Or at least somewhat definitive. This list will exclude the current, episodic King’s Quest, whose first chapter was released last July. Because it is yet to be completed, we’ll have to hold our judgement. But…it’s got Kuvira voice-acting in it, so how bad can it be?
If you were an 80s/90s child with nerdy parents or a Gateway computer, there was a fairly good chance that you grew up playing the King’s Quest games, by Roberta Williams. These games, set in the fictional world of Daventry (apparently also the same world where Rumpelstiltskin, Cinderella, Beauty, Dracula, and Little Red Riding hood live), centered on the epic adventures of the royal family: whether it was Prince Alexander escaping forced servitude and discovering his true identity, King Graham hunting for some tail, Princess Rosella trying to cure her dad’s heart condition, or Queen Valanice…being an overbearing mom.
The first four games were the famous “text input graphic adventure” (for lack a better term), a style that aged so poorly it was rather famously mocked by the wonderful Homestarrunner.com with “Peasant’s Quest.” From there it switched to point-and-click style adventure games, each with their own set of flaws. Still, they were groundbreaking at the time, and apparently paved the way for all graphical adventure games. So to honor them, and the many bby-geeks they produced, I bring you the definitive ranking.
10. Wizard and the Princess (1980) / 9. Adventure in Serenia (1982)
I’m not going to lie to you: I just found out that these two games were a thing about 10 minutes ago. Apparently this is about the king who kicks it in KQI, which leads to Graham’s ascension. I gave Adventure in Serenia a higher ranking because at least I’ve heard of the damn continent. But come on, if you don’t have that “King’s Quest” title, you’re not at all worthy of our time. Get out of here!
8. King’s Quest VIII: Mask of Eternity (1998)
This thing barely qualifies as a King’s Quest game. In fairness, I think we see Graham in the intro? We definitely see him as a petrified stone statue, that’s for sure.
This gritty, poorly designed point-and-click/action-adventure game (if you’re wondering whether they work well as a hybrid, they don’t) was really just Roberta Williams’s attempt to suck money out of our pockets while she experimented with gaming mechanics by using a franchise title that was already recognizable.
I don’t remember much about it, other than the fact that there were multiple CDs, and the better part of my time was spent trying to get around multiple grey screens full of poorly rendered 3D objects with controls that felt about as smooth as attempting a swan dive with an elephant strapped to my back.
I have nothing good to say about it. I don’t want anything to do with Connor, his anachronistic name, or his dumb face. Booooo.
Also, this was released the same damn year as Baldur’s Gate (I won’t mention OOT because consoles are quite different). Let’s just take a minute to appreciate how truly horribly this game has aged compared to its peers.
7. King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne (1985/1987)
In some ways it seems almost perverse to put a game so quintessentially King’s Quest this low on this list. The lowest, if we’re talking about “true games.”
However, Romancing the Throne basically took KQI, added slightly different colored images, put in puzzles with even less logic, and called it a day.
Worse still was the story. Graham just became king, and apparently his first immediate concern is his royal lineage. Which…sure. Why not. Lucky for him, the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him that there’s a total babe locked away in a tower in some land that sounds disturbingly close to “Chlamydia.” And I guess she’s the only single chick around, because you’d think there’d be someone a touch more convenient to court.
So he just pops off his throne and leaves Daventry without so much as bothering to put anyone in charge. Fuck, even Anna did better in that regard.
Once in Chlamydia, he has to find a portal to the “tower realm.” So he aimlessly wanders around this forested place until he finds a locked door. Oh and we get a super helpful hint engraved on it: “make a splash.” Guess what? Graham then goes underwater to Neptune’s Kingdom, gets a key, and heads back. Opening the door reveals…a second door. This takes him, I don’t know, into the sky? Past some friendly ghosts? What the actual hell is going on here?
All I know is that if you thought Sierra Logic™ was slightly shitty in KQI, wait until you have to throw a goddamn bridle on a snake that magically turns into Pegasus.
Oh and that second door? Behind it is a third fucking door! Also, there’s a bridge you have to cross to go visit these doors in the first place, and if you do it too many times, it breaks. Just because. And then it’s game over.
I don’t even remember what the shit you have to do to open the third door. I think kill Dracula? Who by the way, didn’t do anything bad at all. He was just chilling in his home. But whatever, once you get that thing open, you’re transported to the beautiful tower realm where the water is purple and the ground is blue and the only difficulty is climbing a spiral staircase.
What’s at the top? Oh, it’s Valanice. She makes out with you and good game!
