Thursday, July 28, 2016

General RPG Lists: Fire Emblem 14 Romances

Before we begin, I have a quick question for you folks, since you always seem to be way more in the know about these things than myself: does Nintendo have any plans to release a third pack of DLC maps for Fire Emblem 14? I made my rant on the game's DLC before I knew about the second map pack, which released soon after I posted the rant, and I feel like an idiot over it. I want to post an updated rant on the game's DLC which covers the new maps, but I sure as heck don't want to make the same gaffe twice. Is FE14 done with DLC now?

Thanks in advance for the answer. On with the rant!

Fire Emblem 14 has a lot of romances in it. Like, a fuckton of’em. The main character alone has almost 70 different romantic options--basically, Corrin can romance about half the entire cast as a man, and about the other half as a woman. And that’s just Corrin--most of the rest of the party members in this game have about 11 - 13 romantic options for themselves. By my count--yes, I did actually count them all--that’s over 300 separate romances!

And only TWO of them are same-sex. I know I talked about this before at length, but it bears saying, again: Holy Hell, that is just disgraceful.

With such an insane number of love confessions, it’s understandable that there’s a pretty wide range of quality in the writing of these romances. Some are really touching and genuine...others are quite stupid, or worse. So, with the wide range and the literal hundreds of possibilities, why not make a rant listing out the 14 best and the 14 worst of the FE14 romantic scene?

...Look, I read through all of them. I’ve gotta do SOMETHING to attempt to justify that, alright?

The Best Romances of Fire Emblem 14

14. Charlotte and Silas

This is a simple romance, but I like it. Silas doesn’t just happen to find out about and accept Charlotte’s true self, like all the other guys she can be paired off with--he actively pursues a knowledge of her, sitting her down and getting to know her in totality before the S rank confession scene. It seems like a small thing, but it shows a genuine interest in Silas for Charlotte as a person, and that means something. There are a lot of love confessions in this game in which one person says they look forward to deepening their knowledge of their new significant other, and that’s fine, but in Silas’s case, we see that he actually cared to know all he could about Charlotte as a person before he formed a romantic interest in her.

13. Azura and Kaze

There’s not much to say about this: Azura and Kaze form a bond that is sweet and compelling. Their affection just feels quite real to me.

12. Mitama and Shigure

This meeting of aesthetic-minded individuals who find joy in recreating the world’s beauty in their art is a natural, convincing progression of affection. The scene of Mitama and Shigure by the shore of a lake, spending their hours beside one another as they quietly labor on paintings and poems, brought together by their shared desire to’s romantic in a classic way, foreign yet somehow familiar to us, a compelling scenario of romanticism that ends in a convincing exchange of affection.

Also, you know it’s some serious romantic shit when Mitama actually says she’d rather spend time with someone than asleep in bed.

11. Azura and Laslow

Azura and Laslow connect really naturally through an interest in dance, and...well, that’s sort of it, but they seem to have a real chemistry with it. I hate to be so brief with Azura a second time here, but there’s not much to say, really: it’s simple, and it works.

10. Beruka and Kaze

Well, you know me: I’m a sucker for character development. The relationship between Kaze and Beruka has Kaze helping the assassin to rekindle her long-lost humanity by helping her to learn how to enjoy herself during her free time. What I like about this is that Kaze is gentle, patient, and accepting toward Beruka, coaxing her development as a person and connecting with her as he does so. The confession scene is pretty standard for Beruka, but the conversations leading up to it do a good job of selling you on the idea that Kaze has made a significant impact on Beruka, and that her quietly returning emotions bring a love for Kaze with them.

9. Kiragi and Velouria

Velouria’s odd obsession with what most people would consider rubbish is the basis for most of her conversation chains with other characters (and the same is true of her father, Keaton). Most of the time, however, this fundamental aspect of Velouria’s personality and values is seen as a mildly amusing quirk, or worse, a somewhat off-putting obstacle by her romantic partners. In this, Kiragi stands out, for once he gets a handle on what Velouria’s interests are, he just takes them in stride, without criticizing them or needlessly pointing out how strange they are. In fact, his first instinct is to invite her to come hunting with him so that she can find more of her treasures in the forest, and once they’re there, he generously lets Velouria set the pace of their excursion, and even helps her find objects of interest. Finally, I like the S rank conversation--I think it’s sweet that Velouria wants to show Kiragi her entire collection in her tent, and I like the fact that he’s genuinely interested in it. Not only that, but this confession conversation has a message of some merit to it, too, for Kiragi finds a new value to Velouria’s collection when he sees it all together, realizing that it has formed a breathtaking recreation of the forest within Velouria’s tent (and Kiragi does love the great outdoors). Kiragi and Velouria have a good chemistry, their interests mesh well, Kiragi shows honest respect for her, and their exchange of feelings for one another is genuine, heartwarming, and meaningful.

8. Leo and Nyx

Look, everything involving Nyx romantically is...kinda iffy. I mean, I know that, logically, Nyx is a consenting adult regardless of the fact that she’s trapped in a body that stopped aging at, what, 13? Objectively, I know that it’s morally okay for her to be in a romantic relationship with an adult person. Hell, age of consent is more about mental development than physical development anyway, so if anything, she’s the one with an unfair advantage over her partner given that she’s implied to be the oldest member of the game’s playable cast. Nyx having romantic opportunities with members of the cast really, honestly is okay.

It’s still off-putting and Japan is still weird, though. Just...c’mon, Nintendo, did you really have to? I know everyone took Xenogears in stride with Bart and his 12-year-old cousin Margie, and I’m honestly pretty shocked at how no one ever seems to even question La Pucelle Tactics throwing adult man Homard and “13”-year-old* Eclair together (and their relationship is really shitty, to boot; at least Bart and Margie appear to have a genuinely good emotional connection)...but did you really have to throw the lolicon community that bone? It’s better than Margie and Eclair in that Nyx is mentally an adult, at least, but still...Oh well. I’ve seen worse, so I may as well get over this.

