endings. Some games offer narrative character change and growth for you, the romanced, or both. There is also a balance to be had with ‘The Trials‘. That is to say that the reward should make sense with the difficulty to achieve it. Some games don’t make it super difficult to enter a romance, and typically the reward for them is the relationship itself; the scenes that you get to see and the new look at the character afforded you by your relationship. They often don’t slap on tons of mechanical benefits because it’s not needed. Games such as within the mainline Persona games make it take a bit (or with some romances a ton) more effort to unlock and fully maximize, so the mechanical boost alongside the new dynamic makes sense.
Much like with ‘The Hook‘, the strength of the reward may change between individuals. To give my last example of what makes Lohse such a great romance, let’s discuss ‘The Payoff‘. Without going too deep into spoilers, she is a performer that lost the ability to sing. Throughout the game she tries several things to get her singing voice back but ultimately it always ends in failure. Once you fully finish her personal quests after around 100 hours of gameplay (at least for me), your reward is something so simple yet so amazing. She performs a song for you, a beautiful and catchy song that symbolizes her freedom. It’s such a seemingly small reward, yet when she started to sing for me I started to get choked up. It was such a raw and emotional experience that to this day is one of my favorite rewards I’ve ever gotten in any video game.
And.. that’s a wrap! My next entry will be me talking about my favorite waifus, so look forward or dread that as per your want. I wanted to write this article first though to help explain why I like the specific characters as much as I do going forward as well as to establish some useful terms/metrics. Next week Joel and I will be doing something fun (not romantic), so I’m not sure if I’ll start the waifu Top 10 next week or the following, it all really depends on my schedule and how energetic I’m feeling, but either way you know what to expect for my next solo entry! Until then thank you guys so much for reading, and until next time stay healthy!