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Why surtr is a good villain that didn't work

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so after seeing ghasts little post on twitter where he says that he actually likes surtr I've been thinking. Is surtr a bad villain? It's a question that's plagued me for while and I think I finally have an answer. Yes, he is a good villain though he just does not work with the "world" he is placed in. Let me explain. I think the main problem with people criticizing surtr as a poorly written villain is that they are criticizing him as a narrative villain. and well as a narrative villain, yeah he's very poorly written in that regard but he's not a narrative villain. He is a force of nature villain more along the lines of the joker or for another FE example Grima. Both types of villains fill the same role in that they move the story forward, but they do it in different ways. A narrative villain, in essence, is just another character with their own goals, motivations, backstory, etc. and it is those things that make up their character which drives the plot forward through trying to act on their innate human desires. A force of nature on the other hand isn't a character but rather they're more so a representation of some primal aspect of reality. They don't need a backstory, or motivation, or logical justification for what they do because that's not the point. The point of a force of nature is that their mere existence creates conflict and it's through that conflict that authors are able to explore different aspects of the world, characters, ideas, and themes of the narrative. 

Now if we look at surtr through this lens, then things start to make way more sense. Surtr is a physical representation of the ferocity and destructive force of fire. From his personality, goals, abilities, etc. all those things link back to that core idea. So if that's what IS was trying to do, then they succeeded. Hell his sort of "immortality" plays into this as well cause no matter how many times you extinguish a flame, it'll always come back so long as there is fuel to burn. It's actually quite neat to see how much thought went into writing him. 

Surtr on his own is not a bad villain if anything he's actually a pretty good one. However the reason he doesn't work is because well the main characters lack any kind of depth. Force of nature villains only work because of what they allow us to explore about the other ACTUAL characters in the story. The joker for example allows to really explore the idea of order outside the law and if that is truly orderly and just and that works because of how deep and a complex a character bruce wayne is. The askr trio and nifl siblings on the other hand. Yeah there's not much to explore there. Really the only one out of that group to get any sort of development is alfonse which is by far one of the best moments within book 2 because of how it shows what he's willing to sacrifice in order to stop the greater threat. That is where force of nature villains truly shine best in allowing us to develop and explore the other characters. Why else do you think helbindi and laegjarn are so well liked because they are perfect examples of what happens when Surtr's role in the story is actually done properly. Again Surtr in it of himself isn't a bad villain. He's just not utilized properly because of how flat the other characters are.

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He did well as an unstoppable force of nature, but he overstayed his welcome for too long. Book II was dragged out, and his lack of anything except plot armour didn’t help.

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he would have done better as an ozai like villain, barely seen but his presence always felt, since otherwise hes a fairly generic tool and that runs thin very quickly.

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The way I saw him was more so along the lines of "The hulking jugernaut raid boss type guy" The one who's mere presence is enough to instill fear in those who oppose him.

Sadly those who opposed him were flatter then paper and it seriously hurt his design. Villains like that only truly work when their opposition actually has character depth and can feel the intimidation of big threats like that.

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4 hours ago, Otts486 said:

Force of nature villains only work because of what they allow us to explore about the other ACTUAL characters in the story.

I have not really thought about it that way before. That is really interesting.

I guess that is why I like Laegjarn so much since she is a great foil to Surtr. She is a warm pleasant flame in contrast to scumbag hellfire, and that contrast makes her look all the more saintly. Thinking about it makes me quite a bit envious of Laevatein. Who does not want a big sister like Laegjarn?

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At first I thought Surtr was pretty successful even if the complaints were always there. He was successfully depicted as a very intimidating villain and he took a joy in his evil deeds that were absent with Garon. But then he just refused to die and proceeded to use his revival to do absolutely nothing. It would have been fine if Surtr became a phoenix mode scrub because his part in the story wasn't done yet but its rather painfully apparent than Surtr only survived because the writers didn't want to begin on book III just yet. 

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1 hour ago, Jotari said:

He didn't work because he was in a story that was conceived with minimum effort.

This, among many other reasons, is why I dislike Heroes. The entire premise of the game is just wrong at its core. There's a reason why I hate GATCHA games and it all boils down to the fact that they're essentially money making schemes disguised as legitimate games, and it shows in the poor quality of the writing.