Regardless, I strive for objectivity, and speaking from that perspective, the romance between Leo and Nyx is actually pretty nice. After she tells Leo of her curse, he helps her to see herself in her mind as an adult, and pushes her toward forgiving herself for her past sins. It’s a brief, but very touching moment, and it’s good for Nyx as a person. The same is true of the S rank confession. Nyx speaks of how she sees herself in her mind sitting with Leo as an adult as she should be...and Leo replies that he sees a similar scene, but one in which she is as she is, and between them, a child. Ignoring the slight mental discomfort of Nyx’s teen pregnancy, this is touching, and also good for Nyx, because while Leo acknowledges that within herself, Nyx is an adult (he was, after all, the one who first suggested to her trying to see herself as such within her mind), when he thinks of being with her, starting a family with her, he’s seeing her as she will have to be, should that come to pass. In essence, Leo understands her inner self, but also accepts the reality of her outward form, and that’s a good example to set for Nyx. And so, I think this is a good couple in the game--it develops Nyx’s character in a positive way, and it’s pretty touching.

7. Arthur and Felicia

This one’s in my good books just for the fact that Arthur’s one of the few people who actually encourages Felicia. Most of poor Felicia’s potential romances have her husbands-to-be criticizing her for her clumsiness, or at least approaching it with resignation as a negative thing to be mitigated. Arthur, on the other hand, spends his time in his support conversations with Felicia encouraging her, trying to show her ways not to lessen or eliminate her clumsiness, but rather how to live with her difficulty and function with it. And of course, if anyone could help Felicia with this, it’s the disaster magnet himself, right? So I like this one for the fact that it’s good for Felicia, offering her so much more than the slightly condescending pat-on-the-head that most of her romantic options do in regards to her difficulties.

I also like this romance in that it’s not just completely focused on Felicia--it also develops Arthur, as well. It’s often the case in this game that romances are one-sided in terms of character personality, even in the good ones. I mean, look at Leo and Nyx--they have a good romance, but it’s very Nyx-centric. You could fill Leo’s position with almost half the male cast and it’d work just as well. And that doesn’t take away from their romance, because as I said above, it’s good. But with Arthur and Felicia, Arthur’s part could be filled by no one else, and his own character grows alongside Felicia’s, and that’s a bonus.

Finally, it bears saying that beyond all these other considerations, the support conversations between Felicia and Arthur are also just a genuinely good bonding experience for them, and you can really believe that they’ve developed feelings for each other during their time with one another. Overall, this is solid.

6. Azura and Corrin

Hey, it’s the closest thing to a canon couple that we have in this game. But more importantly, Azura and Corrin have a fast, strong, committed bond to one another in this game, and it translates well into romance. Corrin is the one person that Azura can truly confide in and share her secret knowledge with. Corrin shares doubts and fears with Azura that he doesn’t share with anyone else. Azura is Corrin’s protector and partner in conspiracy, and she’s willing to plunge herself as deeply into darkness and sin to do what’s right as Corrin is (seen on the Nohr game path). Azura and Corrin are one of those put-together-because-of-plot-conventions couples, similar to countless other RPGs which pair the protagonist with the most plot-significant member of the opposite sex, but regardless of convention, it’s clear that these two do have strong chemistry and a connection that very easily takes the step into love.

5. Corrin and Rhajat

It’s a shame that the English release changed the way that Female Corrin and Rhajat’s S rank scene goes, because the original confession scenario implied that Corrin is the reincarnation of Fire Emblem 13’s protagonist Robin, and that (less surprisingly) Rhajat is the reincarnation of FE13’s Tharja, and that their love was so great that not even death and reincarnation could keep them from one another. I like that sort of story, one with a love that transcends time, space, life, and death, and keeps bringing two souls made for each other back together across lives.**

Still, what we ended up with in the USA, which is that the confession scene is the same for both Male and Female Corrin, is good. This one’s here not so much for the S rank conversation itself, as the overall concept. There’s something appealingly romantic about the idea of falling in love with the hero who inspired you and changed your entire life, and it makes a certain sort of sense--after all, the person you’re in love with tends to be the most important person in your life, so it seems a natural thing for one of the most fundamental figures in Rhajat’s life, the one whose actions shaped who Rhajat became, to also be the one that she loves and marries. And the authenticity of this love is helped by the fact that this is a rare occasion in FE14 wherein romantic interest is actually present beyond the confines of the support conversations--it’s a simple fact of Rhajat’s character in the game, independent of the player’s input, that she has an interest in Corrin. Admittedly, an interest that manifests itself through stalking, but that’s easy enough to take in stride once you’ve reconciled yourself with some of the other somewhat uncomfortable stuff this game throws at you, romance-wise.*** It’s kind of a nice and refreshing thing that Corrin and Rhajat’s support conversations function with the assumption that Rhajat is already romantically interested, too--almost all other conversation chains in this game have to establish the romantic connection themselves, while here, it’s already there (on 1 side, at least) and thus the conversations can run with it. Overall, Corrin and Rhajat have a good, touching, and enjoyable romance.

4. Beruka and Saizo

Alright, now we’re talking. The last 4 romances on this list are the ones I really, really like, respect, and/or feel are just real, true examples of love. Until now, this list has been a selection of the best examples of halfway decent romances; from this point on, we see stories of love that are really good even in the objective sense.

I really, really like what the game does with Beruka and Saizo. It’s a believable, compelling meeting between 2 emotionally damaged killers who have seen the darker depths of their world that most of the rest of the cast cannot truly understand for having never been involved in it. They connect from shared experience, and through that connection, are reminded of just how ugly and useless the violence their lives are based on truly is. It’s a thought that troubles the normally emotionless Beruka greatly, as each realizes how truly meaningless the cycle of vengeance is, a cycle which they help to perpetuate. In this understanding, they vow together to do their part for Corrin’s army to create a world in which this is no longer the case. And after that, Saizo proposes that after the war, both he and Beruka retire from conflict, settle down together and help each other find peace, 2 killers who understand one another in ways that no one else in the newly peaceful world could.

It’s not warm and tender, like most of these other romances, like the way we expect romance to be...but Beruka and Saizo come together in a powerful way, and I find it extremely compelling and beautiful.

