I’ve been playing Fire Emblem ever since I first got my hands on Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame, (or just “Fire Emblem” for us Westerners) on the Game Boy Advance in 2003. I am a massive fan of the series, and often contemplate throwing down $80 on Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon just so I can say I’ve played it. Lately however, I’m having an internal power struggle with one of the game’s main features: permadeath.
Let me give you just a bit more background of my history with the series, just so I can come across with some credibility on this:
- Fire Emblem, 2003, Completed Game
- Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, 2005, Completed Game
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, 2005, Completed Game
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, 2007, Partially through, on Backlog
- Fire Emblem Awakening, 2013, Sister has my copy! Chapter 16: Hard/Classic mode with so many Paralogues left to do. LadyRer has already finished the game, so jealous!
Okay, so there’s my history in it’s entirety. You may notice a trend here as well. As I’ve grown up, completing Fire Emblem playthroughs has become more difficult. Back in High-School, I could justify wasting hours on end taking Ike and the Greil Mercenaries across Tellius, and through trial and error eventually bringing peace to the world. The only unit I lost in the entire run was Boyd, and that was on the last mission of the game, as I hadn’t realized Ike was the one who needed to fight him. To this day I still consider that a stain on my record of beating Fire Emblem games without casualties.
All of my life I had gone through the motions of constantly resetting my Fire Emblem games. With limited experience and items available, I would always take far riskier strategies when it came to last-hitting enemies. Relying on early game pre-promoted units is a common trap that a lot of people fall prey to, and knowing this I’d take the time to level up units that are incredibly weak early on, who eventually turn into powerhouses in the late-game via better stat growth rates. Here’s the thing though: Awakening spoiled everything.
In Awakening, suddenly now you’ve got Risen camps all across your map, tons of Paralogues to enjoy on the side, and DLCs that literally throw EXP, gold, and items onto you. This was actually one of the primary reasons I never ended up finishing the campaign in a timely manner, I went nuts with leveling folks up, maxing out Support Ranks, obtaining new children, etc. I loved it. I loved the freedom that such a system provided, and I felt like I wasn’t going to be forced into a situation where I’d have to pick and choose the characters I got to know and grow fond towards.
Now fast forward to present day, and I’m playing Conquest, the literal polar opposite. I’m back to extremely limited EXP gains and gold amounts, needing to pick and choose the various units I choose to play with (let alone their Support ranks!), and maps that, while fair in design, are very unforgiving to even the most minor of mistakes or miscalculations. So here we are, at the crux of my internal struggle: resetting sucks.
There’s two situations that come to mind when I’m forced to reset a map. The first one is the simple aspect of knowledge. Akin to Dark Souls, the next time I play this map, I know where to prepare for a second wave of reinforcements, or when Takumi is going to use a Dragon Vein to drain all of the water off of a map and hit me with suddenly very mobile ground troops. These kinds of situations don’t tend to bother me very much. Learning is part of the game, and map design throwing curve balls at me keeps things interesting. I appreciate the complexity behind such design.
However, as an adult with limited time in the day, nothing feels worse to me than giving up 90 minutes of my day for, effectively speaking, shitty RNG. Nyx misses a 94% chance to hit with fire magic on an Archer, that would have killed him, and now suddenly either she, or any of my flying units not at full health, are immediately dead. Facing against a ninja with a 1% chance to crit, and wouldn’t you know it, I’m suddenly hit for 38 damage and am again, immediately dead. It’s pretty much the worst. You don’t plan on 1% criticals affecting your decision making, honestly how could you? Conquest doesn’t allow you to play timidly, it’s do or die. Unfortunately, death seems to come knocking at the most inopportune of moments.
I kept track of my record on various chapters throughout Conquest thus far. I had to reset on Chapter 6, the branching choices chapter, three times. That map only has 5 enemy units on it, and I had to reset three times! Still, I wasn’t going to let that stop me right? I continued my run on Classic, and was proud to have fulfilled all of the bonus objectives available thus far. I was feeling confident, and proud. My arrogance would be my undoing in Chapter 10 however.
Chapter 10 is the one I’ve briefly alluded to earlier. To keep spoilers to a minimum, it’s a “defend these points” map against an overwhelming force, with optional villages you can visit that give you either sums of gold or stat boosting items. Given Conquest’s limited gold availability and experience, these are must-haves. I played through this map nine times. One of those was learning the mechanics of additional reinforcement waves and Takumi’s ability to drain all of the water off of the map. The other eight were a combination of RNG really screwing me, or a mistake in planning on my part. This map features waves of Sky Knights attempting to reach the point I had to defend. If they do, and they did, it is an immediate loss. It took me over 6 hours to beat this one map. Chapter 10 would be a turning point. It would be when I swapped from Classic, to Casual.
So many mixed emotions flood into my head at the very thought of playing a Fire Emblem game on Casual. No longer is permadeath an issue. If RNG should strike me down, the only thing I’m losing is potential EXP gains on that particular character for the rest of the level. Sometimes it’s okay to write that off and continue, and other times it’s not, but at least now I have some semblance of power in that choice. I’m not penalized by losing all future interactions with that character.
I can still play my same style of risky decisions and stratagems for later gains, but now if the first 11 turns go off without a hitch and disaster strikes on turn 12 from a miscalculation or random critical, there’s a buffer. I’ll still reset a map if I know I did something incredibly stupid, and I openly refuse to just throw characters to the wolves temporarily in order to cheese various maps for easy wins. I’m not varying my game play decisions based upon the fact that “oh well they’ll just come back”.
On the other hand, I’m betraying my history with this series. I’m betraying my attempts at flawlessly completing Fire Emblem games with no casualties. Path of Radiance didn’t have a casual mode. When I lost Boyd, I was crushed, the feeling of loss for a beloved character was powerful and moving. It is unquestionably a defining trait of the entire series. Kat Bailey of USgamer makes a strong argument that more people should try it out. Yet, that feeling of loss is now something I’m skirting around by playing on this more forgiving mode, and a small part of me, as much as I don’t want to admit it, detests that I’m doing this.
Many players have made strong arguments for both game modes. One I found especially appealing to me personally was that going to Casual from Classic isn’t necessarily admitting you’re incapable of beating the game, it’s not the same as admitting you need to go from Hard to Normal difficulty. Instead, it’s an admission that the very concept of hard resets in games is something that is no longer feasible to your lifestyle. Then again, maybe that’s just my brain looking for a justification or an outside perspective for my own inner struggle.
As I’ve been writing this, I’ve come to the conclusion that during my playthroughs of Birthright and Revelation I will go back to my Classic roots. However, I’ve realized that the only reason I’m comfortable doing so is that those game modes lack the restrictions that Conquest offers. I’ll be free to turn my various characters into super soldiers on my own time again, outside of the main campaign’s map designs and challenges. Is that in itself a betrayal of my past goals with this series, or merely using the games offered devices to their fullest potential advantage? I’m not sure I’ll ever have a hard answer to that question, though I am curious what other folks think.
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