1. Mario and Peach, Super Mario series (1985-2012) et al.
Maybe you’re single and seething at today’s ubiquitous celebrations of affection and couplehood. Or maybe you feel inadequate because your relationship can’t measure up to the saccharine vision of love pushed by the florist-chocolatier cabal every February. But it could be worse: You could have a video game relationship. Broken relationships are the norm in the game world, even for Mario and Princess Peach, who constitute the video game equivalent of Jack and Jackie Kennedy’s stately Camelot romance. Much like the Kennedy marriage, Mario and Peach’s impossibly happy media image conceals deep-seated issues. Given that Mario’s whole raison d’etre is to rescue Peach, he only comes alive when she’s placed in mortal peril. Their relationship essentially depends on Peach experiencing one scarring trauma after another. Just look at Mario in the opening scene of New Super Mario Bros. U. He’s conducting rote small talk as he sleepwalks his way through yet another goddamn tea party. This is his death. It’s only when Bowser assaults the castle with explosives that Mario truly becomes Mario—his “beloved” Peach is in trouble, let’s a-go! Then again, who knows? Maybe Peach gets off on it, too, and the whole “Thank you Mario! But our princess is in another castle!” business is just one long bout of foreplay.
2. The Sandersons, Chibi-Robo! (2006)
Mr. Sanderson lost his job, and now spends his days watching cartoons and playing with his toys, never bothering to search for work. Mrs. Sanderson tries to be supportive, but her husband doesn’t make it easy. He ignores his unruly dog, fails to notice that his daughter only communicates via frog noises, and worst of all, he spends the last of his money on a four-inch-tall cleaning robot without ever consulting with the missus. Most husbands are used to sleeping on the couch every now and then, but this is the straw that breaks Mrs. Sanderson’s back, as she locks herself in the bedroom and contemplates the possibility of divorce. An overgrown manchild and a wife at her wit’s end make for some serious drama, but they also make for a realistic representations of a modern family under strain.
3. Larry and the deadly hooker, Leisure Suit Larry (1987)
Before The 40-Year-Old Virgin there was the somewhat less wholesome Larry Laffer and his quest for love. If the player chooses, Larry can first seek companionship in the arms of a prostitute. Unlike cartoonist Chester Brown, whose graphic novel Paying For It chronicles his mostly satisfying experiences as a john, Larry’s censored rendezvous in the loft space/crack den next to Lefty’s Bar leaves something to be desired: “Although successful, you feel less than satisfied. Technically speaking, you’re no longer a virgin, but for some reason, the thrill just wasn’t there. You vow to continue your quest until you please your heart, not just your other organs.” That quest proves short-lived, though, if the player neglects to use protection. If that’s the case, Larry soon learns that the hooker gave him a little more than he bargained for, and he drops dead on the sidewalk from an incredibly fast-acting STD. This public service announcement was brought to you by Al Lowe.
4. Juliet and Nick, Lollipop Chainsaw (2012)
Teenage romances often devolve into a cocktail of raging hormones and bad breakups. The zombie-filled slash-’em-up Lollipop Chainsaw, however, takes doomed high school romances to a whole new level of dysfunction—and disembodiment. Juliet, the game’s chainsaw-wielding cheerleader heroine, just happens to have magically reanimated the severed head of her boyfriend Nick. Living life as a grotesque accessory on Juliet’s belt is bad enough, but to make matters worse, Juliet also uses Nick’s head to perform a variety of special attacks. She might, for instance, attach his cranium to a decapitated zombie body and force him to clear a path through the hordes of undead. It’s further proof that love hurts.
5. Jason Brody and Citra, Far Cry 3 (2012)
Let’s put aside the questionable colonial overtones of Far Cry 3, in which pampered college broseph Jason Brody drives a tough island priestess wild with animalistic desire by being totally awesome at killing dudes with a bow and arrow. Regardless of how your path through the game played out, there’s no escaping the fact that Brody is a repressed ball of pampered rage, seduced by the idea of becoming a legendary mystical warrior, and Citra is portrayed as a scheming native temptress who just wants to drain his top-quality white-boy sperm to create an island superhero all of her own. This is bound to end in tears.
