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General Banzai

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  1. Really not sure why I would want my SRPG to play like a puzzle game. I've heard people talk up Conquest in the light of "this is Fire Emblem updated to a more modern SRPG experience," but if other tactics type games play like Conquest, then I'm more than happy avoiding the rest of the genre altogether. In my opinion, Fire Emblem is at its best when it challenges your on-the-fly decision making and forces you to make choices on any given turn, rather than determining a "correct" strategy from battle preparation and simply executing it. This is also why I dislike LTC or efficiency runs; they don't feel like you're playing the game at all, but rather establishing some sort of rescue chain or warpskip strategy from the onset. RNG is unacceptable in such runs. I remember watching Dondon's 0% playthroughs of various games and he would talk about having a list of all RNs open so he could effectively RNG abuse any situation to ensure a 100% success rate. That's just transforming Fire Emblem into a puzzle game where you are either correct or you are not. Fire Emblem's gameplay is fundamentally based around variance. Not simply the RNG of encounters, but the RNG of stat gains promote long term variance in the power of your characters and what strategies become open or closed to you. The trick of a good FE is to design it in such away that unlucky variance doesn't feel unduly punishing, while retaining enough challenge that the player is forced to adapt rather than simply plow through no matter how things shape up. For instance, when enemy stats are monstrously inflated (such as in Shadow Dragon H5), you get to the point where missing a single attack or getting hit by a single 1% crit will force a reset, which then becomes extremely frustrating. There's no positive variance. On the other hand, when enemies are total chumps like in Path of Radiance, it really doesn't matter what happens because you can just charge Kieran and Oscar to the end of the map anyway. There's no negative variance. In Conquest, the lack of variance isn't about stats so much as its extremely puzzle-like enemy configurations that severely limit the number of viable strategies to approaching a map, necessitating specific movement patterns. It feels like almost all of the actual gameplay is rooted in determining the one way you're allowed to enter a room full of Lunge assholes or Counter dicks or Inevitable End debuff douchebags. The obsession with debuffing your units eliminates the value of having good units, since they just get turned into bad units if you're not playing a map the way the map intends you to play it. It's this reason why I think Thracia 776 remains one of, if not the, best gameplay experiences in the franchise. There are certainly some elements of it that are ridiculously punishing to blind runs (Leaf escaping, the sudden character unavailability in Ch 4, etc.), but other than those oversight-style hiccups the game is actually extremely forgiving. This is due to the combination of weak enemies and the 1 RN system, which leads to more RNG variance (i.e., an enemy is more likely to hit with a 35% chance than in other games). It means you're less likely to predict how any given turn will shake up, but the weaker enemies give you more leeway to adapt when things go unlucky. The scrolls allow you to easily build units to be strong, while the low stat caps ensure that you'll never get so far ahead of enemies that you can simply cakewalk your way through any given map. Additionally, gameplay design heavily revolves around completing side objectives to gain powerful and appealing items and characters. Most Thracia maps are fairly easy to beat if you're only concerned about finishing the map, but introduce a lot of challenge if you want to complete all the side objectives. This means that long term unluckiness with level ups or character power is less punishing, but you still feel challenged even if you're getting lucky because you're given more ability to pursue more difficult objectives. I think the biggest mistake in Awakening-and-afterward FE design is moving away from map side objectives, with fewer recruitable allies in maps, fewer optional items, and so forth. Even Engage, a game with gameplay I consider among the best in the franchise, doesn't have much of this (although it finds other unique ways to give you a lot of on-the-fly strategic decisionmaking with the limited-use emblems).
  2. 1. Combine FE6 and FE7 into a single remake. These games have virtually identical gameplay, which makes this an appealing choice. Doing a combination allows for the ability to do a generation system similar to Genealogy or Awakening, with parents from FE7 passing down abilities and stats to children in FE6. The issue is that unlike Genealogy or Awakening, not every character in FE7 has kids in FE6. I would rectify this by having some of the more generic, bland units in FE6 (of which there are many) to act similarly to Genealogy's "replacement" units. In Genealogy, if you don't pair up units and get their children, their children are replaced by somewhat generic replacement units who are generally weaker but still usable. FE6 could do something similar. For instance, if you pair up Oswin in FE7, you could get a new character in Chapter 8 of FE6 who is Oswin's child; if you don't pair up Oswin, you get Barth. Lance and/or Allan could be replaced by a child of Harken and Isadora. This change would not only create more unification between FE7 and FE6's stories, but also allow for the addition of more interesting new units to replace FE6's faceless horde of a cast. And for the singular diehard Barth fan out there, you can still get him, you just need to not marry Oswin or whoever in FE7. I think the combination of FE7 and FE6 makes FE6's story a lot more interesting. Hector's death is more impactful, Zephiel is a more interesting character, and so on. Another change to FE6 I would make in this vein is to add Lyn as a playable character in FE6, perhaps as a prepromoted unit recruited in the middle of the game. It'd serve to make a fan favorite character feel more relevant. 2. Redesign the maps. FE6 has some extremely large maps, which are often very boring due to their linear nature. I would shrink down many of the maps or redesign them entirely so that they have more varied map design. Chapter 8 is a great example. Cut off the entire eastern corridor, as it's only a waste of time. Remove the zigzagging corridor on the north of the map, too. Replace the second treasure room (past the throne room) with an enemy spawn point so there are reinforcements that appear behind your front lines, forcing you to adapt your strategy rather than tediously proceed down the map with your strongest units first. FE6 doesn't have droppable enemy items, so by adding those in you can replace the often extreme number of chests or villages that appear in certain chapters. So far, remakes have avoided map redesigns, but I think this game is one that needs it badly. 3. General QOL updates/rebalancing. This one's already been talked to death: Increase hit rates, use a modern support system so you don't need to grind supports to read them, do some rebalancing, add skills. Let Roy promote earlier.
  3. A lot of my bizarre resource expenditure was due to my hazy memories of the game's difficulty curve. Early on, I assumed the game's difficulty curve would be front-loaded, like most Fire Emblem games, so I used resources whenever they were convenient. I also made some decisions like Corrin x Silas to prioritize receiving quick S rank bonuses and early children for an early game power boost. But when Ch 23 kicked my ass and I wound up wasting two Rescue uses, I realized the game's difficulty had really amped and remembered the final map being especially brutal, so I switched tactics and decided to save as many of my resources as possible, including my final Rescue staff and my Entrap uses. For the first longbow room, I felt like using Freeze wasn't useful because the two longbow guys start right next to each other, so if I froze one and killed the other I would be in range of the other anyway. Whereas the second pair start split up so there's more value to freezing just the one. Likewise, with experience, I'm used to not worrying about experience allocation once units are promoted. However, I'm not fully sure experience allocation was the issue. Silas and Beruka had been useful early on due to their high defense, but as the game continued their low speed ensured they were incapable of one rounding any enemies, making them no longer viable as combat units. Niles similarly struggled to maintain strength levels necessary to be a good fighter against most enemies. Odin's stats were all around pathetic and it was highly pointless using him when I had Ophelia. Early promoting Elise gave me a powerful mage for Ch 10 but by endgame, even though her level was high, she was too slow to double and fairly inaccurate. Sophie and Kana's stats were weak from the start. Most of these units seemed like nonstarters and it felt pointless to use them when Ophelia, Velouria, and Camilla were so superior. I think I could have fed Niles more experience if I remembered that he gained such a useful skill at Lv 15, though. And yeah, I did kind of assume kids would be like kids in Awakening. It's weird because Ophelia and Velouria felt like the power level of Awakening kids, while the other three were just kind of weaker versions of their parents. In Lunatic+, the kids were high risk high reward because it was difficult to get them (their paralogues were often very difficult) and they were underleveled on join, so I had planned a whole strategy where of the non-Lucina kids I would only get Kjelle due to the midgame dip in difficulty around the time her paralogue becomes available. In Fates it seems more like kids are just on the level of any other unit where you can't really tell how good they are until you get them. I think that's kind of my main problem. This game feels like it requires a lot more knowledge of things "behind the scenes" compared to other games in the series. Even in Lunatic+, which was a far more difficult game mode than this one, I was able to get by with more generalized knowledge about how the game works (like knowing Nosferatu is good). In H5, you really only need to know what Wolf and Sedgar's growths look like. Here you're talking about all these reclass options for units and which are good, which are bad, et cetera. It's so nitty gritty and requires so much more specified knowledge.
  4. I agree, FE6 is also one of the worst-designed games in the series. The maps are way too large and linear, meaning there's little to do except move forward fielding small sets of enemies at a time. The low hit rates are also consistently obnoxious.