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41 minutes ago, GamerX51 said:

This, among many other reasons, is why I dislike Heroes. The entire premise of the game is just wrong at its core. There's a reason why I hate GATCHA games and it all boils down to the fact that they're essentially money making schemes disguised as legitimate games, and it shows in the poor quality of the writing.

To be fair the majority dont even care if a mobile game has a story or not, because we play between work, class and etc. For me it´s an absolute pleasure to pass the time between work, never read the story in the game and play without any animation to maximize the time i have.

Something i care about are cool characters, and that for me is one of the reasons fire emblem heroes is such a hit...We are fans of new and old fire emblem games, the main games have story...This one (for me) doesn´t need to have one.

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4 hours ago, Etrurian emperor said:

At first I thought Surtr was pretty successful even if the complaints were always there. He was successfully depicted as a very intimidating villain and he took a joy in his evil deeds that were absent with Garon. But then he just refused to die and proceeded to use his revival to do absolutely nothing. It would have been fine if Surtr became a phoenix mode scrub because his part in the story wasn't done yet but its rather painfully apparent than Surtr only survived because the writers didn't want to begin on book III just yet. 

It was probably less the writers fault and more the higher ups that demand there needs to be X number of chapters per book. Chapters aren't just about the plot, it's about shoving in the new five star heroes into the game each month. That is to say filler is a requirement for the writing team. They probably could have made better filler or make Surtr's actions more weighty, but that would probably involve creating more scenarios to happen and I wouldn't be surprised if there was also a cap on the number of original characters they're allowed to make to prevent over saturation. Basically I suspect there's a lot of limitations on what the writers are allowed to write for a Heroes story which probably encourages them to half ass it, because if they really cared about it as an art, they'd probably be writing something else.

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1 minute ago, Dark Holy Elf said:

I pretty much lost what little respect I had for the writing surrounding Surtr when the game decided he was wearing plot armour underneath his plot armour

  As someone who's been playing FEH without reading a single line of "story", I have to ask: what do you mean with that?

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56 minutes ago, Jotari said:

It was probably less the writers fault and more the higher ups that demand there needs to be X number of chapters per book. Chapters aren't just about the plot, it's about shoving in the new five star heroes into the game each month. That is to say filler is a requirement for the writing team. They probably could have made better filler or make Surtr's actions more weighty, but that would probably involve creating more scenarios to happen and I wouldn't be surprised if there was also a cap on the number of original characters they're allowed to make to prevent over saturation. Basically I suspect there's a lot of limitations on what the writers are allowed to write for a Heroes story which probably encourages them to half ass it, because if they really cared about it as an art, they'd probably be writing something else.

That's certainly possible, perhaps even likely. But there were certainly better options to drag the story on. Loki could arrive on the scene, betray the defeated Surtr and take over the main villain role. Or Laegjarn could have succeeded her father for a more honorable villain. 

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11 hours ago, Otts486 said:

They don't need a backstory, or motivation, or logical justification for what they do because that's not the point.

While I agree very much with most of your post, I think this is painting in a little too broad of strokes. Take TDK's Joker, he has both a motivation and a logical (in his mind) motivation. That said, I don't think Surtr actually lacks either of those. He has a very clear motivation: conquest based on wanting power, AKA a motivating factor for like 90% of human history, and a pretty logical justification. It's portrayed rather ham-fistedly, but his motto of the weak should submit to the strong is a rather common motivation, again re history.

As @Jotari said, the issues with Surtr, and the rest of the cast, are a lot more to do with the fact that there's probably about a page of story total. Like I said in the other topic, I think Surtr is a perfectly good basis for a villain. Maybe he's not the most innovative, but he covers all the areas a villain should cover. He's got a great design, he's got goals, he's got motivations, he's got a defined personality that clashes with the heroes, etc. The issue is the entirety of FEH's story feels like it's the outline of a story rather than an actual story. What really killed it for me was how rushed the end of the book felt. It seems like they were going for a race-against-the-clock feel where the team had to rush to stop Surtr before he could reactivate his immortality, but well, they already had the means to defeat him—IIRC it's not like the Rite of Ice just up and stopped working after its one use (maybe I'm remembering wrong)—and they managed to completely bungle any sense of urgency. Maybe it was the month in between or something, but really, it ended up just seeming rushed rather than urgent.

