Opinion: Why I think more games should have elements of dating sims0 Comments
I'm a sucker for romance in entertainment. Whether I'm watching a movie or playing a video game, I really love to see characters hook up in a Hollywood-style ending. Seeing Drake and Elena get back together and tease one another with playful banter at the end of Uncharted 2: Among Thieves is a moment that I found really sweet to watch. In fact, despite all of the explosions, bombastic set pieces, and laugh out loud moments, the final exchange between the two might actually be my favorite part of the entire story.
However, let's not forget about Drake's other potential love interest, Chloe. After all the flirty comments they exchanged throughout the adventure, wouldn't players like to see Drake end up with her instead? Well, whether they do or don't, gamers have absolutely no choice in the matter: if the script says Drake ends up with Elena, then that's what's going to happen. Now, I'm not disagreeing with the pairing because I believe they seem so right for each other, but I still can't wonder what if Drake walked away with Chloe at the end.
Let's take a look at another, more recent video game. The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt starts the adventures of Geralt of Rivera with his search for a woman named Yennefer. For those not keeping up with the series, Geralt of Rivera is torn between two women because of a complicated love triangle. Geralt previously had amnesia, but still managed to find love with a woman named Triss. However, upon gaining his memories back, Geralt remembers the black-haired beauty Yennefer, who was the previous love of his life.
With his new-found memories comes a flood of emotions, which causes Geralt to feel conflicted between the two. While the books will have their own canon, players who play Wild Hunt have the power to see who Geralt will end up with. Will he rekindle the flames of passion with Yennefer, or is Triss actually the right woman for him? Maybe your version of Geralt doesn't even romance either of them; maybe he decides to sleep with other women instead, for reasons of your own accord. Whatever the case, Geralt's love life is within your control, and by giving players that choice, they develop a more personal attachment to the characters they meet on their journey.
That's why I believe more games should incorporate elements of dating sims. However, I'm not saying we should shoehorn romance in every game. Instead, I simply want the opportunity to influence how the character we control feels about the people around them, and vice versa, in order to give players a more personal stake in how characters see one another. For example, Tales of Symphonia seems like your standard Japanese role-playing game on the surface, as you control a party of heroes traveling around the globe, slaying monsters in order to save the world, just like any other title in the genre. But, if you look deeper, you'll find that there's actually a hidden Affection system underneath.
What does it do? Well, every time Lloyd has the option to make a decision, whether it's choosing between several things to say or a person to bring along, he affects how characters feel about him. So if he says something mature that someone like Raine supports, then he earns brownie points with her; likewise, if he says something childish or naive that would get on her nerves, then she will lose respect for him. Other times, Lloyd will ask someone to do something like cook dinner, and the person he chooses will be happy being given the opportunity to show off their skills because they feel like Lloyd trusts them enough not to give them food poisoning.
While you can go through the whole game without ever knowing about the Affection system -- it's quite hidden with invisible stats and hardly any mention within the game itself -- those who understand how it works will get to influence several scenes. For instance, the character who likes him the most will back him up when he needs emotional support, or will be the first person he automatically rescues when the entire party is threatened. This, in my opinion, is better than actually having to make the decision myself because it feels like a reward for developing that bond of friendship over the course of the adventure, rather being just being given a prompt to choose.
Looking at another example, Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed does something similar with its game design. For the last act of the narrative, the lady that likes the leading protagonist the most will become the main heroine. However, rather than simply choosing who that lucky lass will be, you can only indirectly make that decision by earning her affection. When your character has the opportunity to speak, he can influence the ladies around him. By constantly complimenting characters like his childhood friend Tohko or the business-woman Shion, they will develop romantic feelings for him, and thus will become the one willing to stick with him for the finale.
Again, I feel like it makes players like myself more attached to the characters because I feel like I'm the one earning her devotion due to all the times I supported them. What's also interesting about this game is that even though this is the girl who'll stand with you for whatever happens next in the story, that doesn't automatically mean you two end up together in a romantic way. The main heroine role is automatically determined by whoever likes the protagonist the most, but if you want them to love each other, you still have to get her to...you know, actually make her fall for you by continuing to woo her. Sure, the game only really adds like an extra line of dialogue or two to acknowledge that they're together, but it's still something that you have to keep working for.
Why don't we also take a gander at Harvest Moon: A Wonderful Life for a second? Now, it isn't uncommon for a Harvest Moon title -- which is now officially known in the United States as Story of Seasons, but that's a whole complicated matter entirely -- to allow players to find love and marriage with the inhabitants in their town. However, while romance was an optional thing to do for some titles in the series, you truly cannot progress in A Wonderful Life without getting hitched because you need to have a spouse and a child for the upcoming events. Of course, you can't just simply expect to get married without actually doing anything, could you?
Well, in this title, you kind of can. See, because marriage is such a necessary requirement, your character is going to pair up with somebody (almost) no matter what. While you have a better shot of wooing someone over by giving them presents and spending time with them during special Heart scenes, you can, in theory, just ignore all of that. That's because, when the time for proposing comes, the girl who just happens to like you the most will visit you to pop the question instead. Heck, even if you're virtually a stranger to all the bachelorettes to the point that none of them even remembers your name, this will cause Celia will pretty much flat out tell you to marry her.
If you're the type of person to want the other to take charge, then that's all fine and dandy. But doesn't it seem weird that someone that you hardly spend any time just comes up and asks for your hand in holy matrimony? If you choose to refuse them, you pretty much get the Bad Ending and have to stop your story there. You can also get a Bad Ending if you're such a bad husband that you can't keep her happy, but at the same time, isn't that a pretty possible outcome considering that the two of you might not be compatible? Especially so since you never really took the time to know each other? Of course, this can happen whether you proposed to them or not, so to ensure that you guys stay all lovey-dovey, you need to do your playable part.
In other video games, a relationship and its outcome is pre-determined. However, in video games like the ones I've mentioned, the player themselves will have to work to see things pan out the way they want them to. To me, that gives the experience a personal attachment, some might even say an investment, in the relationships they see unfolding in front of them. This is especially true if the playable character is someone that the gamer got to create, like Commander Shepard in Mass Effect or the protagonist in Akiba's Trip: Undead and Undressed.
You may be given multiple characters to romance, but you can't just simply say "I want him or her." You still have to spend time and develop that relationship yourself, which makes the pay-off all the more sweeter because you, as the player, had a hand in that, which would be impossible to do if the game didn't allow you that opportunity.