  5. Hello everyone. I haven't been active here recently but I'm a longtime Fire Emblem veteran and I've beaten most of the hardest difficulties in the series (Thracia 776, Shadow Dragon H5, Awakening Lunatic+ Classic) without grinding, cheese, or DLC. Engage recently reignited my excitement for Fire Emblem so I decided to take a spin on Conquest Lunatic Classic, one of the few hard difficulties I hadn't yet attempted. For context on my level of expertise on this game coming in, I had played through Fates three times before, once for each route (Hard Classic). I beat Conquest on Hard Classic about four years ago, so while I had a general idea of the maps and challenges to expect, my memories were a little vague. I also had little knowledge as to unit tiering, i.e. I wasn't super certain on which units were good or not. I began the game without much of a long-term macro-level strategy regarding who to use, who to pair up, who to reclass, and so on. I figured I could sort that out as I went. In my Hard playthroughs I went with a male Corrin because I felt like the early Flame Shuriken you get in most routes amps Felicia's offensive capabilities, but this time I decided a bulkier and stronger early game unit would be more useful, so I went with a female Corrin. Regardless, I didn't think Jakob would be a useful long-term unit so I decided to avoid feeding him many kills. In the first 5 chapters before Branch of Fate I prioritized putting as many kills onto Corrin as possible. As a side note, Chapter 5 is a hideously poorly-designed chapter on Lunatic. It seems as though there is only one correct solution for approaching the group of enemies at the bottom of the map, requiring a specific unit to be placed on a specific tile to strategically lure the enemies in a particular way, as if any two enemies attack Corrin she'll die. I really dislike this constraining of options; it makes the game feel more like a puzzle game than a strategy game. (I also hate how the game gives you an exciting, powerful tool--dragon Corrin with extremely inflated stats--and then makes every enemy have a wyrmslayer to that tool is rendered weak.) Making it to branch of fate, I began my run of Conquest. Chapter 6 is a pretty non-notable chapter so I'll begin by discussing: Chapter 7 This map is pretty boring, as it is designed to force you to sit in a choke point and slowly deal with the wave of enemies rushing your position. There's no benefit for not sitting in the choke point, so that's what I did. I decided to funnel experience onto Corrin and Silas in particular. I knew that Effie was useful in the early game but decided she would probably fall off long-term, so while I used her for walling off areas and chipping down enemies, I avoided giving her kills. I hate Arthur so I decided against using him pretty quickly. Anyway, this map is a bit of a snooze so there's not much to say; I easily beat it my first attempt. Chapter 8 This map has a much better design than the last. The core concept of visiting houses before enemies is a Fire Emblem staple, but the adjustment that when enemies visit houses they gain reinforcements adds urgency to it. I reset my first two attempts, as my strategy was to send Niles and Odin to the left and try to visit those houses before the enemy got to them, but decided this strategy was nonviable. Instead I moved north, handling the reinforcements from the first house with some smart positioning on Turn 2 so I could intercept the village visiting enemy and protect the northmost house. Then I dealt with reinforcements from the left as they came toward me. Ultimately, I saved two houses; I wonder what the best strategy is to save three? The new units in this map are Niles and Odin. I knew from my past playthrough that Niles is very useful, so I determined to use him, but for some reason I was also possessed of the notion to use Odin, thinking his durability might make him useful with Nosferatu. Using Odin would turn out to be in some ways a terrible decision and in some ways one of the most important ones to the run; I'll clarify later. Chapter Mozu Boring chapter. (I forget, in fact, whether I did this chapter before Ch 9 or before Ch 10.) It was in fact so boring I played extremely sloppily and took a dumb restart simply for ignoring enemy ranges. I used this map to feed kills onto Odin, who started a little underleveled compared to my other units. I decided instantly not to use Mozu, but I wonder if, knowing what I do now about this game's difficulty curve, using her might actually be pretty useful. Chapter 9 This is another boring map. There is no impetus for the player to move quickly (Azura can easily remain safe with basic movement), and the map is full of chokepoints that can be easily cleared with safe if slow play. I took out Haitaka's archers over the wall and then proceeded with some Chokepoint Gaming; the only hiccup was the wave of reinforcements that included a couple appearing behind my lines, but I was able to clear them without any trouble. I attempted to capture Haitaka knowing his Rally Def skill can be super useful in the early game, but Niles missed his capture attempt and I didn't want to restart the whole map so I just killed him. Overall an easy chapter with no restarts. I briefly entertained the idea of using Nyx and pairing her with Odin, which was an even worse idea than just using Odin, but luckily it wouldn't last long. I did decide that I would pair Corrin with Silas, believing it would be useful to get an early power spike with a quick S rank support. Chapter 10 Before this chapter began, I promoted Elise, which instantly gave me another powerful combat unit whose high magic and speed allowed her to one round nearly any enemy on the map, even if she was pretty frail. My first run of this map went decently and I reached the final turn before I missed a 90% hit chance with Selena and she died. Even though I didn't plan to use Selena, I prefer to beat these games without losing any units, so I restarted. Doing so was actually a blessing in disguise, as with some tweaks to my strategy I was able to visit all four houses and clear the map even easily than the first time. This is a great map, but everyone already knows that. I like how it initially prompts the player to play aggressively, before swarming them with reinforcements that make the last few turns a tense retraction around the defend point. I also like how it gives you the ballista and fire orb and organizes enemies in a way that makes using those tools satisfying and useful. In my Hard playthrough, I had avoided using any of the game's strong prepromotes, but this time I decided I should probably use Camilla. I also decided to use Beruka and pair her with Niles, believing their stat benefits paired up would even each other's weaknesses out. I dropped my scheme to use Nyx and instead decided to pair Odin with Elise. Chapter 11 This chapter is probably one of the worst-designed maps in Fire Emblem history (I think most of the worst-designed maps in Fire Emblem history are in Fates, unfortunately). It's so goofy and gimmicky, slow and tedious. This would be the first and last time I would be tricked by this game into splitting my forces in two when I didn't have to, and sent a half of my army into each of the routes. Camilla was able to easily clear one half, while my other half struggled a little and needed to wait for Camilla to arrive from behind to handle the Lunge ninja room. I also wasted a Rescue staff use in this map; had I known how valuable this staff would be later in the game, I would've saved it. Otherwise, the map was mostly easy and just boring, and I beat it my first attempt. Chapter 12 Another lousy gimmick map. Hitting the pots is basically gambling unless you know which pot gives which effect; I hit the absolute minimum number of poison pots and proceeded through the map normally. There is little else to make this map interesting beyond its dumb gimmick, and I had next to no trouble. I decided I would not use Lazlow or Peri, although I briefly thought about pairing Lazlow with Camilla; a friend told me that Camilla was better paired with Keaton, so I believed that. As a side note, why does this map have an entrap staff user that entraps your unit into a room with just one rinky dink swordsman? Is it just to introduce the concept of entrap? Seems exceptionally pointless otherwise. Chapter 13 After the last two maps this one is a breath of fresh air. No gimmicks, only some solid map design and gameplay. I restarted twice in the first few turns as I tried to figure out how the AI worked for the squad around Takumi as well as how quickly the wyverns carrying knights reach me, then proceeded with my plan. I used Freeze on Takumi and then baited out his squad. Kiting backward, I took care of the units around him while keeping Takumi out of range, and then put Camilla in range of the wyverns to intercept and one round them on enemy phase, causing their knights to fall mostly on the south side of the canal. Once I had thinned out the other enemies, I could swarm forward and wipe out Takumi quickly. I moved down the bridge and baited Reina's cavaliers with my bulky Corrin and Silas, then cleared them all out the next player phase. This gave me access to the villages before the weirdly crippled 3-move outlaw could reach any of them, so I was able to visit them all. I had Elise run into Orochi's squad and assassinate the single cavalier, with her high res allowing her to tank all the mages in the rest of the squad. I did not anticipate the cavalier and wyvern reinforcements, so when I pulled Scarlet's squad and they showed up on either side of me I was put in a somewhat bad situation, but by casting Freeze on Scarlet I was able to focus on clearing the small fry before taking out Scarlet herself. Overall, after my first two early restarts, I beat the map without trouble. I decided Benny and Charlotte sucked and that I would not use them. By the end of this map Niles had reached Lv 20 and was ready to promote to Bow Knight. I had decided to wait until my units hit 20 to promote them, as so far the game had been pretty easy and I didn't feel like I needed the immediate power boost. Chapter 14 With this map, I added Keaton to my army and mostly solidified my force (before children): Corrin x Silas, Niles x Beruka, Odin x Elise, Camilla x Keaton, and of course Azura. I was also using Jakob as a staffbot still, and keeping around Lazlow for his rally ability. This map is decent, and I like how the kinshi knight reinforcements break up your attempts at Chokepoint Gaming, but this map introduces the lousy status staves this game likes to spam at you with no real ability to counter them beyond tanking them, which is pretty annoying and anti-strategic. I reset the map once due to not anticipating the kinshi knights. My second run I had my promoted Niles with Beruka pairup intercept them; at this point he was fairly tanky and also able to easily kill the flying enemies. The map was easy otherwise and I opted not to capture the boss, as I didn't think I'd use him much. I did capture a couple of low level generic flying enemies on a whim, which would come in handy much later in the game. By the end of this map, I level 20 promoted Corrin and Silas (to Great Knight). You also get Leo in this chapter, but he was so slow I decided he wouldn't be worth it. Chapter 15 Hate this map. It hardly counts as a map. I hate using Gunter. I wish I had my whole army, at least then the map would be engaging. As it stands it's painfully boring. I got all the statboosters and got out. There is nothing else interesting to say about this map. Chapter 16 By now my S ranks were starting to come in, but I decided to hold off until my units gained their lv 5 promoted skills to pass down. You get Xander this map and I used to him to clear half the map while the rest of my forces dealt with the other half. As I had promoted Beruka and Odin by this chapter and my units were starting to get very powerful, I didn't have much difficulty here. This is a fairly mediocre map that once again relies on status staves to inject some artificial difficulty into things. At the end I decided to recruit Shura, as he would be a useful unit for the next couple chapters due to his staff use and solid chip damage. Chapter 17 Ninja Hell. Another horribly designed map that really highlights this game's obsession with debuffing your units, which has to be one of the least fun mechanics in all of Fire Emblem. Not only is it generally unfun to feel weak, but it makes it far more tedious and unreliable to calculate what enemies will do to you on enemy phase, eliminating good strategic elements from the gameplay while also making it extremely slow to progress through the map. This map just turns into Chokepoint Gaming anyway, with my high leveled bulky units like Xander, Silas, Camilla, and Beruka sitting in chokes and fielding large groups of ninjas who did almost no damage to them. Keaton promoted by this chapter, leaving my entire army promoted. Chapter 18 The midgame had turned into a snooze and this map was little exception. Arming my units with Hammers and Armorslayers I slaughtered the generals to the south and then moved north as a concerted force. The map has a time limit that seems to want to force your units to split in two to handle both bosses simultaneously, but the time limit is so generous that it's easy to send everyone south and then head north as a squad afterward. I collected the treasures and even had time to spare before killing Zola. Chapter Kana Now it was finally time to start recruiting children. I had paired Corrin and Silas thinking that an immediate couple of child units recruited early would help me through the early game, but the early and mid game were both so easy that I decided to hold off before I could get Draconic Hex on both of them. I kicked this chapter's ass, clearing it before the two bandit brother bosses even appeared. Kana's stats were garbage and my experience was that he's generally a useless unit, so I reclassed him to kinshi knight and gave him a bow for high movement and safe application of Draconic Hex, which would be the most use I got out of him. Chapter Sophie These maps that were designed to be done in Birthright are all really easy and I smashed my way through this one with no trouble, easily saving all six NPC soldiers in the process. I had thought Sophie might be a second a Silas but her much lower defenses rendered her fairly mediocre. This game isn't really like Awakening where children will