Why Some People Are Calling Fire Emblem Fates 'Homophobic'

Why Some People Are Calling Fire Emblem Fates 'Homophobic'

Last month, Nintendo announced that gay marriage would be included in the strategy game Fire Emblem Fates, a first for a series that has long included straight romantic relationships. This month, many are calling the game "homophobic" and criticising it for allegedly featuring "gay conversion therapy", all based on a Tumblr translation of the game, which is currently only out in Japan. Yikes! Let's take a look and try to figure out what's actually going on.

Past Fire Emblem games have hinted (sometimes more strongly than others) that certain characters are gay, but Fates is the most matter of fact the series has been to date.

The new charge of homophobia in the game involves a character in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest named Soleil and a "magic powder" spiked in her drink. Many of those charges are drawing from Tumblr, where the translations I've seen have lacked context and nuance. And some people have reacted based on those translations, which moves the controversy further from the facts at hand. I haven't played through Conquest, but I have confirmed the Japanese dialogue scenes which have been uploaded to YouTube. More on that below.

Soleil likes women and often gets weak in the knees around attractive ones. I don't know if Soleil is a lesbian, as the game doesn't explicitly say she is gay. Then again, we don't get an explicit announcement for which characters are straight. She does mention "girls' love" in one event scene. She also likes to ask other women out and seems to have a hard time keeping herself together when she's with a woman she finds attractive. This, says Soleil, is her weak point.

Why Some People Are Calling Fire Emblem Fates 'Homophobic'

Soleil asks the game's protagonist to help her overcome her weakness around "cute girls," so that she can be a "strong, cool woman" herself. Her liking women isn't portrayed as bad or wrong; her problem is that she lacks composure and comes off poorly. It's to the point where if she sees a woman that is her type, she falls over. She asks the protagonist how can she be a "strong and cool woman" if she has this issue of getting weak-kneed around woman she's attracted to. This might seem like an unusual character trait, but within the Fire Emblem series, it does have precedent. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, for example, the character Lon'qu has a somewhat similar progression, but in reverse. The character has a debilitating phobia of women, so if you are playing as a lady, you help him overcome his issue.

This personality quirk leads the protagonist to spike Soleil's drink with a special powder that causes her to see all men as women and all women as men. We don't see the protagonist spike Soleil's drink. We find out about it early in a scene when Soleil doesn't recognise the protagonist, who then realises she sees him as a woman and that his plan has worked. He admits to spiking her drink and apologises, explaining that he did it so that she can practice interacting with women and that she can act more suave around ladies she fancies once the magic wears off. The game's dialogue does not state that the powder will cure her of liking women and, as unsettling a spiking someone's drink can seem, the conversation in Japanese does not come off as creepy. The scene is in the clip below:

Game localiser Adam Evanko, who has worked on an array of titles, uploaded the above video and translated the dialogue. (Here are his two cents on Tumblr.) Evanko's lengthy clip goes through the Soleil scenes, which he localises on the fly.

During the marriage proposal scene that follows (English translation here), Soleil says she fell in love with the female version of the male protagonist while she was under the influence. But now, she stresses, she loves the male version. Her reason is simple: Whether he was a woman or a man, he sent her heart racing, which is why Soleil asks him to touch her chest. She's not having him cop a feel, but rather, she wants to show that they're soulmates, essentially, regardless of gender.

When Soleil does agree to marry Conquest's male protagonist, she says, "I love you, too. Other than girls' love, this is the first time I've had this feeling."

In anime and manga, there traditionally has been some fluidity with gender roles. You can have women characters dressing as men or men dressing as women. A classic example of this is the Osamu Tezuka manga Princess Knight. (Tezuka, of course, was influenced by the Takarazuka Revue, which is an all-female theatre troupe with women playing both male and female roles.) And, let's not forget Boys' Love manga and anime, with their guy-on-guy love often aimed at straight women, allowing them to free themselves from predisposed Japanese gender norms and identify with whichever character they like best. Because of this fluidity, gender and sexuality are sometimes plot devices or genre conventions. It often feels like there isn't much thought given to these storytelling mechanics. The real world is very different, but this is not the real world. It's within this context that Fire Emblem Fates exists.

The issues evoked are real. While the game does not explicitly feature a "cure the gay" powder, you can see how people might be highly sensitive to these implications, especially after some early fan translations and internet scuttlebutt portrayed these scenes sans the necessary context to better understand them. It's also no wonder people got upset, considering the history of people claiming that gay people need to be cured or medicated. Do I think that was the intent of the scene? No. I don't think the developers were trying to be malicious or mock anyone's sexuality or gender identity. The in-game language doesn't come off as sinister, even if summaries of the scenes can come off poorly. It feels like less thought went into the larger subtextual readings and how said subtext can be construed or even misconstrued. At least, that's my read.