Except wait, did we even know that she was trapped in this tower? It seemed totally unlocked, and the Tower Zone is definitely a sweet place to live. Did Graham just like, barge in on some chick in her home?
This was the *entire* game. Nothing but Graham’s quest to find a hot girl, who may or may not have wanted to find a hot guy.
There’s no villain at all, unless you count Dracula taking a nap. Compared to the others in the series, this one is a pass.
6. King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! (1990)
So here’s the thing…like I said, there’s two types of King’s Quest games: the text-venture of the early four, or the point-and-click of the following three (ignoring KQVIII, naturally). Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder was the first to pioneer the second type, which I happen to find infinitely more engaging.
Unfortunately, KQV was a hot, hot mess.
Like, I’m being a bit unfair. The story was interesting…kinda. I mean the plot actually followed the events of KQIII, where Alexander accidentally pissed off a sorcerer. So the sorcerer’s brother exacted his revenge by stealing Graham’s castle. With his family inside. Literally. He shrunk everything and put it in a little glass jar.
So, you really do feel for Graham when he starts freaking out. But, here’s the problem: he then seeks out the help of Crispin, the friendly neighborhood wizard. And this old fart is like, “well I could totally help you, because I completely deus ex machina this thing at the end anyway, but instead here’s a wand that needs new batteries, and an annoying talking owl.” And thus begins Graham’s true quest, where you have to travel through Serenia to find Mordack’s castle and get your family back.
I’m not going to walk you through all the ludicrous things you have to do along the way; that is worthy of its own post. But the voice acting is just painful, and Cedric makes Navi seem pretty chill. It’s a poisonous snake!
Oh also, despite this being point-and-click, don’t worry…the puzzles still make no goddamn sense. You have to dump honey on the ground, and stick some gems in the honey to catch a greedy elf, or something.
You have to throw a pie into the face of a mothafuckin’ yeti.
And when all is said and done, after you have this epic magical showdown with Mordack (you found a way to charge your wand with cheese), Crispin just saunters his ass into the frame and with one flick of his own [fully functional] wand, frees your family from the glass jar. WHY DIDN’T YOU DO THAT BEFORE, CRISPIN?
The only good part of the game is when there’s a glorious minute in which you think Cedric might get eaten by a wolf, but the narrative forces you to save him. Ugh.
Still, this is hilarious to replay, which lands it slightly above Graham’s booty call.
5. King’s Quest I: Quest for the Crown (1984/1987)
You know, the thing is, I really don’t enjoy playing Quest for the Crown all that much. But at the same time, it’s what made the franchise what it is. And I’m told it was groundbreaking at the time it was released, so kudos?
The story itself is middling at best: King Edward just realized that the Land of Daventry consists of like, a goat and a rock. So he tells Graham, his best knight, to go grab him three treasures. Um…sure. Apparently they were “long-lost.” So Graham does as he’s told, and when he gets back, Edward caulks it and gives the throne to Graham. Probably because the only other option for succession was that goat.
Along his travels, Graham also encounters a lot of randomly magical people who borrow mythology from a variety of fairy tales. Which is kind of fun. However, the ridiculously precise text inputs required to actually do anything, or that goddamn beanstalk where you need pixel-perfect movement can take some of the joy away.
Then there’s also some Sierra logic. “Guess my name?” says that dude who is obviously Rumplestiltskin. Oh, I know. It’s “Ifnkovhgroghprm, clearly.”
But like, it’s fine. Fun even, if you have a couple of hours to spare. And the fact that it so clearly aged horribly almost makes it age well in a weird way, you know? It’s like a game that belongs in a museum.
4. King’s Quest VII: The Princeless Bride (1994)
I’d say that of all the games in this series, The Princeless Bride was the most divisive. Tonally, it was far different than anything in the series. It was very…Disney-ish. And far be it for me to cry “sexism,” but I can’t help but notice it was also the one with two female protagonists.
And then there was the camp, oh the camp. You could either fight it and roll your eyes at the fact that there was a literal bull working in a china shop, or you could just roll with it.
I recommend the second, people, because it’s downright hilarious. There is a town named “Falderal” in the “Nonsense Land of Eldritch” and you have to swallow a literal grain of salt to enter it. Where upon you meet the mayor, Archduke Fifi le Yipyap. Not sure what happened to his duchy, but I guess being mayor is a plum gig.