3. Laslow and Peri

Generally speaking, Peri’s romances are...pretty awful. I’ll get into that below. But the romance between her and Laslow is pretty damn great. Through his interactions with her, Laslow helps Peri to grow immensely as a person, as she comes to understand what it was that made her a murderous psychopath, and finally reach an understanding of the tragedy of death. With the guidance of Laslow, Peri grows from a thoughtless, violent child into a woman who feels the consequences of empathy, who can cry out of actual sorrow instead of a mimicry of emotion, who can move beyond childish words and speak as a true, adult woman when she needs to...a woman who is in enough possession of herself that we can truly believe it when she tells Laslow that she loves him.

2. Selena and Subaki

Honestly, this is a terrific story of love, in ways far beyond any other romance in the game (even the couple in this list’s top spot). It’s everything it should be. Selena and Subaki are a great match, a woman whose issues of self-esteem and unrelenting drive to be the best at everything and a man who puts constant effort into the pursuit of perfection. They’re so similar in their desires, and yet completely different in their motivations and actions, that they fit together flawlessly. Beyond the simple fact that they’re a natural match, their support conversations provide a convincing romance, developing each of them (but especially Selena, which is fine, because she’s definitely the deeper character) in a positive way so that when they admit their feelings for one another, it feels like the only possible conclusion.

That by itself makes Selena and Subaki a great pair, but the unique aspect that puts them so high on this list also has to do with something that happens for Selena that doesn’t happen for just about anyone else (that I know of): the child she has with Subaki is uniquely tailored for her. Normally, the conversations between child characters and their mothers (with the exception of Azura and Shigure, and Female Corrin and Kana) are generally the same from one mother to the next. What I mean is, if you pair, say, Azura up with Kaden, their daughter, Selkie, will have almost the exact same support conversations with Azura as she would have with Hinoka, or Charlotte, or Rinkah, if any of them were her mother instead. A few words of the child’s dialogue may change, and obviously the mother’s dialogue is (usually) adjusted to reflect her personality, but overall, the same ideas are expressed.

But, in the case of Subaki’s daughter Caeldori, the support conversations she has with Selena have more content to them than with any other mother Caeldori might have had. And they’re...wonderful. Some of the best stuff this game has to offer, I would say. Caeldori is the spitting image of Selena’s mother, Cordelia (and her name is an anagram for Cordelia, too, so, much like Rhajat to Tharja, it’s safe to say that Caeldori is a reincarnation of Cordelia), and like Cordelia, Caeldori is admired and respected by all who know her for being a hard-working, flawless prodigy of nearly all she does. Thus, during the conversations that Selena has with Caeldori, she can’t help but see a lot of her mother in Caeldori, and this allows for some really engaging, emotionally powerful dialogue between Selena and her daughter that brings Selena to a really good place, reassuring much of her fears and allowing her to work through a lot of her longstanding issues of self-worth. It’s touching and it’s extremely good for Selena, and that’s what really skyrockets the pair of Selena and Subaki so high up this list: because not only is it a great meeting of personalities, not only is it a natural and real story of love, but the daughter that Selena has with Subaki also develops Selena’s character beautifully and brings her to a much better place as a person.

1. Camilla and Corrin

Look, Camilla is more than a little weird. Her obsession with Corrin is maybe a little uncomfortably intense, and while it’s established early in the game that she and Corrin are not actually siblings and that she and the rest of Corrin’s Nohr family knows this, Camilla still clearly thinks of herself first and foremost as Corrin’s sister, even as she dotes on and adores Corrin in a way that’s really, really hard not to see as significantly romantic. In fact, I’m fairly certain that the familial perception is part of it; her voice-acted love confession to Corrin actually says, “We’re a family now. And I love my family more than anything.” And if you set it up so that she’s Soleil’s mother, Camilla will actually say, when Soleil begins hitting on her in a support conversation, that Soleil has clearly taken after her.

She’s also just kinda off-putting at times on her own, able to switch disturbingly easily between compassionate, generous, and caring, to cold, ruthless, and bloodthirsty. And hey, on the other side, let’s face it, it’s kiiiiiinda disturbing in this support conversation chain when Corrin admits to having been attracted to Camilla for a long time--as in, longer than Corrin has had the knowledge that they aren’t siblings.

But you know what? Past the parts about Camilla and Corrin that are uncomfortable, awkward, and downright creepy, if you can let yourself get beyond that (though I don’t blame you if you can’t)...Camilla’s love for Corrin is just undeniably genuine. Like Rhajat, this is a case where the love goes beyond just the support conversations. Being just absolutely crazy about Corrin is the defining characteristic of Camilla as a character. Hell, even in a lot of her support conversations with other characters, characters you can have her marry, the focus of her interactions with them is trying to figure out how she can better convince Corrin of how much she adores her/him, or delving into the reasons why she is so fixated on being affectionate toward Corrin. Frankly, when Camilla says in one of these conversations, this one with Arthur, that she’s “overflowing with love for Corrin,” it rings far more genuine and is much more touching than the later conversation when she and Arthur get together.

She just thinks the absolute world of Corrin, and at the times in the game when she thinks that Corrin has abandoned her and betrayed Nohr, she becomes despondent, and even unstable. Look, call it creepy, call it unhealthy, call it heavy-handed--and you’re not wrong on any of those counts--but this is a woman who is so completely, utterly in love that it is an intrinsic, inescapable part of her, one which she cannot function without. And that kind of raw, overwhelming emotional power is something that I can’t help but feel some strange respect for, something that I can’t help but identify as the truest love that this game has to offer: primal, adoring love that cannot be contained and makes no excuse whatever for itself.

And I do want to note that it’s not all one-sided here. Creepy or not, Corrin’s admission to having felt attraction for Camilla for a long time gives their romance some foundation as something each was moving toward, and the fact that their support conversations before that point were helping to establish Corrin as an adult and resolving the conflict of Corrin’s mild annoyance at Camilla’s dotage really helps it. It truly does feel, as Camilla says, like they’re childhood sweethearts who have finally grown old enough to act on the love they’ve always felt for one another.

