Do you prefer your romance options to be "party members"?

I’ve been feeling out my preferences regarding reading CoG/HG games recently, as I’m starting to hype myself into writing one myself. One thing I’ve noticed a distaste for recently is having all romance options be ‘side’ characters. Certain titles often have this diverse cast of interesting characters who make up your party/adventuring group/friend circle and are your primary interactions, but have all romance options be side characters who you only interact with briefly in the pursuit of the main story and then become ‘side quests’ for your off time.

It makes sense sometimes. Maybe an inter-group romance that already exists exempts some of the members as romance options, and definitely some might not be interested in romance or physical affection/intimacy. I’m sure it also makes writing the actual content easier.

Maybe this is just a personal opinion, but I thought I might try to see some other opinions/insights on this.

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In my humble opinion, ROs that the MC only interacts with on “special sidequests” and specific, romance-only events, are a waste of time in-game and distract from everything else the game has to offer. Unless the game is a romance-focus story in which you have to commit to an RO but not, for example, a specific ending, or type of MC, then I can understand why they’d all be separate to “plot” events, but generally if I have to pick the “flirt” option at every interaction with the RO only to be given a half-baked flirtatious/overly sexual dialogue at the end and no story-significant relationship, I’m turned right off the story. I want to be able to explore as much as possible in a single run, which doesn’t mean I want romance and fight success and friendships and everything else all in one go, but being able to pursue a meaningful relationship of any sort alongside other plot threads is a huge preference of mine.

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As long as I can see the progression of the relationship throughout the story (or stories) develop from non-romantic to romantic in a meaningful manner, I have no strong opinion either way.

For instance, I would not object to romancing a side character as long as the MC could spend a fair amount of time with the NPC; going on dates, talking, getting to know each other, and maybe seeing how their plot points intersect if at all.

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I don’t recall seeing a lot of that? Unless we’re talking about games that don’t have a proper “team” to begin with.
In most cases, with games that feature a team, all or almost all of the team members are the ROs (though that depends on the size of the team), with sometimes other ROs outside of the team if the game has a lot of options.

But to answer your question… well, yeah, generally? It’s strange when the ROs are not team members - at least in IF type games. In visual novels it’s usually okay because of how these games are constructed.
The one non-party-member type of RO I truly love is when the antagonist is also a RO, but usually their route is pretty different from the others, for obvious reasons.

Or you can do something like the way Relics of the Lost Age is constructed, where the party members change depending on the chapter, so you have full or almost full focus on one or two ROs at a time, but at the expense of chapters without meeting your chosen RO at all. That’s still my favorite among all finished CoG/HG, and second favorite if WIPs are included, so yeah.

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I felt a little bad about pointing out specific titles as examples, but I suppose two that I felt did this were The Luminous Underground and The Superlatives: Aetherfall.

I suppose my question did really only focus on titles where you have a group that you interact with as a team, as a lot of titles have you acting somewhat independently and I don’t really mind this style of romance option in those titles, as you often don’t get the same level of focus on NPC’s.

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Ah… well, I didn’t play the second one… For the first one, I’ll admit I’ve started but couldn’t get into it and ended up dropping it.
But yeah, most games with teams I had played had the ROs be part of the team. And I like it that way, with special exceptions like antagonists, as mentionned.

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I don’t think I’ve played many COGs where you have a proper party :thinking:, so no examples of this come to mind for me either. Obviously, the more developed the RO, the better (which also goes for any other characters :stuck_out_tongue: ) but I think it would be OK with me if they’re not with the MC / on the spotlight all the time.

However, I don’t like it when the narrative seems to forget that the RO exists, meaning when something major is going on in the MC’s life and they’re mysteriously absent. Even something like the MC getting sick and no mention being made of the RO can feel jarring to me (of course, if there’s a justifiable reason for the RO not visiting — such as their being on a mission in another continent — that’s perfectly OK. Though even then I’d like some acknowledgement, like “you wish X could be here with you”).

If the character only acts as a RO within the specific romance choices, and outside of them they treat the MC like they might any other friend, it can sometimes feel like the romance plot was an afterthought, with little effort made to integrate it into the main plot. Doubly so if the main character is going through some very traumatic stuff and one would expect their partner to be supporting them.

Then again, I do understand that these games are complicated to write, with many variables and possible combinations to keep track of, and sometimes romance is just not the focus.

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I agree with you and share that distate, I only played one of the games you mentioned as an example and it was one of the issues I had with it, it just felt like I couldn’t really connect to the characters very well because my opportunities to really get to know them were very minimal.

I will give a sort of obscure example. In tokimeki memorial there are “side” romances. These are side characters that you can romance if you do very specific things. But the thing about tokimeki, what made it so fun to me, was that when you’re pursuing someone or building relationships, it would affect your school life. They would come congratulate you on good scores, visit you during festivals, get you involved in their lives, etc, which wouldn’t happen with the side characters because they’re sort of like dlc, they weren’t weaved into the main storyline.

I had a character that I was considering making a RO but because they wouldn’t hang out with the main cast often I felt like it wouldn’t feel as rewarding as the other routes. Even in big rpgs I’m wary of romances with side characters, to me it’s a clear indication that the romance won’t feel satisfying to me.

So yeah, my answer is yes, I prefer party members to be romance options (doesn’t have to be all of them). I also like it when the ROs all interact with each other and have their own friendships and lives apart from the MC.

