Based off of the conversations between my friends on Twitter, one of two things that I know about Fire Emblem: Three Houses is that there are several attractive people you can romance. The other thing I know is that there’s much more to it than this, like its tactical gameplay and extensive story. It’s made me think about games like it—games that incorporate romance but have a sprawling universe, compelling story and engaging gameplay that do most of the work to maintain your attention. Sometimes, it’s an amalgamation of all those components that make you want to date a character in the first place since there’s so much more to them besides being the object of your affections.
If you’re wondering about some examples, we’ve got you. Here’s a list of great games and franchises that aren’t dating sims but that have dating sim elements, giving you the best of both worlds.
I feel a small case of deja vu with my Twitter timeline these days. Friends are constantly posting screenshots of their favorite characters, especially the ones they want to kiss, like they did when Fire Emblem: Awakening came out. By most accounts from critics and fans, Three Houses is a refinement of the strategy combat/epic fantasy story combination the series has been known and loved for. You have the exciting role of an ex-mercenary turned professor at a military academy, where you pick one of three defined houses to oversee and get to know outside of training and academics. I only wish that the game treated queer players, especially queer men, better.
Mass Effect is known for many things, but perhaps its most praised aspect is its extremely well-written characters, many of whom you can form romances with (and some of those romances are excellent). It’s also known for being inclusive of LGBTQ+ players, incorporating queer romances that have improved over time. The bonds you make as Commander Shepard are the highlights of a thrilling space opera filled with memorable moments, shocking revelations and intense action. Few games let you smooch bird-cat hybrid aliens with no lips or someone whose face is obstructed by a helmet, but it’s a testament to the caliber of the writing that these are some of the most beloved characters in gaming.
Contrary to Mass Effect, which centers a trilogy on Commander Shepard and a separate game on Ryder, Dragon Age has you play as a new character in every game. And you know what this means: more characters to woo. Obviously, it also means more captivating storylines; an expansion of a universe so extensive that it’s constantly developed in books and other forms; and beautiful locations teeming with secrets waiting to be discovered…but more characters to kiss is the best part for many people. It’s no wonder, given that Dragon Age has a plethora of fascinating characters.
Divinity: Original Sin 2 is undoubtedly one of the most impressive RPGs of the decade. It’s so enormous and intricately detailed that its scope is nothing short of awe-inducing. But it’s not just stunning in its grandiose battles or gorgeous areas. It’s also got an incredible amount of heart. from the witty narrator to the heartfelt moments that define the likable characters you’re on a journey with. Did we mention that you can sleep with an undead skeleton, and that the relationship you can form with them is actually quite lovely? Well, now you know. Do with that information what you will.
Just as romances are sometimes better because of everything that makes up a story beyond the actual romance, the action of Persona games is more enjoyable because of the time you spend as a regular high school student. You’ll spend a good deal of your time improving your academics and charisma, attending after-school activities, and even going to a part-time job. When you’re not doing those things, you’re likely to be in a dungeon, unleashing your persona to defeat shadows and eradicate villains from society. The romances and character arcs of Persona games are part of why they’re so popular, though the series could do much better with how it handles queerness.
Fallout 4 is the game in which you manage settlements in a post-nuclear apocalyptic wasteland—and your love life. There are human companions you can romance but, if Mass Effect has taught us anything, it’s that we know the non-humans are where it’s at. You can’t romance an undead skeleton but you can flirt with a ghoul in a pirate hat, which is probably as close as it gets if that’s your thing. And if not, you can romance a lady robot—which some of you might think is even better.
While Harvest Moon doesn’t have exciting combat or a deep story, courting someone is only one part of its charm. Your main objective is to expand your farm over the years, but there are small sources of joy to be found everywhere. You can talk to your favorite villagers every day, attend festivals that get the town cooking and collaborating, and, in the case of games like Magical Melody, accomplish objectives to awaken the Harvest Goddess. Courting someone leads to marriage, and from there, you can start parenthood. Harvest Moon games give you daily opportunities to make wonderful memories with your farm animals and fellow townspeople.
Stardew Valley is the more progressive version of Harvest Moon in many ways. To begin with, you can be queer—and it honestly only feels right to let the player have this freedom if a game’s controllable character is a blank slate. The villagers also tend to have more depth, being more than the archetypes that are found within Harvest Moon titles. You can slay a few monsters in the mines if you have an itch for action, craft items and even customize your character’s appearance. Ultimately, it’s a love letter to Harvest Moon, so it’s worth playing both.
Natalie Flores is a freelance writer who loves to talk about games, K-pop and too many other things at @heartimecia.