Honorable Mention: Corrin and Scarlet

In a game full of cheesy, over-the-top confessions of love, Nintendo at least shows us that it’s aware that a lot of the lines its characters throw around are laughably corny. When Corrin attempts to propose to Scarlet by asking her to “decorate me with your love,”**** Scarlet bursts into laughter at how bad a line that was, even though she does accept the proposal. And then, in the voice-acted confession, she tells Corrin that she loves him...even though his proposal was “was pretty weak.” Scarlet earns her place on this list for being the only person in the whole damn game who can keep it real.

Well, that was fun! But now that we’ve seen the best love stories that Fire Emblem 14 can offer...let’s take a look at the worst! And hoo boy, this game has some doozies.

The Worst Romances of Fire Emblem 14

Dishonorable Mention: The Ones That Come Out of Nowhere

Most of the time, I like to save the Honorable or Dishonorable Mention until the end, but this one kind of works better as a way to set the tone for the rest--a lot of the actual entries on this list will be this, and also worse.

Okay, so, this game may have some decent romances, but I’d say at least half of the game’s S rank confessions come out of fucking nowhere. Like, 1 minute Corrin’s just helping Hayato learn how to write a letter home, and the next, Lil’ H is confessing how much he loves Corrin and she’s all “sure why not.” 1 conversation, Hisame is teaching a friend how to pickle vegetables, and the next conversation, they’re deciding to be Pickle Pals on a whole other level. There’s nothing terribly wrong with these spontaneous feelings of mutual attraction, I guess, but most of the time when I was reading through the romance scenes in this game, I was just scratching my head on how they got from Point A to Point B (or more appropriately, Point C to Point S).

14. Camilla and Keaton

Camilla’s just really, really ambivalent about the idea of marrying Keaton. I mean, his interest in her comes out of nowhere, but she doesn’t even seem to HAVE an interest in him. The biggest draw she seems to have to him is that she can tell he has a lot of blood on his hands. Not exactly a huge thing to base a relationship off of to begin with, but even in itself, it seems a lot closer to a casual observation than a statement of romantic interest.

13. Arthur and Nyx

So, Arthur, lemme see if I got this right. You had no idea whether Nyx was as young as she appears, but you still procured an engagement ring before checking, just in case? I’m sorry, but there’s just no good way to have an inquiry about whether someone’s a legal adult, and a proposal for marriage in the same conversation.

12. Corrin and Hinoka, Corrin and Ryoma, Corrin and Sakura, and Corrin and Takumi

Look. It is 1 thing for me to accept the idea that Corrin could fall in love with her/his Nohrian “siblings,” since it is established early into the game that they’re not actually related to Corrin by blood. I’m still put off by the fact that Corrin still thinks of them as her/his siblings because she/he was raised with them as such, but as the number 1 slot of the list above proves, I can look past that. Although it WILL figure pretty heavily into the Since We’re Not Related It’ll Be Okay Syndrome rant I plan to write eventually.

But this is just going too far. Yes, it turns out that Corrin is also not related by blood to her/his Hoshidan “siblings”, either. So you’d think that hooking Corrin up with Ryoma, Hinoka, Takumi, or Sakura would be fine, at least as much as hooking up with the Nohrian royals is. But the thing is, it is only revealed to Corrin that she/he is not related to the Hoshidan royal siblings in the S rank conversation with them.

Think about that. This means that if you’re pairing Corrin with, say, Ryoma, Corrin will only find out that she is not Ryoma’s real sister in the SAME CONVERSATION which she accepts Ryoma’s proposal. I mean, come on now, Nintendo! I know that in Fire Emblem, brother-and-sister and husband-and-wife are practically the same thing, but you don’t think that’s just a little rushed and awkward? Not to mention that unless the player has gained knowledge of this situation from an outside source, you’ve created an uncomfortable scenario in which the only way for the player to find out that it’s arguably morally acceptable for Corrin to marry Takumi, Sakura, Ryoma, or Hinoka is to initiate a love confession conversation with them while the player still thinks they’re Corrin’s actual sibling!

This is what’s known as making a Hail Mary pass at someone.

The annoying thing is that that if they had timed it better, timed it so that Corrin wasn’t accepting a marriage proposal from the man or woman that 5 minutes ago Corrin thought was her/his actual, biological sibling...most of these romances would actually be pretty decent. Hinoka’s in particular would have been really nice. And if there had been a separation, so that Corrin learning of the truth of her/his non-relation to the Hoshidan royals didn’t happen at the same time as a marriage proposal by them, the revelation would have been rather nice, too, as it reveals an admirable side to King Sumeragi’s character. So this mess is detrimental twice over to what could have been good moments in the game.

11. Rhajat and Shiro

In this support conversation chain, Shiro keeps pestering Rhajat, a vegetarian, to eat some meat. Nothing says love like showing no respect whatsoever for someone’s dietary choices, right? And not only is this a lousy romance for Shiro being a pushy jerk for no reason, but it also promotes a lousy message to the audience by having Rhajat actually give in and eat some meat rather than stay true to her right to eat whatever she goddamn well pleases. The cherry on the top is the motivation that Shiro gives--at first, Shiro says that he’s doing it because he’s worried about Rhajat’s health, thinking that she might be so gloomy because her health is poor. Okay, acceptable, I guess, even if he went about it like an ass. But, if you have them pursue a romance, Shiro then takes it back and says that the real reason that he was being such a pushy prick was just because he wanted an excuse to have a conversation with her because he likes her. Being worried about her health is 1 thing, but insistently disrespecting one of her lifestyle choices just because he wanted more attention? This romance actually retcons itself into being even lousier.

10. Ignatius and Midori

I dunno about you guys, but when I think of sweet, tender romantic love, the first thing that comes to mind is ingesting live pill bugs, vomiting, and then fainting out of disgust in a pool of my own sick.

9. Azama and Sakura

Azama is an annoying jackass to Sakura for the first 2 conversations, only kind of makes up for it in the A rank scene, and then in the next conversation, he tells her that his apology gift was also a proposal gift. How fucking romantic.

