It's rare we get to see a game so open and honest about the need for romance in our lives as Fire Emblem Fates. Sure, the relationship building is only half the battle, but it's the foundation on which your combat strategy rests; pair people up and you will deal extra damage, heal, and crunch through maps more efficiently, not to mention produce offspring with high stats and powerful attacks. Bedding down is a tactical move, and while that seems like a cold way to put it, that's exactly what it is. The added flair in bringing people into your bedroom also gives ample room for you to project their own desires, to use your imagination to take things a step further. You've given serious thought to at least one character in this game. I know you're lying.
I've never had a problem with intimacy. I've always been affectionate--I would rather hug than handshake and I warm up to others quickly. I wouldn't say I'm flirty--but I do think having people whom you mutually trust and love is what makes life worth living.
This is probably why I took so quickly to Fire Emblem Fates' system of relationship-building and romantic interludes. There's just something sexy about being able to retire from the battlefield and head into your private quarters, with your supporters lined up for a moment alone with you. I'm not immune to the charms of cute anime boys, and I would prioritize them: Subaki, Ryoma, Kaden, Silas.
Always Silas, if he was available, and sometimes when he wasn't. I'm demanding.
But when Silas and I reached the point where we could have forged an S-rank bond--allowing us to marry and become a tour de force in combat when adjacent on Fire Emblem's familiar grid maps--I balked. I slowed things down. I backed away, not ready to make the commitment. And I turned my lusty eyes on my birth brother Takumi instead--who is actually not related to your avatar character, but I'll let you figure that out on your own. And when things got too real with him, I moved on to Subaki. Then my butler, Jakob. And fox-eared Kaden. I didn't realize the impact of my indecision until it was too late, as I was staring at a Support screen full of blinking "TALK!" icons, a screaming horde of men wanting to marry me, while the women in my retinue remained single and without much combat support.
Such is Fire Emblem. You're given the opportunity to form bonds with your friends, eventually to the point of marriage--though the circumstances are predominantly heterosexual with two exceptions. Fates includes three special circumstances for forging same-sex partnerships. If you are playing Birthright, you can meet Hayato's daughter Rhajat, and if your avatar is female you may marry and forge an S-rank bond with her. Similarly, if you're playing Conquest, you meet Niles, who will only strike up a queer relationship with a male avatar. However, each one requires player involvement; you won't see these characters fostering their own relationships with other fighters.
While lacking in freedom of choice, it is a small step in the right direction for the series. For a franchise that prides itself on deep character interaction and emphasizing unity on the battlefield and in the bedroom, I hope future games creating a wider, more inclusive set of options. The relationships with Rhajat and Niles are also treated the same as other in-game relationships, with a confession of love following a lengthy courtship. However, neither marriage will yield children.
There was one romantic arch I found a little hard to swallow: that of Soleil, the subject of the conversion therapy subplot that riled fans up when Fates launched in Japan last year. In the original Japanese version, the male avatar gives Soleil--who is very open in her love of cute girls--a drug that makes her see women as men and men as women. Beautiful women make her weak in the knees, and she is concerned this overwhelming stimulation will make her a worse combatant.
But after public outcry over her drugging, Nintendo changed the storyline for localization; rather than give her a magical potion, the avatar gives Soleil a blindfold and tells her to imagine him as a girl. That way, the avatar can coach her on being more confident. In the end, the avatar confesses his love to Solei--this is the only instance in the game of your playable character initiating a confession of love--it's otherwise always done by the other character. Soleil at first refuses, saying she can only think of the avatar as the woman she envisioned him as. But then she relents, stating that she'll get used to him as a man because she loves him.
This isn't quite as bad as forced conversion therapy, but Soleil's abrupt agreement to abandon her sexuality for the avatar doesn't come off as natural. The dialogue itself is clunky, and it still feels forced; Soleil up to this point has been bragging about having afternoon tea with attractive girls and giving her father, Laslow, dating tips. So when she suddenly agrees to become the avatar's wife, it doesn't make sense, and the sudden twist feels jarring and unnatural. I understand her deciding that maybe she is attracted to one man, specifically, but the change is handled messily. It's out of place, considering how well thought-out most of the other romances are.
