Also known as “My love/hate relationship with Fire Emblem Awakening”
I would like to begin this opinion article by making one disclaimer. If you are the type of person who goes in reading an article with a strong opinion beforehand and do not have an open mind, stop right here. If you are the type of person who will stop reading something halfway through because you disagree with what is said and do not even bother to read to the end, this article is not for you. This is merely a seasoned, longtime series veteran’s viewpoint of the franchise, how I feel the series has gone after Fire Emblem Awakening, its unique position considering Fire Emblem Fates and the fan reaction to its release, and potential ideas for the future of the franchise. With that aside, please bear in mind this is only opinion and speculation and, as such, there will be biases involved.
I begin this article with putting this one fact at the forefront. Fire Emblem has been one of only two franchises I can legitimately say that I will buy a gaming console just to play (just for FYI, the other franchise is Smash Brothers). My first splash in the series was receiving Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance as a Christmas present alongside Tales of Symphonia back in 2005. My initial reason for saving to buy a Nintendo 3DS was simply to play Awakening. I was intrigued at all the new features and gameplay mechanics they had to offer after keeping up with the news of the game through its development. After “New Mystery of the Emblem” failed to have a stateside release, I was desperately hoping the next game would see a North America release. As a side note, I would like to say I was wholeheartedly disappointed that the WiiU did not have a console Fire Emblem game.
I received Awakening as a birthday present from a close friend that I had known for many years three months after its launch, although months later I would spend extra money on eBay just to buy the blue special edition 3DS. When I first picked up the game, I found myself hooked to the game, unable to put it down, and raving to everyone I knew how much I enjoyed the game. Yet, as I finished my fourth playthrough of the game, I could not ignore the nagging feeling in the back of my head that something felt off. It was not until when Fates was announced that I realized what was bothering me.
Fire Emblem Awakening signaled a change in the franchise toward a direction that was less faithful to its roots. It was a modernization of the game’s franchise, most likely done in order to try to save a series that was potentially on its last ever release due to the consistent, depressingly low sales numbers and lukewarm reception. I noticed characters that acted like by-the-books archetypes largely present in anime, such as Lucina being The Woobie, Noire being a Shrinking Violet, Frederick being the stoic servant, etc. which served as appeal to the average anime fan out there. My inner anime nerd (and yes, I will admit that I was once a hardcore NaruHina shipper) was guiltily enjoying this game, but the side of me that loved Fire Emblem really was not impressed. Support conversations were now opposite sex shipping wars instead of meaningful bonding between two characters, pairing up was a broken mechanic, fanservice seemed to pop up more and more, and boringly uninspired map designs and goals began to bother me.
Awakening was a last ditch effort of a company which used a hodgepodge of various gimmicks and mechanics that were unique to the previous games to help give it some traction. Some features include the world map of Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, the skill system of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, the generational system of Fire Emblem: Geneaology of the Holy War, the class change system of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, unbreakable weapons from Fire Emblem Gaiden, the avatar in Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, etc. It combined these mechanics, the core gameplay of the series, and adding in modern market trends based on what was trending at that point in time and managed to become a commercial success.
Yet, sales dictate business and business dictate where a series goes. Fire Emblem Awakening was a huge commercial success and, as much as I initially loved the game, I feared the series would take a turn for the worse down a road that took the series further and further from its roots. My hope was that Awakening would bring in a new crop of fans to the fold and be used as a bridge so that this new generation could play the older games and see the magic of the series proper. My initial hope was that the next game would rein in the diversion from the main series and slowly bridge the new fans into the gameplay and story of the older games. However, after seeing the initial trailer for Fates and seeing what was initially put on the table, I felt like my worst fears had been confirmed. The older fans of the series, who had faithfully bought every game in the series, were being ignored in favor of the huge market of new fans that Awakening had brought in. I could see a split in the fandom between the old guard and new fans, much like /b/ had disagreements over Boxxy (and I might just be dating myself on that reference).
What made the old Fire Emblem games great was that they were niche. We were not the largest video game fanbase by any means and we sure as heck did get elitist some of the time… okay, a lot of the time. After all, the fanbase will steadfastly argue that “personal experience means nothing” and only a character’s “average stats” could be used in any debate regarding a character’s worth. Yet, we were still a tightly knit community that created some truly impressive fan works and some impressively long fanfiction. Some that are worth nothing are Gunlord500’s “Wayward Son”, Onionbreath002’s “Fourteen Days”, FoxwolfJackson’s “Spellbinding Radiance”, CormagRavenstaff’s “Final Emblem: Dawn Over an Old World”, and voltaire22’s “Debt of Honor”. Many of these stories were high-calibur prose that showed creativity and ingenuity and, with the exception of Spellbinding Radiance, were not a bunch of self-insert original characters in adaptations of the games like most of the Ylisse universe fanfiction has become.
