For anyone completely unfamiliar with the Fire Emblem series, the support system is designed to define relationships between characters and grants combat bonuses to characters that are close to one another. As characters spend more time fighting together, their support rank increases; from C rank up to a maximum possible of S. On top of that, characters start out completely unranked with all others; even C rank must be earned.
And every time characters gain a rank, a conversation occurs between them, showing how their relationship is developing. It would not be an exaggeration to say that those conversations and the relationships between my characters that I'm seeing in those conversations is a huge part of why I'm playing Awakening as much as I am - perhaps even the only part!
But, as perhaps might be expected, characters are restricted in who they can build support ranks with. In theory, I don't have a problem with that. I think it reflects real life to an extent in that some people have their own preferences, and that maybe this character just doesn't want to get to know one of their companions that well. Awakening reflects this by making it impossible to build support ranks between some characters at all.
There is, however, one huge problem that I have with Awakening's support system. Because there's one more element left to be mentioned: the fact that the game also locks some characters out from reaching the highest possible S rank with certain other characters. Again, in theory, I don't have a problem with this. It's not like it's possible in real life to be intimately familiar with everyone you meet!
But, the way Awakening did this... well, if you can build support ranks between two characters at all, you can build them to A at least. And you can only build an S rank relationship between two characters of opposite gender. Which doesn't mean you can always build an S rank relationship between characters of opposite gender, but so far the only time that it's been limited to A rank is when the relationship in question is between family members.
To put it mildly, this is somewhat of a disappointment. In this day and age, it seems like such a pointless restriction! I defy any and all readers of this to give me a good reason why heterosexuality is the only possible option. Heaven knows I can't think of a single one. (I have thought of some flawed reasons, and if I was writing a paper I'd go into them and explain why they aren't good enough, but this blog post is shaping up to be massive already, and a lot of the reasons are fairly spoiler-heavy. I'm happy to talk about it in comments if there's interest in that.)
It's worth noting that this is not something that's going to make me put Awakening down and stop playing it. I am disappointed, but I do still enjoy the game a great deal, and I do want to see the relationships that are in the game. What I want even more, though; the opportunity that I think Awakening missed? Is for a game to give me a relationship system that's as progressive as possible, something true to life and effective at inspiring emotion. Because that's the kind of relationship system that will engage me even more deeply and be even more rewarding for me than the one Awakening actually has.
Essentially, I want my games to provide engaging and compelling experiences. And there are a lot of ways that games can do that! Aside from the support system, Awakening is a tactical combat game that has provided me with enjoyment on that level as well. (Although Normal is too easy and Hard is too difficult... *sigh*)
However, one thing that I keep searching for in the games that I play is an enjoyable relationship system. Fire Emblem is hardly the only game to provide a system of that nature; Mass Effect springs to mind, although I've only played ME1 so far (and my experiences there would be a whole separate post). I have no doubt there are others, although that's the only one I can come up with off the top of my head.
I do believe, though, that Awakening has come the closest of any game I've yet played. And if it didn't completely ignore any intimate relationships outside of monogamous heterosexual ones, along with mostly ignoring the possibility of limiting some relationships to the "friend" level regardless of sexual orientation...? I think that would have been a major step forward, if it had happened.
I suppose that is an awakening which the gaming industry has yet to fully embrace. Developers take note: there are a lot of gamers out there that are eagerly waiting for it to happen. If only because this, too, is how we change the world.
(Commenting note: When discussing either Awakening or any other game, I'd appreciate it if people could try to minimize spoilers and mark any spoilers that they do feel are necessary.)