I’m really, really late on this because my life got really busy, but last month an article of mine was published in the wonderful Electro Bureau. It’s a discussion of Dragon Age 2, focusing on how the relationship between Hawke and Anders helped me to shed the last of my baggage over an abusive relationship. (Content warning for emotional abuse by a partner, so tread carefully!) I think this is probably the last I’ll write about this game, because this piece was pretty cathartic in a lot of ways, and I’m about as proud of it as you’d expect.
Putting this here for the sake of maintaining a portfolio: my first big feature on another site came out today. It’s an essay about the dating sim Tokimeki Memorial Girl’s Side, published over at ZEAL, which is easily one of my favourite sources for interesting writing. I’m really proud of this, and hopefully it’ll be the first of many!
(Part two deals with Mikami’s route, and thus contains heavy spoilers for the entire game. It discusses how this path impacts the rest of Sweet Fuse, and how it ties together the whole game to deliver a powerful statement in favour of human connection.)
With the first part of this argument behind us: let’s talk about Makoto Mikami, and the final route, and why it’s so important that Sweet Fuse lets you romance him.
(It occurred to me as I was writing this piece that I was essentially trying to cram two very different essays into one, and this was making it read terribly. On the other hand, though, I also couldn’t bring myself to cut either argument, so I wound up splitting it into two sections to be published separately for the sake of length, clarity, and spoilers. This part deals with the game’s six main routes, and has only vague spoilers for content.)
I have spent months wondering if gaming has a female equivalent to the power fantasy of violence which is so standard in the business, and what such a thing might look like. I don’t think that kind of thing is one-size-fits-all, because games about power through violence, even those with optionally female protagonists, don’t scratch that fundamental itch for me; I want to be respected for more than just my prowess at dishing out death and diplomacy. Similarly, I’ve tried a whole lot of otome games – dating sims pitched at a female audience – without really feeling like they wanted to imbue me with any real sense of strength or agency, at least beyond my choice of love interest early on.
I think the kind of power fantasy I’m talking about would involve a compulsory female protagonist who is liked and respected by the men and women around her, not because of her skill at shooting things, but because she is capable as a person and damn well comes to earn it. And as the player, I should be made to feel competent too, because her victories are intimately mine. I can finally say this with confidence, because this game exists and I have played it. It’s a PSP title called Sweet Fuse: At Your Side, and it’s a shame that barely anyone has heard of it.
Most of what’s been written about infamous pigeon-dating sim Hatoful Boyfriend deals with the fundamental bait-and-switch of the game’s entire premise, namely the way in which it establishes itself as a jokey romance game and ultimately winds up as more of a psychological thriller. On the other hand, very little’s been said about its place within the wider tradition of the genre of otome games (romances with female protagonists targeted towards a female audience, usually with multiple endings) and romance games as a whole. This seems to me a fairly notable gap, since the way in which the game plays with expectations draws on the building blocks of the medium and goes well beyond “but then it gets dark”. Everything in the game serves as part of a very deliberate attempt to disrupt a genre which exists primarily in a sort of comfortable shorthand, and is largely complacent in being nothing more than simple wish-fulfilment fantasy. Rather than not being what it seems, Hatoful Boyfriend is exactly what it appears to be; it pits the tropes of romance games against themselves and rounds out its characters far beyond expectations, which serves to critique the genre’s chronic self-absorption and, in doing so, manages to produce something with wide-ranging and genuine appeal.
(Major spoilers under the cut – yes, this game does have them.)