"Even if the world should tear us apart," my 3DS tells me, "you'll always be dear to my heart."
"I feel uncomfortable," I tell my 3DS.
I'd decided to have Corrin, my male avatar in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, tie the knot with the character Azura. It seemed fitting thematically and politically. Corrin was a Hoshidan captured by and raised in Nohr. Azura was a Nohrian captured by and raised in Hoshido. United in a common struggle to end the conflict between their nations, it seemed only natural for a more domestic union between the two.
I like Azura. She has a sense of purpose and agency. She is soft-spoken and a bit guarded. She has knowledge that others are not privy to and chooses to bear burdensome secrets. Azura makes tough choices in both Conquest and Birthright campaigns, some of which put her and her relationship with the protagonist – the player's avatar – at risk. She is calculating, pragmatic, and sees the big picture.
Which is why her post-marriage personality is so strange. The Japanese phrase "dere dere" comes to mind, a phrase that roughly translates to "lovey dovey". However, I don't even think such a term encapsulates the impression I get. There is a sudden deep devotion heavily anchored in Corrin. The impression received is that, without such an anchor, Azura would drift listlessly and aimlessly. He gives her purpose.
In other words, Azura becomes a completely different person.
Not all marriages are so drastic. In my playthrough of Birthright, Corrin married a warrior woman named Scarlet instead. Her cool demeanor and playful wit remained intact. Even so, each statement remains entirely devotional. If you play a female Corrin and marry a man, then they'll make such comments as to how beautiful you are and how fortunate they are to be with you.
What makes this particularly uncomfortable is that each of these interactions takes place in the first-person. Several cut-scenes within the game do. There are plenty of pre-rendered sequences where any customization to Corrin are unable to be presented, and thus the game leaves the camera in first-person or finds some method of hiding the character off-camera. However, in the vast majority of the hours spent playing the game, Corrin is their own character. They have a look, a voice, their own dialogue and a written personality. This is no silent protagonist acting as a cipher. Corrin is Corrin, not you.
Until you enter your chambers and speak with your spouse. Then it is in first-person, the camera staring right into Azura's eyes as she gazes back towards mine. When she asks Corrin to kiss her, her eyes are on me. This anime character closes her eyes and leans in to kiss me.
Why did you have to go and make it weird, game?
When you consider the player portion of the word "player-character", things get even more awkward. At least I fit the heteronormative gender binary presented. My discomfort would be even more pronounced otherwise, and my options in partnership would be limited-to-nonexistant.
Fire Emblem Fates is ultimately two steps forward, one step back. Bioware's relationships often end with an awkward softcore sex sequence and the chime of a new achievement. The culmination of all of that conversation is sex. Nothing after. Fates commits the characters to both less and more, allowing the end goal of a relationship to be marriage instead. While an argument can be made against a more traditional concept of long-term partnership, the game at least takes a step in acknowledging that the end of courtship is not a simple victory party between the sheets, but the beginning of a more vulnerable and intimate relationship.
I had hoped that the game would unlock additional dialogue and scenes between the characters – that I could read how Corrin and Azura coped with married life: getting in each other's way in the kitchen, arguing about differing methods of completing chores, learning to cope with how the other bites their nails. Or perhaps the developers could include dialogue tied to events in the story: a husband and wife reflecting on the tragedies and trials of war, and finding some comfort in each other. Maybe they could even throw in a tactical "battle" of negotiating space in a shared bathroom.
I appreciate that having romance climax in a wedding at least implies that there's much more to follow, but unfortunately that continuation is mostly left implied. Instead, there is no real narrative or character-driven boon to pairing characters together. We aren't given an opportunity to learn more about the characters in this symbolic union. Even beyond the uncomfortable first-person placations of how wonderful "I" am, none of the characters continue to grow or develop in their relationship post-marriage. There are no additional cut-scenes, no side dialogue, no banter on the battlefield. Marriage results in little more than boosted stats and progeny capable of overpowering their parents.
Huh. So I guess it really does still come down to sex.