The point is the fanbase has now been saturated with a bunch of new blood that have a different perception of the series as the older fans and a different vision of what the future of the IP holds. Now, I’m not going to grumble and complain that they “ruined the franchise” as many of the older fans have been, but when I hear most of these new people won’t touch the older games because they’re “too hard” or “the old art style looks weeby” or “I can’t marry units together, what’s the point?” or “where’s my casual mode?”, that becomes a tipping point of wondering what is the future of this franchise. The future of gaming markets in general seem to have taken an interesting turn, where games are only partially released and DLC is used to complete it down to somewhat shameless fanservice for those who want to spend the extra cash to experience it first-hand.
Honestly, if a person has to play the game in Phoenix mode in order to beat it, then Fire Emblem really is not a game series for them, and Intelligent Systems has to realize it. Not every genre is meant to be played by every gamer. Case and point is that I am woefully inept at first-person shooters and, prior to playing the Overwatch beta and started going around in D.va’s mech suit and the jumpy Tracer, I only did decently in Call of Duty. Real first-person shooters, like Counterstrike and Battlefield, were simply being a sitting duck and contributing more to the opposing team than to my own. I am an FPS filthy casual shotgun newbie in Call of Duty and I will admit it.
With that out of the way, I have taken a few moments to step back from the situation and have tried to observe it in a non-biased way possible. What I noticed is a potential for Intelligent Systems to capitalize on what they have created in this somewhat interesting situation they have for themselves.
I am, by no means, arguing that a change in game design and direction is a bad thing. After all, Resident Evil 4 was the first game in the series that deviated away the Survival Horror genre characteristics that helped drive the first three games. It was a highly enjoyable game and one of the best selling Resident Evil games out there. Metroid Prime decided to take the series from a third person side-scrolling horror survival-esque resource management adventure into a first-person action adventure world exploration game and is arguably the best Metroid game released. Let’s not even get started on how many stylistic changes Final Fantasy has made from the first one to the current one. Change can be good, when implemented properly.
With the release of Birthright and Conquest in Fire Emblem Fates, Intelligent Systems has, whether purposefully or accidentally, released two games that split the fanbase further by having different nuances that catered either to the old fans or the new fans. Conquest definitely caught my attention in how much of a throwback it was to this old Fire Emblem fan whereas Birthright definitely had more of an Awakening appeal in its difficulty and mechanics. Perhaps this was intentional to see what to do to further develop the series. Personally, I can see two directions that the company could take.
The first option that I believe Intelligent Systems could take is simply analyze the sales of the two versions. This is the most logical reason why both were released prior to Revelation, as they the gameplay of Hoshido and Nohr mirror the clash of the two fanbases. The side that wins the sales war will be the direction the series will take. If Conquest outsold Birthright, Fire Emblem 15 could be more classic in gameplay; if Birthright outsold Conquest, Fire Emblem 15 could find older features cut out in order to more effectively implement new mechanics and have easier than usual difficulty.
The other option is a lot more far-fetched, but it would make a lot more sense in a business aspect. At this point, being able to appease both fanbases at once is a near impossible task for Intelligent Systems. As much as Conquest caters to the older fans, there are core gameplay mechanics that simply decrease the game’s quality. The pair-up system, while no longer broken, is a mechanic that could be done without. The generational system in this game seems to be rushed and forced into the games with a sloppy handling of how the children were implemented into the party. Characters were rather uninteresting in most support conversations and the seemingly going from “strangers” to “I love you, let’s have kids” in opposite sex support conversations was jarring and odd to say the least. The whole “My Castle” concept was interesting, but definitely unneeded.
With that being said, Intelligent Systems could cater to each side of the fanbase even further by simply creating a new IP with the progress they have made with Awakening and Birthright. While Fire Emblem proper would return back to its roots in the next entry in the franchise, this new series could take everything that made Awakening unique to the franchise and run with it. This would benefit both sides as Intelligent Systems would be free to introduce new and exciting mechanics and settings in this new series without having fear of backlash from fans of the old Fire Emblem games. The tastes and expectations in the two fanbases are so diverse and different from each other that creating a one-size-fits-all game only partially satisfies both sides, while stunting sales from those who are firmly rooted in either side.
As long as they do not call the spin-off series “Water Crest”, I would be fine. Persona is a spin-off of the Shin Megami Tensei series–in fact, the first Persona game was called Shin Megami Tensei: Persona–and both series do quite well with their respective fanbases. If the next Fire Emblem game sales numbers tank back to the numbers it had prior to Awakening, I would be fine with the series dying with its dignity intact, rather than see it be “modernized” into something I can hardly recognize, until Intelligent Systems pulls a Sega, promises a great game, and gives us Fire Emblem 2006 starring Princess Elise.
Besides, hey, as much as I have griped about Awakening and Fates, both were still highly enjoyable experiences in their own right. If they really make a separate series as the latter suggestion has, I would be all for buying the game. I love the tactical strategy genre and, if they truly give that series its own identity, it could rival Fire Emblem as becoming one of my favorite series and a solitary reason to buy a Nintendo console. Just keep the same composer, because the soundtracks for Fates and Awakening were leagues better than the previous games.
It is a win-win, Intelligent Systems… why not make it happen?