Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Fire Emblem: M/Str8 > F/LGBT  


I completed Fire Emblem: Awakening earlier this afternoon. I'm a big fan of tactics games, and the thirty-five hours I spent with it were mostly fantastic, except for a small pacing problem at the very end. Still, in terms of the quality of play and how engaged I was, it gets top marks. 

It's easily one of my favorite games of the year so far, from a design perspective. No question.

However, after rolling credits I noticed a couple of things which made me raise an eyebrow, and those were already on top of a problem I had with the game even earlier on - essentially, Fire Emblem: Awakening has quite a bit to say about female characters and LGBT issues, while never overtly saying anything at all. Some may write me off as making a mountain out of a molehill, but it's little bits of innocuous commentary like this that helps to reinforce societal norms which are long past due for a change. We've got to call them out every time we see 'em. 

The first and most obvious issue is that in Fire Emblem, successful play hinges on a team-up mechanic where characters pair off and actually occupy the same space on the battlefield. One character is the primary attacker, and the other stands off in the background to offer supporting stat boosts and secondary attacks. 


It's a fabulous idea which I enjoyed greatly, but the problem is that the amount of support between characters is ranked as C, B, A, and S. In order to reach the highest level of support, the S, the two paired characters must be married.

Although I was not surprised to see that in-game marriage is only possible between a male and female character, it was still disappointing. Doubly so, since there's no real ceremony or process that the player must go through in order to marry their characters. The only thing that happens is that the two characters in question have one extra scene of dialogue where they express feelings for each other, and then… that's it.

It's not even as if the game tries to deal with the marriage issue on a societal level, it's simply something that happens between two characters in a private way, so what the game is saying, essentially, is that it does not see any male/male or female/female match-ups as important, potent, or as valid as the traditional hetero model.

Although I was bothered by this, it wasn't an issue that I expected Nintendo to lead the charge on, so I made note of this outdated viewpoint and played on. However, at the end of the game I went into a mode called the ‘Hubba Tester’ and it was like adding insult to injury.

...aren't these...

In this extra mode, a NPC lets the player pick any two characters and then evaluates the relationship between them. It goes out of its way to say that this mode is “for amusement purposes only!” as if any other part of the game wasn't. Really, though, it was just an ass-covering disclaimer to anyone who might be offended at what's possible inside.

When picking two female characters who are mildly compatible, it's possible to get a reaction from the evaluator stating “I’m not one to judge, ladies!” clearly insinuating that there's more than friendship happening there. If you find two characters with strong mutual attraction (signified by hearts going in both directions towards the characters’ portraits) the NPC states “Hoo! It’s hotter’n Elfire in here!

That's a pretty clear statement on a same-sex connection, and similar results can be found when matching up two male characters. (In the case of a suggested gay relationship, the quote is “Whatever floats yer boat.” Interestingly, there's a noticeably less-positive emphasis on this statement than there is with the implied lesbian relationships… something to do with the writer’s viewing preference, perhaps?)

Allowing hetero relationships to reach the maximum level of bond in the campaign out of sheer ignorance might have been one thing, but the commentary and theoretical relationships in the Hubba Tester mode shows without a doubt that the development team was aware of possibilities other than male/female.


The other issue I have with the game was regarding the endings themselves. I had a good mix of male and female characters in my active roster, and some of my best fighters were females. However, the game gives a brief paragraph of text explaining what happened to each individual or pair of characters after the final battle is over, and the females (whether they were the primary attacker or support character) consistently get short shrift.

For example, Sully was a female knight who was in the primary attack role for the majority of the game, and her partner was Gaius, a candy-loving thief. The closing writeup told me all about Gaius, but only gave me a quick bit on Sully even though she was really the star of the duo. The same went for Kjelle (an armored female fighter) and Laurent, her supporting mage husband. Kjelle was one of my most powerful characters out of the entire game, yet again, the ending wrapup was all about Laurent’s personal quest and how she accompanied him on it.

In general, every matchup followed the same pattern: here’s a big chunk about the male half of this pair, and oh yes, by the way, here's what happened to his wife… if you care.   

It may seem like a subtle thing, but it happened too consistently to be an accident, and I'm fairly disturbed by the sexism on display here. There's no question that the female characters were every bit as important as the males, yet they feel tossed aside when it comes time to end the adventure.