8. Corrin and Selena

I like Selena a lot more than I’d have expected. She’s probably the most layered, deep character of the classic Tsundere role that I can think of. But sometimes she does play too much to type. Corrin and Selena’s romance amounts to Corrin being repeatedly berated by her for 3 conversations, and then actually bullied into marrying her. Corrin himself even actually says that his acceptance of her proposal is “against my better judgment.”

I have seen romance. This is not it.

7. Corrin and Odin

The conversations between Corrin and Odin are about Corrin being reluctant to spend time with him, and then during his confession of love for Corrin, she demands that he drops his act and speaks plainly, or she’ll walk out. Be still, my heart, at this tender display of love. I’m supposed to believe in their romantic bond when Corrin shows, at best, tired resignation to the activity that Odin most enjoys doing? Yeah, there’s a marriage that’s gonna last.

6. Hana and Jakob

Ugh...and so we come to the Jakob part of the list. As much of a jerk as Azama can be, he at least usually has sort of good reasons for treating everyone around him like garbage. Jakob, on the other hand, is just 100% an ass.

As evidenced with his “romance” with Hana, if you really want to dirty the word by associating it with this debacle. He’s just hostile for no fucking reason to her, and even at the point where he admits that in some ways she’s a respectable person, he’s still standoffish about it. And then, suddenly, there’s love, for some reason, in which even the confession is kind of insulting. Ugh.

5. Azama and Hinoka

Man, and I thought Sakura had it bad with this jerk. Azama spends 3 conversations insulting and harassing Hinoka, and then, in the final scene, pulls a proposal out of his ass. And get this: Hinoka agrees to be Azama’s wife because, I shit you not, of the saying “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.”

Now that’s some heart-stopping romance, there.

4. Jakob and Setsuna

Jesus, Jakob is such a lousy asswipe. What the hell were they thinking when they wrote this douchebag? Jakob spends the main 3 conversations of their support chain being a jerk to Setsuna, proving what a pathetic negativity-feeding parasitic troglodyte he is by picking the easiest target in the whole army, an agreeable girl who’s too spacey to fight back. And then...Jesus, even as I type this I am overcome with disbelief at this. And then, after using Setsuna as a verbal punching bag for 3 conversations without the slightest remorse, Jakob asks her to marry him, and starts this proposal by acting like this is him doing her a favor, since he can help keep her from falling into traps (she’s prone to doing this). As if he’s been trying to do so at all so far!

I just can’t wrap my mind around how messed up that is. What an abusive bottom-feeder. After he’s verbally belittled her every time they’ve spoken, he acts like marriage would be him doing her a favor. Eat shit and die, Jakob.

3. Peri and Anyone Who Isn’t Laslow

As I said, Peri’s romance with Laslow is a very touching, even heartwarming thing to see, which gets her in touch with a conscience and humanity she hasn’t had since childhood, and develops her excellently as a person.

Unfortunately...every other character’s relationship with Peri goes less well. With all other courtships, Peri’s penchant for reasonless, careless murder is treated with very little gravity, if it’s even addressed at all. Being a psychotic murderer seems to be seen as an unfortunate personality quirk and little more. For heaven’s sake, Felicia’s clumsiness gets more attention as a problem in need of fixing than Peri’s homicidal whims! I’m sorry, but so long as Peri is a gleeful mass-murdering psycho (and Laslow is the only individual who brings her past that point), I don’t buy that a romance between her and any of the well-adjusted (by comparison), morally functional members of the cast will work. Even in the case of allies who are known killers, like Keaton and Saizo (the latter of which can’t romance Peri anyway), and don’t feel remorse for their violent actions, they’re still pragmatic enough that they should see Peri’s casual violence as completely excessive and reasonless.

One more thing that really turns me off of Peri romances: her ability to consent to a marriage is pretty damn dubious. I mean, think about this. Laslow is the only person who helps Peri develop herself as a person and get in touch with her adult side. For everyone else, Peri is just regular Peri throughout their support conversations, including when she agrees to marry them. Which means that Peri is operating with a stinted, childish mind, and an emotionally damaged one at that. So, in spirit, these adult men are getting engaged to a child--a child with an adult woman’s body, yes, but what matters is that her mind is not adequately developed to the point where she can acceptably consent. Well, Nintendo, which is it? Mind or body? Is an adult romancing Nyx okay because within her child body is a fully developed adult mind, or is it okay when an adult romances Peri because her child mind happens to be kept within an adult body? Either it’s the physical or mental age that matters, Nintendo, you can’t just change your damn mind whenever it’s convenient!

2. Corrin and Gunter

Falling in love with a man who’s over 30 years your senior and clearly established, in the same line of conversations that lead to the love confession, to be a father figure to you? With whom you’ve literally spent every support conversation leading up to the marriage proposal playing catch, the most patently father-child activity ever invented?


1. Felicia and Jakob

Jesus Christ, Jakob! What the fuck is your real, actual problem?

As unpleasant as he is to others in general, as much of a jerk as he is to Hana and Setsuna, it’s his “romance” with Felicia in which Jakob truly hits his stride as a veritable superhero of douchebaggery. Jakob’s “love” for Felicia begins with reinforcing her low self esteem by reminding her of how awful she is at her job, and then develops this foundation through the next few conversations by expressing that she is not only completely terrible, but also hopeless, incapable of improvement without his help, and later he even goes further and indicates that she’s hopeless even with his help. This goes way beyond his abuse of Hana and Setsuna, because not only is he insulting Felicia at every turn for her completely harmless shortcomings, he’s going a tremendous step beyond that and saying that her flaws are inescapable no matter how hard she tries. And unlike Setsuna, Felicia can fully understand Jakob’s words and intent, and have her self-worth affected by them--Setsuna at least is spacy enough that she doesn’t take malicious statements to heart. And then, of course, once he’s been a merciless asshole for 3 conversations, the S rank proposal starts with him reaffirming how utterly hopeless she is of improving herself, and suggesting, as he does in the Setsuna proposal, that he do Felicia a favor and marry her because only a husband would be able to devote enough time to Felicia to make her less of a monumental fuck-up.

Watch out, Kevin of Xenosaga. You’ve got some stiff competition for Best Boyfriend Ever!

