If you read our Top 5 Video Game Romances article, then you've known this one was coming. With Valentine's Day upon us, we're taking a look across the gaming spectrum for the best examples of love and romance. We would be remiss to not pay some special attention to the Final Fantasy series. A powerful romance has been a major feature of many of the games in the franchise. As always though, we need to set some rules.
- One per game. Some of the games have more than one romance, so we'll be selecting the better of the two for this list.
- They must be actual romances, as in there must be some evidence for it present in the game. Sorry to all you Squall-Quistis shippers out there.
- Age of the game doesn't matter, only the romance.
- We're leaving out XI and XIV which don't lean heavily into romances. As much as I'd love to write about Sir Ragelise and Portia... not many people are going to know who that is.
9. Ashe and Rasler - Final Fantasy XII
This selection is more of an indictment on Final Fantasy XII's love stories than anything else. It says something when the most convincing romance of the game was Ashe and the guy who dies in the opening cutscene. So while it places dead last on the list, it does edge out Vaan and Panello, for whatever that's worth.
8. Noctis and Lunafreya - Final Fantasy XV
I know that it's supposed to be representative of what a betrothed marriage actually looked like, but I'm sorry, Noctis and his pen pal aren't getting it done for me. There could have been a lot of potential in this romance, if they'd have bothered to really explore it. Spoiler alert: they do not. I suppose we shouldn't expect a game with themes of brotherhood and friendship to be strong in the romance category, and in that, Final Fantasy XV lived up to expectations.
7. Wakka and Lulu - Final Fantasy X
I can feel the hate coming my way already. Yes, I know that many other lists like this one put Yuna and Tidus at the top of their greatest romances. I'm not a fan personally, and so I spent some time debating whether Tidus and Yuna or Wakka and Lulu were the better couple. Say what you will about the faults of Wakka and Lulu, at least they both exist.
6. Fang and Vanille - Final Fantasy XIII
It breaks my heart to put Fang and Vanille this low on the list. As a member of the LGBT community, I feel like I should put Final Fantasy's first lesbian couple near the top. Here's the thing though, I'm stretching the rules a bit to even include them on the list. The game BARELY acknowledges them as a couple, and it's really only from the Norse myth they're based on that we get any confirmation that they even are. I often criticize Square Enix for pulling their punches, and these two are a huge example of that.
5. Locke and Celes - Final Fantasy VI
I struggled with where to put Locke and Celes on the list. Final Fantasy VI is remembered for a lot of things, and rightfully so. Stellar music, fun combat, and one of the best villains of all time. Not many people think back on FFVI for its love story. However, Locke and Celes wind up being a pretty strong couple by the end of the game. They go through some major character development, particularly with Celes worrying she's just a replacement for Rachel. Overall, they felt pretty in the middle as far as Final Fantasy couples go and so that's where they landed.
4. Cloud and Tifa - Final Fantasy VII
So as we move into the top half of the list, it needs to be stated that all these couples are pretty good. Figuring out where to place them within the top 4 was incredibly difficult as they all have claims to be the top spot.
There's an age old debate in the Final Fantasy 7 fandom about who the better couple was, Aerith or Tifa. The problem with that debate is that it suggests there was a choice. The journey that we take with Cloud and the rest of Avalanche, the highs and the lows, the loss and the triumph forges everything we know. Cloud and Tifa become the couple of the series because it could end no other way. What I appreciate about Final Fantasy 7 is that beyond a childhood crush the game doesn't try to force Cloud and Tifa together. There's an obvious history between them, but ultimately certain decisions are left up to the player early on. The famous Tifa, or Aerith (or infamously Barret) date at Gold Saucer is what leads to split in the fandom.
Had it not been for Sephiroth, maybe Aerith and Cloud would've ended up together but her death sets him and the rest of the party on a collision course with destiny. The trials and tribulations they face together bring them all closer together. Tifa and Cloud share one common thread that no other characters do, they have no one else. Barret has his daughter, Cid has Shera, Yuffie her father...but both Cloud and Tifa lost everyone they ever knew, except each other. Their journey through the life stream, the final night before they descent into the Northern Cavern, it all built toward that moment. It's a story I think most people can relate to, not one of true love or love at first sight. A story of real love, forged through trust, shared experience and knowing that in the end you'd always be there for one another.
3. Cecil and Rosa - Final Fantasy IV
There's something to be said for being the first real couple in the Final Fantasy franchise. Prior to the fourth installment, the games were typically about a band of heroes uniting to save the world, or the crystal, or the moon. It was your standard D and D story.
Then Final Fantasy IV dropped and everything changed. The story became more about the characters. It became the heroes driving the story forward as much as the villains. And with that shift came the ability for a love story to blossom, and so we got Cecil and Rosa. They may not be the most fleshed out romance on the list, but they're absolutely one of the most important. And it's also worth mentioning that the iconic 'Theme of Love' comes from Final Fantasy IV as well.
2. Squall and Rinoa - Final Fantasy VIII
Squaresoft really hit their groove with romances around the end of the 90's. More than any other game on this list, Final Fantasy VIII was a love story. At its core, FF8 is a story about a guy who meets a girl that changes his life. And while there are tons of elements that we see as cliche today, it was still a powerful and important story back in 1999.
Yes, it has the lone wolf protagonist who has his heart melted by the girl of his dreams. Yes, the broody standoffish guy who got hurt before has to learn to let people in again. And yes, a sorceress from the future possesses his girlfriend in an attempt to compress time into a world where only she can exist. Okay, well maybe that last one is different, but the point still stands.
By the end of the game, Squall has decided that while his mission is to defeat Ultimecia, his real goal has become Rinoa. He goes so far to declare that if she became an evil sorceress, he would be her knight. I know that's not exactly a healthy mindset, but it goes to show how much his character has changed. There's always going to be a degree of hyperbole in a good love story.
1. Zidane and Garnet - Final Fantasy IX
Which brings us finally to the best romance in all of Final Fantasy. Before I delve too deep, let me start by saying that I really struggled with which couple from Final Fantasy IX to include. Were it not for my first rule up there, Steiner and Beatrix would certainly have rounded out the top 3 of this list. That said, Zidane and Garnet take the win, primarily on the backs of them being the main character. In researching this piece, it really shocked me how many people do not like this coupling. To me, this was a quintessential story of character growth through love.
Zidane starts off as a care-free, aloof, sometimes perverse rogue who travels with a band of thieves. He's a good guy at heart, the whole crew is. When they're tasked with kidnapping the princess of Alexandria though, his life changes. Meeting Princess Garnet gives him a cause to believe in, and that changes his motivation as the story moves along. Unlike Final Fantasy VIII, FF9 isn't a love story at heart. It's a story about self acceptance and finding your place in the world. This actually plays to the benefit of the game's romance, as we aren't left with the feeling of "oh, he's fixed now because he's in love." Instead, it's his self acceptance and value that allows him to find love and comfort in another.
From Garnet's perspective, these themes are played out even heavier. It's not a story of Garnet falling in love with Zidane and that magically fixing everything in her life. In fact, it's the opposite. It isn't until she has assumed her rightful place and accepted who she is that she's able to return Zidane's feelings in any meaningful way. Final Fantasy IX reminds us that love is not a cure-all for your problems. It's not your partner's responsibility to fix you. Love is a partnership founded by two people, the creation of a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Final Fantasy IX, despite not being explicitly a love story, gives us the best portrayal of true love the series has to offer.