Vampyr Raised the Bar for Video Game Romance

This story contains spoilers for Vampyr, and also maybe for how to have a good romance.

Romance is a challenge in games, which is why some exclude it entirely. But Vampyr triumphs through an astounding dedication to depicting a blossoming, carefully unfolding love. In Lady Elisabeth Ashbury, Vampyr offers a romance so tender, it might just break your heart.

Elisabeth is the only constant that protagonist Jonathan Reid can rely upon. When he’s cast into a world of vampires, she’s the first person to aid him. She’s the last patron supporting a hospital gripped by a horrid plague, and while Jonathan is initially shocked to discover she’s a vampire, his judgment is tempered when he sees she only kills to bring mercy to those who are already dying. The pair are drawn together through coincidence and mutual suffering, entwined in their new, endless existence.

The two have an immediate, chaotic chemistry. Elisabeth is Jonathan’s last hope, serving as an ideal to aspire to and a guide to life after death. He can consult her at every turn of the story, and she reciprocates by enlisting Jonathan’s aid when she needs it. Achieving a meaningful connection with Elisabeth isn’t a prize, but a natural culmination of how players choose to play Jonathan. She can be enticed by the fire of more chaotic players, though that isn’t to say no one’s burned in the process either. Betray or deceive her, she’s vividly wounded by your cruelty. The death of loved ones leaves her distraught, while the loss of those holding up the community brings harsh doubts about your lingering humanity.

Vampyr Raised the Bar for Video Game Romance

The simmering tension builds over the course of the entire game. By not limiting their budding romance to just a handful of scenes, Vampyr’s creators evade the problem found in so many video games where just a few conversations lead to sex. Even The Witcher 3 had this problem, despite the writers’ best attempts to offer more nuance to the game’s relationships. Real romance is often far less aggressive and not always so lustful, but it can still be memorable. 

Elisabeth’s life doesn’t pause while Jonathan is off playing doctor. Her agency becomes more apparent the further one gets in Vampyr. It’s Elisabeth who extends her hand to Jonathan, going so far as to invite him to her house — a significant romantic gesture in 1918. 

Where much of Vampyr’s world reacts to you, Elisabeth demonstrates independence rarely granted to video game love interests. She understands the necessity of stifling a dangerous life, but she appreciates a delicate hand. A blackmailer threatening to expose her vampiric nature may demand ruthlessness, but she’d much prefer it handled quietly and without bloodshed. Mercy can be kindness — yet it can be just as reckless, such as letting a mad tycoon live so that he might wall off a quarter of the city. Whether London is healed or torn asunder, Vampyr’s final concern is for Jonathan’s relationship with Elisabeth.

Once Elisabeth learns that she is the unwitting “healthy carrier” of the plague sweeping London, she decides to take drastic measures by immolating herself to save humanity and vampires alike. It’s at this point that all of the relationship building comes to a head.

If Jonathan has become a callous monster, Elisabeth will burn, filled with despair at what she’s encouraged. If he uses her example to rise above basic instinct, Jonathan can pull her back from the brink. You’re fighting to save both London and your souls. After she showed you so much kindness by guiding you through the dark, you have to try to pull your love back into the light. 

Developer Dontnod Entertainment could have provided several optional romances that only warranted a handful of scenes. By building the foundations of Vampyr’s story on a relationship, the developers had to take the time to let the pair fight and reconcile, show empathy at many turns, and have a meaningful impact on each other. Jonathan simply wouldn’t be the man he becomes without knowing Elisabeth. Whether their story ends in hope or tragedy, it’s as vital as the blood in their veins.

Elijah Beahm
Elijah’s your Guy Friday for all things strange and awesome in obscure gaming. He spends way too much time talking about such things on Twitter @UnabridgedGamer and his YouTube channel The Unabridged Gamer.

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