As we all know, many CoGs have romance options. Some games, particularly those under the “Heart’s Choice” label are more focused on romance. What I want to know is, what’s the difference? What makes a romance game, as opposed to a game with a romantic side plot?
I think the main difference is that in a romance game, the romantic aspects are put at the forefront and are what drive the majority of the plot (and, in many occasions, you are forced into a LI route for the story’s sake). While on a game that merely has a romantic subplot, the subplot will serve as a way to enrich the narrative and your relationship with certain characters, but the story itself won’t suffer from you opting out of it. Think of the difference between TWC or Heart’s Choice with, say, Fallen Hero.
Simply put: It’s whether the romance is in fact a side plot or the main plot.
If the story is about a fantasy quest where you also just happen to be able to get together with some of the other characters, who have conflicts of their own outside of anything related to romance, it’s likely not the main feature of the story. It’s a side plot that maybe adds a little flavor and appeal for some.
If, on the other hand, the majority of the story revolves around romance and the plot is mainly meant to create conflicts for you and your chosen partner, it’s generally considered a romance game. As, even if there is a plot outside of the romance, it’s done in service of the romance plot.
I haven’t written a Heart’s Choice myself but having seen @FayI make one as well as making a CoG, I observe that in HC the romance interests are at the forefront of every scene that they’re in - there’s a particular charged tone when they’re onscreen, and it’s written in such a way that the player is always aware of them and their relationship with them. With HC the plot is very intertwined with the love interests also - you couldn’t “go off and do other plot” because it’s all about the way the player interacts with the romances and how the actions the romance options are taking are causing plot/trouble/drama.
edit: in comparison, my game Creme de la Creme has a lot of romance in it, and is very social-interaction-focused, but throughout it, plot points happen that are independent to (most of) the love interests and while in some cases the player can choose to bring a love interest onboard, that’s not the focus of those plotlines.
So, it’s like salad? Sure, you can toss some lettuce in a bowl, add dressing, and boom, salad. But adding tomatoes, cucumber, onion, and croutons would make it more filling.
As I have put it before, stuff on COG and Hosted is intended to be ‘…and Romance’ whilst stuff on HC is intended to be ‘Romance and…’. It doesn’t always work out that way but Hearts Choice games should in theory place the romance aspects above everything else, regardless of the genre.
Giving an example of a super hero game, on HC it would be more about how the various romances affects the MC’s life as a super hero, (say Peter Parker juggling relationships with Betty Brant, Gwen Stacy, Mary Jane Watson and Felicia Hardy) rather than a super hero game with some level of romance options as a secondary aspect.
I think the answer is there already? The difference is that in romance game the romance is the main plot, not a side plot.
I agree wholeheartedly on the “romance is the focus instead of the accoutrements” point, but one other thing that seems to be getting glossed over a little bit is that, in a game with a romantic subplot, you can skip over it. There’s no guarantee that you’re going to get a romance with a happy ending. In a romance game, as in a romance novel, it is part and parcel with the genre. In order to be a romance, two or more individuals who were not in a romantic relationship at the beginning must be in one at the end.
That plot progression, bare bones as it is, is essential to romance as a genre, whatever the medium. It’s why, in the novel world, Nicholas Sparks is not considered a romance writer. It has to have a guaranteed “happy ending” where the individuals are together, and his books don’t offer that guarantee.
Really good point - and in Hearts Choice the endings are Happy Ever After or Happy For Now, whatever that means for the protagonist.
On that note Hearts Choice also has much less emphasis on failure than CoG games.
10/10 for the food imagery TBH, but yeah, that’s mostly the gist of it.
That’s part of why I’ve had a hard time wrapping my head around how I’d write a Hearts Choice game. It needs to have a HEA/HFN ending, because it’s a romance, but if you can’t fail as a player, are the characters then facing real obstacles? It seems to me that in a romance novel, there’s always the sense that the characters could have failed to overcome whatever’s keeping them apart, you just know as a reader that they won’t. I guess in Hearts Choice you end up needing to focus on HOW the characters resolve their romance arc rather than WHETHER they will, but it would just be a tough shift for me.
That’s a super good point and it was definitely something that I had to adapt to when switching from writing a CoG to writing HC.
I actually have a combination of situations for the plot that the romances are existing in the middle of - sometimes, the player can fail to achieve what they wanted, and sometimes, failing the stat test means they suffer unpleasant consequences for achieving their goals. While the core of HFN/HEA is there, the backdrop to it is pretty changeable by the end, and all of the romance options can also be close friends whose fates may be on the line.
Hopefully the combination means that there’s a level of tension for the player where they’re on their toes!
While romance is always the main focus of Heart’s Choice games, they’re also still designed so that the PC is working toward other things as well. The PC is guaranteed a HEA/HFN with the love interest, but they can still fail at those other goals (as long as that failure itself wouldn’t prevent a happy romance ending).
I don’t think a Happy Ending is necessary at all, but maybe that’s because Hearts Choice’s library is still growing. There can be Perfect Endings where it can be a happily forever end type of ending, or a Good End where some things could have gone better but you’re still alive and happy together and things are solved for now, Normal Endings the relationship might or might not continue but all is well overall, and Bad Endings where… the future isn’t bright even if you live, which can be written very well if given attention (as in, clued in the tone of the direction and no out of character behavior) or just thrown in as an afterthought because most people wouldn’t go out of their way to see it.
For me the best romance games were the ones that you got to know the characters deeply and the course of the story had enough changes to reflect it. Be it as a sub-plot on par with the main plot, taking the center stage as a main-plot, or interwoven intrinsically with the main-plot and you wouldn’t have any idea if you hadn’t seen the route. I’m not a fan of the last one because it’s best played as least to most plot relevant to find out all the secrets and can have locked characters, but the story is always interesting the more you replay to know more.
In my experience, an HC ends when the romance is fully established. Everything after that is an epilogue, and there could still be loose ends in the plot. A CoG ends when the plotline reaches a specific point, regardless of where you are in romance or even lack thereof.
Maybe that’s one reason why I have yet to find a HC game I actually like much. The biggest reason is that I find the ROs to be… shallow and bland, which I guess is necessary in order to appeal to everyone.
But as someone who always got annoyed with romance novels that end right when love is declared, the whole “ends when the romance is fully established” is unappealing. I long for a story where the romance gets established and then the couple/trio/whatever work toward the end goal together as a couple and have to deal with whatever BS heads their way.
You just described my dream game! One where the game is about the actual relationship and not about beginning one.
Yes and yes!
This is something I really wish I could see as it’s basically a unicorn of a story to find. Also something i hope to make a reality in my own writings.
Look at the Wayhaven Chronicles. Forgive me if I’m wrong here, but this is probably the best example of a romance focused game here. The author made a specific choice to not have game overs, at least as far as the first two games are concerned. While there are undoubtedly BETTER choices for better outcomes, no outcome will cause a game over. The plot continues whether you do one thing or another. The story is still wrapped up tight with a little bow. However, the plot serves the romance. The idea of obstacles do not have to be a game over screen to be compelling to the audience. Many obstacles can be the journey of the relationship and how it plays out between your character and another. Once again, WC excels at this.
It’s a fundamental understanding of what brings someone to enjoy a romance novel. The drama is amazing and even if the illusion of choice is broken within one or two playthroughs, all the characters are compelling in one way or another to have you continue reading in the hopes of learning more about them and how the relationship will blossom. Even if I know that nothing I do can make the character leave mine, the interactions of the romance are enough to interest the reader and fuel their desire to read further.