A few weeks ago, I wrote an article on my confusion over why so many people liked permadeath in Fire Emblem. A lot of people gave a lot of really interesting reasons for why they liked it, and that, alongside Fire Emblem Echoes’ excellent gameplay, inspired me to try playing differently. I had a richer experience for it.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia adds this ingenious little mechanic called Mila’s Turnwheel, where you can go back and change your actions to prevent units from dying. If you’ve ever played chess with a computer and it’s given you the option to go back and fix your mistakes, it’s kind of like that. The only difference here is that the number of times you can use Mila’s Turnwheel is limited, so you can’t just spam it.
The ingenious thing here is that Mila’s Turnwheel is like a gateway drug for permadeath. I selected casual at the beginning, but for the first two acts, I played like it was on permadeath mode. Completely resetting the game and getting back to the point where you were can take lots of precious time, but Mila’s Turnwheel helped me think more critically about positioning, units, all that jazz, while not taking up much of my time.
Then came the second Zofian forest battle.
The battles up to this one were getting seriously tough, but this was the first one to really put me in a standstill. I was overwhelmed by all of these enemies on horseback that could chase all of my weaker units down and completely slaughter them. In previous Fire Emblem games, I’d go “well, that sucks. Guess I’ll have my strongest character just deal with all of them while all my other units die.” But this time, I did the very thing that I had been so baffled by when I saw other people do it: I reset the game.
It wasn’t enough to use Mila’s Turnwheel. If I didn’t think of a strategy from the very start, I was going to have most of my team slaughtered. I had the game set on casual, but I still just wanted to win without losing anyone. First, I headed back to the last town to buff up all of my weapons. I never touched the forge back in Fire Emblem Fates because I knew I didn’t need it to power through in casual mode. But in order to win without casualties, I needed to change the way I was playing and actually use all of my resources.
Eventually, after losing time and time again, I looked up a guide. But the win still felt earned. The guide gave me tips on how to beat them, but it was almost like a chess strategy book. There’s no way to tell you how to win, since there’s RNG and differing stats. But it gives you strategies to deal with the problem that can help not only with the immediate battle, but with those to come.
I’ve been learning certain maneuvers that are instrumentally helpful in Fire Emblem, many of which are thanks to readers’ suggestions! One of them is that if I send a unit with really high HP and/or defense to the outer edge of the enemy range, that unit will take a little damage but leave the rest of the enemy open to attack from all of my other units on my next turn. The strategy that I had to learn for the second Zofian forest battle was that I could “wall” my squishier units. I’d essentially put three of my units that could take the brunt of the damage on each side, and then have my squishy units safe inside their little bubble. I’m also learning that I do not have to attack every time I see an opportunity to do so. Oftentimes, the best strategy is to get the enemy to come to you.
This is just stuff that I never stopped to think about in the previous two games, despite how much I enjoyed them at a surface level. And it’s not just Mila’s Turnwheel that’s helped me get into actually playing the game “right.” Having statues at Mila and towns stationed throughout the world where you can’t upgrade items or units at any time you want was actually really helpful for me. If the option was open for me all the time in between battles, I might not know when the best time to upgrade would be. But this way, it’s just a part of the process. And the shorter battles mean that I’m not losing a ridiculous amount of time every time I reset.
With that said, I think I’ll probably go back to letting units die once I get to Act 4. I hear that the game gets pretty hard, and I don’t want the opposite thing to happen for me where it’s not fun at all because I’m not making any progress. But maybe I’ll set up a rule where only one or two units can die, and I’ll reset if it’s any more than that. That way, I can give myself some leniency while also preventing myself from getting too sloppy, the way it happened in Fire Emblem Fates.
In the article I mentioned at the beginning of this one, I wrote about how I didn’t understand how anyone played Fire Emblem with permadeath if they had less than 500 hours of experience with the series. I’m going to revise that: For myself, I think I’ll be truly ready for permadeath once I’ve played five Fire Emblem games. And if you count Fates as three games (which I do), that means that I’ll be at five once I beat Echoes. I don’t think I’ll do permadeath in Warriors just because of how radically different that is from core Fire Emblem, but I’ll finally give it a shot once proper Fire Emblem comes to Switch in 2018.