While the gameplay mechanics and general design of Fire Emblem: Awakening are top-notch, the title would only be better if it opened itself up to a more diverse range of playersSeeing this systematic and pervasive sexism/devaluation of females/non-hetero relationships was quite disappointing.

While developer Intelligent Systems and publisher Nintendo may be trying to avoid controversy by clinging to archaic values that keep women and LGBT people down, the days when such decisions are acceptable need to end -- it's not just straight males playing videogames these days, and more inclusivity would help to not only push the medium forward, but might help push society forward as well.

Special thanks to @Shawn_i

What next?

You can also bookmark this post using your favorite bookmarking service:

Related Posts by Categories

6 comments: to “ Fire Emblem: M/Str8 > F/LGBT


    "It's not even as if the game tries to deal with the marriage issue on a societal level, it's simply something that happens between two characters in a private way, so what the game is saying, essentially, is that it does not see any male/male or female/female match-ups as important, potent, or as valid as the traditional hetero model."

    One thing to consider here, when you use the word "societal level" is that this game, unless I'm incorrect, is available globally. Your definition of "society" is not even representative of the entire state of WA, let alone all of the USA. And the USA is just one tiny society when compared to the world. For every person in the Seattle area, or even WA or USA as a whole, who feel that male/male and female/female marriages should be equally acknowledged in the game, there are countless others who feel that such a thing has no place in society... THEIR SOCIETY.

    These games we play are globally-consumed products. And not all manufacturers (i.e. developers) are going to be on the same page with people from all corners of the world when it comes to societal concerns.

    As for the dialogue though... I don't see any difference between the "I'm not one to judge" and "whatever floats your boat" comments. The "hotter than Elfire" one was lame and definitely more approving, but I wouldn't be surprised if there were dozens of these little pairing comments and that you may simply be reading too much into a writer's diminishing returns in creativity.


    Although I fully agree with everything you've written here, Brad (and bravo to you for writing it!), I also agree with Doug, to a point.

    I think the most relevant fact here is that the game was made by a Japanese company and only localized for those of us in North America. As such, NOA basically had to work within the confines of what Intelligent Systems and Nintendo of Japan gave them. Sure, they could have handled the localization more elegantly (the quotes for the presumably gay couples are pretty cringe-wrothy, IMO), but I have a feeling they only could have allowed same-sex marriages if IS or NOJ had gone back into the game and made some changes themselves--which you know neither IS nor NOJ were willing to do.

    Sadly, this kind of thing has been par for the course for Nintendo for some time now. I've been thinking about it and have considered writing about it for some time now--about how Nintendo consistently shows LGBT gamers, and LGBT-supportive gamers, that it doesn't take them seriously or, worse, that it finds them strange, weird and even worthy of being mocked.

    Maybe I'll finally write that piece after I finish with Fire Emblem.

    Anyway, thanks for writing about this and for being so passionate about it. I appreciate it, and I'm sure other LGBT (and LGBT-friendly) gamers appreciate it, too :)


    Hey Brad,
    This game was localized by 8-4Play (who also localized MH3U and Metal Gear Revengence). They have a great podcast and seem like smart people. Be interesting to know how strictly they adhered to they Japanese script. Maybe they are to blame for the anti-women anti-LGBT undercurrent. Who knows.


    hey everybody, thanks very much for your comments and for reading.

    Doug> Sorry, I should have clarified "societal within the game's own world". it was weird to see that there was really no ceremony or special occasion attached to the 'marriages', which is one reason why it struck me so odd that only hetero pairings could get an S. it was like the external world was imposing values within the game world where they didn't logically fit.

    Bryan - If you ever write that piece, LMK!

    Matt - I was actually wondering about that myself... I've got half a mind to try and track someone down to see what the real deal was.

  • Anonymous


    I think the justification for having only hetero marriage is that the married couple produces children- actual units you can use, which is a distinct feature of the game that I haven't seen mentioned in the original post or the discourse.


    yeah, it's very true that the children of married units become playable characters and that's totally fine.

    That said, accommodating other possibilities would have been pretty easy... non-straight couples could have led to no children, or their units could have been adopted. Or, units that were supposed to be children and then weren't could simply be acquired like any other unit.

    I get what you're saying here and I have no problem with it, but at the same time, it's still pretty exclusionary and just a few little tweaks would smooth it all out.

    thanks for your comment!