I also wonder if a game like Fire Emblem can support true, mechanically driven open relationships. Or at least divorce. On my second playthrough I married Jakob, who came on very strong and piqued my interest. However, the child he gave me was a disappointment: Dwyer, a healer, is whiny and snarky, and the more time I spent with him the less I liked him. Jakob, too, was revealed to be a spiteful cretin, degrading my best friend Silas and generally being unpleasant to everyone around him. Never have I wanted to break up with someone so fast, but I had locked myself in.
I spent the rest of the game bitterly disappointed, pairing up with all of my biological and adopted brothers and making out the only rank I could attain with them, an A. I wanted something more. I was tired of seeing Jakob's dumb face every time I walked into my castle. I wanted someone new, so I lived as flirtatiously as I could from then on out. It created an excellent combat situation, as I was able to have several supports around me on the battlefield at any given time. But it still felt weird; I was still tied down. Open relationship support would mean, in some cases, multiple children by the same parent. If the game allows you to touch their faces and elicit reaction in order to play into people's fantasies, perhaps creating a more flexible romantic space would only serve to further that?
And while Fates continues the honored Fire Emblem tradition of allowing you to play matchmaker and flirt like it's your last day on earth, it leaves much less to the imagination in terms of the physical aspect of romance. It's more intimate. In my obsession over obtained confessions of love from every man in my troop, and pairing them off with my gal pals so I could collect their super-strong offspring for my army, I cracked a little. Maybe more than I'm willing to admit. But I am a deep-feeling person, and so I went into this system with gusto. This is also one of the features that has made the franchise so beloved: building rapport with other characters adds depth to the story, and promotes a more meaningful experience.
Touch and Go
Intimacy in Fates is packaged similarly to what you'd find in a trashy young-adult novel, where the romantic leads dance around each other forever before kissing for three pages and then ending the chapter with someone suggestively taking off their shirt. Or shoes. I don't know how kids do it these days. But bringing others back to your Private Quarters in Fates is sweet in platonic circumstances and embarrassing to play with other real people in the same room as you. I played while huddled under the covers as my real-world boyfriend slept peacefully next to me, jamming the A button on my 3DS frantically to get Silas into my room as fast as possible. Tell me how happy you are to be in my life, Silas. Tell me I'm your best friend and then let me yank you out of that friendzone so hard I give you whiplash.
In Japan, Fates allowed you the opportunity to touch those who visit your private rooms via the bottom 3DS screen's petting mechanic. That's mostly gone, save for married couples. When you marry someone, they will always be waiting in your rooms, and sometimes you tap the screen to wake them up or blow on the 3DS mic to waft away bath steam. It's another amorous touch that makes the relationships you build in Fates that much more fun.
You can marry someone and enjoy those moments when you have to whip out your stylus, or you can be like me and drive yourself crazy trying to keep an open relationship. With the amount of innuendo and barely-veiled comments about touching me being thrown around, I imagine everyone in Fire Emblem Fates lives in a perpetual state of sexual frustration. It doesn't help that some of the voice acting is dripping with romantic tension, as some characters will murmur in husky, breathy voices how much they love or need you. It certainly served to continue my streak of open relationships. I brought a handful of guys to the brink of an S-class relationship rank only to bounce to the next one. Building my rapport on the battlefield and therefore increasing my ability to slam through opponents was incredibly rewarding, but also a little exciting. I would save my game and watch each boy's confession, only to restart again and pick up my flirtations with another, abandoning my old paramour entirely.
We are only human, and the more opportunities a game gives us to be human--like Fates' twisting romantic paths--the deeper we will connect with it. It's not a game overtly about sexuality, but it gives us a chance to tap into ours, in ways that we feel comfortable with. We are human, we hunger for things that arouse us, we want to feel that spark. Fire Emblem Fates lets us do that, but there's still plenty of room for future installments to explore greater sexual fluidity.