always outlcass their parents. Sophie would mostly become a pairup bot for some of the other children I would recruit. The other note about this chapter is that I captured the boss Nichol, who would be useful later. Chapter Ophelia By this point in the game I had figured out Odin was dogshit. His higher bulk didn't do anything, he had no offense, no speed, he sucked. I had stuck with him hoping Ophelia might be useful, especially since I was hording spirit dust and had a whopping three of them ready to drop on her. Having never used Odin before I was not prepared for this map, which actually took some resets as I had to trial and error figure out where enemy aggro lines were to avoid getting myself swarmed as I aggressively attempted to visit every village quickly. It took several attempts and I even started to get frustrated, making sloppy mistakes in my tilt; this map was easily the most I struggled since the game began. In the end, though, I beat it while visiting every village, which was useful as they give some pretty good loot (I think one of my three spirit dusts was from a particularly difficult-to-reach village). After the map, I had Ophelia snort all that dust to become Cocaine Oomfie, with an absolutely devastating 32 magic as a level 2 Sorcerer. While Odin was a dogshit unit who was doing nothing except pairing up and occasional chip, Ophelia quickly turned out to be an ace unit who would be invaluable for the rest of my playthrough. I gave her a forged Nosferatu, a forged Lightning (brave tome), the Calamity Gate that reverses weapon triangle advantage, and the Horse Spirit that made her bulky and fast, and she was ready to rip. Chapter Velouria This map is pretty stupid with its Entrap set up. As Cocaine Oomfie was easily my best unit I didn't want to use the dragon vein to silence everyone including my own units, so I plowed through it with my very bulky Dragonstone Corrin. Nonetheless it took me a few attempts to figure out the best way to enter the set-up, which like Chapter 5 seems to be designed in a way that there are almost no good ways to approach it. This would be a sample of things to come... But at this point I was blissfully ignorant. (Why does this map have Velouria randomly spawn in the middle of fucking nowhere too, like come on.) When Velouria joined, she immediately was a very strong unit, with good stats all around and an inherited Savage Blow from her mother Camilla. Chapter Nina I knew ahead of time that Nina was a fairly mediocre unit, so I saved her for last. I'm not sure how you're supposed to save the treasure in this map, so I didn't. Instead I moved up to the middle, beat the enemies and Nina, and beat the map normally with little trouble. I promoted Nina to Outlaw instead of Bow Knight as I wanted the additional staff utility; this decision would actually turn out to be quite smart, as her high skill meant she had very high accuracy with offensive staves despite her mediocre magic. She also had both Rally Skill and Rally Def from her parents, which made her a useful rally bot. With that I had collected all my children. It was time to continue the actual game. Chapter 19 With the power injection into my army of Ophelia and Velouria, as well as the general leveling I gained from all the paralogues, this map was a breeze despite its idiotic Naruto gimmick. That brought me to... Chapter 20 Fuga's Wild Ride. God. This is another one of the worst Fire Emblem maps of all time. The movement gimmick is so fucking annoying, and worse yet there's Hayato with a Hexing Rod in the middle of the map. The Hexing Rod is absolute cancer. Every issue with uncounterable status staves magnified into the most brutal and unforgiving status effect possible. What's the strat to deal with it? Either get a lucky dodge or avoid it entirely. Maybe slowly bait its use on your pair-up units, I suppose, although the enemy position makes that difficult and it's tedious to do anyway. After some trial and error figuring out weather patterns, I settled on a strategy in which I quickly blew all my units up to Fuga, took him out, and then proceeded back through the map to collect all the treasure. It probably took 5-7 attempts, making this the most difficult map in a while, but it felt like almost all of that difficulty was rooted in frustrating and unfun gimmick mechanics. Chapter 21 Ophelia with the brave tome was able to one round the stone golems, which made this map exceptionally easy. By hitting the dragon veins every chapter and prioritizing moving my units quickly while Ophelia cleared the golems, I was able to move up the map with little difficulty and cleared it in 7 turns. I wonder how difficult this map would be if I didn't happen to have an extremely powerful mage with a forged brave tome? I feel like this game's gimmicks are sometimes trivialized if you have a very specific unit build, but are otherwise utterly obnoxious to deal with. Chapter 22 I wasn't falling for the "split up your army" trick this time. I used pair-ups to put all of my units on one side of the map and then proceeded down that side easily and cleanly. There was absolutely no challenge when I did the map this way and I was even able to take out Sakura for a free stat booster before ending. Beating this map and the last one with such ease made me feel very confident in my abilities. Little did I know the game's difficulty was about to spike. Chapter 23 Every map from here on out is horrible, laced with that puzzle game design that I mentioned hating in Chapter 5 and Chapter Velouria. It feels like enemies are set up in very particular ways as to require very specific solutions to the problems. By this point in the game I essentially had three very strong units: Ophelia, Velouria, and Camilla. Everyone else was essentially in a supportive role, unable to do much on their own. I think the really annoying thing about this map is how it presents three very specific setups in a row that you have to figure out in one go or else tediously repeat the first couple again and again. I decided to skip Hinata's squad entirely, not because he looked unbeatable but because I didn't want to have to deal with him every time before I approached the true challenge of the map, climbing up the wall with the Lunge lancers who pull you into range of Oboro's squad. I used Kana, Nichol, Beruka, and Camilla to fly my units over the ridge, bypassing Hinata, and captured the generic enemy with four rally skills (Rally Man). Then I moved up the wall. My strategy for the wall was for Ophelia to run in and kill one of the Lunge lancers, then dance her and kill another while standing at the tail end of Oboro's range, where only Oboro's paired-up mage can attack. I then swarmed the rest of my units in to clear as many of the other enemies on the wall as possible. Unfortunately by this point most of my units were pretty weak, even former tank monsters like Silas. With Velouria, Camilla, and Keaton I could clear some of the enemies, but I had to tiptoe around the archers with Counter and then survive a counter attack from the mages who come from the right, who could double and one round units like Silas and Xander. It took several attempts to figure out, which is aggravating because even skipping Hinata there's a lot of tedious movement set up to fly my units over the ridge. Once I had a run that survived the first turn on the wall, I was able to mop up Oboro pretty quickly, then I had to deal with Takumi. Takumi is a piece of shit. Not only does his area have another Lunge set up (seriously I am so sick of these Lunge set ups, please just let me play normally without having to worry about my positioning changing in the middle of enemy phase), but Takumi himself has a lot of dogshit skills like Rend Heaven that really up the RNG of fighting him. Not wanting to repeat scaling the wall after so many attempts, I approached him extremely defensively--perhaps too defensive. I used two of my remaining three Rescue staff uses to rush units in, attack Takumi, and pull them out without having to worry about the Lungers. (I only had to use one of those uses due to really bad RNG causing me to miss a fairly high hit chance. That shitty RNG would have lasting ramifications for the rest of the run.) Eventually, with Ophelia and Velouria, I took Takumi out and beat the map. Chapter 24 The maps did not get any easier. I attempted this map many times, approaching from every possible direction: the left, the north, the middle. Ophelia with Nosferatu was able to tank massive waves of enemies, but then the 12 movement fliers would show up and eventually pick off my weaker support units. Eventually, after several failed attempts and much frustration, I decided to repeat a strategy I used for Fuga's Wild Ride, which was to use the map's movement gimmick against it to quickly reach and assassinate the boss. Using Nichol and the generic fliers I captured much earlier in the run, I set up a strat by which I was able to get Ophelia, Velouria, and Keaton to Hinoka the first time she activated the movement-boosting dragon vein. My extremely powerful Velouria doubled and one rounded Hinoka and had a fairly decent chance to hit (80%), so it was a mostly reliable strategy. I didn't exactly like it though because it felt like cheese, essentially skipping the entire map, and without going back and fighting all the enemies afterward like I did with Fuga. However, I'm not certain if I could deal with the waves upon waves upon waves of flying reinforcements, so I went with this strat and cleared the map. Chapter 25 This is the worst map in the game. This map made me want to die. The first thing I figured out was that Corrin could, with Vulneraries in convoy, tank Ryoma indefinitely, so there was no need to rush. That meant I could avoid splitting my forces up and handle Saizo and Kagero with my full squad. Even so, the dogshit debuffing from Ninja Hell returned, but even worse this time as it now stacked. On top of that there are multiple rooms with shitty Lunge set ups, like jesus christ stop doing these Lunge set ups please they are so fucking tedious to deal with. Unlike Chapter 24, there was no easy way to beat the chapter, so here's how I did it. First, I used Xander to bait the three Master Ninjas with seal Defense to the immediate left of the starting point. Xander got his defense shredded by 30 (6 for seal def and 4 for shuriken from each ninja), but somehow was able to survive without issue. Then I baited the swordsmaster and ninja force above with Camilla, who by this point was so strong that if positioned in a smart way could kill one of the two ninjas on enemy phase, reducing how much she gets debuffed. After clearing those groups, I had to approach the shitty longbow Lunge setup room. The longbows meant that a unit of mine could essentially be lunged halfway across the map, so there was no chance except to very tediously and with very specific movement setups approach the room so I could take out both longbowmen at once. I first baited the paired up swordsmaster, who can be pulled by himself without aggroing the lungers if you attack him and then use Shelter to pull the attacker out of range. I did the same strat to pull the ninja in the leftmost corridor. Then, I sent Camilla with the Dual Club to fly to the extreme north of the map, where there is a single tile out of range of the Lungers. The remaining swordsmasters went to fight Camilla, leaving the Lunge longbowmen relatively undefended. I poured into their room, killing them both with Ophelia and Velouria, and then mopped up the remaining enemies. There was another pair of Lunge longbowmen near Saizo; to deal with them, I used Freeze on one and then rushed in with Velouria to kill the other. Then I was able to pour in, clear the remaining enemies, and finish Saizo. After that I ran my units all the way back through the empty half of the map to deal with the other side. I left Beruka by Corrin at this point so she could increase her survivability with Rally Defense, allowing me to indefinitely tank Ryoma. Using Camilla, Ophelia, and Velouria I cleared the first part of Kagero's side of the map. For the corridor with spy shuriken poison strike grisly wound ninjas, I used the same Shelter strat to aggro the guys in the middle of the corridor without ending player phase in range of the spy shurikens. I then had Camilla Lunge one of the spy shuriken ninjas into the corridor so I could kill him and then kill the second spy shuriken guy with Ophelia. Using Freeze once more, I was able to clear the rest of the area safely, then I proceeded to Kagero, who was very simple to defeat. I'll mention that the first time I beat Kagero I fucked up. I did not realize there was a door at the south of the map that would open upon killing Kagero. Having robotically been using Vulnerary + Rally Def every turn, when I killed Kagero both Corrin and Beruka had already moved. This meant Beruka was now in range of Ryoma, and he instantly one rounded her, forcing me to restart this aggravatingly endless and tedious chapter that required loads of boring movement set ups. I did it though! The second time through I made sure to have Corrin get onto Beruka and fly safely out of Ryoma's range. Then I killed Ryoma with Velouria and Ophelia, finally freeing myself from this hellish map. Chapter 26 After the last map this one looked more doable--despite the endless status stave spam (if it's not debuffing it's status staves, I swear with this game). I restarted once at the very beginning of the map to test how the AI worked for the first room, and then cleared this map on my first real attempt. Having beaten Lunatic+ before, I know every strat in the book to deal with Counter, so I was able to handle the Counter heroes in the first room by unequipping Velouria and Keaton and drawing the heroes out without counter attacking. After clearing the first room, I sent my entire force to the right to deal with the sages, ignoring the stone golem room entirely. The main difficulty or annoyance of this chapter was honestly Iago's seemingly random AI. I could never get a handle one what staff he would use or who he would use it on, and sometimes I would take a risky play in his range only for him to do something totally useless like cast Silence on Camilla. When there is no strategy to deal with status staves except tank them, I really wish enemy AI was more consistent or predictable. Anyway, Ophelia was more than equipped to wipe out the sages in the room by herself, while my other units handled the reinforcements. That just left the final