The spiked drink is also understandably controversial, especially given that it's done by the game's protagonist (your character) as an odd way of supposedly helping another character. Spiking someone's drink has all sorts of horrid baggage, even if the intent here was to help make Soleil better at talking to women. Honestly, though, with the recent problems in Japan with a new breed of quasi-legal drugs, which have caused traffic accidents resulting in people's death and well as past date-rape incidents, I was slightly surprised to see a hallucinogen-inducing, drink-spiking powder mentioned at all. Though, the Japanese term for the magic powder, "mahou no kona" (魔法の粉), is also a product name for a seasoning to make food taste better, which for a Japanese player, might help neutralise the word somewhat.

Why Some People Are Calling Fire Emblem Fates 'Homophobic'

When thinking through a lot of this stuff, it is important to think of cultural context and the medium of video games. The addition of gay marriage to the game, for example, might not seem like a big deal in America or might not seem shocking if this were, say, a TV show. But Nintendo is located in a country where gay marriage is illegal, and some people continue to hide their sexuality. Gay marriage exists in video games but is relatively rare. The fact Nintendo is even openly including it as an option in a big, mainstream title is progress, especially after last year's Tomodachi Life controversy.

In late June, Nintendo of America issued the following statement to Polygon: "We believe that our gameplay experiences should reflect the diversity of the communities in which we operate and, at the same time, we will always design the game specifications of each title by considering a variety of factors, such as the game's scenario and the nature of the game play."

Nintendo's statement sets expectations. Perhaps those expectations are too high for this fantasy game. Perhaps they are not high enough. Things we say and things we do can often be taken different ways, depending on the listener's own life experience. This is exactly what happens when the real world meets the virtual one.


Comments

    Even if this isn't explicitly homophobic, it's still very trite if you ask me. The starting premise alone of "so girl-crazy, can't focus" was already stupid with Lon'qu and isn't any better here.

      By manga standards it's pretty tame. These characters are meant to be a distillation of specific traits so they can be easily explored and contrasted, and the girl fear thing is a very real social issue which plenty of Japanese people reltate to (hence it's popularity). Why wouldnt they go there?

      Sure, it's hardly handled with the subtlety you might think it requires, but let's just not add it to the list of games with medium-defyingly good story telling.

      I'm happy to let the Japanese game for Japanese audiences be judged by the Japanese for appropriateness.

      Last edited 07/07/15 9:20 am

        ...the girl fear thing is a very real social issue which plenty of Japanese people reltate to (hence it's popularity).

        Huh, really? I did not know that. I always thought the prevalence of that fear in anime was a contrived excuse to avoid upsetting fanfic writers. Have the character absurdly afraid of sex to the point that they don't get ANY when they could be swimming in it, just to avoid having to make one particular pairing 'canon'.

      If you banned trite anime tropes from JRPGs, nearly none would get made.

      As tiring as they get, that's just how it is. Every new season I generally have to filter out the ones which feature intentionally-bland-protagonist-to-allow-for-self-insertion and his harem.

        I don't mind those tropes when they're done right. Persona uses a lot of cliche anime tropes, but it executes them well and does a good job of making the characters feel three dimensional, even the minor NPCs.

        By contrast, the Fire Emblem ones feel mostly hollow, and this example compounds things with it's dodgy subtext. While I personally think the starting premise of "soldier can't focus on the battlefield because of the cute girls" is trite to begin with, putting the solution to the problem in a roofie administered by the male main character, who she can then fall in love with? Come on, people had a pretty good reason for getting offended over that.

        As for the excuse that it's okay for it to be dumb because it's adhering to Japanese writing tropes, why should it get a pass for that? There's plenty of well-written Japanese games and anime out there, flat characters don't have to be the norm. To borrow an old Zero Punctuation quote, "Japanese game writers do not undergo mandatory lobotomies".

          It doesn't put it above critism, it's just something that's very important to understand in order to critise the content correctly. The offensive part is often significantly less offensive when you realise that Japanese writing, particularly in anime, reduces everything to almost meme-levels. It's not something that's done just to get a quick cheap laugh at the expense of a group of people the author doesn't care for, it's something that's done to most things big or small. Major portions of important characters personalities can be summed up with anime tropes.

          Last edited 07/07/15 11:47 am

          I don't mind those tropes when they're done right. Persona uses a lot of cliche anime tropes, but it executes them well and does a good job of making the characters feel three dimensional, even the minor NPCs.
          Yeah, I really enjoyed the last season's DanMachi, which has quite a few tropes I normally can't stand.

