This question (amongst others that I will discuss here in this post) was on my mind after having just invested 30+ hours into Fire Emblem Fates and deciding that I simply couldn’t be arsed to play the game anymore. A quick bit of background first though because I think that it’s extremely important to remember how the Western exposure of Nintendo/Intelligent Systems’ tactical gem has evolved in recent years. Fire Emblem has been around since the Famicom days in Japan and proved to be popular enough to spawn many sequels heading into the the 16-bit Super Famicom era. Over here however, it was a different story.
The first official Fire Emblem release that we received was for the Gameboy Advance back in 2003. Simply titled ‘Fire Emblem’, it was a prequel to the previous GBA release that remained a Japan-only deal and largely owed its English language existence to the popularity of Marth and Roy, two Fire Emblem protagonists that had been included as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Once our FE cherry had at last been popped, the sequels began to flow in the form of The Sacred Stones (GBA), Path of Radiance (Gamecube) and Radiant Dawn (Wii). A remake of the original Famicom title christened ‘Shadow Dragon’ was also released on the DS in 2008 (2009 for North America).
Up to this point, the series was still relatively niche in the West despite the steady flow of localised sequels in the wake of that initial GBA release. This modest popularity was likely propped up by Nintendo in the form of much smaller print runs of the games than other software releases on the same consoles (Shadow Dragon is a pretty expensive pre-owned game here in Europe for example). It sold well enough for the first 3DS installment – Fire Emblem Awakening – to be given the green light for us however and this is where things began to change. For the better? In some ways…but not ALL ways.
Now, I have to point out that Fire Emblem Awakening is one of my favourite games amongst all games that I have played since I started gaming in the early-mid 90’s. I ploughed around 130 hours into it and enjoyed promoting my characters and embarking on an excessive level of grinding in order to create a formidable army. At the same time, it was apparent that the tone of the series had shifted seismically in many respects. Fire Emblem has always been a series where you will find characters with luminous hair hues for example but with Awakening, the anime tropes were beginning to dominate. You could now advance support links between male and female characters to the point where they would declare their feelings for one another and marry and I actually quite liked this element as I thought it was handled pretty well.
However, the fact that your main character is custom-created at the outset of the game and supposed to reflect YOU, the strategist, meant that you had the choice of who to get it on with in midst of war. Is this a bad thing? No but the fact that the majority of FE players are male really endeared this aspect of Awakening to the “Waifu” crowd. Now for those unfamiliar with the term “waifu”, I’ve gone off and retrieved a definition of the word from one of many online dictionaries:
waifu. Noun. (fandom slang) A fictional character from non-live-action visual media (typically an anime, manga, or video game) that one is attracted to and considers a significant other.
One thing I always admired about Fire Emblem was the way in which it was able to give us attractive/pretty female characters who were also formidable warriors, clad in plate armour and not made to look overly-sexy in a try-hard manner. In Awakening however, these sorts of traditional FE ladies are joined by several more sexualised characters that gained a following all of their own (Tharja for example) and various bits of borderline jailbait clearly not prepped for bloody battlefields.
This aside, there are other things about Awakening that really made me see FE as a series that was pandering to the Otaku types. The increase in crazy, out-there anime style characters for example or the DLC hot springs episode which – of course – included lots of awkward moments as battle-hardened valkyries suddenly switched chain mail for swimsuits or kimonos. I’m not saying that I’m against this kind of thing because I’m as appreciative of a bit of casual titillation as the next male BUT it made no sense in a Fire Emblem game and it was that thought which continued to return to me. On the whole though, Awakening was a great game with the usual excellent gameplay, some fantastic music and – despite some of the weirdos – some brilliant characters. Yes, these new elements felt out of place in an FE game but thanks to how addictive the gameplay itself was, there was a pretty good balance.
Then came Fire Emblem Fates, a follow-up with a brand-new world, storyline and characters unrelated to Awakening as is often the case with FE sequels. The game was unique in that it shipped as two versions, entitled “Birthright” and “Conquest”, with each edition following a different perspective of the storyline’s war. A third segment of Fates called “Revelation” was then released digitally on the e-shop (or available physically in the Collector’s Edition) which tied together both games and acted as a conclusion of sorts. This sounded very interesting to me and I battled for a long time against stock shortages and greedy ebay re-sellers to obtain a Collector’s Edition boxset (and story/saga in itself) so that I could get the cartridge that contained all three parts of the storyline. After the brilliance of Awakening, this had to be the next step up? Wrong.
Aside from my gripes with the gameplay additions (such as new classes that I didn’t particularly like) and the fact that I didn’t care one inch for the storyline, there were many aspects of the game that had fully stepped over that line into Otaku territory. Waifu-ism was rampant now, especially when it came to the eye-poppingly breasty Camilla (pictured above) who thought that wearing some token midriff armour but leaving her overflowing chest and underpants exposed is a good idea when going up against axes and spears. Again, I cannot lie and say that I don’t like her design but I also think that it’s not very Fire Emblem and shouldn’t really belong here.
There are all these female characters for the male Waifu fanatic to choose from and this time, when you marry, the two of you have a little house within your army’s fort and certain ‘events’ trigger upon visiting such as receiving a kiss from your significant other or having them speak to you directly in a first-person viewpoint. Most of these moments are quite touching (if you’re a bit of a softie like me) but time and time again, I felt myself asking “is this just too much?”. Along with wildly mis-matched, impractical outfits for many of the women, the romance element made me feel that the game was definitely part Waifu simulator.
There were other issues of course. I couldn’t care less about the majority of the characters for example and the usual assortment of stereotypical personalities were gradually drip-fed into my swelling assortment of units. The game also committed the sin (in my opinion anyway) of having a Japanese/Ninja-themed setting in a fictional, fantasy world. What is that all about? Why do developers have to do it? Familiarity for Japanese players perhaps? Possibly but for me, this sort of thing has always struck me as lazy and unispired and yes, I will include the likes of Final Fantasy VII‘s Wutai in that criticism. No game is safe.
Overall, I simply didn’t enjoy Fates. Once again, I will just reaffirm that I really don’t mind the pervy fanservice-y stuff (such as the above image) but there are games specifically geared towards that kind of stuff and I really don’t think that Fire Emblem is the place for it. Unfortunately, Intelligent Systems likely had no say in the matter because – from what I have read – declining sales of the series (even in Japan) forced Nintendo to issue an ultimatum when it came to Awakening: sell 250,000 units or it will be the final Fire Emblem installment. This would largely explain why they have shifted the tone a little and tried to appeal to that niche but sizeable Otaku crowd. The move clearly paid off but at what price? The series seems secure for now but it has taken a new path that the old-school fans who grew up playing translations of the Famicom/Super Famicom releases may (understandably) turn their noses up at.
One final note/disclaimer from me is just to say that at the time of writing this post, I haven’t played the latest 3DS Fire Emblem game which is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden. Drop me a comment down below and let me know if it is a little more restrained than Fates…