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It almost reminds me of instances like the Persona titles. You have actual party members as romance options, but I feel like they give enough screen time to the non-party member romance options that you don’t feel punished for going the ‘non-canon’ route.

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Yeah I enjoy if there’s party members who are ROs. It makes a personal feel to me.

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I prefer party members as ROs since they’re the ones you spend the majority of your time with and will be the most fleshed out characters in the game. Games where the ROs are side characters come across as cop-outs and/or missed opportunities to me.

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I guess if you can make Romance blossom naturally within the party because of all the weird adventures we have been on then I guess it’s cool

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It depends on the game. Tin Star is absolutely phenomenal about the non-“party member” romances; they do not take away time that the PC could use to improve themselves (that and 3 of the ROs have no real reason to party up), and they all have their own story [none of them feel sidelined in any way]. However, not every game is Tin Star.

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I personally prefer ROs that are directly involved in the plot somehow. This usually involves ‘party members’ but even in that case there are sometimes characters whose role can just be “romancable archer that you can talk” to without them impacting the plot.

For example in Dragon age: Orgins Morrigan and Alistair are both party members who are integral to the plot, whereas Zevran and Leliana are optional. You can interact with all of them equally (if they’re in your party) but if you dont recuit zevran for example, you don’t lose out on much except his specific side quest. So even though his romance is (imo) very well written it doesn’t feel as impactful or as important as romancing one of the two ‘main’ characters.

To use another Dragon age game as an example, in inquisition i really felt that none of the characters ( except solas and maybe dorian) were integral to the plot, so their romances all felt hollow despite them being party members with side plots and lots of interaction. In the same game there are the two non-party member romances, who i feel have a little bit more plot relevence than the actal party members. Sure, Cullen and Josephine(:heartpulse:) could have been replaced by another character, but I liked that they were written to have agency and drive the plot of their own accord, rather than just being soldiers for the MC to arrange in battle.

TLDR. To me its less important that the character is ‘in the party’ and more that i feel all characters should be primarily there to drive the plot before being there to be romance options.

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I prefer a mix, myself. Solas-type romances with core party members are interesting and enjoyable, but I also like sweet romances with characters whose personal quests aren’t necessarily mandatory, and even with individuals who don’t party up with you. Tin Star has been mentioned, and it’s indeed a good one.

The main concern I have with the side romances is: don’t half-ass them, don’t just use them for fanservice and make sure that they have at least some tie in with the plot. Ass Effect…err, Mass Effect, I’m looking at you, with Kelly Chambers and Diana Allers. The game doesn’t even count those characters as real romances, for Ceiling Cat’s sake, and they’re just there to have a hot bi girl to have naughty scenes with. Kelly’s role in her own game is entirely focused around being someone who likes to dress up in a bodysuit and dance for you.

Also, there’s an obscure IF game called The PK Girl which illustrates what I mean about tie-ins with the plot. (NB: I don’t recommend the game unless you enjoy a sexist pig’s idea of a romance game.) Four of the romances are “in-party” (the telekinetic sisters, their normal friend and secret keeper, and a secret ally), one is with a villainess…and three are just other girls you can meet and who aren’t connected to the game’s plot at all. Two of whom you’re not likely to meet unless you go well out of your way! One of these plots is moderately engaging in its own right, but still, it was jarring game design. One such romance was a nearly pure “insert gift, receive love” romance, but it was at least well-executed and fit with the character’s plot so I didn’t mind it. And a third such romance? Was a nearly pure “insert gift, receive love” romance with neither of the above qualifiers.

For a good example…um…Tin Star has been mentioned. I think Lords of Infinity is doing a good job of making the fiancee feel relevant, even if she’s a bit bland and passive by design (which works for making Cataphrak’s intended point). I can’t think of a lot of others, it doesn’t seem to be done too often (at least in games where a “party” is a thing and romance is optional). Tokyo Xanadu did make the relationship scenes with Shiori fun despite her not being a party member, but the game doesn’t have full-on romance options, nor a choice of who you end up with.

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Whether a “side character” or a “party member,” all RO options and storylines should advance the plot. If not, they should be axed! :axe:

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I played both of those and my opinions are actually the opposites for them! I’ll focus on just Aetherfall though. For that game, I was okay with how none of the ROs are also party members, since I was under the impression that MC is meant to be their mentor and there are age/maturity gaps between MC and the rest of the team. I’m someone who will feel more comfortable to continue reading if that sort of relationship dynamic is a) professional, and b) stays that way. I remember coming away from the game liking my team more than any of the ROs however (Lady Dusk’s cool though.).

Of course, there are exceptions too. Asteroid Run also features an ensemble cast with an MC who’s the leader of a crew. All but two of the ROs are our subordinates, so there’s a boss/employee relationship going on. The game does acknowledge the potential power imbalance of the romances. Partial quoting from the game:

Oscar’s brows draw together in concern. “[…]Please make sure he knows he can say no to you and still be safe.”

“Please be careful with getting enthusiastic, uncompromised consent from your subordinate,” he says sharply[…]

Including these two lines made me feel better about the whole affair.

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I prefer ROs to be a part of the plot or party in same way. That said, side romances aren’t deal breakers either, as long as they don’t feel tacked on.

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I don’t mind as long as appropriate time is spent on them throughout the story and they aren’t just forgotten for the rest of the story until the end.

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