          To borrow an old Zero Punctuation quote, "Japanese game writers do not undergo mandatory lobotomies".
          Heh. You really, really, really could fool me sometimes. Per my reply to cubits, though, I was pretty sure it was pandering to a specific demographic who buy the shit out of these things. Quite possibly because they want to see those tropes. Possibly because the creators enjoy those tropes. Have you ever seen Shirobako? An anime about making an anime. Some exaggeration and dramatization but with truth bombs dropped everywhere. It's difficult to watch/play some Japanese things anymore without thinking of the Director character in Shiro bako, now.

          ***

          putting the solution to the problem in a roofie administered by the male main character, who she can then fall in love with? Come on, people had a pretty good reason for getting offended over that.

          Actually, no, they didn't have a good reason at all. Getting upset about a misinterpretation? Not being in possession of all the facts? No, I completely disagree. Oversimplification and removal of context is a terrible reason to get offended and anyone who does so does a disservice to themselves and intelligent criticism in general.

          Same story here that the entire point of the article was on: the article takes great pains to explain that the 'roofie' didn't make the 'former-lesbian turn and fall in love with the protagonist', it showed the character a new perspective on things, and when the illusion was over, they made a decision to embrace and act on their changed perspective and a deeper understanding of themselves and other people. The drink-spiking is a bit on the nose. A friend wanting to show another friend something without their knowledge is benign enough... a spell - or better, something consensual - would've been more socially-aware, but the take-home points are still entirely different.

          It's an entirely different story to the objectionable 'drugged into love' oversimplification.

          One is people being people, reacting to new information with agency, the other is something sinister and offensive, a violation of choice. The difference is context and oversimplification.

            it showed the character a new perspective on things, and when the illusion was over, they made a decision to embrace and act on their changed perspective and a deeper understanding of themselves and other people.

            While I agree with most of what you're saying I think you're giving the writers a bit to much credit. You slip something in her drink that effectively bypasses her sexual preference so you can marry her. The explanation makes enough sense and has some merit as a story about falling in love, but it exists because they needed a way to let the player bang the cute lesbian.
            Not that I'd call that homophobic or say that it supports the 'they think you can just drug women into being straight! This is an outrage' response, it's just creepy and hard to look past. One could argue that's how all romance options in games work regardless of implied sexual preferences, but most games aren't this blunt about it.

              Well yeah, mechanically and shorn of their stories, almost all game romance mechanics boil down to, "Insert enough 'nice' tokens, get sexytimes," or, "Agree mindlessly til they like you," or, "Just keep flirting, they'll eventually get the message and give in."
              Which are all terrible, terrible, terrible attitudes to take out into life. 'Give potion to enable romance' isn't different to those at all.

              If people want to go into the story and the context, then they should get into the story the whole way and see the nuance as well. People start talking about, "Well in the scenario, the potion was non-consensual like a roofie," well then we're actually getting into the story and in-game intent, not the mechanics. So they should get into the bloody story and put it in context. Because they're getting the in-game intent wrong.

              Not doing so is a half-measure of picking and choosing how vague or specific they want to get just for the sake of being able to reasonably take offense.

              Not so broad a view as to be distant and unemotional, not so close as to actually understand what's going on. Just far enough away to feel justified that it's surface-level sketchy.

            I get that the article stresses that the powder didn't explicitly make her fall in love with the protagonist, but it also points out the obvious line of thinking that slipping something into someone's drink without their knowledge carries some extremely ugly connotations. Add in that the target is a woman, and that the protagonist is apparently the first male she developed feelings for, *because* of the powder's effect on her, and you have a pretty dodgy scenario, even if the creator's intentions were benign.

            I'm normally right there with the people railing against political correctness, outrage culture and so on, but I don't think such criticism should be swept under the rug either. Even with the context outlined in this article, I still think that even if it isn't quite homophobic, it's still troubling.

    Regardless of cultural context or whatever, the idea that some dude can somehow make me, a dyed-in-the-wool dyke, fall in love with a man by means of magic, is homophobic -- and *creepy*. Cultural context makes it understandable, but it doesn't excuse the idea entirely at all.

      Having never played the game or anything in the series I think the author conveys the situation quite well. However my interpretation of the how the game plays out is that the game is super lgbtqi+ (whatever is new) friendly. Afterall, if the end moral is that you fall in love with a personality and not someone for their physical appearance (which has it appears to be). How more accepting of relationships (with whatever sex) can you get?

      That was kind of the point of the article.

      People are acting like someone was made to fall in love by magic, robbing them of control.

      What the article describes as happening is magic was used to show them a different perspective, which they took under consideration and used to re-evaluate their feelings. Feelings that they then acted upon, with agency.

