Last month had a lot of ups and downs, but two of the largest high points for me was the hope re-instilled in my cold, shriveled heart by this year’s E3 and the I-can’t-believe-it-took-them-this-long ruling on the constitutional validity of non-straight marriage in the US. Namely, that straights ain’t the only ones who can legally put a ring on it in all fifty states anymore. (Though without repercussions to the wedded party? We’re still working on that.) How do these two things connect? In a way that’s coincidental enough for me to use this as a jumping off point.
It seems like the United States isn’t the only thing giving this whole “gay marriage” and “equal rights” scenario a shot. If you read me and Dom’s E3 wrap-up, you might remember me calling Fire Emblem Fates “trash”. I am not taking that back. With interesting problems already surging over the game’s incestual supports (“supports” being conversations that give stat boosts to two characters), money grubbing distribution, and raunchy dialogue that may not be localized anywhere outside of Japan, it’s hard to ignore the waves Fates is making. However, back during the last week of June, Nintendo of Japan made a statement that Fates would be the first game in the series to offer the chance for a homosexual relationship concerning the player character. This should be a great thing, and part of me is still a little excited that they even gave the player this option, but the way I see it, Fates’s gay marriage option is more like a bronze-plated turd than an offer of goodwill and acceptance.
Slight spoilers for Fire Emblem Fates under the cut.
The first issue I have with this is more of an annoyance in theory. There are only two “gay” options: one lady and one dude. Where this becomes an actual issue though is that these characters are version locked—not unlike certain pokemon. The female option, Syalla/Shara, is locked to the Hoshido version of the game while the male option, Zero, is locked to the Nohr version of the game. Eventually, the player will have the chance to have both characters in one game, but only after the third version (which combines Nohr and Hoshido) is bought, and honestly that’s kind of bullshit. While I, and many others, absolutely bought different Pokémon versions for specific pokémon, I shouldn’t have to do this for my representation in video games. This feels like the developers saying “how badly do you really want this?”, and damn it, I don’t want it that badly. Don’t misunderstand: I am completely here for the gay marriage option. I am not, however, here for the gay marriage options they gave us.
This is where my largest problem lies. When it comes to (of age) dating sims and otome games—which, let’s face it, is exactly what Fates is—I don’t like to judge people on the bachelor/ettes they choose to go after. Everyone has a type and can experience the game in whatever way they want to. This is not the case with Fates if you want to experience the gay-possible options. And with these two very limited choices, what kind of characters did they give us? A stalker and a sadist. Shara is based off the popular character from Fire Emblem Awakening, Tharja: a dark mage who stalks the people she has a crush on and considers the lives of others purposeful only if they’re helping her. Shara doesn’t seem much different—she even looks the same and considers herself a reincarnation of Tharja. Zero, alternately, openly admits to loving watching other people suffer and is stated as a “sadist” on his wiki page. Now, I haven’t spoiled myself on their supports; I haven’t read the fan-translations, but based on these facts, I don’t know if I want to. People can be into these types, sure, and if you’re looking forward to romancing them in-game (only in-game, please!), in whatever sexuality you want, more power to you. But why were these two specifically selected as the gay-possible option? From where I’m standing, it looks like the minds behind Fates, intentionally or not, are seeking to reinforce the idea that anything outside of heteronormativity is strange, abnormal. That those who aren’t straight are inherently abrasive or outright bad people. Fates doesn’t lack for characters, especially interesting characters, so I really don’t feel I’m off in thinking that there’s some underlying prejudice here.
Nintendo wants to pat themselves on the back for releasing an LGBTQ+ inclusive game, and I want to give them credit for it, but I can’t because that’s not what they did. What they did was create a situation where—from the perspective of someone who hasn’t read the supports—players were given two uncomfortable, possibly triggering LGBTQ+ romance options that we have to choose between if we want a certain type of representation. Not only that, but if these characters end up not being popular, it’s only leverage for developers to look at that and say “well, that didn’t work. Guess people aren’t interested after all,” in the future. It’s nothing but a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, and a completely underhanded way to include non-straight representation. When the game is released stateside, I will hope that there’s some hidden side to Zero and Shara that make them less… eugh. Lord knows that LGBTQ+ characters don’t have to be precious cinnamon rolls to be valued and important, but that definitely doesn’t mean that the representation should be characters who seem to have no redeeming qualities at all. In the off-chance this “feature” is received well, I can only hope for the future there’s a wider, and better, diversity in characters that can be romanced by every gender outside of headcanons.