Should I talk about the story? Valanice is being all Mrs. Bennet and trying to find a proper match for Princess Rosella. Or, consort I guess, because I’m quite sure she’s actually the heir. I mean, she was raised as the heir and certainly knows the most about it, and I think Alexander takes himself out of the equation due to the events of KQVI. So why Valanice is being this pushy is beyond me. To really secure the lineage? Obviously that was an issue Graham found extremely important too. Maybe there’s high child mortality in Daventry or something.
Anyway, to get away from her mom’s bitching, Rosella…how do I put this? She jumps into a pond. Reasonable. Unfortunately it turns out to be a magical whirlpool that she gets pulled out of through a portal by a troll king. But whoops! Now she’s a troll too. Valanice hops in after her, but gets spit out in a desert. So you play the game as both of these women.
Your missions are as follows:
- As Valanice, you must search for Rosella. You are equipped with your daughter’s comb, which makes you cry when you look at it.
- As Rosella, you must stop being a troll.
The game is told in chapters, with alternating point-of-views. And of course, you end up having to solve problems for other people around, like giving a mortician a spine, finding a rat to power a grave-digging machine, or helping Ceres, who was turned into a tree. There’s also an evil enchantress, Malicia, who is trying to gain control of the land by using the troll king. Or making a volcano erupt. I don’t quite remember, but it was vaguely logical—trust me.
The thing is, this was just downright fun to play. The puzzles usually had more than one solution, and made sense on a fundamental level. I personally think starting the game off in the desert was a mistake, because the lifeblood of it is really the rich and diverse cast of characters. Some are better voice actors than others, but they all had personalities and quips. I’d take that rando troll working the forge who was hilariously bad at hitting on Rosella over Crispin the stoned wizard any day of the week.
Where it loses points is the fact that Rosella is suddenly made into a whiner, unlike the proactive, self-sacrificing badass we knew her to be. Then, I’m sorry to say, Valanice as a protagonist is just lolsy. But dare I say it, at times this game was…oddly touching? I don’t know how to explain it, except that the quiet moments stay with you more than anything.
It also gets knocked lower due to Edgar’s Nice Guy™ routine. KQIV Rosella would have never fallen for it (she quite canonically didn’t, in fact). Just consider this game the Return of the Jedi of the series. It was good, you know, but there were definitely fuzzy wuzzies, and something was just plain off in the princess’s scripting.
3. King’s Quest III: To Heir Is Human (1986)
To Heir is Human was the first game of the series without Graham as the protagonist. And boy was that a refreshing change. Don’t get me wrong, Graham is…lovely. But being able to get away from Daventry and its goat for a little was rather nice.
This game centered around Prince Alexander, only SHHHH we don’t know it’s him. We just know this person as ‘Gwydion’, the boy-slave in the evil wizard Manannan’s castle. No, quite literally, the first few minutes of the game is you emptying his chamber pot and feeding some chickens.
The thing is, you were also (in secret) breaking into Manannan’s magical man-cave and baking a cookie that would turn him into a cat. You could only do this when Manannan would go to town, and woe betide you if you weren’t able to satisfactorily hide everything upon his returns.
Real talk: this game was hard. I’m not actually sure it’s possible to get through without a guide. I never bothered trying. Even once the wizard becomes a cat, you still have to solve some not-at-all intuitive puzzles (and do more magic shit) to secure passage to Daventry, across the ocean.
Then, upon getting there, you learn that there’s a princess that’s about to get killed by a three-headed dragon, and she’s your sista from the same mista! Yeah, the Leia to your Luke, and boy is that an apt analogy, because she up and sacrificed herself to this dragon to prevent the total destruction of her land and is just in general a BAMF.
But you save her, and even get a happy family reunion. Welcome home Alexander! I hope this sudden excitement doesn’t have any negative health consequences for your parents…
For the text-venture, the inputs required weren’t nearly as precise as the first two games, so it felt more accessible. There was also the fabulous tension with Manannan’s arrivals and departures. You really felt that stress as you did what you could to navigate Alexander out of his servitude. And even though getting through it without aid seems like a near impossibility to me, for that reason, the replay value is incredibly high. Add to that an overall logical plotline, and we’ve got a solid game here!
2. King’s Quest IV: The Perils of Rosella (1988)
I think I’m going to get a lot of shit for this choice. Because whenever I’ve talked about King’s Quest to others, this game really is never mentioned. But boy should it be.
First and foremost, I’m quite certain that a female protagonist actually was super groundbreaking in video games at the time. And Rosella is the hero we both need and deserve.
