One of my favorite characters in any videogame is a rambling crazy ax swinging dude with red hair who gets really excited about being a knight. He also was a completely optional character who had uttered only approximately 20 lines of dialogue in 12 hours of gameplay. I was a huge fan of how zealous he was in his duties, and that he swung an ax around on horseback. He also happened to get stat growths that made him nearly impossible to kill. And I also just kind of liked his design.
This is pretty par for the course for Fire Emblem. Each game gives you the opportunity to recruit a colorful and massive army of anime misfits for brutal, grid-based, turn-by-turn combat. Almost all of them are optional, and very few have any bearing on the plot. They aren’t terribly complex or nuanced at first glance: most of the characters can be boiled down to a few key traits. Fire Emblem units are memorable because of the tight focus on their characterization. You can create a balanced army, but inevitably your favorite characters will sneak in there regardless of stats.
Here’s the basic formula to create a Fire Emblem Character:
- Choose a crazy hair color. Pinks, greens and blues are popular choices.
- Pick a character class archetype: Archers, Knights, Mages, etc.
- Give them a memorable character trait or flaw that defines their whole debut dialogue while firmly establishing them as a good guy. Insatiable hunger and clumsiness are solid mainstays.
- Have amazing art that makes them look super cool/cute/weird
Let’s take a look at a few examples
Joshua (FE 8): Red-haired mysterious swordsman who likes to gamble
L’Arachel (FE8): Blonde, high energy princess who heals stuff and yells a lot
Dart (FE7): He’s a pirate! He also hits people with axes and has a bandana
Lethe (FE 9&10): Orange haired sassy cat girl
Ike (FE 9&10) Blue Hair. Swords. Fights for his friends
Brooding Swordsman (Every Fire Emblem Ever): Is really angry for some reason, stabs people with a sword
You get the point. But there’s nothing actually wrong with these simple characterizations. In fact, it’s what makes the characters so memorable. You literally have to remember like 4 things about them. Instead, you’re more worried about how they perform and grow gameplay-wise, sweating bullets when the cool spear lady riding a flying horse is about to get hit for massive damage and die forever. After picking your initial favorites based on these characterstics, seeing how they perform and grow under your strategic hand is all the more rewarding.
Normally, most games strive for such strong yet simple characterization, but Fire Emblem holds a little extra for those willing to dig further. The games feature “support” conversations with other units that tease out a lot more depth from these characters, but these are completely optional and the game mechanics are such that you often don’t get to see too many without really going out of your way. For example, in at least a few Fire Emblems, you have to have two characters stand next to each other for 120 turns to see what amounts to 30 lines of dialogue total. They don’t get incredibly complex, but support conversations give us a little more precious detail into each character. Even more noteworthy is that they take what you know about that character and have them interact with the key traits of another one. Fire Emblem writers know what we like about our favorite units and reward us for seeking more out.
Examples of Support Conversations:
Serra & Erk (FE 7): What happens if a peppy pink haired priestess interacts with a serious, duty bound mage?
Innes & L’Arachel (FE 8): Icy pretty boy archer gets hit on aggressively by gregarious green-haired staff-wielding princess
Kieran & Oscar (FE 9 & 10): Hot-headed and competitive knight as the passionate yet unknown rival of a fellow cheery relaxed yet talented knight
Soren & Ike (FE 9 & 10): Friendless guy and guy who makes a million friends become friends. Friendship ensues.
Building friendships and romances between our handpicked favorite little anime soldiers of death only serves to strengthen our attachment. Their fundamental traits are still the same, but knowing just a little more can be fun too. It’s kind of like Overwatch- lots of cool looking characters that play differently that have backstories if you bother to dive in.
In a normal playthrough, most players won’t learn much more about Joshua other than he’s a badass and is deceptively hard to kill. There’s more to him than that, but you don’t need to know it to enjoy the game. There’s character depth for those looking for it, but no matter how you play, you can just pick your favorites and go on your merry way cutting a bloody swath through armies of faceless and far less quirky soldiers.