In this entire conversation chain from start to finish, in only a single line, at the end of the S rank marriage proposal, does Jakob express any actual, significant positive feeling for Felicia, when he claims, completely without basis, that he does want to marry her out of love. And he immediately follows this single, solitary moment of positive emotion with another low blow by reaffirming that her tea-making (a part of her job and thus something personally important to her) is “truly a nightmare.” The ending line of this romance--not making this up--is Jakob reassuring her that together, they’ll be able to wake up from that nightmare.

Just...what an unspeakable, monstrous piece of shit this guy is. Corrin and Gunter may be unhealthy and disturbing to the very core, but by God, at least it isn’t horrible, abusive garbage like this. Congrats, Jakob, you really are just the fucking worst.

Well, that’s that for the best and the worst that FE14 has to offer. There are some really lovely relationships to be found in this game...and some that make me cringe. But what can you expect, with over 300 different possible pairings in a game? With that many different romances to portray, naturally the writers are gonna hit all the bases.

Well...maybe not all of them. In fact, as numerous as FE14’s romances are, there are still some that really, honestly should have been there, but aren’t. Let’s do a final list, this time of the romances that should have been! We’re gonna split it in half this time with a list of 7, though, because I dunno about you but I am starting to get Fire Emblemed out.

Incidentally: most of the couples-that-should-have-been below are same-sex. I know it’ll come off like I’m very skewed toward that, particularly given how often I point out the fact that same-sex couples don’t get adequate representation in games, but it’s honestly not so much an issue of bias as it is that nearly every possible heterosexual couple in the game is already an integrated possibility. There’s just not a lot of hetero pairs that haven’t been explored by the game.

The Romances That Should Have Been in Fire Emblem 14

7. Effie and Elise

Look, I don’t want to go all slash-shippy on you guys, but Effie’s devotion to Elise just goes way, way too far not to be at least somewhat romantic in nature. When she recounts the day she met Elise to others, she speaks reverently of how incredible and radiant Elise was, how Effie knew then and there that this was the person she needed to devote her life to. Effie’s desire to serve and protect Elise have driven her to become utterly superhuman in her strength, to basically become the Fire Emblem equivalent to She Hulk, through effort alone. Much like Camilla to Corrin, Effie’s devotion to Elise spills over into many of support conversations with other characters, to such an extent that even as she pledges her love to these other characters, Effie clarifies that her priority will still always be her duty to Elise. Seriously, in 1 of these love conversations, she says, word for word, “I’d give my life to protect you as well. Assuming I’m not already busy protecting Lady Elise, of course...”

Considering some of the absurdly meaningless connections that this game has based other characters’ romances on, this one seems a no-brainer, and really should have been available, I think.

6. Male Corrin and Silas

Similarly to Effie, Silas has devoted the path of his life to being in Corrin’s life. This is the basis for the romance between Silas and Female Corrin, but that foundation is no different when Corrin is a man, so it seems natural that the aspect of romantic love in Silas’s devotion would be the same. I mean, Silas’s devotion is the same either way, so does the game want to say that the entire foundation for his potential romance with Female Corrin is an affection no stronger than it would be out of basic friendship?

The reason this one places above Effie and Elise is that even though we can very reasonably say that Effie’s fathomless devotion to Elise involves romantic feelings, there’s really no indication that Elise has an interest in women. There’s no indication that she doesn’t, either, but the only thing known about her sexuality is an interest in men. Corrin, on the other hand, is bisexual, since he can fall in love with Niles, so if we suppose that Silas’s devotion is partially romantic--and if we assume otherwise, then it undercuts the entirety of the relationship he can have with Female Corrin--we can also assume that Male Corrin would be capable of reciprocating that love.

5. Azura and Female Corrin

I dunno, it just kinda feels like the closest-thing-to-canon relationship in this game should be available to your protagonist regardless of gender. It’s not like, say, Knights of the Old Republic 1, in which there was a hugely plot relevant romantic option for each gender of Revan (Bastila for Male Revan, Carth for Female Revan*****). There’s no male equivalent to Azura in the game’s cast for Female Corrin. Additionally, as I said earlier, a lot of what makes Azura and Corrin work as a couple is their powerful connection established not just in their support dialogues, but in the events of the game’s story, and that stuff doesn’t change with Corrin’s gender. So a lot of the groundwork that’s laid out that maks you feel that Azura and Male Corrin love one another is there for Female Corrin, as well.

4. Charlotte and Ryoma, and Charlotte and Takumi

Um...why in the world would Charlotte, on the Revelations path of the game where you’ve united both the Hoshidan and Nohrian forces, not be able to pursue a relationship with the Hoshidan princes? I mean, gold-digging is the foundation of her split-personality character, right? It’s in Charlotte’s nature to go after royalty and other rich people. Takumi and Ryoma should be just as much in her sights as Xander and Leo.

3. Female Corrin and Soleil

I mentioned this in that previous rant, but it doesn’t make a lick of sense that Corrin, a bisexual character, has no ability to pursue a romance with Soleil, a bisexual-leaning-heavily-toward-the-homosexual-side woman who makes it a point to pursue nearly every woman she meets. It’s even more absurd that Female Corrin is unable to romance Soleil when Male Corrin can, and when Soleil’s first interest in Male Corrin begins in a conversation in which she’s pretending Male Corrin is a woman.

2. Ryoma and Scarlet

Scarlet’s one of the characters in the game who only has a single option for romance, Corrin. Now, this is acceptable enough in the cases of Flora, Fuga, Anna, and so on, because these characters usually don’t really have any non-family connection to the rest of the cast.

...Well, I mean, Flora has known Jakob for a long time, but I’ll be damned if I want to give that jackass another person to treat like his verbal toilet.

But getting back to Scarlet, the thing is, she has a relatively well-established friendship, or at least friendly alliance, with Ryoma. He treats her as a friend he values, particularly in the Revelations path of the game. Yeah, friendship doesn’t automatically mean romantic feelings, but this is Fire Emblem 14--the majority of possible romances in this game are based on a hell of a lot less than an established, visible friendship. Forrest and Sophie can fall in love over the fact that he sewed her a shirt with a horse on it, for Neaki’s sake! Every other slight possibility for a heterosexual romantic connection is explored in this game, so why not include one of the few which would have some actual basis?