 

12 hours ago, Otts486 said:

Really the only one out of that group to get any sort of development is alfonse which is by far one of the best moments within book 2 because of how it shows what he's willing to sacrifice in order to stop the greater threat.

Fjorm? I'm not going to say it was handled well, but she was willing to sacrifice her life to prevent more people from having to suffer how she, her family, and her kingdom did.

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18 minutes ago, bottlegnomes said:

While I agree very much with most of your post, I think this is painting in a little too broad of strokes. Take TDK's Joker, he has both a motivation and a logical (in his mind) motivation. That said, I don't think Surtr actually lacks either of those. He has a very clear motivation: conquest based on wanting power, AKA a motivating factor for like 90% of human history, and a pretty logical justification. It's portrayed rather ham-fistedly, but his motto of the weak should submit to the strong is a rather common motivation, again re history.

What I was trying to get at there was that Force of Nature villains aren't really characters. A narrative villain needs to be a good character to be a good villain. They need backstory, they need  rational and understandable goals and motivations. They need a human element that grounds them. Force of nature villains don't need those things because that's not what they are. Yeah they have goals and such but they're not really characters at all in the traditional sense. They're more a physical a representation of an idea if nothing else.

22 minutes ago, bottlegnomes said:

As @Jotari said, the issues with Surtr, and the rest of the cast, are a lot more to do with the fact that there's probably about a page of story total. Like I said in the other topic, I think Surtr is a perfectly good basis for a villain. Maybe he's not the most innovative, but he covers all the areas a villain should cover. He's got a great design, he's got goals, he's got motivations, he's got a defined personality that clashes with the heroes, etc. The issue is the entirety of FEH's story feels like it's the outline of a story rather than an actual story. What really killed it for me was how rushed the end of the book felt. It seems like they were going for a race-against-the-clock feel where the team had to rush to stop Surtr before he could reactivate his immortality, but well, they already had the means to defeat him—IIRC it's not like the Rite of Ice just up and stopped working after its one use (maybe I'm remembering wrong)—and they managed to completely bungle any sense of urgency. Maybe it was the month in between or something, but really, it ended up just seeming rushed rather than urgent.

agreed, which is why it's all the more disappointing the more I look at and analyze book 2. It had so much potential to be a great story but in the end it feels half-assed. Then again I suppose that's to be expected of IS right now if fates is anything to go by.

25 minutes ago, bottlegnomes said:

Fjorm? I'm not going to say it was handled well, but she was willing to sacrifice her life to prevent more people from having to suffer how she, her family, and her kingdom did.

you see my problem with that is that it's never really emphasized. Like you know that would be a good way to handle her character if you know the writer's actually bothered to give her any meaningful dialogue or screentime for that matter. But nope they just stopped trying for whatever reason.

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Based on how some fans are nowadays, they largely want better-written narrative villains; they’re basically tired of having villains like Validar, Grima, Garon, Iago, and Hans and Surtr only adds to that list. It is for that reason some may laud Berkut (who may come off as a whiny edgelord who has a hot girlfriend to some) or characters like Laegjarn, Laevatein, and Helbindi, who are basically members of the (rather tired thanks to FE Fates) Camus archetype or the punch-clock villain trope. They also want better stories and better (from a narrative standpoint) characters, especially since many do not consider Fire Emblem to have the best writing - in many cases, at best, the stories are serviceable and/or derivative; at worst, a convoluted mess and/or a Mary Sue church trip. They also want more character interactions/dialogue; book 2 really pushed Sharena and Fjorm into basically being extras and Forging Bonds is basically considered a player worship-fest stuffed into a lazily designed and grindy gamemode.

 

However, Fire Emblem is a game series first, not a multimedia franchise. And the story of FEH is rather simple given how the game is marketed towards both veterans and newbies alike - they likely have to appeal to the lowest common denominator whose first exposure to Fire Emblem is likely from the Super Smash Bros. games and/or the 2 3DS titles that were available at the time.

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2 minutes ago, Otts486 said:

What I was trying to get at there was that Force of Nature villains aren't really characters. A narrative villain needs to be a good character to be a good villain. They need backstory, they need  rational and understandable goals and motivations. They need a human element that grounds them. Force of nature villains don't need those things because that's not what they are. Yeah they have goals and such but they're not really characters at all in the traditional sense. They're more a physical a representation of an idea if nothing else.

