I finally understand the appeal of Fire Emblem.
Wait… No. That’s wrong. Let me try again.
I finally understand the appeal of Fire Emblem: Alternate Universe Coffee House Fiction.
There. That is much better.
Fire Emblem is an RPG franchise that, much like Final Fantasy, has a tendency to completely reinvent the world every other game or so. Whereas there are always recurring themes, names, and swords, Fire Emblem has more than its fair share of sequels that ignore everything that has come before. In other words, if you got really attached to Green Hair the Axe Guy because he appeared in Fire Emblem 1 and Fire Emblem 2: The Next Day, I have bad news, because Green Hair doesn’t exist in Fire Emblem 3, and is now forever relegated to an occasional cameo in Fire Emblem: The Musical. In a way, this makes perfect sense, because RPGs are generally world-spanning, epic stories that involve practically an entire planet’s population of notables battling against each other, so there is not that much you could do with a sequel. Either you create a planet where there is a world war every six months, or you move on to another universe/continent/epoch, and disregard everybody from the last adventure.
But the Fire Emblem franchise is hit particularly hard by this tradition. In the Final Fantasy universe, the most playable characters that have ever been available in one numbered entry is fourteen. This occurred in Final Fantasy 6, and if we are being honest about that “gigantic” cast, at least three of those weirdos were practically non-verbal. Beyond that outlier, the average Final Fantasy party seems to involve approximately six notables, with some games including an entire cast that could best be described as “anonymous”. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem Awakening had 28 playable characters, and that was nowhere near the maximum number of characters in a Fire Emblem title. Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem had 81 playable characters, with such unforgettable luminaries as red bald guy and green bald guy. That works out to five times the number of characters you would use in the largest Final Fantasy cast, but with a roughly 0.67% chance that you will ever see your favorite unit ever again!
And, in the event you have never played a Fire Emblem title, even the earliest games in the franchise “accidentally” made you care about even the dumbest farmer going to war equipped with a hoe. Fire Emblem has always employed its notorious “perma-death” system, so if a unit gets kicked into next week by a flying horse, they are never coming back. There are no “revives” or “phoenix downs”, a spear to the skull has the exact same consequences in Fire Emblem Land as it does in the real world. And, for reasons that may be similar to Stockholm Syndrome, this creates a bond between player and characters. These are not interchangeable pieces on a chess board! These are your loyal warriors, and their lives and futures will end if they are not steered around their land correctly! No wonder so many people love Green Hair Axe Guy. They all have tender memories of raising him from when he was but a level 1 infant.
And that’s before the franchise learned how to really emotionally manipulate its audience…
Today’s game is not Fire Emblem: Three Houses, but it is absolutely based on that title. FE:3H is once again a Fire Emblem “world reboot” wherein the whole cast was exclusively created for that adventure. And, while there may be a few “echoes” here and there, these are unique characters. The basic plot is that “you” are Byleth, a green-haired weirdo that has been living in a cabin with her fake dad all her life, and, in this universe, that apparently earns you a teaching degree. Now an instructor at the prestigious Officers Academy, you will adopt one house of eclectic teens, and teach them the ways of war (or they’ll mostly teach you, because that’s how tutorial sections work). A relatively short period of time later (in play hours, not plot hours), war breaks out, and you are slotted into place as a sort of general of your large, adult children fighting and conquering across the continent. And, of course, the other houses that were floating around the academy are rival armies, and we have a lovely tragedy wherein former classmates are now fire emperors poking out eyeballs. In the end, your “house” will be guided to victory, but the destruction sewn across the land to get there will leave the indelible impression that war is hell (and dragons should stay in their lanes).