6. Roxas and Xion, Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days (2009)
There have been times in the long history of Kingdom Hearts where the series has transcended its delirious premise—Mickey Mouse teaming up with anime-esque characters to hit things with giant keys—and delivered stories of childhood romance with real resonance and emotion. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 Days is not one of those times. Instead it chronicles the burgeoning romance between Roxas and Xion. Roxas is the “Nobody” of series main character Sora, which means—and this is an oversimplification—he’s Sora’s body and soul, with the heart removed. As his relationship with Xion blossoms, it’s revealed that Xion is actually a clone of Roxas, made out of Sora’s memories. Look, nothing about this can make rational sense, but what this comes down to is Sora’s body is getting hot and heavy with Sora’s mind. And, you know, we’ve all been there. But it’s just not a good long-term plan for happiness.
7. Elika and Prince, Prince of Persia (2008)
[Note: This entry discusses the ending of Prince Of Persia.] For most of Prince Of Persia, Elika and Prince seem to have a good thing going. He helps her stop the god of darkness from gaining power through improbable feats of acrobatics, and she keeps him from falling to his death. Sure, Elika’s dad really doesn’t like her new guy, but that’s true in so many relationships. Where things get unhealthy is when Elika reveals that she needs to die in order to put the dark god back in his prison and save the world from destruction. This should be a beautiful, tragic love story but instead Prince resurrects Elika against her will, undoing all the work their relationship is based on and dooming the world in the process. Being devoted to your special someone is usually a good thing, but sometimes you just need to let go.
8. Caim and Furiae, Drakengard (2004)
Drakengard may have the outward appearance of a sword-fighting, dragon-riding good time, but that belies the game’s true nature. It’s really an encyclopedia of the grotesque, featuring psychopathic mass murder, explicit baby eating, implicit pedophilia, and more—do you need more? Here, then: The emotional core of the game is the love triangle between the main character, Caim; his sister, Furiae; and his childhood friend Inuart. The sister and the friend are engaged, but Inuart has naked jealousy for Caim’s bond with his sister. And Caim’s dragon pal repeatedly goads Caim with talk of his sister’s purity and womanhood. The whole thing crescendos with Furiae committing suicide. The English translation does its level best to paper over the incest, but it’s plain as day in the Japanese original, and either way, Caim and Furiae really need to meet new people—people they’re not related to, and who they aren’t stabbing repeatedly to death.
9. Trip and Monkey, Enslaved: Odyssey to the West (2010)
For most of Enslaved, you interact with only two human characters: Tripitaka, a clever young woman who uses her technical skills to manipulate the world around her, and Monkey, a hulking brute whose preferred approach to a problem is brute strength. Their lives are literally bound together: Monkey is Trip’s slave, and the band he wears ties his life to hers. If she dies, he dies. She can and does control him, manipulating the band to thwart any notions of escape that Trip might have. Over the course of their journey, the slave and master develop feelings for one another, a relationship that comes to the fore when they encounter Pigsy, a raunchy man who lusts after Trip. With Pigsy on the scene, Monkey takes on a dual role: He’s Trip’s father-figure protector and also Pigsy’s rival for her romantic attention. So, to recap, Trip falls in love with her slave, who has threatened to kill her with his bare hands, and compels him to protect her virtue from the leches of the world. It’s more creepy than romantic.
10. Guybrush and Elaine, The Curse Of Monkey Island (1997)
Wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood falls for Governor Elaine Marley early in his first adventure, The Secret Of Monkey Island. Yet by their third outing, The Curse Of Monkey Island, his bumbling has done her far more harm than good. Guybrush proposes to her with a cursed diamond ring that turns her into a statue. The curse is bad enough, but he commits the cardinal sin of relationships and tries to lie to her about it. Now, sure, a healthy romance can probably survive some accidental petrification—but even a mighty pirate needs to be honest with his partner.