I can agree on backstory, but not so much motivation and justification. Think of motivation as their reason for existing or what they challenge the MCs on in this sense if that makes more sense. If the force of nature villain doesn't have any reason for existing, they are just the raid boss that only exists to endanger the MCs. Justification can be looked at as the philosophy behind the belief the character represents. Take Surtr with fire. Fire destroys anything that doesn't get out of the way. That's conveyed by Surtr killing anyone who stands in his way, claiming it's the natural order. If a FoN doesn't have a semi-decent philosophy behind their beliefs, there's no real reason for the MC's beliefs to be thrown into question. All that said, rereading your post, I think we might just be differing on terminologies.

Also, as a kind of pointless side anecdote, I think I made a similar sort of statement as you are in this topic (which again, I do agree with on the whole) in one of my 400-level CRW classes in college. The story was about a girl who was into jazz and the dad hated jazz, and one of the workshop critiques was to flesh out the dad's character more. I made the comment that I could see it going either way, either flesh him out as a character or double down on the vagueness and make him really more representative of her fears than an actual character. The professor nearly had a conniption. No real point to that story other than "literary" people can be very pretentious, and this topic made me think of that.

 

16 minutes ago, Otts486 said:

you see my problem with that is that it's never really emphasized. Like you know that would be a good way to handle her character if you know the writer's actually bothered to give her any meaningful dialogue or screentime for that matter. But nope they just stopped trying for whatever reason.

Yeah, they could've made her sacrifice actually mean something. It's bad that I preferred the villain of the week format of book 1 to what book 2 ended up being.

Oh, one other thing actually, I think there's some merit to Surtr being nothing more than an animate roadblock so to speak. If you take FEH as a purely external conflict, Surtr doesn't have to challenge the MCs beliefs nor does he have to be a particularly compelling character in terms of more literary elements. He exists solely as an impediment for the MCs to find the strength to overcome, no different than say a kid learning to ride a bike. I tend to fall back to DBZ for this quite a bit since Frieza and Cell are almost perfect examples of this, so let me know if you're not familiar with it, and I can try to find a different example or go into more detail. Frieza more so since Cell does work as a FoN against Gohan, so I'll just focus on him. But basically, Frieza has essentially the same motivation, personality, and beliefs as Surtr, i.e. conquest, sadistic, and I'm strong so do what I say. What makes Frieza work so well though is, simply put, charisma. He's delightfully smarmy, he's got a great set of designs, and he manages to balance villainistic hubris with not fucking around when he actually feels there's a problem (he committed genocide just because of his fears of a legend). Surtr, I think, actually hits all these points too, but again, having about a paragraph's worth of story activity doesn't give much room to embellish.

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1 hour ago, Koumal8 said:

  As someone who's been playing FEH without reading a single line of "story", I have to ask: what do you mean with that?

I can explain. So at the beginning of Book 2, Surtr was propped up as invincible. In-game, his Muspellflame ability made him immune to all damage. This is reflected in the story, where the fact that Surtr cannot be harmed because his flame powers are just too cash money is a driving motivation behind the plot. We abandon Askr because Surtr cannot be harmed. We run to Nifl because Surtr cannot be harmed. We're hunting for Gunnthra because- well, you get the picture.

On the quest to find Gunnthra - and by extension, a way to harm and kill Surtr - the party is faced with various challenges that are all building towards this goal. Sacrificing Askr, evading Muspell troops, outsmarting Laegjarn, there's a great deal of effort from the party to actually achieve this goal. But then, despite absolutely all logic, Surtr gets to Gunnthra before us despite there being literally no reason why he should be able to. Gunnthra - our lead to the thing that'll kill Surtr - is killed, and Laegjarn - who we had literally just taken prisoner the chapter before - escapes custody because Fjorm was too busy grieving to actually do her job guarding her. Why, exactly, she was given the job when she's obviously going to be the most emotionally compromised and distracted at the time is beyond me. This isn't the big "double plot armour" moment, but it's a very similar starting act where the efforts of our heroes and their struggle all adds up to nothing just to make Surtr the big strong bad guy.

