Midnight Suns is almost definitely going to be my Game of the Year. Though there have been some games I have enjoyed this year, the rest of the top five are there by default. Overall I think 2022 has been stronger than 2021, but for my own personal tastes, nothing has beaten last year's top five (Life is Strange: True Colors, New Pokemon Snap, It Takes Two, The Artful Escape, and Persona 5 Strikers). Nothing, at least, until Midnight Suns, which would have challenged for a medal if it had launched last year. My excitement for the game continued to bubble while our reviewer, Eric Switzer, relayed praise for the game and teased tidbits. However, there was one letdown in all that he told me – you cannot romance the heroes. In playing though, I have found something better. I have found a friend.
Romances have always been my favourite part of role-playing games. The defining part, in fact. I know my Mass Effect playthroughs by who I smooched. I have my Liara playthrough, my Liara/Sam playthrough, my Thane playthrough, my Jack playthrough. There are thousands of decisions, big and small, that you make across a Mass Effect run, as well as six different classes to play as. I have experimented there too, even turning the game into Doom, but still each run is defined by the bedroom first and the galaxy second. If I ever replay Persona, it will be to pair Joker up with someone other than Makoto. It's a shame romancing Tae and and Ohya feels so skeevy and pederast-y, otherwise I probably would have already had another go around. Midnight Suns, with its wide range of heroes, emphasis on building relationships, and more grounded look at heroism feels perfect for romance, but I'm glad it went in a different direction.
In Midnight Suns, you have a morality gauge that is surprisingly balanced. In Mass Effect, you're pushed early on to commit to either Renegade or Paragon, and then must live up to that persona across the game. In Midnight Suns, the aim is to balance the light and dark inside of you, both via in-battle actions and through conversations. In some conversations, these responses will also impact your relationships, but it's not that simple. There's no 'nice' or 'mean' option. Iron Man generally prefers if you keep things light, but will not want levity when he's opening up to you. Robbie Reyes has a literal demon inside of him so appreciates stark cynicism that cuts to the point, but he's a hopeful soul at heart. Blade is more charming than ruggedly stoic, but detests the jovial personas of Iron Man and Spidey, so he will want you to be serious when the matter calls for it.
The two standout characters in this regard are Magik and Nico Minoru. They're my two best friends in the game, and the two characters I as a player and The Hunter herself are most similar to. Most of the time, the pair prefer answers tinged with darkness. They're direct, do not stand on ceremony, and don't go in for displays of emotion. However, they're also both kind at heart, and in secret moments of intimacy, want you to be there for them. The system forces you to consider each response carefully, and things matter more.
In a romance, you know that you only need to get things right most of the time, then there will be a fairly loaded cutscene in which you either commit to the romance or reject it. Individual one-to-ones don't feel that important, only the end goal. In a friendship, there is no end goal. I have to get every response right, and because neither light nor dark are guaranteed winners, that means taking time with each conversation, and save scumming if I have to. I can live with a poorly timed joke to Captain America, or with being too pessimistic for Captain Marvel, but I crave friendship from Magik and Nico. We have been bird watching, painting, stargazing, watched movies, meditated, drank together, and even shared a night in Limbo.
Being friends also means there's no need to choose, and there are no restrictions. In Mass Effect, I have never romanced Miranda because I need to play as BroShep to romance the female characters (aside from Sam in Mass Effect 3), and Jack won that battle. Even assuming both Nico and Magik could be romanced by a female Hunter, and adding that Nico would then be aged up a little, you're still left with choosing one and leaving the other out. It would be my Magik playthrough. But right now, I can be friends with them both, and the connection feels much stronger. Down with kissing – up with friendships.
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