room, with Hans and his goon squad. I opened the doors, baiting out all the enemies except Hans, and then retreated back, kiting them. The beastkillers on the generals meant I couldn't just tank them easily with Velouria or Xander (my bulkiest units), but I was able to tank them with Camilla and Dragonstone+ Corrin. The major waves of sage reinforcements that spawned behind me were a problem, though. Had I known about them ahead of time, I might have left Ophelia far back to handle them solo, but as it stood I had to scramble to clear them on player phase. Ophelia also got frozen by Iago dealing with the reinforcements, which put me in a dire situation. Somehow, with intelligent dual strike attacks, I managed to clear the sages while maintaining my frontline of Camilla and Corrin. Camilla did have to avoid a low percent crit chance from an enemy berserker, but I didn't get screwed by RNG. After the initial panic and with my frontlines re-established, it was easy for Ophelia to snipe enemies safely, and soon I had cleared the initial wave. I baited Hans's squad to attack me over the wall, proccing the reinforcements associated with him while remaining safely out of their range. I managed to draw Hans and one of his annoying Counter/Countermagic generals ahead of the rest of the force and swarmed and killed both before the other enemies reached me. I used my final use of Freeze to safely handle the other Counter/Countermagic general and then cleared out every enemy on the map except Iago. For a boss at the end of an extremely long chapter, Iago really has way too much critical hit chance. Luckily, Ophelia had so much res that she was able to fight him without dying even if he did get a critical, and I took him out and finished the map. Finally, I was at the end of the game. Chapter 27 Cumlord Garon's map is actually absurdly easy despite it very gimmicky setup. I was able to consistently beat it quickly by putting my best units in the rooms to the north and having my units to the south be high movement mounted units like Kana, Nichol, etc. With this setup, I let Kana and Nichol and co get Entrapped into rooms and then immediately flee those rooms without fighting the enemies. While the squad from the top moved south, my strongest units were able to clear their rooms, reach Garon, and kill Garon before it became a problem. It was a good thing I came up with such a consistent strat for this map because I would need to play this map many times over and over thanks to the next map. The only other thing of note to happen in this map is that Niles hit Level 15, giving him Shurikenbreaker. "Damn," I thought. "I wish I had that for Chapter 25." Endgame I knew from my Hard playthrough that this map was a real piece of shit. Chapter 25 had honestly made me dread whether I could beat this map at all. I looked up how other people beat this map and it was always the same story: RESCUE CHEESE! Warp a bosskiller with extremely specific skills to Takumi turn one and then do 25x4 damage to him with a brave weapon to get a one turn kill. Well, that's not my style and I didn't have the appropriate skills anyway. I was doing this the intended way, by trudging straight down the middle and wiping out every enemy in my path. My team was thus: Corrin, Silas, Sophie, Kana, Camilla, Keaton, Velouria, Ophelia, Odin, Elise, Niles, Beruka, Xander, and Rally Man. I had a single use of the Rescue staff remaining, no Freeze staves, and the 4-use Silence staff I got from Chapter 25. If I had more Rescue I think this map would have been very easy. As it stood, I had to somehow deal with the stacking Enfeeble maids without being swarmed by the squads of enemies in their range. Turn 1 I sent Ophelia with Odin pairup straight down to take the four enemies with axes and tomes near the first mage. Her extremely high stats + rally meant she was being attacked with 12% hit rates and one rounded all of the enemies in retaliation. Meanwhile, Elise cast silence and was then danced to silence again, rendering two enfeeble maids silent. The third enfeeble maid was baited into enfeebling a frankly worthless Sophie. I actually got comedically unlucky dodgetanking with Ophelia and she got hit TWICE at 12%, leaving her with very low HP, which meant I needed to waste a turn healing her with Elise and couldn't use Silence on the next turn. On turn 2, I had Camilla kill one of the sages coming from the right, then danced her and flew her down to kill the rightmost enfeeble maid. Nina then rescued Camilla in a way that positioned her to clog up the rightmost corridor, protecting my units from the mage. Ophelia moved to wall of the rest of the corridor, killing one of the two remaining mages. Niles with Shurikenbreaker and Beruka pairup moved to kill the central enfeeble maid. In this position he would also bait out two master ninjas, who had very low hit chances on him. I positioned Velouria to deal with the heroes coming from the left; she killed all three on enemy phase. Niles had a chance with his killer bow to crit one of the master ninjas, but didn't get it. Instead I used Entrap to pull it to me, then killed it and the other master ninja while putting Ophelia in range of the malig knight and paladin squad. She was able to wipe them out easily. My strat had been going well so far but then I made a mistake and accidentally put an unpaired Corrin in range of the general squad near the last enfeeble maid due to some fuckery with the barriers you erect to block Takumi's blastwave. Luckily, Corrin was pretty tanky with the dragonstone equipped and survived the attack, and this had the benefit of drawing the generals up to me. I walled the generals off with Nosferatu Ophelia. As the paired up cavalry moved from the south, I handled them with Velouria, Keaton, and Xander. Clearing out the rest of the enemies, I was ready to move south as the BDSM guys started spawning. I rushed south, killing the last group of enfeeble and hexing rod monks near Takumi, and maxing the guard bars of Ophelia and Camilla in the process. The next turn, Nina cast Enfeeble on Takumi and I sent in Velouria to attack him first. With rally, she took pitiful damage from him, even with Vengeance, and set him up for an easy kill with Ophelia's brave tome and guard bar. Finally I beat the game: No DLC, no grinding, no cheese, and no deaths. Final Thoughts While I appreciate the effort that was made, I think Conquest has some of the worst overall map design in the series. There are only a few maps I would consider actually good design; many of the rest rely on goofy gimmicks or utterly obnoxious enemy setups, which make you feel like you're trying to solve a puzzle rather than fight an army. So many elements the game loves to spam at you, like status staves and debuffed, have no real counter, and constantly make you feel weak. It's an extremely unfun experience, especially compared to Engage. Engage makes you feel powerful, but attaches opportunity cost to your power to force you to still use that power intelligently. The game also allows you to use many different strategies and unit combinations, while the maps are all much shorter and often encourage aggressive play. By contrast, Conquest seemed to encourage slow play, with so many maps devolving into Chokepoint Gaming and ending up taking 20 to 30 turns. (In Engage, I rarely had a map take over 10 turns.) While Conquest is more creative than the no-brain difficulties of H5 and Lunatic+, which don't feel like they were even playtested, Conquest seems to rely on the player really knowing their eugenics. Would I have even beaten this game if I didn't decide to use dogshit Odin or if my friend hadn't told me to pair Keaton with Camilla? Without Ophelia and Velouria I don't know if it would have been possible. Awakening has boring, big empty square style map design, but in some ways that is less bad than some of the horrible maps Conquest throws at you. If you were to ask me to rank the worst maps in the series, many of them would be from Conquest. Thracia 776 is a much better example of interesting map design that doesn't rely on very specific solutions to problems, in a game where low enemy stats and low player stat caps craft a more consistent experience no matter who you decide to use. Frankly, I kind of hope to never have to play Fates again, now that I've accomplished the Conquest Lunatic clear.
  6. Perfect way of putting it. People like a work because of what it's doing right, not the absence of doing things wrong. That's probably why FE7 was so popular compared to 8 or 9 in the pre-Awakening days of the fandom. People liked its more lighthearted tone, its dialogue that felt like a group of friends hanging out instead of a dour tactical deadmarch, and the elaborate mystery elements of the story. That's what mattered to them, and so plot hole stuff doesn't stand out to them. Similarly, Kaga fans find Kaga's serious, political tone appealing, and don't mind the relatively minimalistic writing and characters. Nitpicking every logical inconsistency in a work is easy content to make (see all those aforementioned video essays, Cinema Sins, or my original essay), but doesn't actually engage with why people like or dislike a work. Even the idea of longform media criticism resolving itself into a thesis of either "Thing bad" or, more uncommonly, "Thing good" is a somewhat irrelevant exercise that itself only engages an audience if the audience already agrees with your thesis beforehand. RLM's Star Wars prequel videos broke ground for the format but were able to do so mainly because those prequels were already so universally reviled by Star Wars fans. If you look at early "angry reviewer" content, it's almost always potshots at consensus terrible media (ET the video game or Battlefield Earth or whatever). The modern audience for video essays has expanded enough that more controversial takes are capable of finding an audience. But the fact remains that a video essay on why, say, Steven Universe is bad will primarily be watched by people who already think Steven Universe is bad, with a lot less engagement from people who like Steven Universe.
  7. I'm always interested in the oldhead response to the newer games. When I was working with Mekkah on his FE7 videos I brought up how I thought Shadows of Valentia had an extremely good story and he looked at me like I was nuts. 3H is certainly a level of sophistication in FE storytelling we haven't seen since Radiance saga, and it certainly sticks the landing better than Radiant Dawn did.
  8. In 2011, Fire Emblem 7 (or Blazing Sword) was the most popular Fire Emblem among the tiny pre-Awakening Western fandom. I, however, disliked FE7. And since there's no better feeling than telling people they're wrong, I posted an 11,000-word essay on the subject titled QUINTESSENCE? DONT UNDERSTAND to Serenes Forest. Some controversy ensued. Although I haven't been active in the community since Awakening, I still play the games and check in sometimes to see what people are saying. Recently it seems the general perspective on FE7 has shifted; fans of pre-Awakening FE games tend to consider it flawed compared to the Kaga games or Sacred Stones. The prominent FE YouTuber Mekkah even consulted me to create a series of videos dissecting FE7's story. Obviously, the community is not a hivemind—and it's far larger and more robust now than 2011. I assume plenty would still ardently defend FE7. But given the general shift in opinion I wanted to revisit my original QUINTESSENCE essay. The essay was—pretty obviously—inspired by Red Letter Media's exhaustive videos on the Star Wars prequels. While in some ways similar to the "angry reviewers" who came before (Angry Video Game Nerd, Nostalgia Critic), the RLM videos marked the first time a freelance reviewer made such longform and in-depth content critiquing a pop media story. I wasn't the only person inspired by these videos, and nowadays it's possible to trace the entire medium of the video essay back to them. On any subject, any piece of media, you can go to YouTube and find an hour-long autopsy about why that media SUCKS. This ubiquity caused me to come to a conclusion: If you try hard enough, you can find inconsistencies or illogic in anything. If you yell loud enough, you can browbeat people into thinking these inconsistencies matter. They don't. The reasons why stories are considered "good" or "bad" has almost nothing to do with such details. I'd go so far as to say that these details are a symptom, rather than a cause. People only notice these inconsistencies if they've already lost interest in the story. Indeed, many of these video essayists can talk about something for an hour and not even allude to the real reason they disliked it. To an extent, my QUINTESSENCE essay was the same. The narrative hiccups I analyzed across paragraphs and paragraphs had nothing to do with why I disliked FE7's plot. So what was the real reason? That's what this essay is going to find out. But to do it, I have to talk about the Fire Emblem series as a whole. Thus, I won't start this essay on FE7 by talking about FE7. I'll start it by talking about: 1. Fire Emblem 1 through 6 In many ways, FE7's story is unique within the FE series, which is primarily a byproduct of most other FE games having similar stories. The template is familiar: "A young prince's country is invaded by an evil empire; his father is killed. The prince is thus forced by fate and circumstance to lead an army to defeat the empire, growing his forces over time by recruiting allies to his cause. Eventually, it is revealed that the evil empire is being manipulated by an evil sorcerer, who seeks to revive an evil god. The prince and his army defeat the evil empire, the evil sorcerer, and the evil god in turn, restoring peace to the land." Although many games adjust details, this plot generally fits most of them, and especially the games prior to FE7. 