Immediately following the events of KQIII, King Graham has a heart attack. Probably because he had spent the morning mentally preparing himself for his daughter’s death, only then to have not just her burst back into the castle, but also his long-lost son who they basically forgot about.
So Rosella gets upset and runs out of the room to cry, but fortunately the Mirror of Plot Convenience reveals a fairy named Genesta who’s like, “Yo Rosella. I live in this place called Tamir, and there’s fruit here that could totally save your dad, if you let me transport you here.” So the princess lets this happen, but once there Genesta is all, “well on one condition: I need my amulet that a jerk named Lolotte took from me.” Simple simple simple.
We then follow Rosella (who gets disguised in peasant clothes for some reason) as she traipses around yet another land full of fairy tail references to save her dad. I should point out, this is all while Alexander and Valanice do fuck nothing by Graham’s bedside.
Rosella, meanwhile, is running around Tamir (which by the way, is stunning, and there’s some sweet music for a change) with both middle fingers raised. She steals arrows from cupid himself and gives not a single fuck. She pulls a Jonah and ends up in a whale, but does she just accept that? Nah, she climbs up his tongue and tickles his uvula with a giant feather.
…why am I rating this game so high on the list?
Also Lolotte, as it turns out, is a total dillweed. She’s an evil green-skinned witch who has her skeleton flying minion-things do evil stuff. I think. I know you get captured, that’s for sure. And her homely green-skinned son Edgar falls for Rosella, and it’s kind of adorable.
Eventually, Rosella figures out a way to kill Lolotte, which means she gets the stupid amulet back for Genesta. Oh and she also picked up the life-saving fruit along the way. To thank her, in addition to giving her free transport home, Genesta also pimps out Edgar and makes him hot. But because Rosella is awesome and takes her responsibilities seriously, she’s just like, “nah, I have shit to do.”
Then she comes home and saves her daddy! Huzzah!!
Seriously, I have nothing bad to say about this game, other than the fact that I personally prefer point-and-click to text-input. Play it. And start stanning Rosella with me, because no one seems to. It’s always Alexander, Alexander, Alexander!
1. King’s Quest VI: Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow (1992)
But…there’s actually good reason why that’s the case, and it’s this game. As I said before, KQIII is a strong set piece in the series. But Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow makes this entire franchise.
What’s weird is that the story is mostly shitty. Alexander became smitten with a maid/slave person that Mordack had in his castle in KQV. Her name is Cassima, and she’s the princess in the Land of the Green Isles. Alexander then just spent his days creepily pining for her (I’m telling you…Rosella is the heir, even at this point), until the Magic Mirror of Plot Convenience shows him a glimpse of Cassima’s land.
So he rushes to a boat, and accidentally smashes it in the voyage. I think his crew survived, but Alex himself washes up on the shore of the Isle of the Crown, the main island in the Land of the Green Isles. He heads to the castle, and tells the literal guard-dogs that Cassima is his friendo and said he could drop by anytime. But we’re told by the super trustworthy Grand Vizier, Abdul Alhazred (okay, there may be a few racial problems with this game), that her parents unexpectedly died while she was away with her own kidnapping, and she’s locked herself in a tower to mourn them.
Oh and she’s engaged to him ¯\_(シ)_/¯.
Alex is like, “whaaat there’s no way I misread her cues!” So either because he’s suspicious, or because he has nowhere else to go maybe, he decides to do some digging around. See? Shitty story.
But as it happens, he ends up uncovering this major plot of Alhazred’s, where he created feuds between each of the isles so that in that chaos, he could murder Cassima’s parents and claim control of the realm. He also has a magic shape-shifting genie who can disguise himself as Cassima for a sham wedding.
Then at the same time, Alexander has to, once again, solve a whole lot of problems for other people. But every facet of this is engaging. The puzzles make sense! Seriously, the biggest stretch in logic I can even think of is reading a boring book to an oyster to get a pearl (though you do need the CD manual to solve the Cliffs of Logic). And every single character you come across feels rounded, from the gruff-but-lovable ferryman to the stoic Lady Aeriel and Lord Azure, to the oddly feuding brothers, Bump on a Log and Stick in the Mud. Even Jollo gets a pass.
The music is good; the voice acting is great. I mean, we’re talking Robby fucking Benson as Prince Alexander. It’s funny, too, but serious where it needs to be. Ffs, it gave my four-year-old self a very strong mental image for what happens when you die.
There’s also a satisfying ending and a bittersweet ending, depending on which puzzles and paths you take through the narrative. So due to these twists and turns, it makes replaying a treat.