Later, we follow the guidance Gunnthra was able to give us before dying and grab the stuff we need to do the Rite of Ice, which will make Surtr vulnerable. This is the turning point of the plot, we've had our darkest hour and now we're going to take the fight to Muspell and kill Surtr. Great! This has been a long time coming. We storm Muspell, break through their ranks and walk into Surtr's house and kill him dead. There's speeches about how he's a bad dude and how evil always fails, yada yada. The point is he's dead, we earned the kill through our journey and struggle.

And then Surtr gets back up. Laughs off the attempt on his life and basically just goes "Nu-uh I'm actually DOUBLE INVINCIBLE." And the heroes run off with their tails between their legs because they don't know how to hurt somebody who's double invincible that's just fucking unprecedented. Once again, the effort and struggles of the heroes is wasted and adds up to nothing because for some reason we need to prop Surtr up even more than we already have. And by extension, of course, the player's time is wasted because most of the plot they've been following up until now has just been invalidated.

tl;dr: Surtr disrupts the traditional three act story structure by being the DM's powergaming 12 year old little brother.

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5 minutes ago, Stercus said:

And then Surtr gets back up. Laughs off the attempt on his life and basically just goes "Nu-uh I'm actually DOUBLE INVINCIBLE."

  Oh my GOD are you telling me that wasn't a metaphor?! He's "double invincible"? He literally wears plot armor under plot armor?! WHY HAVEN'T I BEEN READING THIS SHIT?!

  Let us be hyped for Book 3 amirite

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2 minutes ago, Koumal8 said:

  Oh my GOD are you telling me that wasn't a metaphor?! He's "double invincible"? He literally wears plot armor under plot armor?! WHY HAVEN'T I BEEN READING THIS SHIT?!

  Let us be hyped for Book 3 amirite

The actual, serious explanation is that there's a second rite that is reviving him, so it's not specifically that he's invincible... but yes. When you strip away the names and such and really get down to brass tax, he's double invincible. He is wearing plot armour under his plot armour. It's stupid.

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@Stercus In complete seriousness, thank you for the synopsis. It reminded me why the end of the book infuriated me so much. The chapter with Surtr's double invincibility has the heroes fleeing because they've realized they still can't beat Surtr. There's something else they have to do to negate his resurrection power. But then Hrid and Bruno show up and are just like, "Nah, chase him down and kill him. He as to reactivate it. If you'd stayed like 20 extra minutes, you could've killed him for real." The whole narrative dynamic flips just because they had to finish up the story, not that the entire narrative dynamic at that point was particularly good in the first place, but at least commit to something.

Edited by bottlegnomes

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I don't think that Surtr has any redeeming value as a villain. He was just an unstoppable force of nature, and it was insulting seeing him talk down to and infantilize other, better antagonists (like Veronica and Xander).

Edited by Etheus

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9 minutes ago, bottlegnomes said:

@Stercus In complete seriousness, thank you for the synopsis. It reminded me why the end of the book infuriated me so much. The chapter with Surtr's double invincibility has the heroes fleeing because they've realized they still can't beat Surtr. There's something else they have to do to negate his resurrection power. But then Hrid and Bruno show up and are just like, "Nah, chase him down and kill him. He as to reactivate it. If you'd stayed like 20 extra minutes, you could've killed him for real." The whole narrative dynamic flips just because they had to finish up the story, not that the entire narrative dynamic at that point was particularly good in the first place, but at least commit to something.

I'm glad that my synopsis is appreciated. I drew emphasis to the last thing you said because I feel like it's important. I actually enjoyed most of Book 2 for what it was. It had a rather promising start and it was much better handled than Book 1 was. But this is a serious problem. The narrative cannot make up its mind. I understand that we have an entire year that the story needs to be spread out through, but the denying the player any sense of narrative "progress" because it's not the end of the book yet isn't a solution to that. There was no reason why Gunnthra needed to die. There was no reason the Rite of Frost couldn't have worked the first time. There's no reason why we couldn't have had Laegjarn in our custody for longer than two scenes. But for every development in the story that benefits the protagonists, two or three more are hastily added to stymie them or invalidate those benefits entirely. The point of a traditional narrative is that the hero earns his ultimate victory. In a twisted way, a good villain needs to earn his gains too. Surtr didn't earn Gunnthra, or his double invincibility, or anything like that. He didn't earn a damn thing. It was handed to him on a silver platter.

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