1, 3, and 6 follow it almost exactly; 2 and 4 add a few complications but otherwise deviate very little; and 5, as a midquel to 4, just reduces the scale. Serious fans of the series who have played every or nearly every game usually bemoan at one point or another the sheer repetition of FE storylines, but the constant reliance on this formula has a purpose: it leans on and in turn supports Fire Emblem's gameplay. As a game, Fire Emblem is a tactical RPG in which the player controls an army of units against another army across a series of maps. The tactical elements of the gameplay generally necessitate a plot on the scale of international war, and a main character who is the leader of a national army. The RPG elements of the gameplay (unique stats, progression systems, et cetera) demand individualized stories and personalities for the army's soldiers. Because the target audience is young adults, the protagonist should be young too. So how does a young character come to lead a national army? Make him a prince, and his father was killed, forcing him via birthright to take up the mantle. How do we introduce large numbers of unique characters without overwhelming the player? Design a story where your army starts small and builds over time as you gradually recruit allies, so you can stagger character introductions. The last notable element of the Fire Emblem plot, the evil sorcerer and evil god, serve as a general way to add plot complications and escalate the stakes within a medieval fantasy setting. In 1990, the year the first Fire Emblem was released, this story was revolutionary. Storytelling in video games was still in its infancy, and the narrative-driven games that did exist were primarily RPGs like Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy that followed typical tabletop storylines of a group of heroes questing to rescue a princess or defeat a wicked dragon. Although Final Fantasy II (1988) had already broken ground with a plot more focused on international war and politics, the narrative innovations of FE1 were tailored to its gameplay in a way traditional "questing" RPGs with a limited party size couldn't replicate. There is another gameplay element that heavily impacts how the story of Fire Emblem is written: Permadeath. The main impact permadeath has on the story is its tone. Because any character except the hero can die for real at any time without ending the game, Fire Emblem generally trended toward a more serious, somber tone that treated war with gravitas and dignity. Comparing Fire Emblem to Shining Force (1992), a tactical RPG without permadeath that follows many FE plot beats, emphasizes this point. In Shining Force, comic relief is abundant, the music is cheerful, and the characters have more whimsical designs (centaurs, bird people, robots, and floating jellyfish). Abundant comic relief would be out of place in Fire Emblem, where the player could potentially have witnessed or even contributed to multiple character deaths. Appropriately, in early Fire Emblem games, most of the dialogue is serious tactical discussion between the prince protagonist and his aged, cynical advisor. The advisor character is the second major impact permadeath has on FE's story, although in a more circuitous way. Shining Force, despite being a tactical RPG with grid-based gameplay similar to FE, has almost no in-game discussion of what tactics the player should use for any given map. That's because there's no real need for serious tactics; without permadeath, the player is rarely punished for mistakes. In Fire Emblem, where mistakes matter more, in-game tactical advice is crucial to guide players onto the right path and minimize their frustration. To that end, most early FE games support the young protagonist with an advisor. In FE1, this advisor is Malledus. While Malledus performs an in-game tutorial role, that isn't his only function. He also provides a thematic counterpoint to the protagonist, an element that early FE games would increasingly lean into until their culmination in FE5. The dichotomy between the prince and his advisor is typically one of idealism versus cynicism. The prince is a traditional hero who wants to do the right thing and do it well enough that there are no downsides to doing it. The advisor is more pragmatic, with advice that is cognizant of the permadeath gameplay element. An interaction between Marth and his advisor Jagen in the final chapter of FE3, regarding the four brainwashed princesses protecting Medeus, demonstrates what I mean: Anyone who has played this map in New Mystery knows that murdering those defenseless princesses is by far the easiest way to win, but it is possible to save them from their fate with effort. Early FE games frequently present the player with similar types of challenges, establishing difficult side objectives (saving prospective allies or stopping villages from being razed by bandits) that are optional but presented as "morally correct." Tying new allies and items to these side objectives incentives moral behavior on the part of the player, but the difficulty involved likewise discourages them; both perspectives are accounted for in the gameplay. I recently saw a video by Professor Bopper that argued that permadeath is a powerful narrative tool and that the player should play through and not reset after losing a character, but I disagree with that. I think the dichotomy between playing the game without resetting and playing it "perfectly" has always existed, and dialogues between the prince and his advisor realize that dichotomy within the narrative text itself. A player who resets for a perfect outcome is Marth, whereas the Iron Manners and Professor Boppers of the world are Jagen. The value is not in whether playing one way or another is innately "more fun," but that players are allowed to make decisions that matter and play the game in ways that best suit how they want the story to go. Circling back to my original point, while the story formula of early FE games may come across as generic today due to overuse, the reason that formula exists is to wed the story to the gameplay. Every element of the narrative—plot, character, tone—is in service of the decisions that the player makes as they command their army. That marriage between narrative and gameplay is why the FE template plot has endured as long as it has, even through multiple changes in leadership and direction for the series. That template is foundational to FE's best stories, like Sacred Stones and Path of Radiance. And that template is missing in: 2. Fire Emblem 7 I kind of lied, though. Because at first glance, FE7 does follow the template. Sure, you have to replace "invading nation" with "assassin's guild" and "evil god" with "dragons," but it's more-or-less the same plot, right? Several Fire Emblem games that are bog standard plot-wise have made similar Mad Libs-style substitutions. In FE2, Alm isn't a prince (at first). In FE3, Marth has already been the leader of Altea for over a year. In FE5, there is no dark god to fight. In FE6, Jahn isn't a sorcerer. The difference is that the changes FE7 makes, while not disrupting the high-level synopsis, do significantly affect how the story interfaces with the gameplay. The most obvious difference is that FE7, unlike its six predecessors, is not a story of international war. This change completely recontextualizes the tactical elements of the gameplay in a way that, say, Jahn being a dragon instead of a sorcerer does not. It also has significant impacts on the depiction of the story's main character. Eliwood, who I'll describe as the main character for now, is not a young man forced by fate and circumstance to lead an army. Instead, he is the leader of a small retinue of loyal knights who are seeking answers to a personal, small-scale mystery (Elbert's disappearance). Even as the story increases its scope and stakes, Eliwood and his crew are narratively limited; during the Bern arc, for instance, they are routinely depicted as undergoing stealth missions, suggesting their army is not particularly large or noticeable, nor even an army. In terms of raw realism, the army in any given Fire Emblem game is probably more accurately described as "a retinue of loyal knights" than an "army." Even in the games with the largest playable casts, the army is no more than 50 or 60 soldiers, which would not be considered an army in even the tiniest real wars, medieval or modern. Some FE games skirt this numeric oddity by suggesting that there are large crowds of generic soldiers supporting your forces that are simply not appearing on the map; for instance, in Shadow Dragon artwork, Marth is often shown surrounded by faceless fighters. However, realism is not the problem with FE7's presentation. The problem is how authentic it feels based on the expectations the story and gameplay have established. To the game's credit, the early chapters of FE7 do an excellent job of fostering the impression of a small group of knights against a small group of deadly assassins. The maps are cramped, even claustrophobic, taking up barely more than a single Gameboy Advance screen, and frequently involve high tension Defend objectives in which your soldiers are forced to spread out to cover multiple chokepoints. The introduction of Merlinus as a static unit who must be defended also splits up your army, especially because most early maps will spawn enemies that attack him if you don't leave a bodyguard. The narrative purpose of the map design becomes especially clear if you compare FE7's early maps to FE6's. In FE6, every objective is seize, and maps are designed in a large, linear fashion, forcing you to keep your forces together in one big formation that slowly proceeds to the throne. By constraining your tactics in this way, FE6 promotes the idea of Roy as the leader of a massive army, even if his "army" is the same size as Eliwood's loyal retinue in FE7. Here is Chapter 2 of FE6: https://i.imgur.com/SILe37Y.png This chapter immediately presents the player with a clustered enemy squadron evocative of a traditional military formation. Other than the village and shops behind the starting position, there is only one route, and the main side objective of this chapter (the introduction of Dieck and his mercenaries) is directly on that linear path, ensuring the two groups of playable units combine into one force prior to the final assault on the enemy stronghold. Thus, there is no impetus to split up Roy's soldiers, other than to send the combat-useless Merlinus on a village-visiting spree. The map effectively gives the impression of a pitched battle between two armies. By comparison, Chapter 12 of FE7: https://i.imgur.com/hKbF2Ry.png This map splits up the playable units into two sub-groups, but unlike FE6, these groups are not located on different locations of a linear path. Both sub-groups must fight immediately and the player has to decide whether they should even regroup at all or remain separate, as the enemies near the boss will stream south to fight Eliwood's group head on. The boss himself moves, eliminating the impression of a single primary objective on the map; the actual objective is to rout the enemy. On top of that, this chapter also has a village behind the spawn point, but as there is no obvious non-combat unit to send, the player has to shrink their effective fighting force even further if they want that Secret Book. Altogether, the map's design gives the impression of a few scattered fighters scrambling on all sides, even though the number of units, two split forces, and village behind the spawn are elements similar to both maps. I could outline many more examples from the early maps of FE6 and FE7, including differences in the Laus map in both games, but I'll continue to where FE7 starts to go astray. As the stakes and scale of the story ramp up, FE7 is not equipped to mirror that change while maintaining the union between the game's narrative and its design. For traditional Fire Emblem plots that focus on international war, larger maps with more enemies are enough to suggest the war is getting bigger and bigger. But in FE7, such changes run counter to the narrative of a small retinue of knights against a guild of assassins. FE7's later maps try to maintain that narrative with varied objectives and multiple routes that split the player's forces, but once the maps reach a certain size and enemy totals are 50 or higher, such tricks aren't enough to quash the impression that this is one army fighting another, instead of a small group of knights against an assassin's guild. The claustrophobic sense of immediate danger that allowed a story about mystery and assassins to succeed in the early chapters is lost when you are fighting massive battles on gigantic battlefields, with your larger-than-life heroes mowing down waves of flimsy foes. Consider, for instance, the chapter outside Bern Manse when you are attacked by Vaida. (Unfortunately, due to the Eliwood and Hector Mode split, it becomes difficult to consistently refer to chapters by their number.) On paper, this map has many of the same elements that made the smaller, earlier maps work. It's a Defend objective. Your team is split into multiple groups to suggest that you have been ambushed by the enemy. There is no clear, singular objective on the map; Vaida is an enemy who must be avoided due to her immense power. Enemy reinforcements appear from multiple directions, making efforts to unify your army difficult. However, by scaling up these elements into a larger map with more (and weaker, relative to your own units) foes, the sense of tension evaporates. This map is one of the game's easiest; it generally takes only a couple of turns to get the initial group of enemies under control, at which point your soldiers sit around waiting for reinforcements so they have something to do. Vaida, although dangerous, will do absolutely nothing if you stay out of her range. The chapter ends when Vaida herself gets bored and leaves. When you factor in this chapter's textual narrative, the problems become even more pronounced. Eliwood and friends are established to be incognito―being discovered could cause a huge war with Bern. Nonetheless, they sneak into Bern Manse, increasing the tension caused by the threat of discovery. As soon as they leave, they're ambushed by a powerful and bloodthirsty foe eager to scrap. The text has successfully established stakes for itself, but all of those stakes are thrown out the window when the fight actually starts. A large battle right outside Bern Manse isn't enough to expose Eliwood and friends, the battle itself is a cakewalk, and the "bloodthirsty foe eager to scrap" sits around idly in a corner. The story and gameplay aren't simply separated, they're at odds. The difficulty of scaling up FE7's story in conjunction with the gameplay also introduces narrative issues regarding the recruitment of allies. In traditional FE plots, acquiring allies serves both the gameplay and the story, as it suggests the increased prowess of the main character as a leader of a larger and larger force. But in FE7, the force you command never becomes a stand-in for a large national army, even though you recruit a comparable number