As some of the reaction to the U.S. Supreme Court decision to legalize gay marriage proves, I might be given a few peculiar stares for saying I recently played a game in which there are explicit gay sex scenes. Maybe a few more befuddled looks for saying it’s a genuinely compelling narrative. Yes, Starfighter: Eclipse has relationships of a homosexual nature, but that isn’t all there is too it. Though if it was, it’d be worth your time nonetheless.
Many visual novels boasting dating-sim elements focus solely on just that. From the more well done likes ofKatawa Shoujo, to the shameless HuniePop, there’s a very tight focus.Starfighter isn’t sprawling, but neither is it a member of a sole genre. It’s part dating-sim, part choose your own sci-fi adventure. But at the crux of it all is one central theme: trust. On a military ship deep in space, with relationships a plenty, there are few things more important than the ability to rely upon one another. For both personal pleasure and for the greater good of the mission at large.
Despite the relatively brief length of each path, a whole lot is shoved into each story. There’s a duality at play. The question of developing romantic relationships in an environment which constantly cuts the strings of trust required to do so. To blend romance, bonds of military service, and the overarching sci-fi plot into one core theme is clever. Eclipse doesn’t just focus on the romance like so many other visual novels. It’s the garnish on a larger dish which makes up the bulk of the package.
Like the romance, the sci-fi elements could very well stand on their own. Eclipse is a mere peek into the greater Starfighter universe, and as someone one who has never read the comic, I’ll be rectifying that soon.
Maybe I’m reaching here, but I get a distinct Battlestar Galactica vibe. While a far more contained, lone narrative thread, the theme of trust lies at the heart much like in the the Sy-Fy drama. The antagonist is a mechanical mystery. An uneasiness envelops the ship. On top of not knowing the who or when, the only assurance the crew of the Kepler have is that whatever is coming for them is far more technologically advanced.
Built into the very core of the military angle is, again, the theme of trust. The unit structure consists of pairs of “Fighters” and “Navigators.” These duos are judged on their ability to combine their exclusive skills in combat and more technical pursuits. Compatibility is an oft uttered word, and while it may officially end at purely militaristic business, there’s more going on off the record. Because compatibility levels are often so high, many Fighters and Navigators end up in some form of a more than friendly relationship. This is just one more example of smartly implemented narrative systems based around the core theme.
Who Helios trusts is entirely the player’s decision, as is to be expected from a visual novel. This does however introduce the age old video game issue of inserting something so distinctly human and non-mechanical as relationships into… well, mechanics. Some of the romance is forced. For example, I unintentionally romanced the CO. All of our interactions were on a professional level as a soldier and commander. However the CO’s ending has Helios in a rather submissive position. I can grasp it narratively, the sex fits the commander and subordinate relationship, but as a piece of gaming I had little agency. I played as Helios, I choose lines of dialogue and what actions to take. This is not something I feel those choices built towards.
I understand how this came about. Often times when I first play a game which allows me to influence the plot, I do what feels natural. Complexity comes along with such choices, as the plot unfolds and I get a clearer view of the big picture. Conversely, on subsequent playthroughs I knew which flags I wanted to raise. Such an approach creates a purer narrative: something the mechanics of any game can better grasp and rely back upon the player. It’s an unfortunate consequence of a medium that is founded upon the clarity of science and math.
What some may find most jarring about the dating-sim aspects is how Eclipse doesn’t make a big fuss about the majority of its cast being gay.
Inevitably, with so many celebrity coming outs there’s a kickback. “Why do they have to make such a big deal of it?” What statements like that fail to realize is the world we live makes a big deal of someone showing their true self because we as a culture aren’t as accepting as we should be. It’s great to have games like Gone Home hanging their hat on the story of a young girl struggling to live in a home where her parents are unaccepting of her sexuality. On the other hand, it’s equally important to have the nonchalant, “yeah, these video game characters are gay, what of it,” experiences. Sometimes the best statements are the ones left unsaid, and Eclipse fully understands that. It's very much a take it as you will situation.
What explicit sexual content exist isn’t for the sole sake of pornography. Just like gratuitous violence can enhance storytelling, so too can sex. I know we Americans have a terrible time grasping such a notion. Even shows like Game of Thrones insert graphic sex because sex sells on HBO, or as a rape scene. Which aren’t always handled super well. Such is not the case here. Sex is used to express the intimacy of a relationship, and it is done so quite well.
There’s a semi-cliched statement about the unique value of video games. That being their inherent ability to not only allow us to witness the story of another, but experience it firsthand. But it’s true, it’s why the medium of games has captivated so many is a variety of ways. Starfighter: Eclipse is a great, if small, bite of something rather special. I’d love return to the universe in a grander fashion, because there’s so much here which deserves more. If this is all that we’re to have though, I can’t say I’m walking away unhappy.