I don’t know if it’s just my rose-colored glasses. Perhaps people who didn’t play it growing up will find it stupid. But in my mind, this holds up quite well over the years, and truly made the franchise what it is.
Images courtesy of Sierra
The Arcana is a Nice Visual Novel Experience
The Arcana is a visual novel available on mobile since 2017 developed by Nix Hydra. It takes place into a fantasy world inspired by the tarot game. It’s free-to-playish (more about this later). And you know what? It’s quite good. No really, I like to play it, I care about the characters, and I want to know what is going to happen. So I thought I will write something about it today.
In The Arcana you are the amnesic apprentice of the magician Arsa. Your master (and maybe more) is forced to leave the city and leaves you in charge of his (your) shop with his familiar, the snake Faust. Not long after his departure, two characters come to visit. If I don’t remember the precise order of their visit they are respectively the Countess of Vesuvia, Nadia, and an ‘old friend’ of Arsa, the plague doctor, Julian Devorak. Both wanted to talk to Arsa but accept a tarot reading from you. After you have given them an ominous reading, Julian leaves. Nadia asks you to come to the palace to offer you a job.
This job turns out to be helping her solve the murder of her husband, Lucio, who was murdered three years ago. The main suspect, who confessed to setting Lucio on fire before escaping his prison, is Julian Devorak. He has recently been spotted in town. You must resolve the affair and catch the perpetrator before the masquerade, the first one since Lucio’s death.
From here you will go trough Vesuvia, crossing path with other characters, and uncovering a real rabbit hole of mystery. And trust me the mystery is really catching.
Oh and you will pick a romance… that’s kind of important too.
Of main interest in The Arcana are its story and its characters. This is perfectly normal, after all this is the point of visual novel. But even for the genre The Arcana really has a colorful, endearing cast. You will always be happy to come back to these characters. The main trio is particularly good.
Arsa is certainly the most stable of the three. He knows who he is, he knows that he loves and cares about the protagonist. Unsurprisingly, he is the only one who remembers what happened three years ago. One of the great things about him is that he is confident, both about his ability and about who he is. He might have some hesitation about his relationship with the narrator (but for good reasons).
However, I will say that he is a bit uncertain about the way to go forward. What “happened” to Lucio certainly concerns him, but the way you follow with him is confused. There is a lot of going back, going away, trying to face the problem, deciding not to for now… It doesn’t make Arsa’s route unpleasant, quite the contrary. I think it makes it more interesting. The way to go isn’t always straight (pun intended), and that is a good thing, as it reminds us that even confidant people can hesitate.
Nadia is a more straight forward character. Despite a facade of confidence and authority, Nadia is insecure and wants to do the right thingTM. There are multiple reasons explaining this insecurity, including an amnesia that probably allows several members of her court to take advantage of her. Her desire to be a source of authority and to be right, because she loves this facade, could lead her down a path that ends up making her cold and hard. But Nadia is a good person who cares for her people. Having a strong person that needs reassurance about her capacities and future was a really good idea for The Arcana.
Julian is a bit of a mess, and this is an understatement. He is a bit of a masochist, definitively a poseur, and genuinely lost. To the point where he ends up hurting people around him, people that care about him. He is deeply convinced that unhappiness is the only thing waiting for him at the end of the story, despite his obvious medical talent and general niceness. This leads to one of the most violent roasts that I have seen in a long time, but not underserved.
In addition, the cast of secondary characters is amazing. I can’t wait for Portia and Muriel’s route. Especially since I am convinced that Muriel knew the protagonist. But there is also Lucio… Oh Lucio… What a colossal dick… I find myself wondering why no one set him on fire sooner. (Actually, maybe Lucio got the most violent, literal ‘roast’ I have seen in a long time, but once again not undeserved.)
One of the other great thing about The Arcana is the diversity presented in the game. As you have probably noticed, two out of the three love interests are POC. Everyone is bisexual, too. But that’s not the only thing. The protagonist lacks a canon physical appearance, so they can be who you want them to be. And I say they because the game lets you choose their gender… Or rather favorite pronoun. You have the choice between, she/her, he/him, and they/them. This is such a nice and clever thing to do. Everyone can play as they want, and it makes the experience more inclusive.
I have to give another point to Nix Hydra for design. The world of The Arcana is particularly well designed to work with this inclusivity. Vesuvia makes me things about the Silk Road—it has a Middle-Eastern vibe (and the ambiance music helps).
