Romances in RPGs like Cyberpunk 2077 are… let’s call them awkward. Most of the time, this isn’t on purpose. We’re supposed to feel cool, like Commander Shepard the bonafide badass space ranger, not some Joe Shmuck who strikes out and uses “xD” in text messages.
In reality, it’s so hard to make a game character genuinely cool when it comes to romance. Lines are played straight but they often come off as cheesy, corny, or in some unfortunate cases, kinda sketchy.
It doesn’t help that game animation is an inexact science. Even our impressive, fancy-fangled motion capture typically produces awkward fumbling when you’re bumping uglies. Cyberpunk’s no different when it comes down to those awkward sex montages—I’m not about to give a glowing review of those, they’re, uh… interesting, but in the way you want to study under lab conditions.
All this being said, Cyberpunk 2077 makes the deliberate choice to avoid attempts at making V a slick ‘n’ seductive, awkwardly-animated love machine. They are that Joe Shmuck, and the game leans into that cringe, thoroughly.
I decided out of scientific curiosity (and totally not because Night City’s filled with pretty people) to dive into every romance route I could, and man—V flirts like it’s their first time talking to anybody. Spoilers for quite a few romance options. You’ve been warned, edgerunner.
Night City goofballs
Let’s talk about my V’s more successful trysts, first. Panam Palmer’s a badass. She’s a nomad from the Aldecaldos, meaning she’s spent most of her life tearing up dirt in monster trucks with skull-crushing tires. She’s also socially awkward, so watching her and V flirt like high school sweethearts was both funny and really charming.
Picture this: you’re in a small, abandoned shack in the middle of a sandstorm. The woman you’ve been makin’ eyes at rests her legs on you. Do you, A) say something witty about the situation, or B) confess your growing feelings for her, or C) play it cool?
If you chose any of those options, you’re slightly better at flirting than Night City’s most legendary mercenary. Running with a bit about the shack being a crappy motel, V proceeds to adopt a concierge’s voice and says: “Ma’am, I’m sure you’d be cosier with your shoes off.” It was dumb enough to make me fold in half out of embarrassment. It did, however, do its job of warming me up to these two characters more than any James Bond one-liner could.
Then there’s River Ward. I have some complaints about how this storyline ends—River only goes in for the feminine body type, but he’ll still kinda flirt with you even if your V’s made out of guy, top to bottom. Maybe I was reading too much into his bromance, but come on, what’s platonic about saying “hey, let’s sneak away from this dinner party and climb a water tower to watch the sun set”? I’m not still upset, I promise.
Everything else though? Fantastic. The text messages are particularly awkward, with V trying to steer the conversation towards flirtation with all the grace of a brick fired out of a cannon—like when you ask him “what beer he’s on right now”, followed by that aforementioned “xD”. I even had an opportunity to get a little cold with him when talking about his former love life. I’m a sucker for drama.
Hell, my V even tried to get with Goro Takemura, which—can you blame me? The man is a Silver Fox, deadly as a razor blade, and adorably bad at living in a grimey city.
Takemura sent a very panicked message where he told me he was honoured, but that maybe under other circumstances, things could’ve been different. This was in the immediate aftermath of sieging an Arasaka facility, so I got to imagine my battle-scarred V crouched at the side of the road with his head in his hands. Great stuff.
We’re all a little cringe
I think, ultimately, what warms my cockles about the way these romances are handled is that they’re pretty human. For starters, V’s a mercenary. Their job is to go and do bad things to other people for money. They don’t exactly get a lot of chances to be intimate—and they’re not some secret agent (well, Phantom Liberty has some spy thriller stuff, but even then). They’re muscle for hire. So of course they don’t know how to flirt. When did they have the time?
What’s more, it’s true to life. Look, if someone tells you that they’re 100% smooth with everybody they come across—they’re a liar. From the outside, I guarantee almost everyone has had moments like V. Maybe not as dramatic as trying (and failing) to make out with your best bro in front of a sunset, but you know. Stuff similar to that happens to everybody.
That works in Night City because it’s so often devoid of humanity, of warmth. It’s a cruel, capricious, hyper-capitalist hellscape, where people are as disposable as the cheap cybernetics they’re saddled with. But V will absolutely do a silly voice and pretend to be the receptionist at a hotel because that’s how people work. To err is to human, and boy do we err a lot when we like someone.
These romances are little islands of charming buffoonery in a blood-soaked campaign, one where you spend most of your time shanking mooks in slow-mo to high octane synthwave. I hope in that far-off sequel, our character gets to be just as unrepentantly cringe. It’s an island of innocence the setting of Cyberpunk desperately needs.