You know what I hate – when a series of games allows me to develop relationships, yet it feels like they aren’t complete by the end. Or there is something flawed in them. I’m going to be talking about two examples here, but there are more. Lots more. See, for whatever reason, game developers have a gift at making games where the relationship is developing really nicely, but then totally botch it later on because you don’t see real development. For my two examples, I think there are different reasons, but I think it is something worth addressing. Let me get into my examples. That will help illuminate what I mean.
In my initial run of this series, I had Shepherd going after Liara. They were a totally cute couple. Femshep was my character of choice, namely because Jennifer Hale had 1000X more personality than the guy who did male Shepard’s voice. I don’t know why they picked so bland a guy, but he was dull as dirt. Femshep was an interesting character. And the romance between these two was cute. I genuinely like both characters, so I wanted to see them together. For the first game, the development of their relationship really felt genuine. Liara doesn’t understand humans, so her bond with Shepard feels very exploratory for both of them. Her being an alien is addressed as well. It’s neat stuff. We get to learn about her species and her character at the same time.
The second game rolls around, and this felt really good. When you see Liara again, she’s become someone else. The time apart has had a real effect on your relationship. There is real distance that you are unable to address. I like that when you see her again, she wordlessly says something to you and there is intimacy before she has to shut it down. Then you get the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC, and the distance between them is beautifully addressed. I genuinely loved that. The way the tension builds and builds until it all blows up and she acknowledges the feelings that were always there is just fantastic. But they also address the reality that what Shepard is involved in is violent. He/she could be killed at any moment. That’s hard when you want to build a future.
Then we get the third game, and here is where my gripes come in. Shepard has been incarcerated for months, and then are reunited with Liara on Mars. That should have been a very intense scene. A lot of emotional outpouring should have happened. But it’s fine. I can handle the little gripes. My biggest gripe is that it really feels like the game is sending you back to square one with their relationship. Why? After having been together for years, these two should really be in a place where they are looking at their future and thinking about something more. Liara talked about it at the end of the Lair of the Shadow Broker DLC. She wanted to know what Shepard was hoping for with their future. Now here you are, and she asks if you want to pick up where you left off. Of course I said yes.
And yet, from that dialogue, it feels like you two are distant again. Why? You just said that you wanted to continue where you left off, after having addressed building a romantic future between you. Shepard even joked about marriage and making babies with her. So why does it feel like I’m having to win her back? There should be more closeness between them that was tragically missing in a lot of scenes.
I said that I believe I have an explanation for why. Here’s what I think happened in this game – they had to leave it open to the player wanting to go another route. So they give you a chance to set things up with another character. But see, that makes no goddamn sense. Because Liara asks you if you want to pick up where things were left. If you said yes, that should have just locked the player into that arc. I know it’s cheating player choice, but you gave them the chance to back out. It’s on them if they chose not to. To see their relationship grow to something where they are talking about making babies and building a future together, maybe having the last scene be Liara asking Shepard to marry her. To have that be the culmination of their emotional arc would have been fantastic.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it did have some closure in the Citadel DLC. I really loved how they treated their relationship there. Still, in a game all about building a narrative journey across three games, that seems like a no-brainer in developing that to see where it ultimately goes. Would make Shepard’s passing in the end (if you chose one of the stupider endings like taking over the Reapers or the Synthesis ending which is bafflingly stupid) even more intense. Seeing Liara in a room sobbing as all the chance to see her girlfriend survive is lost. Of course, if the ending to the series hadn’t been so fucking stupid, we could have had options to have Shepard live. I’ve already bitched about that enough. Wrote a whole post about it.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Now, the original game had its own issues with a lackluster ending. See, the original game had it where the only time the game would acknowledge Max and Chloe’s relationship is if you pick the ending where you let her die. That bugs me. But that’s nothing compared to how annoyed I am at this game.
See, the crux of what made this prequel work is building up the relationship between Rachel and Chloe. You had to be careful how you set it up. The wrong things said could derail all the romantic elements you are going for. I liked that. Made my investment seem like it was worth something. Seeing how you go from acquaintances, to how fast these two can fall in love, it wasn’t like some Disney 3-day romance. Here it feels like two people drawn together by a love that was beyond either of their control. Which culminated in the second game to them kissing in a scene that was legit wonderful. Especially after the amazing stage scene I got to have between them where Rachel pretty much says that she has feelings for Chloe in a way where it fits with the play at hand.
But then we get to the last episode. This bothered me. These two just made out, and all the momentum is in their relationship. It felt like they should really be under the spell. But nope. The plot got in the way, in all the worst ways. There were narratives that had to be wrapped up, and this game did it in such a piss-poor way. It should have ended with Rachel meeting her mother. Or maybe a plot about Sera being involved in bad things and the game acknowledging that. Could have left things open for a sequel where the two meet her, and you have to figure out what to do next. Options are there.
Instead, the game treats them both like they are friends. The only time they acknowledge what happened in the last episode was via text. Are you kidding me?! Young love here, idiots! Stupid teenager who should be all hormones and passion. Granted, some serious shit happened with the revelation of Sera’s relationship to Rachel, but this game spent so much time grounding these two’s relationship as the center of the narrative, then totally ditched that. It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Once again, I think I have an explanation. See, in the game that this is a prequel to, the relationship between Rachel Amber and Chloe is deliberately ambiguous. I was at first assuming it is so you can see in this what it was all like. But since this prequel had to keep to the canon of the original (for reasons I will never understand. There are so many narrative reasons around that with alternate timelines), it couldn’t let you be definitive about it. Doesn’t help that I ostensibly set up Chloe to find out that Rachel was cheating on her with Frank. Ouch.
So what do you think? Why is it that game devs seem to have an issue bringing resolution to relationships in a game or game series. Some do it better than others. The relationship between Chris and Ashley in Until Dawn had some resolution if both of them lived to see the end. I dug that. And don’t even get me started about how they fucked the relationship between Femshep and Garrus. That just bugged me! Between games should have been nothing for them. Anyway, that’s my thoughts. Let me know yours in the Comments.
Until next time, a quote,
“I don’t think you can analyze love. It’s the greatest mystery of all. No one knows why it happens, or doesn’t. Love is a chance combination of elements. Any one thing might be enough to keep it from igniting – a mood, a glance… a remark. And if we could define love, predict it – it would probably lose its power.” -Neelix, Star Trek: Voyager