1. Camilla and Female Corrin

As I said before, the majority of Camilla’s obsessive, overwhelming love for Corrin is visible in events involving her outside of their support conversations, and in support conversations that Camilla has with others, all of which don’t change depending on Corrin’s gender. It is very, very clear in this game that Camilla is just crazy about Corrin, period, gender notwithstanding. Not only that, but Camilla’s sexuality seems more pronounced toward women, anyway. If she’s Soleil’s mother, she’ll mention, as Soleil hits on her, that Soleil takes after Camilla. Camilla’s support conversations with Beruka and especially Selena are affectionate to a questionable degree. And in the plot itself--cold, hard evidence that is not alterable by the player’s choices--Camilla even says, on the Hoshido path of the game, to Hinoka that Hinoka is just her type, “cute and very beautiful.”

So the strongest evidence we have of Camilla’s sexuality distinctly shows that she is interested in women. The fact that Female Corrin can pursue a relationship with Rhajat means that she is also capable of being interested in women. Camilla shows an equal attention, which we know is strongly romantic, to Female Corrin as she does to Male Corrin. The C, B, and A support conversations that lead up to the S rank confession of love between Male Corrin and Camilla are in every substantial way identical to those between Camilla and Female Corrin. And lastly, even if they didn’t incorporate nearly enough to be morally acceptable, the presence of any same-sex relationships in Fire Emblem 14 means that Nintendo can’t officially take a stance against them in this game. To wit, in every observable way, Camilla’s love for Corrin is identical regardless of Corrin’s gender, sexual preference is no object, and same-sex relationships are an integrated aspect of the game universe. So what possible reason could there be to allow Camilla and Male Corrin to engage in a romance, but deny Camilla and Female Corrin that option?

I usually don’t do this, preferring to respect the wishes of developers and writers for their creations...but in my estimation, going forward, I view Camilla and Female Corrin as much a legitimate, canononical potentiality of Fire Emblem 14 as Camilla and Male Corrin. I’m not usually one to encourage or discourage headcanons, nor to engage in them myself, but there are rare occasions in which the audience has interpreted and understood the work better than the creator, and this is one such situation.

Dishonorable Mention: Anna and Female Corrin

Well, if you’re gonna include a character and let her be romanced out of fanservice and nothing else, I reckon you should be equal about it. If you offer a trite, manipulative little garbage romance to players of a Male Corrin, no reason it shouldn’t be offered to players of a Female Corrin, too. It’s obviously not being done for any reason of artistic integrity to start with, so why not?

Actually, you know what I would have liked to have more than the ability to romance Anna as both genders instead of just 1? To have Nintendo maintain some shred of dignity and not clumsily drop Anna in as a love interest at all.

Well, that was fun. And long. And took me way more time to research than it was worth. But on the plus side, I’m sure I’ll lose a few readers for dumping on their OTP or promoting some couple or other they find distasteful!


* I’m putting the quote marks around 13 here because according to online sources, officially Eclair’s listed as 13 years old, but when I did the math while playing the game a few years ago, I was coming up with 11.

** Well...I usually like it. It’s still possible to have such poor writing, convoluted workings, and unappealing characters that even this concept of love across lives is rendered lame and lifeless. Xenogears managed it.

*** Also, by the time Rhajat enters the picture, you’re probably used to Corrin having people secretly following her/him around all the time. Between Saizo’s suspicion, Kagero’s protective instincts, Rhajat’s obsession, and Camilla’s...Camilla-ing, there are so many people following Corrin around and spying on her/him that Corrin must feel like an animal at a zoo. Or the average American citizen.

**** It’s related to the previous conversations Corrin and Scarlet have had, involving decorating their weapons in mosaic to make them all sparkly and such. So there is context. But no, that context does not make the line any less ridiculous.

***** Although honestly, with the plot set up the way it is, it feels like Bastila should’ve been available either way.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Shadowrun: Hong Kong's Typos

Come on, Harebrained Schemes. COME ON.

Look. I think we can all agree that the occasional error in our RPGs’ dialogue and narration is no big deal, right? We all make mistakes here and there. My rants certainly aren’t always perfect, even by the somewhat loose standards of English composition that I hold myself to. There’s an insane amount of text in your average RPG, so the rare mistake must be allowed for.

But there are typos all OVER Shadowrun: Hong Kong. And they get distracting. And that’s a problem. Because when you’re writing out an interesting, nuanced story with interesting, nuanced characters (well, some of them, at least; Is0bel’s just kind of there), the last thing you want is for your audience to split their attention from appreciating your art’s sophisticated content and chuckling at your art’s crude presentation.

It’s like if you took, say, Toy Story 3--we can all agree that movie was great, right?--and had a prominent animation error show up every 5 or 10 minutes. Is the story still engaging? Are the characters still lovable? Does everything still look mostly great? Yes! But are you going to leave the theater thinking, “I can’t believe the movie had all those errors,” and think it was unprofessional? Also yes!

This ain’t like the translation of Eternal Senia. Eternal Senia was produced by like 1 guy with a few contributions from a couple others, who didn’t speak English, and the game is free. No one’s making money off of it. It is allowable that Eternal Senia’s English is not perfect...hell, it’s actually a little endearing at times; I mentioned in my rant on the game that there are times when the crude translation actually kind of adds flavor to the dialogue.

But Shadowrun: Hong Kong costs 20 bucks, was fully funded by both a Kickstarter campaign and proceeds from previous Shadowrun games, had a complete development team working on it, and was created by a company based in the USA. Not to mention, the overall content of the game’s text makes it clear that these writers know their way around the English language pretty darned well! So what gives?

I wouldn’t be making such a big deal out of this, except for the fact that it’s not the first time Harebrained Schemes has been so damn sloppy in its dialogue and narration. Shadowrun Returns was crawling with spelling and grammatical mistakes! And people noticed, and ridiculed appropriately. So then, what do you know, Shadowrun: Dragonfall comes out a while later, and it’s on point with this, burdened with barely any typos, no more than you’d expect a professional game to have. And now the third game's brought back the typo issue. What gives, Harebrained Schemes? You FIXED this problem! There is actual, tangible evidence that you know better! It just makes no damned sense; they’re repeating a mistake they already knew enough to avoid!