11. Ethan Mars and Madison Paige, Heavy Rain (2010)
The entire relationship between desperate father Ethan and supposed journalist Madison is based on sexual availability during a time of pronounced mental and physical trauma. With Ethan’s son abducted by the mysterious Origami Killer, Madison assigns herself to the case—and to Ethan, becoming his personal nursemaid as he crawls through glass and chops off bits of himself to satisfy the whims of a madman. Neither Ethan nor Madison needs to survive the whole game, and the player doesn’t have to encourage their relationship. But when scenes are played “right,” the result is a supremely awkward hotel-room-floor boning and a subsequent romance rooted in the rock-solid foundation of mutual PTSD.
12. Garcia “Fucking” Hotspur and Paula, Shadows Of The Damned (2011)
In Shadows Of The Damned, Garcia Hotspur, a Mexican demon hunter, follows a demon into hell to rescue his girlfriend Paula. The thing is, their relationship never seems like it’s “follow someone into hell” worthy. They meet when Garcia finds Paula in a dumpster. He brings her home to live with him, where she is completely mute for weeks, until the phone rings and she speaks for the first time to beg Garcia not to answer the call. Later, she attacks him with a knife for no reason. Luckily, she’s hot and wears only a corset for the majority of their time together. Apparently that’s all you need for an epic romance to flourish. Garcia and Paula are the couple you see at parties that spend half the time screaming at each other through a bathroom door and the other half making out in the corner.
13. Vincent and Catherine/Katherine, Catherine (2011)
[Note: This entry discusses the ending of Catherine.] In some ways, the bizarre love triangle between commitment-phobic bachelor Vincent, his girlfriend Katherine, and a sexy interloper named Catherine feels like an offbeat take on the classic Judd Apatow archetype: a man-boy who must decide between sober maturity and frat-house slackitude. But the stakes are raised to a new level in the erotic horror/thriller/rom-com/puzzle game Catherine when Vincent finally discovers that the blonde vixen he’s been seeing on the side is, in fact, a mythical succubus—the ultimate evil in Manic Pixie Dream Girls. There are several different endings to the game, but none of them seem all that desirable for poor Katherine, except for the one where she just breaks up with the noncommittal douche once and for all.
14. Ryu Hayabusa and Irene Law, Ninja Gaiden (1989) et al.
Keanu Reeves is full of wisdom in the movie Speed. “I’ve heard relationships based on intense experiences never work,” he says to Sandra Bullock after they ride an exploding subway car through Hollywood. And indeed, it doesn’t work out. Ryu Hayabusa, ninja scion of a demon fighting legacy, and his gal pal, CIA agent Irene Law, should have taken Bullock’s world-weary insight to heart. Their entire relationship is based on intense experiences. Irene shoots Ryu with a tranquilizer gun the first time they ever meet—this might be a “cute meet,” but it’s no way to build trust. Over the course of Ninja Gaiden through Ninja Gaiden 3 on the NES, Irene convinces Ryu to do the following: parachute into the Amazon jungle to kill an ancient demon, fight his father to the death, and rescue her from a guy who calls himself the Emperor Of Chaos. Ryu, rather than save Irene from a whole lot of heartbreak, continues living the ninja life. He could save them so much trouble by just talking it out with his demonic enemies! And look at them now, reduced to bit roles in Dead Or Alive, shadows of their former selves.
15. Nathan Drake and Elena Fisher, Uncharted series (2007-2011)
It’s hard to blame journalist Elena Fisher when she falls for Nathan Drake—the adventurer with rugged good looks and an ear for sarcastic quips—while she films his search for buried treasure. But look, girl, it’s time for some real talk. Maybe this relationship with Nate isn’t the best idea after all. His propensity for putting you in danger over and over, not to mention the fact that he guns down hundreds of people over some dusty old artifact, really puts the second part of the “rogue with a heart of gold” equation into question. Remember dealing with Nathan’s sexy double-crossing ex-girlfriend? Or that time pirates chased you and shot at you? Or hell, the time a grenade blew up and nearly killed you? Elena, you need to dump that bum and find a nice, normal guy.