Writing an Epic Romance – Shovel Knight & Shield Knight

[Currently listening to: More Shovel Knight OST, because that is the ONLY way to properly write a Shovel Knight post.]

*This post has spoilers. At this point, you can pretty much assume that of anything I write.


I may be single. I may not have been on a date in 5-some years. But I can still tell you without a doubt that this –

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– IS THE ULTIMATE PINNACLE OF ROMANCE.

(Stop looking at me like I’m off my rocker.)

There are a lot of sappy romance novels and movies on the market, and for most of them subtlety goes out the window when it comes to assuring the reader/viewer that the lead couple are (going to fall) madly in love. I’m particularly (not) a fan of the time-tested “characters make out for hours” scenes. It’s like the writers are saying,

“See? They can’t keep their paws off each other! THAT MEANS THEY’RE IN LOVE.”

(Look, storytellers, your job is to actually be good at nuance. Leave the blatant snogging to fanfiction writers, all right?)

Let me preface the rest of this post by admitting I’m not partial to stories where romance is the focal point. I could probably count to you on one hand the number of “chick flicks” and novels I enjoy FOR their love story.

Even so, when I do come across a romance, I tend to test the writer’s skill by seeing if they can convince me that two people are in love WITHOUT ever making them get sensual. If they resort to hands-y behavior, I’m out.

Shovel Knight is not advertised as a love story. It’s advertised as a retro platformer, which makes more sense considering it’s a video game and needs to sell as such. But Shovel Knight’s quest for Shield Knight is romance done right.

The intro sets the stage: Shovel Knight and Shield Knight have been heroic partners for some time, but a tragedy at the Tower of Fate has separated them – leaving Shield Knight’s well-being unknown. Now, with The Enchantress in power and evil on the rise, Shovel Knight makes his way back to the Tower of Fate in hopes of reuniting with his love.

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8-bit feels.

Shovel Knight wins on so many levels already, with its shout-outs to old Nintendo games like Mega Man, Castlevania, and Ducktales. But the developers also knew the crucial ingredient of storytelling, and they knew how to do it within the scope of their game.

After each completed level, the player is treated to a scene of Shovel Knight sleeping in the wilderness by fireside. Depending on the player’s progress, Shovel Knight may experience a dream in which he frantically struggles to catch Shield Knight, who falls from the night sky.

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For the first dream, nothing hinders Shovel Knight from catching her (aside from player ineptitude *cough*I’vedefinitelynevermissed*cough*). As you progress through the game, though, the challenge to catch her becomes more difficult. Enemies start plaguing Shovel Knight in his attempts – enemies that you’ve fought in the most recent Order of No Quarter levels.

Like any typical stress dream, Shovel Knight’s reality creeps in and causes more mayhem, which gives you the feeling that the difficult journey is causing him to question if he can do what he set out to do. The enemies are getting stronger; the Order Knights are giving him more trouble.

Aside from a few brief mentions of Shield Knight when Shovel Knight talks to his antagonists, there’s very little dialogue concerning their relationship. We’re only ever consistently reminded of it through Shovel Knight’s dreams. And did you ever notice that the meal ticket chests are colored in Shield Knight’s palette?

Shovel Knight can’t forget about her, and consequently, the player can’t, either. These dreams are what you might call theming, which can be defined as a recurrent idea or story point that ties together the overarching plot. This is crucial for when we approach the final battle, because as Shovel Knight defeats the Enchantress –

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– Shield Knight breaks free of the curse and falls from the Tower’s heights. She FALLS, just as she has in all of Shovel Knight’s dreams. And suddenly it dawns on you: “Holy crepe suzette, Shovel Knight knew he would need to catch her all along.” This is phenomenal theming, as it keeps our minds on the quest for Shield Knight and deftly exhibits Shovel Knight’s dedication and love.

The other thing is: Shovel Knight knew through the whole game that his beloved was The Enchantress. He knew, and yet he also knew what he had to risk in order to free her. His challenges, his dreams, his determination – they were always tied to this climactic moment: would he be able to release her or not?

All this is well and good, you might say, but what romance is complete without a poetic declaration of love? Please, y’all; this game has it covered. When Shovel Knight is finally able to do what he’s only dreamt of before – when he catches his beloved Shield Knight – this is what he says:

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Listen, dudes: if you want your lady to fawn all over you, UTTER THESE WORDS. I promise, you’ll be GOLDEN. (Unless you say them to some chick who doesn’t know you from Adam. Because in that case):

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Shovel Knight is a triumph in epic romance. The hero must overcome impossible odds to reunite with his beloved, and in the end we are rewarded with Shovel Knight and Shield Knight’s steadfast adoration for each other. The player is even given control for the final battle demonstrating their teamwork.

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So if you ask me, you can keep your chick lit and chick flicks, your Channing Tatums and Bradley Coopers. Whereas many stories give unrealistic expectations for lovers, I guess you could say Shovel Knight gave me unrealistic expectations for love.

(Now just wait till I cover “Plague of Shadows”.)

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Shovel Knight is the property of Yacht Club Games. There are many ways to play this game.

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