And why will FE3H have such an impact? Because those titular Three Houses are populated by a bunch of loveable weirdos. Each house has eight members, and each of those people have more personality ticks than Batman’s rogues gallery. While some of the physical designs may not be that diverse (let’s be real here: the women are not allowed to have a body type other than “skinny”. Show me a “female Raphael” and I’ll rescind this comment), every house member’s personality is distinct to a fault. No one is ever going to mistake the impishly indolent Hilda for the outgoing Dorothea, and it is not just because one of them has a cool hat. And beyond their quirks, you are encouraged throughout FE:3H to spend your leisure time with your students, and take an afternoon sipping tea when the battlefield is closed for maintenance. So even if “whacky dude with red hair” isn’t your immediate cup of tea (ha!), you are encouraged to bond with all of the personalities in your house, and maybe you’ll come around on appreciating his womanizing ways. Or maybe you’ll value him more when he bonds with other characters, and you get to be an omniscient bystander that experiences even more ways these digital people are just as real as any of your flesh friends.
And after a while… It is hard not to want a better world for these weirdos.
There are three sets of eight characters available for your game-long gang. While you can scout and poach some luminaries from other teams, in general, if you have your set of eight, that means the other sixteen will eventually wind up your enemies. And, since death means something in the Fire Emblem universe, it is very likely your friends-turned-rivals are going to expire on the pointy end of one of your swords. As the saying goes, you can’t save everybody, and even if you protect your posse perfectly, you are still going to have to murder a house leader or two on your way to your own happy ending. There is no ”best route” for saving everybody, and, unfortunately, if you have already experienced the “house story” of another group, you are going to have to murder some old friends. Sure, “your” Byleth doesn’t remember once petting cats with Dimitri, but you do, and you cannot do a thing about how now his corpse is the only thing that is going to save your current crop of comrades. There are no bad guys in the Fire Emblem: Three Houses houses (I said “guys”, there may be some bad dragons), but if you want anyone to have a happy ending, some people are going to have to have some very bad endings.
And, while the Warriors series found a way to give one franchise a happy ending in spite of its sad prologue, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes does not grant a happier universe to anybody.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes makes a bold move right out of the gate: the protagonist of Fire Emblem: Three Houses appears to be the main antagonist of FEW:3H, and our new protagonist is a complete unknown with a matching completely unknown voice in their head. Our new hero, Shez, is a mercenary like Byleth, but they become a student, not an instructor at that same prestigious academy. Unfortunately, the significant deviation ends there, as, no matter what, “you” and your fellow students are swept into a continental war, and brother versus brother and yada yada yada. Like “before”, the main character is evidently the deciding factor in turning the tide of this war, and the house that they grace with their presence is the ultimate victor, while the other factions are either murdered or lobotomized (long story). So, once again, whether you uncover Byleth’s new secret origins and save them or not, approximately 66% of the cast must have bad time in this overarching plot, and the other third is forced to slaughter their former classmates.
And let’s do the math on this one: both games encourage “different route” playthroughs… and there are three houses/hopes… Yes, I think I’ve got it: If you fully complete both games, you have watched a group of likable teenagers/young adults suffer through untold tragedy six whole times.
So you know what? I’ve watched Dimitri victorious and eternally suffering. I could live with seeing him work at a coffee house! I could be cool with him and Edelgard having a love/hate relationship over lattes. I could see Mercedes being the store mascot dog for some reason, because then at least she wouldn’t have to endure an endlessly looping war for the rest of her existence. Let these characters that are strategically designed to be likable lead lives that are something other than infinite hardship! Create some fanart of Ignatz and Lorenz in a world that isn’t in turmoil right now, or Claude will have to pilot the Eva again!
I get it, okay?! The Fire Emblem Three Houses/Hopes world is one of misery, and these dudes and ladies deserve better. Go give them some happy endings.
SBC #11 Byleth & Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
Byleth in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate
- She any Good? For the record, we will be assessing this Smash incarnation as True Byleth, and not Boy Byleth. With that out of the way, Byleth doesn’t feel like your typical Fire Emblem character (that is to say, Marth), and she has a fun toolkit with all of her students’ sacred weapons. My only complaint is she has a grappling recovery, which is… unpleasant when you expect something else to save you.
- That final smash work? Unless you really wanted to see Sothis appear in some capacity, her final smash is kind of boring. It’s canonical or whatever, but something like Mega Man’s menagerie being replicated with all three houses banding together for a strike would have been more triumphant.