        The entire article sounded like this was some gigantic apologia for the plot development by harking back to cultural context. Cultural context isn't going to make me or some others who pointed this plot development out feel any better.

        Last edited 07/07/15 4:53 pm

          I don't think it needs to be cultural context... I just think it needs to be straight-up any context. Someone took a magic potion (without knowing about it), saw things in a different light, potion wore off, leaving them to reflect, they made life choices out of it.

          People misinterpreted that as: "Got slipped a potion, now 'turned'," and skipped all the very important steps in-between, leaving entirely the wrong cause and effect. There's a huge difference between explaining something and apologizing for it, and given that a lot of folks have jumped to the wrong conclusion about the in-game intent (I would have, based only on the few translations out of context), I think the article's expanded explanation was very useful in reaching a decision about the game. (And the article does actually note that drink-spiking is a culturally-sensitive issue right now, which makes it locally questionable).

          The 'in-game' intent is perfectly innocent, the only questionable thing left is the 'meta' of, "provide a mechanism for unlikely romance."

          Personal: I get that there are people who hate the idea of sexuality being a fluid or even malleable thing, and want to take a stand of, "it's not right that there should be a mechanism for a straight man to romance a gay woman, it demeans the woman." One of my exes copped a lot of that from her friends in the 'scene' when she 'switched sides' and started dating me. It's not the only thing that got between us... but it was definitely a factor. So I'm not much of a fan of supporting that particular sentiment.

          Last edited 07/07/15 5:15 pm

            Omg can you just, for one second, LISTEN to us?? I agree completely with thaum here, and while I'm not a lesbian (I'm a bisexual female), that plot story was offensive. What thaum is saying goes BEYOND cultural context. Cultural context doesn't excuse it because the message it sent was still harmful. Even the story itself was iffy to me, and I'm not the only one saying this. Here's what's wrong with the story:
            1) Girl-crazy lesbian
            I get straight people assuming that, just because I'm attracted to women, that must mean, I'm attracted to ALL women. Or that when I do like a woman, I all of a sudden can't control myself. No. We feel the same way straight people do.

            2)Spiking
            I don't have to explain this one.

            3)"Accidentally" turning a lesbian, by spiking her, but there's absolutely nothing wrong with that because what I'm really doing is, is under the pretense of it all, I'm just helping her feel comfortable around other females!! Oh wait, did this Girl-crazy lesbian JUST profess her undying love for me after all this? Oh I didn't know that was going to happen! I wasn't trying to make her straight, I was only trying to help her lol!!
            Yeah, this obviously did not give a bunch of dudes a smug ego-boost, or any ideas that maybe, he can turn a lesbian after all.

            And you know what? FE could of easily stopped it at the spiking part, or after when the "potion" wore off, but they decided to take it further, and have this lesbian tell your male protagonist how much she want's to marry you! Yeah, totally not fetishizing lesbians at all.

            I pissed a lot of FE fans here, but the more I think about this, the more I see the story as not so innocent. (And to your personal spoiler, I completely disagree with having the option where a straight man can romance a lesbian. It's infuriating, stupid, homophobic, and unnecessary. If gamers/developers want to romance a lesbian woman, then officially label her BISEXUAL dammit, how hard is that supposed to be? Developers need to stay away from making any lesbian characters if they're going to romance her with a man.)

    I would hate to be a game designer, random people accusing of you and your team of this and that, maybe the satisfied majority arnt vocal enough with their thanks? I love fire emblem fullstop, I don't require my personal demands or critique in the next title, you guys create the title you want and keep up the good work.

    Many of those charges are drawing from Tumblr

    Yeah, I got about that far before I found the problem.

    Chasing Amy.
    Don't force people into your narrowly defined boxes because people are more complex than that.

    Tumblr warriors strike again. Fuck I hate that site sometimes, coming from someone who uses it on a daily basis.

    Last edited 07/07/15 3:59 pm

    Thank you for solving all my deep-seated issues, via unprescribed drugs. Now I love you.

    ... Yeah, even taking "My gayness is gone, after you fixed my personality" out of it, this thing still sounds iffy.

    She's not actually a lesbian anyway - all her romantic supports in the game (there are several) are male.

    Storm in a teacup controversy with people getting upset for the sake of getting upset. Wait until the game is actually out and localized properly, and if the content still looks sus to you then, then you can actually get upset.

    Nah, I rather they just don't play it. Bunch of whiners. The game is so homophobic that it allows them to have gay marriage, that's contradictory. Out of the positive, they'll always find something to be negative and upset about.

      Liking something =/= Elevating it to god-like status.

      Game reviews rarely leave 100/100 because they see mechanics which may be improved upon, and such is also the case here.

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