The fact that there are characters coming from everywhere and from a lot of different ethnicities continues to enhance the Silk Road impression.
Another good thing is that the universe is tolerant. Like I have already said, all three romance option are bisexuals. But everyone in the city is okay with same-gender romantic relationship. And there aren’t any comments about anyone’s ethnicity, either. You know what? This is truly refreshing.
The Main Problem of the Game
The Arcana is normally playable in three days. What I mean by that is that any update can be played rather easily with daily bonuses. However, that only works if you are okay with being robbed of every cute moment and of the majority of the illustrations. Yeah a good part of the illustration are guarded behind a wall of “pay a certain amount of coins.” You can win coins on a daily basis, but not that much in real time. So how do you get enough coins to unlock everything?
Well you pay for them with real money. Micro-transactions are unfortunately way too common today. And that’s why I might have made some mistakes in my presentation of the game. Thus far, I have only played everything once… Because my background refused to let me spend money on something I could do another way. It’s not that I am cheap… It is that the paying system isn’t:
I don’t mind that creators make money out of their creation, that is perfectly normal. However, this is a bit much. With 2 000 coins you can buy four books, and four books is the equivalent of an entire romance route. For now. The routes aren’t over yet. And there are three of them! 43.99€ is more expensive than brand new 3DS games in my country!
Yes, Nix Hydra has considerably increased the daily bonuses recently and they have doubled the amount of coins you can buy for 43.99€. But still. I will probably only have played the integrality of The Arcana in four years. That’s okay, the game is still lovely, and it does not tempt me into spending so much money. But still, it casts a gloom over the general game experience.
My free-to-play experience with The Arcana is pleasant enough for me to recommend it to you. It is a nice visual novel and if you like the genre you will have a good time. However, if you have trouble not spending money on micro-transactions, don’t start the game because the experience will be really frustrating for you. Except if you are very rich… In that case, throw some of that sweet, sweet money toward Nix Hydra. Be the renaissance art patron you always wanted to be.
Images Courtesy of Nix Hydra
From Alistair to Cullen—Fairytale Romances and Dragon Age
Spoiler Warning for all of Dragon Age: Origins, Dragon Age II, and Dragon Age: Inquisition
Cullen: The way that I saw mages… I’m not sure I would have cared about you. And the thought of that sickens me.
Let’s talk Dragon Age romance. Emotions! Chocolates! Kisses! Flowers! Not to mention those itty bitty little pieces of stomped hearts and emotional shrapnel!
Sorry… I’m still recovering from Valentine’s Day. (I would have published this analysis then, a few weeks back, but I was still weeping and locked in a fetal position…)
I heard someone say recently that RPG romances actually elicit the same reactions in the brain that real romances do. I have no idea if that’s scientifically true, but when it comes to Dragon Age, it certainly feels true.
For me, as for many, RPGs tap into emotions that can be intriguingly close to real. We play a character for what can be dozens or even hundreds of hours. We flirt with other characters. They flirt back. And eventually declare their love. We love them back. And often, not just via avatar; it’s not just my Inquisitor, for instance, who loves Solas, or Bull, or Zevran, or Anders, and all my other romanced characters. I absolutely love them, too. And in a way, that’s more personal and less remote than, say, my crush on Aragorn when rereading The Lord of the Rings. Because let’s face it, Aragorn doesn’t look right over at me and proclaim his adoration back. In an RPG romance, however? Yeah, he totally would.
And that’s where they get you.
It’s both embarrassing yet visceral how emotional that can be. And each choice in an RPG like Dragon Age further ensures that our choices will make us unique, make US worth the love and accolades from our chosen objects. No matter that thousands of other people have lived it—you can know this intellectually, yet emotionally, the game relationships still feel all too real, immediate, and personal. It’s one of the greatest lures of the gaming world, that sense that YOUR playthrough is the only one that truly matters, and it’s intoxicating when accomplished by a team as talented as Bioware, for instance, on the Dragon Age series.
However, when you’ve played your share of RPGs, as I have, you can also kind of get jaded; lulled into certain patterns. You especially become used to the romances going a certain way: you flirt with your potential love interests, they’re charmed, bold, or bashful, and they flirt back. If you’re playing a good (or “paragon”) character, you won’t break their hearts and they won’t break yours. There’s not a ton of suspense—they will love you. It’s assured.
You then progress through the game story, and eventually there are heart-eyes and kissage, followed eventually by a scene where you finally spend the night together in pixellated soulmate bliss. Well, hey, for a moment or two.