of units. When you return to the Dread Isle for the final showdown against Nergal, you are commanding a squad that can ostensibly fit on a single pirate ship. You fly no national banner; in fact, your existence is secret to all nations. Your numbers have gone up, but you have not grown. Additionally, many allies you recruit in FE7―like Dart, Geitz, and Karel―seem to join for arbitrary reasons. Compared to a large international war that impacts everyone in the world, a secretive mystery plotline has far fewer reasons for 50 supporting characters to get involved. Many of the characters in FE1 are generic to the point of speaking not a single line, but as soldiers of countries at war Vyland and Tomas at least have an immediately understandable rationale for being part of your army. The same cannot be said for many FE7 characters. This problem ties into the narrative impact that recruiting allies has on the main character. In FE1, recruiting the Wolfguard represents a military alliance between Altea and Aurelis and demonstrates an increase in scale of Marth's leadership from just a few knights with whom he escaped Altea to an actual army. In FE7, recruiting Dart indicates that Dart "wanted to go sightseeing." Most Fire Emblem games will have a few of these arbitrary recruitments, but in FE7 even characters who have a strong initial reason for joining your army often no longer have a clear reason after the story has progressed a few chapters. Lyn and her Caelin knights initially fight for you to liberate Caelin from attack, but afterward Lyn seems to tag along with Eliwood and Hector out of mere friendship, rather than personal investment in the plot. The lack of narrative importance placed on recruiting allies and growing your army negatively impacts Eliwood's character. Few of the main characters in older FE games are anything but generic heroes in terms of personality, but the union of story and gameplay connects their growth to the player's growth. Eliwood's growth is not connected. Eliwood is not presented, either explicitly or implicitly, as needing to grow as a leader of an army—he is not leading an army at all. And because his personality is not more unique or varied to compensate for this lack, he becomes a static and flat character. Other lords like Marth and Roy, while identical to Eliwood in terms of personality, are imbued with dynamism and even moral nuance by virtue of the gameplay, if not the plot. Eliwood by contrast feels utterly vestigial to a story of which he is ostensibly the hero. What few gameplay metrics of growth might possibly be ascribed to him are ascribed instead to Mark the tactician, a silent self-insert character who has no impact on, bearing to, or even appearances in the actual story. Eliwood's uselessness is hammered home by the story essentially replacing him with Hector as the main character for Hector Mode, causing minimal changes to the narrative text. As an example, consider one formula trope FE7 does retain from the classic FE story: the death of the father. In older games, the father's death occurs either at the beginning of the game or before the game starts, and is the inciting incident for the main character taking control of the army and beginning his personal journey. Eliwood's journey too is initiated by the absence of his father, and yet when his father actually dies after the Dragon's Gate chapter, it does not cause any character change in Eliwood. He is sad, certainly, and the story dwells on his sadness over Elbert's death for a full chapter, even showing art of Eliwood sobbing over Elbert's corpse, but this death for all its pizazz does not have a long-term impact on Eliwood's character. He does not have to grow into the role Elbert had, the way Marth and Roy do for their absent fathers. Once he overcomes his sadness, he is identical to who he was before. The last major change FE7 makes to the traditional FE formula is its elimination of the advisor. In FE7, it doesn't make sense to have a tactical advisor, because the story isn't about tactical warfare. All tactical elements in the story are isolated to the silent Mark, who is a nonfactor in the narrative, and the fortuneteller, who provides direct tactical advice during battle preparations outside the domain of the actual story. Older and more experienced characters like Uther, Athos, and Pent do appear, but their role is typically to dispense lore and tell the protagonists where in the world to go next, not how to command their army. Their role is in service to the plot, but not also the gameplay. With no character filling the advisor role in the narrative, most of FE7's dialogue (outside of the aforementioned figures recounting history) involves Eliwood talking to his friends Hector and Lyn. This change is possibly FE7's most drastic departure from previous FE storylines. Such a significant portion of the dialogue in FE1 through 6 involves the main character speaking to his (older, cynical) advisor regarding tactical matters. The advisor's absence completely changes the tone and character of FE7's story. On a scene-by-scene basis, what FE7's story presents is fundamentally unlike its predecessors. Unfortunately, the characters that replace the advisor often struggle to foster the innate tension that the idealism-versus-cynicism argument did in past games. Lyn, for instance, is not a fundamentally different character from Eliwood in terms of personality. She says little that could not feasibly have been said by Eliwood. Her only notable unique traits revolve around her Sacaean heritage, which rarely manifest in the narrative except when she uses her skillset to track an enemy. But that is a difference in skill, not character, and does little to create a functional dynamic between Eliwood and Lyn. Eliwood already feels vestigial, so Lyn, who is a similar character but even less relevant to the plot, is atrocious in her uselessness. That leaves Hector, who does have a personality complementary to Eliwood. Hector is brash, ill-mannered, and reckless, compared to Eliwood's proper noble politeness. It's not hard to see why Hector became such a popular character among fans of FE7. He stands out, he steals the scenes he's in, and his down-to-earth attitude makes him more relatable to an ordinary audience. However, in my original QUINTESSENCE essay, I mentioned multiple times how Hector's juvenile worldview frustrated me. In that essay, I didn't explain what I meant well, so I'll revisit that point now. Hector's lackadaisical recklessness often undercuts the game's tone. In Eliwood Mode, he is introduced casually killing a soldier who was somewhat rude to him because Hector "was in a hurry." In contrast to Eliwood quaking during battle because he imagines the families of the people he's fighting, this introduction establishes a moral dynamic between the characters. But making light of death in a game where permadeath is a significant feature reduces how seriously the player can take permadeath as a narrative tool. FE7 never feels like a game where your allies can die, even though they can. You can trudge through a brutal map with Guy, Serra, and Lowen left as corpses on the battlefield and watch Hector crack jokes in the next scene. While no FE is without comic relief, it's rare to see this comic relief embodied in such a prominent character. FE7 is the first game in the series that seems to expect that the player is proceeding without any playable character dying, because tonally many of its scenes make no sense otherwise. I mentioned earlier how older FE games present players with a choice in how to play. Whether you kill the princesses at the end of FE3 or save them, the narrative is shaped to accept your decision. The player's gameplay experience fits the story, even though that experience can be radically different for each player. FE7, however, will spend large amounts of time bemoaning the death of a non-recruitable NPC like Leila or Elbert, while being blithely ignorant of the hardships the player might be experiencing in the gameplay. Even if Roy doesn't explicitly mention that, say, Bors just died in the previous map, Roy is consistently portrayed with enough gravitas that no matter when Bors died, Roy doesn't seem to trample over that death with his dialogue. When Hector ends a battle with a quip, it plays poorly if his good friend Matthew just died to the boss. Similarly, Eliwood and Hector's dynamic establishes a moral question that the player has no ability to act upon. How do we treat our enemies? Do we try to prevent needless death, or write foes off as evil and slaughter them without a second thought? Unlike FE5, the player cannot choose to spare enemies; there isn't even a character like FE6's Gale who the player is given a choice to kill or let live. As the narrative develops, Hector's brutish approach to his enemies culminates in his desire to kill Jaffar, but the player doesn't have the option to act on the choices the text presents. Jaffar never appears on the map as an enemy. You can fail to recruit him, or get unlucky on turn 2 of the Ursula chapter and watch him die to a Swordslayer, but you are not given an active role in Jaffar's fate. Thus, while there is a prominent character dynamic and a contrast of ideology between Hector and Eliwood/Lyn, this dynamic has a difficult time exceeding the superficial. Hector and Lyn will bicker, or someone will call Hector a "lout," but these conflicts and contrasts neither manifest in the gameplay nor manage to significantly affect the story. When it gets down to it, Hector is in agreement with Eliwood on how to proceed through the plot. He wants to find Eliwood's father, he wants to defeat Nergal. If Hector and Eliwood's dynamic cannot affect how the player plays the game, then it ought to affect the story. Yet it doesn't. Hector can become the main character instead of Eliwood and the story remains almost entirely unchanged. These are the insubstantial trappings of character conflict; in reality, nothing is here. In its superficiality, in its divorce from the gameplay, FE7's story ultimately failed to engage me. That was why, eleven years ago, I was driven to pick apart every single inconsistency. Of course, many of FE7's numerous plot holes are caused specifically by the story's separation from the gameplay; because the gameplay requires every chapter have an army of enemies to fight, the story will frequently scramble to provide a reason for that conflict at odds with the story's actual goals. After Elbert dies, the next three chapters contain lore-heavy scripts that are suddenly interrupted by a random Black Fang, or mercenary, or bandit attack; eventually, the justifications for conflict become threadbare, and holes naturally appear. Seeing a few holes, one stops taking the story so seriously, and disinterest leads to seeing more holes, and more, until the story looks like a tableau of Swiss cheese. To summarize, the fundamental separation of story and gameplay makes FE7 less interesting than earlier games with far more barebones scripts. That's why I wrote that essay eleven years ago. So why write this one? Opinions on FE7 are more generally aligned with mine now. There's no need to convince a community, to try and change their opinion. The real reason I'm writing this essay is because, despite its faults, FE7 is actually an extremely important story in the history of Fire Emblem. FE7 may have failed on its own merits, but it broke significant ground for Fire Emblem as a narrative-driven game. Many of the unique elements of FE7 that I just outlined as major flaws were revisited in later games, revised, and incorporated gracefully to craft some of the best stories the series has ever told. To understand FE7's place in the franchise, tracing the lineage of where Fire Emblem went after FE7 is as important as tracing its ancestry. It's time to talk about: 3. Fire Emblem 8, 9, and 10 Shouzou Kaga was a constant innovator―when it came to gameplay. One need only look at the last Fire Emblem games he worked on (4 and 5) or the games he made after he left Intelligent Systems (Tear Ring and Berwick Saga) to see that. When it came to story, however, Shouzou Kaga was stuck in a rut. That claim may possibly be the most controversial I've made yet, as a vocal and sizable contingent of hardcore FE fans seem to have placed Kaga, the father of Fire Emblem, on an untouchable pedestal. I myself even praised at length the typical Fire Emblem story formula in this very essay, and primarily criticized FE7's story in light of its deviations from that formula. Additionally, many would argue that FE4 and 5 show significant narrative innovations, delving into much darker and more mature subject matter than previous installments. However, becoming darker and more mature is only a difference in degree. FE1 and 3 were already solemn, political affairs more concerned with national alliances and troop movements than interpersonal strife. Adding detailed royal lineages and infanticide and incest is only leaning more heavily into the same type of story you have already told. The Mad Libs substitutions each game made to the formula were not making fundamental changes to what the story was, and Kaga was either unwilling or incapable of innovating in that regard (and if Berwick Saga is any indication―I'm not so familiar with Tear Ring or Vestaria―he continued this non-trend after leaving Intelligent Systems). Additionally, while the FE formula was an innovative step forward for video game storytelling in 1990, by the end of the 16-bit era Fire Emblem was being left behind by the big RPGs of the time. Video game stories were pushing boundaries via titles like Final Fantasy VI and Chrono Trigger, while Fire Emblem was treading water. What made the FE formula so initially successful―its careful marriage of narrative with gameplay―started to hamper it, because the series was reluctant to make narrative changes unless, like FE4's split-generation system, there was an immediate and clear gameplay purpose for it. The place where the formula really started to suffer was in its characters. The protagonist serving as a colorless stand-in for the player worked well in the NES era, when Mario was king, but the SNES was the time of Sonic the Hedgehog, of characters with attitude and larger-than-life personalities. These characters weren't just player stand-ins; if the player didn't play fast enough to Sonic's liking, he tapped his foot and looked at the player impatiently. In the world of RPGs, characters were undergoing intense personal struggles; Final Fantasy 