Why I fell in love with Liara

And the reason why I stayed.
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Ah, Mass Effect. That heart-wrenching emotionally wrecking love-heartache relationship of a video game. I'd give you a spoiler alert, but let's be honest, the first game is almost 10 years old. So just play it already.

One of Mass Effect's greatest treasures is the depth of character development, especially in the crew members who you spend so much time with. Even better, you have the option to develop a romantic relationship with one of several different characters. When I first played Mass Effect 1, I was curious who I would romance. I hadn't made up my mind and I thought I'd figure it out as I went along. I danced around with the conversation options with different characters while I deliberated, progressing relationships with everyone (everyone = the hot babes). Until I met Liara. Liara changed everything.

I know what you're thinking - of course Liara. She's Asari, the hyper-sexualized race designed to titillate every heterosexual male (and I know she tempted a few non-hetero males) or homosexual female (and a few hetero females). She's got that smooth featured human face, breasts that would make Kim Kardashian jealous, and the most honest hips in the galaxy. Yeeeah, that's not why I fell in love. And it's certainly not why I stayed loyal to Liara throughout every playthrough of all three games. And the thought of romancing someone else as I play the games again? Repulsive.

When you first meet Liara, she's young and innocent and sweet. She's powerfully intelligent, but profoundly naïve. She spends her time digging in ancient ruins - which in her case is both archeology and science fiction (#BestJobEver). She's awkward and a little socially inept, tripping over her own sentences like she's just learning how to interact with people. (Hint: she is!). She has this sense of innocence and wonder, a boundless energy and enthusiasm, and an overwhelming passion for her hobbies, interests, and career - these are intoxicating! She's everything bright and wonderful in a universe full of dark and horrible things. How could I not fall in love?

And then she joins forces with Commander Shepherd and begins racing around the galaxy, storming Cerberus bases, battling mercenaries, fighting geth, and all-around good adrenaline pumping times. And a few not so good times. She faces down her own mother, forced to confront her mother's betrayal, her mother's weakness, her mother's battle with indoctrination. She's by your side as you discover the truth about Sovereign and the impending galactic doom. She's with you every aching step as you race up the Citadel's Presidium tower to finally face Saren. She becomes your anchor to reality, your reason for living, your bright spot in the center of your universe that keeps you moving forward. She's the reason you keep surviving - to protect her, to see her again, to someday have a lot of little blue babies together.

And then, in only two years' time, Liara has matured incredibly for Mass Effect 2. She's confident, self-assured. None (or very little) of her social awkwardness remains. She's a profoundly different person with a determination to rival even Shepherd's. Not only did she change careers and outfits, she changed. She became driven, with unwavering purpose, to do whatever needs to be done. She became fierce and resolute, uncompromising and immovable. What happened to that carefree, innocent, tripping-over-her-sentences, bubbly Liara?

Shepherd happened.

Shepherd, who took the weight of the fate of the entire galaxy and placed some of that burden on this innocent little girl's shoulders. Shepherd, who hijacked Liara from her Prothean ruins to face the ruins of her mother's indoctrinated mind. Who stood by her from the death of her mother to the revelation of the Reapers and the imminent end to all advanced life. Shepherd, who time and again put off any and all personal interests to "focus on the mission", and more than once Liara was that mission. Shepherd happened to Liara.

I happened to Liara. Because I was Commander Shepherd.

So now I take time out between every mission in ME2 to stop by the Shadow Broker base just to hear her say "Thanks for stopping by". (Side note - the ATM at the grocery store displays those same words when you finalize your transaction, and I always read it in Liara's voice.) And now I long and ache for more time with her, more conversation with her during Mass Effect 3. And when I sit silently in my cabin before Tuchanka, before Thessia, before the Illusive Man, wondering why I can't just call her up just to sit with her for a few moments and escape this awful mess of a war - I know it's my fault. I took away her innocence and replaced it with my own unyielding determination.

But it's not all gone. She's no longer carefree or innocent, but her heart is still full of boundless wonder and optimism. You see it in those rare moments when you hold hands and renew your love. You see it when she stops by your cabin to record a message in a bottle for the future. You see it in her laughter and her smile as she interacts with you and the crew. She's still there, wiser and more mature, but still wide-eyed and light-hearted.

And that is why I fell in love with Liara. Because she was every wonderful thing a cynically idealistic young Commander Shepherd could dream of. Because she never lost her sense of wonder. And because, when Commander Shepherd… when I… set her on the road to saving the galaxy, she stayed on it, even when it took her away from me. She dedicated herself completely to my cause. How could I not dedicate myself so completely to her?

Emotions are real regardless of what evokes them. We have all laughed at a sitcom or cried over a book. We find meaning and connection in the art we engage with and they bring depth and color to our lives. Video games, too, have that power and Mass Effect is a supreme example. 

2020 Update

Tonight, Bioware dropped the teaser trailer for the next installment of the Mass Effect universe. It features a lot of teasing visuals and "comm chatter", hinting at connections to Andromeda. But most prominently, it features Liara T'soni, a bit older and weathered, digging a fragment of an N7 helmet out of the snow atop the rotting hulk of a dead reaper. I screamed out loud. Really loud. A lot. I cried. A lot. I'm still crying.

Something that isn't explicit in the games, but has entire comics dedicated to it, is Liara's connection with Shepherd after the opening events of Mass Effect 2. That goofy naive Liara was the one who searched relentlessly for Shepherd's body on Alchera. It was Liara who found Shepherd's body and fought off hordes of mercenaries and bounty hunters to get that body to Cerberus. It was Liara who brought Shepherd back. 

I've watched the new trailer over and over. Is that N7 emblem a fragment of Shepherd's helmet? Is there a frozen Commander Shepherd buried in the snow with that reaper? Will I finally be reunited with that goofy awkward optimistic determined wonder of a woman I fell in love with so long ago? 

Goddess I hope so. One thing is for sure. LIARA. NEVER. GIVES. UP.




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