What’s Fire Emblem Without Death?
I have a friend who’s played pretty much all the Fire Emblem games, which is a weak way of saying I have a friend who’s obsessed with Fire Emblem. This has always been very strange to me, because he doesn’t like drama. He hates gritty, he hates death, he hates sad things.
In short, he hates kind of the main thing fans will paint Fire Emblem as being about. Fire Emblem has always had permanent character death. It’s become the series feature.
You can turn it off in Fire Emblem: Awakening, much to the consternation of fans. And, you know what, I think I’m going to.
My own, personal Fire Emblem history: I’ve played a lion’s share of them. The GBA games—the two American ones, the other with a translation patch—made up a lot of my gaming history. I played the Gamecube ones.
All of these games had permanent character death, and I resented it in all of them. I circumvented it in every case: I’d use save states if I were emulating the GBA ones, and I’d reload if I were playing them on the console.
I never noticed how odd this felt until I played Xcom. In Xcom, I let dead soldiers lie barring something incredibly cheap happening; I’d reload if an elite Muton ran halfway across the map upon being spotted and plastered one of my healthiest guys, but not if they died in the course of the game. Reloading cheapened the experience: if all my soldiers survived, then we felt less like a ragtag opposition and more like super soldiers (which, to be fair, it ended up feeling it anyway).
Fire Emblem, though, never gave me this feeling. In Xcom death was an inevitability; in Fire Emblem, death is a fuck-up, a mistake to be corrected. In Xcom the game improves when someone dies, because it brings out new feelings in you: regret, panic, a sense that you have to redouble and reposition your efforts. It makes things feel dicey. In Fire Emblem, if someone dies the only feeling is frustration: there’s a story you’ll never complete, a limited asset lost forever, and nothing gained.
Death is a mechanic in Xcom; in Fire Emblem it’s always been a thing that sucks.
To compare Fire Emblem: Awakening to an adjacent game, its removal of permanent death reminds me of the Tactics Ogre remake. That remake, one of my favorite games ever, removed permadeath from one of the mechanics’ most famous practitioners because it didn’t make sense. It didn’t add anything to the game. Sure, it made you able to be less careless with your troops, but in a game where every battle already rode the knife edge that wasn’t necessary; it turned into an annoyance, a cheap way for the enemies to “win” the battle.
Fire Emblem falls in the same boat. For a series about mythical heroes and political battles to feature as a mechanic permanent death is silly. Unlike a game like Dark Souls, which oozes intensity and darkness from every pore, when has a death in Fire Emblem ever created more than dissonance in the mind of the player? How many people have ever beaten a game of Fire Emblem where one of their favorite characters died?
So you know what? I’m going to take it out, and I’m not going to feel guilty doing it.