Bioware fans had a bit of a shock when it turned out that there was no romance in Anthem. With games like Mass Effect and Dragon Age featuring a whole host of arresting companions, it seemed odd that the studio would eschew one of the things that has become a staple to their design for no apparent reason. However, despite being widely recognized as the best in the business at writing video game romance, Bioware isn’t the only developer that knows how to write about love.
FromSoftware’s Dark Souls series is often known for its steep difficulty curve, as is its spiritual successor, Bloodborne. While these games don’t feature much dialogic choice or relationship development, they still manage to sport their own unique style of romance. It’s not always directly related to the player, but that’s the case with most Soulsborne lore anyway. We’re really just a spectator when we visit Lordran or Yharnam, tasked with killing monsters and perpetuating the neverending cycle plaguing each world. Nonetheless, even in realms as devastated as these, love, uh, finds a way.
The Dark Souls Bride
Perhaps the most explicit form of romance in the entire Soulsborne series occurs in Dark Souls III. Here, you can actually get married — you even get your own special reception, Lothric-style. The bride/groom-to-be — their gender is always the opposite of the player character’s — is none other than Anri of Astora, who hails from the same sunlit land as fan-favorite Solaire.
Much like Chrom’s royal betrothal to the player in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the marriage is kind of sprung on you out of nowhere. If you meet some specific prerequisites in Anri’s questline, you’ll be told that your spouse awaits you after defeating a boss called Pontiff Sulyvahn. Next thing you know, you’re off to the completely unsuspicious Temple of the Darkmoon for a celebration of holy, hollow matrimony. Except it’s not really a traditional wedding. Instead of kissing the bride/groom, you stab them in the face with the Sword of Avowal.
Although interpretations of this differ radically, as is the case with most Souls lore, some people seem to be of the opinion that this is a ritualistic thing in Londor. If you want to be the Lord of Hollows, you’ve got to plunge a holy blade into your spouse’s face. Everyone knows that! However, in one of Dark Souls III’s endings, you can actually see Anri kneeling in the background. So it’s entirely plausible that they somehow survived the face-stabbing, possibly because they had gone hollow, which is a kind of insanity plaguing the lands of Lothric. At the end of all things after the fire has been usurped kneels your spouse, who you skewered with a holy blade, celebrating your ascension to the Lord of Hollows with the rest of the pilgrims beneath the watchful gaze of Dark Souls Sauron.
Annalise: Dead and Loving It
The marriage with Anri is probably the most explicit romance we see in all of Soulsborne, but it’s not the only one. In Bloodborne, after defeating Martyr Logarius on the roof of Cainhurst Castle, you can request an audience with Annalise, Queen of the Vilebloods.
Most of the time, Annalise just wants you to bring her blood dregs. You get these from killing other players in PvP, and they’ve got something or other to do with things like immortality. Basically, the Vilebloods are just vampires, which is why Cainhurst looks like it was made by a person who was given Stoker’s Dracula as a design brief.
Anyway, this vampire queen is the only person in the game who you can propose marriage to. In the deepest recesses of Bloodborne’s Chalice Dungeons — randomly generated dungeons that can net you all kinds of trinkets and treasures if you’re brave enough to wander their bottomless depths — is an item called the Ring of Betrothal. It does what it says on the tin, unlike a lot of the items in Dark Souls. It’s a ring you give someone you’d like to make your betrothed.
Annalise rejects you. Three times, actually. She even gets a bit annoyed after the third proposal. Her responses are as follows:
First rejection: “Speak not, those words. We have little need of a consort. Such a path would belike lead to further ruin. Thou’rt dear to Us. We would see no harm befall thee…”
Second rejection: “Ahh, still thy honeyed tongue… The thought alone sufficeth. Thy worth is too great. Now, speak no more in the matter.”
Third rejection: “Honestly!”
If you’re not a proper Vileblood, how could you ever be fit to marry the Queen? No, you’re just a lowly servant, tasked with collecting blood dregs. In true FromSoftware fashion, The Ring of Betrothal was only put into the game so you could a) not use it on anyone but Annalise, and b) get rejected every single time you used it on the one person in the game it’s compatible with.
It’s gruesome that someone so handsome should care!
Anri and Annalise are the only people you can really have any kind of romantic interaction with in Soulsborne. Gehrman’s doll tells you that she loves you repeatedly throughout the game, and Gehrman himself has some pretty weird things to say about her, but I like to think that’s all platonic and Gehrman is just a bitter old man who’s annoyed about being locked in a dream forever.
However, the worlds of Soulsborne are actually packed with romance — it just mostly happens to other people. Chosen Undead, Lord of Hollows, Hunter of Beasts, you’ve got other things on. So while you’re out saving the world — or plunging it into eternal darkness — other people are very well aware of the fact that the end of the world could be just around the corner and they’re, well, single.
Dark Souls II is often seen as the ugly duckling of the Souls series, and it’s the entry with the most romance. Consider the Ivory King, the benevolent ruler who was renowned for his kind and just heart. He plunged himself into chaos in order to protect Alsanna even though he knew that she was deliberately draining him of his power. And people say chivalry is dead!
Then you’ve got Zullie the Witch. When she encountered Alva the Wayfarer, who was desperately seeking a cure for Saint Serreta, she planned to seduce him. However, after seeing him renounce his knighthood in despair for failing to find a cure for Saint Serreta, Zullie came to his aid, wishing to help the knight find solace in his new life. Although she is mentioned in Dark Souls II, her Black Witch Veil can be found in Dark Souls III’s Ringed City DLC. The description reads as follows:
“The purple veil of the witch Zullie, who intended to seduce Alva the Wayfarer, but eventually became his closest supporter, spending her entire life with him.”
Veils are usually related to matrimony — and not just the face-stabbing kind. It seems Zullie and Alva helped each other to rediscover their purpose in life. Some people even argue that Dark Souls III’s Karla is their daughter, due to the fact that her armor resembles Zullie’s and Alva’s set is found near her cell in Irithyll Dungeon.
Perhaps the most popular relationship of all, though, is the one shared between Knight Artorias and Ciaran. In Dark Souls III, Ciaran can be found praying by Artorias’ gravestone after you’ve killed him. If you’ve got the Soul of Artorias with you, she’ll offer you her weapons in exchange for it.
Should you choose to fight Ciaran instead, her dying words are “My… dear.. Artorias…” However, cut dialogue from the game implies that Ciaran’s love for Artorias was unrequited. Completely focused on holding the Abyss at bay, Artorias left even Sif, his beloved wolf, behind in the first Dark Souls game.
There is romance in Soulsborne, but it’s of a certain kind. Whereas BioWare’s games typically place the player character at the center of the universe — narratively as well as romantically — the worlds of the Soulsborne titles are indifferent and hostile. Stabbing spouses, being rejected by an immortal queen, and having a Child of Dark sap your strength might not be things we typically associate with romance, but they fit just right in a world where absolutely everything wants you dead.