Aaaand… Fade to black.
And, well, basically, that’s it. You got your happy ending, or, alternatively, basically, what I call, the phase that is “Welcome to the End of Your RPG Romance.”
“Someday My Prince/ss Will Come…”
First off, there can be something really reassuring about the less complicated romances. They can be terrific fun, and a welcome change from real life.
The base template for me on this in Dragon Age, for instance, will probably always be Alistair’s romance in Dragon Age: Origins (DAO), at least, as I had played it. I’d ended up with a triumphant female elf Warden wandering off hand in hand with a Grey Warden Alistair after defeating the Archdemon and waving goodbye to a pregnant Morrigan. (Note: You can get an even happier ending if you played a female human noble, because then you can marry Alistair, he becomes King, and you ascend the throne alongside him to become his queen.)
I’d liked the Alistair romance, although it hadn’t quite been my cup of tea. It had seemed a little adolescent and predictable to me, even though it was (being Bioware) also indisputably charming. Alistair is a funny, sweet guy, he’s an exiled prince who gives a female Warden his inexperienced and vulnerable heart, and it’s all seriously adorable. The moment when he gave my poor sweet Warden a rose remains a milestone for me in my memory of my first DAO playthrough.
However, Alistair’s romance isn’t actually predictable, though. That’s where I was wrong. It can end in half a dozen different brutal and tragic ways. So I was truly amused later to realize how many different choices I’d actually happened to luck into that had resulted in that bright and sunny fairytale ending!
I mean, come on, this is Bioware. I was stupid. Sunny endings, I should have remembered, are… rare and precious. Never a given.
But I was careless, and had innocently assumed my Disney outcome was the norm. (Really? Was I ever that young? Evidently I was. Once.)
But my entire awareness of that moment (and happy ending) was actually a lie, and, as I’ve noted, it wasn’t the only possibility at all. Ironically, Alistair’s romance most definitely isn’t happy-happy. It isn’t “someday my prince will come.” It can, in fact, end in incredible bleakness—with the Warden dumped, left, abandoned, or dead, and with Alistair despairing and drunk, executed, or heroically dead from his own fatal blow against the Archdemon.
Flipping the Formula
I’d had no idea of this in my first playthrough. I only began to realize its possibilities in discussions with other Dragon Age players I know.
And I’d definitely had no idea that an Alistair playthrough could be so much more complex and dark. The first time I played Dragon Age: Origins, my Warden had encouraged Alistair not to become King because she wasn’t a fan of people being pushed into roles they didn’t want, so she inadvertently ensured that they got their happy ending out of simple selfishness. Which was even more ironic because, for me, I didn’t actually think my Warden protagonist’s romance with Alistair would even last. She’d had conflicting feelings for assassin Zevran (then broke it off because poor Alistair was really difficult to break up with, honestly), and had also had a wordless if doomed yearning for Qunari warrior Sten (at least in my own headcanon).
So I got my “Disney Prince” romance even if at the end I kind of went, “Oh, sweeties… it will never, ever last,” to the couple I ended up with.
It’s All About the Formula
Still, the standard formula’s pretty timeless and proven throughout the ages. Flirt, kiss, sex, happy ending, boom. Done.
This fairytale type of formula means that your typical romance often takes up a fraction of the game story, while also hitting those predictable necessary romance points… the courtship, the glances, the kiss, the sex, the aftermath (if there is one). Most formulas in fact eschew the aftermath and just end the relationship there in a haze of assumed present and future bliss. This always disappoints me, because of course, relationships don’t end with sex, and they actually get a lot more interesting after that point.
Romances adhering to this formula in Dragon Age might include, depending on story arc, the following characters:
However, of course, this being Bioware, any one of the above romances can end sadly and even tragically as well. It just depends on the choices you make. Alistair, Leliana, and Merrill can all end up abandoned or dead at the hand of the very person who loves them, while Cullen’s romance can also end in one of the most heartbreaking revelations in the Trespasser DLC, depending on your choices for him. Josie and Cass survive no matter what, but they may do so with some serious broken hearts.
Thank goodness, though, it doesn’t have to go that way. So if you go for the fairytale, and you make the choices that support true love and sweetness, you’ll usually get it in the above scenarios. Alistair’s, Leliana’s, and Merrill’s romances are more innocent, and Josephine’s is positively Disney Princess (and utterly adorable). Cassandra’s is lovely, and provides a glimpse of her softer side. My only complaint about hers is that it’s a bit light on content, and it’s pretty much set forth according to that formula where the story’s basically over after the sex.
