Spoilers for NWN, NWN:HotU, KOTOR, KOTOR 2, and Jade Empire to follow.
I know, I know. This is kind of my dead horse to beat on – the trend of having romancable male NPCs have dead wives or girlriends. But with the addition of Jade Empire I have to say that trend has gone from simultaniously annoying and confusing me, to somewhat disturbing me.
I first noticed it in Neverwinter Nights, though the roots may go back further than that. When you start getting all snuggly with Aarin Gend, he tells you he has a dark secret to reveal. For duty to country he had to kill the only woman he had ever loved. You comfort the git and every conversation after that is a vartion of “I love you but my job is so haaaaaaaard”.
In Neverwinter Nights: Hordes of the Underdark the dead girlfriend story arises again. This time your romance target is a tiefling named Valon. His story is one of being forced to fight for thousands of years in an eternal war, being resurrected every time he dies, until he became a mindless killing machine. Despite this rather difficult history, he still blushes and fumbles about like a schoolgirl when you express interest in him. Then out of no where, he tells you a story of woe about falling in love with a human serving girl and her being killed by his master. The dead girlfriend story here is particulary jarring and unnecessary. It added nothing to his character at all.
KOTOR has Carth and his dead wife. KOTOR 2 tries to throw you for a loop with Atton’s abrupt confession of having killed a lady Jedi that he was in love with, but it was only an agape sort of love, really!
And now we have Jade Empire. Our romancable male NPC this time around is Sky, a roguish theif with a wife that died in childbirth and a daughter that died to slavers. Pretty tragic stuff, bringing up the spectre of an everyday horror like the unfairness of a parent having to bury their child is tough stuff. Naturally they don’t really do anything with it – even when in the thick of avenging his daughter he’s mostly interested in flirting with the main character, and afterwards he announces that it was 3 years ago so he’s pretty much over it already.
So why a dead wife and daughter? The story actually makes more sense if the avenged party is an adult, I personally have a hard time thinking of how a 5 year old is going to make some slavers so much trouble that they have to kill her. It could have been a brother, a father, an uncle. But instead it’s a dead daughter, with the everpresent spectre of a dead wife looming in the background.
The trend bothers me a lot. Are we to assume that the death of a female is inherently more tragic than the death of a male, are we supposed to continue to feel pity even though the characters all appear to have moved on with their lives? If they have moved on with their lives, what is the point of these “dramatic” confessions?
Frankly, I just want a nice, happy character who, when I am given the option to demand sex, doesn’t turn me down out of modesty. Fade to black, sure, but “I want to wait for a real bed” or “I don’t want to be a distraction” is just annoying.
And please, for the love of god, stop with the dead wife and/or girlfriend stuff. It’s not romantic, and it’s only tragic in how frequently it is being used.