- The background work? Garreg Mach Monastery is one of those DLC stages that feels like Smash Bros only had one chance to represent this game, and they had to cram damn near everything in there. See also every DLC stage in Super Smash Bros Ultimate. And, unfortunately, since most of the locations involved are just flat and dull, this tour of Garreg Mach is rather boring. At least that guard dude is there…
- Classic Mode: A Heroic Legacy is the last hurrah of a cast filled to the brim with Fire Emblem representation. Marth at Hyrule Castle (just like his debut) is appreciated, and two versions of Ike is at least amusing. And the house trio of Byleths just makes me long for a “Pokémon Trainer” version of Byleth that cycled through her young charges. And it is all worth it to see the whole gang take on Master Hand and die in one hit. Sorry guys! You were disposable units!
- Smash Trivia: Byleth is the only character on the roster to originate from a game that was released after the initial release of Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Corrin and Roy also both derived from games that were released after their Smash debuts, which is particularly impressive in the case of DLC-wasn’t-possible-in-Melee Roy.
- Amiibo Corner: We never got an amiibo of the True Byleth, so this guy will have to do. The flaming sword and little dagger are rad, and the cape is cool, but he has a pose that seems a little too… bad guy? Maybe Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes was on the designers’ brains.
- Does the character work to represent this game? So it is impossible for Byleth to wield all the sacred weapons in one timeline of Fire Emblem Three Houses. This obviously means that this Byleth comes from some manner of “best ending” where everyone got along and cooperated against the forces of the Smash Bros universe. I approve.
Byleth in Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
- System: Nintendo Switch. Maybe one day we will see a Fire Emblem collection of both “Three” games on one system. Would that work? Do people like mixing genres?
- Number of players: Two, though, come to think of it, that feels extremely weird for this game. So much of the downtime “activity management” involved is something you would keep to yourself. Determining whether the general of your army should organize books on their day off should not be democratized.
- Maybe actually talk about the game for a second: It is really hard to say if a Fire Emblem game becoming a Warriors title is anything but a lateral move. The Warriors titles are all about defending locations and dealing with unexpected reinforcements and tasks, and that is just like the strategy of the Fire Emblem titles. The only difference is now you have to hit B a thousand times to kill random mooks. So this is one of the rare situations where an RPG is transmuted to a genre where there are more steps? Regardless, sometimes it just feels good to get out on the battlefield and kill literally a thousand guys.
- Favorite House: Edelgard did not and never has done anything wrong.
- Favorite Individual Character: I appreciate Hilda Valentine Goneril’s whole deal, give or take her hobby of crafting accessories. But the “physically strong woman, though generally lazy” thing is like catnip to my preferences for characters. I basically want a slaking with pigtails to lead my armies.
- Story Time: Delving into some light spoilers to say I felt that the reveal of Byleth’s fractured future was predictable, but the secret of Shez’s second was a nice swerve. That said, all these “alternate timeline where everything is wrong” stories are starting to grate on me, as their “oh my gosh how could this have ever happened” plotting is always undermined by a deep desire to get back to the story you know and love. Give me a game where you absolutely cannot stop Byleth from wholesale slaughtering everyone you love, and we will talk.
- Did you know? The Fire Emblem Warriors spin-offs should not be confused with the Fire Emblem Heroes spin-off. That is just a basic gacha where you hope for Fire Emblem JPGs that occasionally feature swimsuits. Oddly, it might be the second most popular mobile game based on a franchise that appears in Smash Bros (the most successful being Pokémon Go).
- Would I play again: This is a Warriors game that continually has shifting goals and “events”… and I just want to finish what I was already doing! On the grand spectrum of “how likely are you to get a game over if you don’t immediately follow orders”, this one is pretty likely to flunk you for not rushing to save an allied unit. So, with that in mind, I am unlikely to replay this Warriors title in favor of, say, one of the Zelda ones. Even if there are “routes” I haven’t explored…
What’s next? I feel like a song, so how about Jigglypuff? She could pound any warrior! … Maybe we should phrase that differently… Regardless! Please look forward to it!