It’s not the romance mechanic itself, but the moment when you choose a love interest that’s totally incompatible to the character you created.
I’m honestly guilty of letting my “romance” dictate the course of events in the role-playing games I play. My love interest has already been decided as soon as all of the characters have been announced. I know I’m not the only one who does this especially when it comes to BioWare’s games. A friend once tweeted that their titles are actually “dating simulators with combat elements.” It’s a huge aspect of their video games and you know that’s true if you experienced the Mass Effect 3 debacle firsthand. Romance isn’t exclusive to their games though, since it’s an element that’s available in most, if not all, RPGs. Hey, heroes need a love to fight for.
My character and love interest are compatible most of the time. Miranda from Mass Effect 2 was love at first sight and it was awesome how she shared the same values as the Shepard I created. Atton Rand from Knights of the Old Republic II was a perfect match with my Surik. However, there are moments when this doesn’t happen and my narrative is all messed up. One recent example is Dragon Age: Inquisition wherein I’ve already set my targets on the ultra religious Cassandra Pentaghast as early as the time she appeared on the second game. She seemed like a tough and strong-willed woman that would go well with the usual characters I create. Things didn’t exactly go as I’ve planned.
I’ve only just played the prologue mission so far and I think I selected every dialogue option that nets massive disapproval points from Cassandra. I wasn’t even trying to grind her gears since my character was just being himself. For some background, my Inquisitor doesn’t believe in the Maker at all, supports the Warden, and thinks Mages should have their own freedom outside the Circle. He is ruthless to anyone who slights him and his party, but is smart enough to turn them as allies. He’s not the type who would fight the innocent for his own gain though. I tried to make up for her intense dislike of my decisions through engaging in conversation with her. I made my Inquisitor Trevelyan say things that would make Cass happy. I was cool with it for a while until I realized that it was messing with the narrative I was trying to create.
My Trevelyen would say things that would go against his own beliefs and personality. There were moments when I would say “did I really say this and that?” out loud while playing the video game. Sometimes I would even be uncomfortable making a decision just to gain approval from Cass. I did romance her all the way through the end, but the story I had planned out in the end didn’t go exactly as planned. I did see the romance through the end of it and thought it was really awesome, but it just didn’t fit the type of character I made for this playthrough. My character sounded and looked so bipolar by the very end of the story. A part of me still wanted to stick to the character I want, and another part wants to pursue the romance by being someone totally different.
I started the game once more and my Trevelyen found love with Josephine instead. The strange thing was that I didn’t plan this to happen at all. I decided to go into things without having any set decisions on my LI and just see how things grow organically. It was really awesome how everything unfolded and things felt more natural to the character and story I was trying to create.
I should have learned my lesson when I was playing Star Wars: The Old Republic over the summer. I wanted Jaesa Willsaam for my Sith Warrior, but Vette was really easy to get along with so I changed my mind along the way. Sometimes we don’t always get what we want and maybe it makes the story even sweeter when we discover something new.