4's Cecil literally fights himself to purge his sins, while Final Fantasy 6's Celes dramatically attempts suicide after losing all hope. Fire Emblem, meanwhile, presented heroes such as Sigurd and Leaf and Roy, interchangeable young men with personality traits limited to "morally good" and "idealistic" and backstories limited to "father is dead." While these games did try to flesh out the supporting cast more with FE4's romance system or FE6's support system, the majority of your army's members were bland soldiers with personalities defined more by their in-game class than by unique individual traits. Most damning, the scripts themselves remained barebones, only a handful of lines of dialogue before and after each fight, with most of those lines being the explanation of where and why the fight was happening and utilitarian discussion of tactics. Marrying story and gameplay allowed the stories to make the most out of these minimalist scripts, but the sheer lack of text prevented creativity beyond that framework. By the time Kaga left the company during the development of FE6, Fire Emblem had done this same story six times. It was time for change. FE6 reset Kaga's gameplay innovations back to basics. From there, Intelligent Systems demonstrated a clear focus on innovating the narrative. Across the history of the series, FE7 is―with FE12 the only competitor―the installment with the fewest gameplay differences compared to its direct predecessor. It uses mostly the same sprites and mechanics with no notable new features whatsoever. Where FE7 does innovate is entirely within its narrative. In sheer word count, FE7 dwarfs all its predecessors; there is simply far more writing. The need for more words makes sense in a story that is divorced from the gameplay and thus cannot use gameplay to fill the blanks. Plot threads and backstory need to be established that aren't inherently explained by what the player is doing on the map. On top of that, because the characters aren't only talking about tactical advice, they need more dialogue to make them come alive as characters. Mekkah, in his series of videos about FE7's story, ascribes most of its deviations from prior FE storytelling to the lead scenario writer, Kouhei Maeda, who would later become the lead scenario writer for Awakening and Fates. Given the context of the other games Maeda spearheaded and their poor reputation in terms of story, it's easy to put forward an argument whereby Maeda is simply a bad writer who has done little for the series except create its most logically inconsistent, most anime-inspired games. And while I would agree that the three games Maeda wrote are the three black sheep of the family, the three that feel the least "Fire Emblem," the infusion of Maeda's fresh ideas paved the way for better writers to refine his ideas and craft stronger narratives than could have ever existed in a Kaga game. Maeda has an eye for crafting big, emotionally impactful character moments―even if he cannot always stick the landing. I mentioned earlier how Elbert's death falls flat because it doesn't change Eliwood as a character. But when taken in a vacuum, Elbert's death was, at the time it occurred, the most emotional moment that had ever been in a Fire Emblem game. Old FE stories hadn't shied away from killing characters; FE4 famously kills most of your playable cast halfway in. But those stories failed to make those scenes emotional. Consider Hector's death at the beginning of FE6. This death has a significant narrative impact on Roy, because he is appointed the leader of the Lycian army afterward. In effect, it's the classic moment where the young hero is forced to rise to the occasion, the inciting incident that underlies the death of every Fire Emblem father (even if Hector is Roy's girlfriend's father instead). But the scene itself is written with comparatively little emotional weight. Roy's acceptance of the death is nearly stoic, with him saying nothing more emotional than "Lord Hector!" while most of the scene itself is actually expository in nature: If this scene isn't compelling enough evidence because Hector isn't Roy's actual father, the scene where Sigurd watches his father die is slightly more emotionally charged but even more abrupt, with much of it dedicated to expository matters: In contrast to these brisk, semi-expository scenes, Eliwood is shown screaming in despair for Elbert's death. He cradles his lifeless father's hand on the boat ride back to the continent. In the next scene, Ninian and Nils recount Elbert's kindness and courage in an attempt to help Eliwood process his grief. Only after this lengthy series of scenes is out of the way does the story move to an expository discussion of Nergal's goals and powers; and once that scene finishes, Eliwood and Ninian speak privately about Elbert's father once more, at which point Eliwood tells Ninian she is not to blame and thus appears to have finally overcome his own grief. Do the scenes of Eliwood's immense grief matter from the utilitarian perspective of making Eliwood grow as a leader, or moving forward the plot? No. Are they weighty and emotional? Yes. The same goes for the dialogue between Eliwood, Hector, and Lyn, which I described previously as superficial fluff. It's true that none of that dialogue matters to either the plot or the gameplay, but it humanizes those characters in a way that the stuffy, formal lords of games past were never allowed. It makes those characters feel more alive, more relatable, as though you're reading a conversation between your own friends (that is, until someone uses old-fashioned diction like "lout" or "dastard"). With that in mind, I understand now why so many people enjoyed FE7's story. It wasn't just because FE7 was the first game most pre-Awakening fans played. It was because the game had a humanity to it that previous games lacked. That's what Maeda was able to inject into a franchise that until then had been stiff, utilitarian, and political: the human element. FE8, 9, and 10 kept Maeda's emotional ethos while refining its connection to the gameplay. FE8 and FE9 in summary are both blatant returns to the traditional FE plot formula, focusing on international conflicts and young heroes who must rise to the occasion and lead an army against an evil empire/sorcerer/god. But both games are not content to leave that skeleton a skeleton; they flesh out the emotional potency of the formula to its fullest. FE8 (or Sacred Stones), for instance, strongly imbues its villain Lyon with tragedy. It's worth noting right away that FE8's premise of "a former friend who is corrupted by evil to kickstart the plot" is lifted wholesale from a traditional Kaga game, FE3. Yet while the tragedy of FE3's Hardin is explored across maybe three or four lines, in FE8 that drama is front and center. FE8 lingers on flashbacks showing Lyon and the twins as friends before the war (Marth and Hardin meanwhile share a single conversation before Hardin's evil turn), iterates and reiterates the protagonists' feelings about Lyon before and after his transformation, and builds up the mystery around Lyon's involvement until 75 percent of the way through the game (whereas Hardin abruptly shows up sporting an evil sprite in a random chapter early in FE3 Book 2). In writing FE3, Kaga logically understands that there is tragedy in an ally turning evil, but he can't draw out the emotional weight of that concept; his tale is too focused on facilitating the player's journey to deviate for more than a few lines. FE8, which exists in a post-FE7 world where the main character is allowed to emote and say things that aren't directly relevant to the next map, turns this tragedy into the crux of an entire emotional climax. Likewise learning from FE7's mistakes, FE8 takes the tonal dissonance caused by youthful heroes joking around during a war and uses it to its advantage. The aforementioned flashbacks of Lyon and the twins show the characters bantering and bickering, cracking jokes and making light of everything; these flashbacks are juxtaposed with the present, where war has forced the twins to Kaga-esque solemnity. The juxtaposition forces the gravity of the situation to stand out more, deepening its emotional impact instead of making seriousness feel like simply a default state. The twins themselves are also juxtaposed against one another. Eirika follows the traditional FE hero's journey; her country is invaded, her father killed, and although she was neither a fighter nor a commander before, she must rise to the occasion to lead. This puts her in contrast with Ephraim, a preternaturally skilled fighter and commander already, whose introduction has him capturing an enemy castle with three men, but who is reluctant to shoulder the burden of true leadership that his father's death has placed upon him. After all, in attacking Grado directly, Ephraim has shirked his duty in defending his country; in FE8's opening cutscene, Ephraim's dereliction is depicted as "compounding his father's worries," rather than the heroic bravado Ephraim believes it to be. This contrast causes Eirika's traditional position to stand out more in both explicit and implicit ways, magnifying the emotional potency via the narrative where past FE games had been content to lean almost entirely on the gameplay-narrative connection. And unlike FE7, FE8 makes these emotional impacts without putting the story at odds with the gameplay. While Eirika and Ephraim are depicted in contrasting ways, both of their storylines revolve around them growing as leaders of an army. Their journeys thus maintain all of the gameplay connections that made the protagonists of FE1 through 6 dynamic and meaningful to the player's actions. But FE8 was a small game developed by a B team. Most of Intelligent System's main staff was engaged in their most ambitious narrative title yet: FE9, or Path of Radiance. By now, the past two FE titles as well as the studio's other works like Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door (2004) had established Intelligent Systems as the premier RPG and storytelling company among Nintendo's slate of second parties. To live up to this reputation, Intelligent Systems would begin to push the envelope even further with darker narrative-driven titles like Super Paper Mario (2007) and Advance Wars: Days of Ruin (2008); the Radiance saga was no exception to this trend. FE8 told a serious, text-heavy story with emotional impact, but its plot still revolved around magical corruption, undead monsters, sacred stones, and other fantastical elements. FE9 would still be a fantasy story, but its thematic target had far more real-world weight: Prejudice, both on class and racial lines. Earlier games in the series dabbled in these topics, but none made them so central and prevalent in the narrative as FE9, nor treated them with as much nuance and sophistication. By bringing such a serious real-world theme to the forefront, FE9 in many ways aped the more mature direction Kaga had pushed the stories of FE4 and 5. However, unlike the complex realistic political landscape of those games, FE9's theme was one that enabled the narrative to plunge deeper into its characters. In FE4, an individual character and his or her personal reaction to their role in the world is of far less importance than their bloodline and the fiefdom they reign over. By comparison, the political tableau of FE9 is relatively simplistic, with only a handful of nations (and many of those peripheral in importance), but even politically unremarkable characters are given thorough storylines exploring their relationship to the prejudice they encounter or even propagate. FE9 most clearly demonstrates this shift in focus away from serious international politics toward serious interpersonal politics in its most striking and obvious deviation from the traditional Fire Emblem narrative formula. Ike, the protagonist, is not a young prince but a young mercenary, of low birth. Like the tweaks previous games made to the formula, this does not change much of the plot in abstract. The evil nation still invades the good nation, the father still dies, the true purpose behind the evil king's war is still to revive an evil god. In fact, Ike's personal character journey is identical to those of the young princes of games past, and often even more explicitly so. Great emphasis is placed on Ike becoming the leader of the mercenary group after his father is killed; some members of the mercenaries even leave in protest and can only be recruited again later, emphasizing Ike's starting position as a greenhorn who must grow into his role. Later, additional emphasis is placed on Ike rising from leader of a group of mercenaries to leader of an army. Ike's biggest motivation throughout the game is to defeat the man who killed his father, whereas previous games in the series had mostly ignored the question of revenge; when Ike finally does best the Black Knight, it suggests that he has not merely matched his father but exceeded him, serving as a culmination of his character growth. Additionally, Ike has not one but two advisor characters, Titania and Soren, with the former being more idealistic and the latter being cynical. Their advice both instructs the player on how to play individual maps and guides Ike's narrative actions across the story in a consistent way. (FE8 also reintroduced the advisor character in the form of Seth, but Seth rarely if ever gave direct tactical advice useful for completing maps.) Like earlier games, the union of story and gameplay invests the player in Ike's character because the player's development is, to an extent, Ike's development. Unlike earlier games, the repositioning of Ike from prince to mercenary allows him to uniquely interact with the game's overall theme of prejudice, giving him a narrative life of his own that is not solely defined by the gameplay. And unlike FE7, which attempted similar innovations to the formula, Ike's existence as a unique and distinctive character is not at odds with the gameplay. FE9 is able to use the strengths of both Kaga and Maeda's approaches to their full advantage, unifying them in a way that exceeds what either was able to do on his own. It's also able to make more meaningful changes to the Fire Emblem narrative formula and explore narrative angles unfamiliar to the franchise, without eliminating why the formula worked in the first place. At the same time, gameplay innovations like time-gated supports and base conversations allowed the supporting cast, usually constrained by the gameplay