Romancing the Templar
Cullen’s, meanwhile, is probably my favorite of the fairytale romances in Dragon Age, not least because it doesn’t end with the hookup, but instead actually explores Cullen’s journey across the entire trilogy. It’s especially satisfying if you romance him with a mage, since Cullen’s story back in Dragon Age: Origins began with a traumatic experience that left him with a bias that he was still working through even in Dragon Age II and on into Dragon Age: Inquisition (DAI).
In DAI, Cullen is wrestling with a search for redemption based on over a decade of backstory if we’ve played the entire trilogy. His emotional inner conflicts result in a romanced relationship with the Inquisitor that can be really rich and poignant, as his feelings for her are depicted in a lovely and often wordless progression of simple, believable little moments (both funny and sexy) that genuinely communicate intimacy. As his romance evolves, we’re shown Cullen’s more vulnerable side, as well as how deep his sense of religious faith really is. I remember being surprised and moved at a simple scene near the end in which Cullen simply embraced the Inquisitor and held her, expressing for the first time how deeply he feared losing her.
There are plenty of other happy romances in Dragon Age, but they’re not as straightforward. Bull’s, for instance, is sexy, funny, and surprisingly edgy, but it’s also somewhat cynical and cold, at least at first. Solas’s romance (while achingly emotional at levels that are practically operatic) is certainly not the guaranteed happy ending most players may be going for.
The romances described here, however, meet the basic needs of the formula and provide a general prospect of romantic happiness for those who make the right choices.
If you want hearts and flowers, in other words? These romances are a good place to start.
I’ll be taking a look at some of the romances that don’t really follow that fairytale formula in the near future… and, from Solas to Bull to Zevran and Anders, which ones in that assortment that I loved most. But what about you? Do you prefer the fairytale romance formula, yourself? Or something a little more complex and real?
Meanwhile, don’t mind me. I’m heading off on my War Nug, back to camp where I can drown my lonely sorrows in a few of my beautiful and decadent Valentine’s Day chocolates. (I got them on sale!)
Images courtesy of Bioware
This article is a reprint (with minor modification and expansion) of an article originally published by Angela D. Mitchell on DumpedDrunkandDalish.com.
The First Female OWL Player is a Struggling Team’s Best Chance
Stage one of the Overwatch league’s left many teams disappointed with their results, but none more so than the Shanghai Dragons who finished at the bottom of the league with a devastating 0 – 10 record.
While esport castors and fans alike praised Chao “Undead” Fang and Weida “Diya” Lu for their individual skill, and for the team as a whole improving since the start of the season, many still maintain that a 0 – 40 season record is still a very real and very scary possibility for Shanghai.
In the recent signing period, the Dragons acquired three new Korean players: Eui-Seok “Fearless” Lee (Tank), Gi-Hyeon “Ado” Chon (DPS), and (by far the most publicized) Yeon “Geguri” Kim (Tank).
Geguri will not only be the first female player in OWL, but one of a small handful of female players across all professional esports. Early on in her career she was accused of cheating because her Zarya play is just that good. She proved her mettle (and put the rumors to bed) by filming her hands while playing during a live stream.
General managers throughout the league had faced heavy criticism from fans at the start of the season, as not one of the twelve teams in the league recruited Geguri, a player who, statistically, was better than a large handful of male tank players that did get signed to teams. The accusations of sexism became even more damning after the Houston Outlaws’ staff cited a lack of female facilities at their training HQ as part of the reason for not taking her on.
So, Geguri got a team (and even one that wouldn’t make ludicrous excuses!) and the Shanghai Dragons got a badly needed injection of skill. Looks like everything worked out, right?
Well, yes and no.
Sadly Geguri, Fearless, and Ado are all still trying to get their american VISAs, a process that could take several more weeks, meaning they are currently unable to play.
Meanwhile, stage two has so far been equally unkind to the Dragons, losing both of their games in the first week. Many remain doubtful that the team, even with the roster change-ups, will be able to advance out of last place. Analyst Christopher “Montecristo” Mykles was notably skeptical that the addition of the Korean players will be able to have a significant impact for the Chinese team but added “I don’t think it’s going to be that bad” when asked about the prospect of a 0 – 40 season finish for them.
Until then, OWL fans will be praying to the gods of RNG (VISA paperwork is controlled by RNG, right?) that Geguri will soon be taking her long overdue steps onto the pro stage.