I dunno. Maybe I’m overreacting. But I dislike sloppy work, and that’s certainly what this is.

Friday, July 8, 2016


I finished playing another Indie RPG recently, so you know what that means: it’s time to shove it in your faces as though you asked for or in any way indicated that you wanted my opinion about it!

So, Dex is one of the Kickstarter RPGs I funded a little ways back. It’s a cyberpunk RPG, and clearly influenced, in a positive way, by iconic forebears of the genre like Shadowrun, William Gibson, and Blade Runner. You can find it at Good Old Games for $15.

Now, short of outright holding me at gunpoint, the term “cyberpunk RPG” has been scientifically proven to be the best way of getting me to give up my money with no questions asked. So, y’know, my objectivity on this might be slightly skewed. Nonetheless, I’d have to say that Dex is a fun, well-made, engaging RPG that finds its place quite nicely in its fascinating genre.

The plot and lore are fairly standard fare for the cyberpunk ventures, for a while, but enjoyable and nuanced enough that you stay engaged as the game continues, until you reach the point, toward its last quarter, when the story starts heating up and you start seeing the heavier stuff. What starts out as a relatively typical (but decent!) quest to stop a corp’s attempt to gain too much power through control of an artificial intelligence on the net eventually unfolds to be way more creative and interesting than expected. Usually the idea of controlling an AI on the internet is by itself the major problem of a cyberpunk story (Shadowrun’s done it a couple of times in its games, in big and small ways), so it was a pleasant and interesting surprise to me to find that there’s actually a deeper, even more dire level to the game’s story, when the creative plot twist was revealed. Kudos to Dreadlocks Ltd. for finding a very cool new approach to a bread-and-butter cyberpunk story concept!

The overall theme and message of the game is good, too, while we’re talking about plot. Skillful enough to raise a very cyberpunk-esque set of questions for you to contemplate, and subtly letting you decide the answers to those matters of philosophy yourself. Can’t really go into any more detail than that what with spoilers and all, but it’s intellectually good for the same reason that Deus Ex and Shadowrun are intellectually good.

I like the cast of the game, too. Sure, if you’re looking for really deep and involved characters for your cyberpunk RPG, I think your first stop should be Shadowrun: Dragonfall, and then Shadowrun: Hong Kong afterward (well, for Duncan, Gaichu, Racter, and Raymond, at least...Gobbet and Is0bel were pretty damned disappointing, sadly). Still, though the characters of Dex may not be as complex and well-explored as many of the Shadowrunners, they nonetheless have defined, appealing personalities that draw you to them just as well. This is helped in no small part by well-written speech mannerisms (Tony’s are particularly noteworthy and rich in cyberpunk style) delivered by competent, sometimes particularly skillful, voice actors.

It’s worth noting that the setting of this venture is solid, too. The background and artistic flavor of the visuals are pretty damned vital for the cyberpunk genre, as necessary to maintain its subtle but unique mood and focus as they are to genres like post apocalyptic and film noir.* Dex captures a lot of the feeling of the icons of its genre, particularly Blade Runner and Shadowrun, which is good. But I also feel that there’s a certain subtle vibrancy to Dex that helps it to distinguish itself from its predecessors enough to feel like its own presence, rather than just derivative. Likewise, the music helps set the mood in a way which is once more reminiscent of other works of the genre, yet distinct enough to be its own. It all comes together artistically to give you an experience that appeals to one’s love for the genre and its classics, while also giving you the enjoyment of a new experience.

The game also controls very well, and overall is pretty fun in regards to the actual play experience. Doesn’t make a difference to me, of course, but I know most people care about that.

Now, in fairness, Dex has its flaws. While the story really does pick up in an interesting way in its last third or so, there are some aspects of the plot in the game’s final moments that get a little too abstract. I’m still just as clueless as Dex herself about what to make of the final trial, involving visions of her friends Richmond and Decker. I think the game wants it to be artfully ambiguous, but it just comes off as frustrating not to know, because the ambiguity doesn’t really serve any purpose to the story or characters. Also, while I appreciate the dilemma posed by the game’s antagonist and the events she orchestrates, I feel that she herself is not all that great...the pontificating and motivations for her are kinda just generic RPG material. I mean, she’s not a bad villain, she’s just not a good one, either.

Finally, I have to say, while the gameplay overall works well and is certainly a draw for those who care about it, the gameplay element of firearms is puzzlingly obtuse and awkward. You can build a workable character who specializes in guns, but it’s just not nearly as functional, fluid, or enjoyable as sticking with a melee build. Which is just kinda weird to me...I know hand-to-hand, augmented combat is a strong part of the cyberpunk genre, but I think it’s safe to say that when you think of a battle in a cyberpunk game/movie/book/whatever, the first image in your head involves guns being fired. But the overall way the system for drawing and firing the gun works in this game, it’s just faster, safer, and more enjoyable to go for hand-to-hand, leaving the gunplay in the cyberpunk RPG behind. It’s like if you started playing a Wild West-themed RPG, only to find that all your characters’ primary weapons were swords and magical staffs.**

These problems, however, really don’t get in the way of appreciating Dex. The plot is still strong despite some of its last pieces being kind of inscrutable, the conflict of the game isn’t harmed significantly by the villain’s lack of gravitas, and even if you want to limit your mental experience by focusing on mundane matters of gameplay, the overall experience of playing Dex is still fun even if the firearms aren’t implemented as well as they should be.

So do I recommend Dex? I surely do. It’s a solid RPG for a pretty fair price. And if you’re a fan of cyberpunk stuff, Dex is a happy little relief to help ease the pain of knowing that Harebrained Schemes isn’t planning on making another installment of Shadowrun any time soon. Check it out!

* Also, I ask the world, and not for the first time: where is my film noir RPG?

** Damn it, Wild Arms 1, you had one job.