to cease mattering to the story the moment they joined the army, to undergo their own fulfilling narrative arcs. (Jill is the primary example of this.) Under the auspices of a consistent thematic focus―prejudice―these storylines often supplement the main narrative in ways the support conversations of past games did not. Fire Emblem finally did it. It finally caught back up with the boundary-pushing RPG narratives that outpaced it during the 16-bit era. FE9 was serious, mature, but also human. It had ample amounts of writing, but also complemented the gameplay and vice versa. It took eight games and a few lead writers to reach this point, but the dry old formula had finally been revitalized. The future looked brighter than it ever had. The game sold like dogshit. Wikipedia describes the game's sales as follows: "In Japan during its opening week, Path of Radiance sold 100,357 copies, selling through 64.16% of its initial shipment. By the end of 2005, the game had sold 156,413 copies. In its UK debut, it reached the top of the GameCube charts. Although no exact sales figures have been published, Nintendo cited the game as being among its successful GameCube titles for 2005. According to the developers, the fact that it was released near the end of the GameCube's lifespan affected sales, but it still managed to help sell the hardware and convinced Nintendo that Fire Emblem had selling power on home consoles." FE9 released in April 2005 (in Japan). Although it put up a respectable opening week, in the next eight months it would sell only slightly above 50,000 copies. For comparison, FE8 released in October 2004, selling 97,842 units on its opening *day* and 233,280 units by the end of the year―only two months later. FE8 was a quick game developed by a B team reusing the engine and visual assets from two games prior. FE9, the studio's golden child, was built from scratch. It transitioned the game―and the studio―to 3D, added full motion cutscenes, and fielded a much larger staff. In short, it cost far more to produce and sold far less. Given that context, it's clear that the talk about how FE9 "convinced Nintendo that Fire Emblem had selling power" is marketing fluff. The excuse about being released at the end of the GameCube's lifespan probably did give Nintendo enough confidence to reuse the engine and most of the assets for FE10, but that game's similar financial failure meant that the narrative-driven direction of the franchise, and Intelligent Systems as a whole, was no longer tenable. It was time for a new direction entirely. Before I continue, I suppose I should discuss FE10's story, because it's kind of a mess in a way that was unique for the series at least until Fates; even FE7 feels more cohesive. FE10 was not the first Fire Emblem to have an unusual development cycle―FE5 being released for the SNES in 1999 raises even more red flags―but the circumstances of its development certainly impacted its narrative. Behind-the-scenes information on Fire Emblem games is always difficult to come by, making much of what I'm saying speculative at best, but it seems clear to me that the decision to split FE9 into two games came very late in FE9's development. As such, FE9 is mostly a complete narrative with a single anticlimactic final chapter; FE10, on the other hand, is a climactic final chapter with an entire game's worth of nonsense tacked on. Plot confusions aside, where FE10 truly suffers is in its characters, as most of them (even the supporting crew) already had complete narrative arcs in FE9, and thus start FE10 lacking anywhere else to go. There are a few exceptions, like Elincia, who if FE9 were a purely formulaic Fire Emblem would have been its protagonist. Because Ike takes over Elincia's "development as a leader" plotline in FE9, Elincia's leadership is able to be challenged during her small arc in FE10. For some reason, the Western release of FE10 cut a lot of the most interesting dialogue exploring Elincia's leadership, but even considering that dialogue, her role in the story as a whole is too tertiary for her arc to feel meaningful, and because FE10 lacks a cohesive thematic direction, she can't even contribute to a greater narrative whole. Micaiah, as a new character, gets some of the traditional Fire Emblem protagonist arc, but her arc is also abbreviated and her rise to triumph too short to succeed the way similar characters had in the past. Those two are only side characters anyway. Ike is the main character again, except he's already a great leader, so he has nowhere else to go as a character. FE10 digs up his old nemesis the Black Knight to retread some of the same ground FE9 already tread, but it's hollow repetition that adds little beyond unmasking the Black Knight's true identity. (Said true identity is not important to Ike as a character.) The need to fill space, and also bring back every character from FE9, causes this confused mess of plots that leaves FE10 disjointed and purposeless until its final act. These issues don't strike me as a change in narrative focus, only technical struggles given the unusual conception of FE10 as a whole. The gigantic scale and the melodramatic gauntlet of tragic final bosses in the climax indicate that FE10 was, as best as it could, following the cues placed for it by FE9. The storytelling goals were to combine the human with the political, to tell a story that both complemented the gameplay but also spread out to tell a story with real ambition beyond utilitarianism. FE8, and even more so FE9, succeeded in those goals. That success came at the cost of profit. Which meant it was now time for— 4. FE11 through 13. All of Intelligent Systems, not just the Fire Emblem franchise, was struggling. The dark, narrative-driven Advance Wars: Days of Ruin sold poorly, which would kill that franchise for over a decade. And while Super Paper Mario actually sold better than any game in the Paper Mario series before and since, the game received (unjustified) fan backlash and, according to rumor, invoked the ire of Shigeru Miyamoto, who (again according to rumor) restricted Intelligent Systems from creating new Mario characters in future Paper Mario titles. Paper Mario became a shell of itself, and for the next six years, Fire Emblem was relegated to a couple of dry remakes of the early games, mostly graphical updates with a few new mechanical features and some sparse additional scenes. There's nothing to say about FE11 (Shadow Dragon). But FE12 (New Mystery), freeing up some budget and development work by reusing nearly all of FE11's graphical assets, made one narrative innovation of interest. Of interest because it would serve as the testing ground for the franchise's future, and of interest because it was, in fact, not an innovation at all. It was taken directly from FE7. It was the player avatar character. In my long discussion of FE7 in both my previous essay and this one so far, I have spoken only cursorily about Mark the tactician, a silent avatar who directly stands in for the player more than even the most milquetoast lord. Earlier, I dismissed Mark as serving only to separate the tactical elements of the gameplay from the narrative experience of the main characters, while having an almost nonexistent narrative impact himself; this is an entirely correct assessment that I will not revise. Like many of FE7's narrative innovations, it is an innovation poorly implemented and poorly understanding of how it affects the balance of story and gameplay in Fire Emblem. FE12 implements the player avatar into the story, giving them a face, a role, and ample dialogue. While these changes don't fundamentally change FE3's story (it often feels like a fanfic that just retells the original story but with a random OC standing around and commenting on the action), they did set the stage for Fire Emblem's monumental resurgence as a franchise. Fire Emblem had never seen a character like Robin before. The most fascinating thing about Robin is that they are, in fact, a character. This isn't Mark or My Unit. Robin threads an almost outrageous needle, being both a self-insert and fundamentally core to the story of FE13 (Awakening). FE13 tends to get a terrible reputation among people like me, people who started playing Fire Emblem in 2005, but while it's easy to dig in and eviscerate the plot's tenuous logic, like FE7 it does a lot of things right that had never before been done in the franchise. FE7 struggled because its narrative had little do with its gameplay. Not only did this make the gameplay less narratively meaningful, but it led to FE7 needing to stretch its narrative in odd directions to explain a steady stream of tactical maps. Furthermore, it's difficult to pin down what FE7 is about thematically. While even the most basic early Fire Emblem can lean on being a "coming of age story about a young man becoming a leader," FE7's attempt to deviate from the formula meant it lost that core arc without replacing it with something else. FE13 also moves away from that core arc, although not entirely. Chrom retains many of the familiar elements of a classic Fire Emblem protagonist, for instance. But Robin's arc is completely different while also being a fundamental aspect of Fire Emblem's gameplay. The word used again and again in FE13 is "bond." The game is fundamentally concerned about the bonds between units. This aspect of Fire Emblem's gameplay had been introduced as early as FE4 and only grew in relevance across all of the games I previously mentioned. In FE13, though, developing bonds between characters was emphasized in both the gameplay and the story simultaneously. The support system is more robust and more important than ever before, as many units cannot even be recruited without other characters first reaching a max support rank. The pair-up system brings these support elements into the tactical minutiae and heavily incentivize supports as never before. And in the narrative itself, Robin's character is defined by their bonds with their allies; it is these bonds that ultimately allow Robin to prevent the fate of Grima's continual resurrection. It's easy to read FE13 allegorically: The plot is about an ancient evil that keeps coming back, and so too was the Fire Emblem story formula told and retold again, every time a new dark god there to threaten the land, defeated in the end only to manifest once more in the franchise's subsequent installment. (The game's general celebration of the Fire Emblem franchise with characters like Tiki and Anna, ample references to earlier games, and the ability to recruit old characters via DLC, add to this allegorical lens.) Robin and their friends, through the bonds they forge, are able to break free from this vicious cycle. Similarly, by changing the core thematic arc of the franchise from "young prince becomes a leader" to "young tactician makes friends," Maeda accomplished what he tried and failed to do in FE7 by finally steering Fire Emblem in a completely new direction. This direction is probably what annoys so many old fans about FE13, while also being what caused the game's explosive popularity among new fans. A mostly lighthearted tone, pumped with ample comedic relief, is far less out of place in a story that often feels more like a dating simulator than a political drama. The joking, down-to-earth conversations that Eliwood, Hector, and Lyn had in FE7 are given new life in FE13's script, no longer jarringly out-of-place but active contributors to the story's themes of bond-building and friendship. Maeda took what didn't work in FE7 and made it work in FE13. (It helps that Casual mode also allowed Maeda to more realistically expect that these lighthearted moments aren't directly contradicting a tragic character death in the gameplay.) Obviously, some people prefer a serious political drama to a teenage slice of life. Hence the significant blowback from old Fire Emblem fans; this new style was simply not what they liked about the franchise. But the new style was internally consistent in a way FE7 was not. That's why the game worked, that's why it became so popular. And without the failings of FE7, I find it hard to believe that Maeda could have adjusted course and stuck the landing with FE13. The franchise has continued since then. I could talk about FE14 (Fates) or FE16 (Three Houses), and I think I'd have some interesting things to say about both of them: How FE14 failed due to a lack of a cohesive creative vision, how FE16 takes FE7's slice-of-life mystery plotline and successfully expands it into a political war story in a way FE7 failed to do. I could even talk about the ethos behind the significant additions to the story of FE15 (Shadows of Valentia), and how that ethos demonstrates a clear evolution from the ethos of Kaga's games. But this essay is now reaching the 11,000 word total of my original essay, and I believe I've made my point. I still consider FE7 a narrative failure. I still consider it a bad story. But its failure stems from an attempt to do something new and not fully understanding how to execute on that vision, and the franchise would take its narrative innovations and build on them to not only craft some of the best Fire Emblem stories in FE8 and FE9, but also to save Fire Emblem as a whole from financial ruin in FE13. While Kaga is king in hardcore Fire Emblem fandom circles, Maeda deserves more credit for his eye for emotional moments (both happy and sad), which elevate Fire Emblem beyond the dry, barebones plot formula that Kaga never moved on from. Kaga, successful, never needed to push his narratives past their basic confines (despite the constant pressure he placed on the gameplay). Maeda, failing, had to grow. And he did.
  9. I checked a different Fire Emblem Wiki. Thanks for the help!
  10. Hello, where might I find the FE1 script in English? I don't mean a translation patch, I just want the script. I checked both Serenes and the Fire Emblem Wiki, but found nothing. I need it for an essay I'm writing about Fire Emblem narratives.
  11. I'm always surprised whenever you actually exist on SF

    1. Show previous comments  3 more
    2. Sunwoo


      I see. You're just not super active on SF anymore?

    3. General Banzai

      General Banzai

      Guess not, one day I will finish Thracia UV though

    4. Sunwoo


      You probably should finish that, yeah. I started reading it some time ago and it's pretty funny.

  12. FE4 sux Map design and character balance kills the whole thing, but it also has a lousy story too
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