An Awakened Team
Seeing as their next venture could prove to be their very last one, Intelligent Systems decided bring out all the stops to create the best Fire Emblem title they could possibly make. To do so they attempted to bring together as many Fire Emblem veterans they could to make the game a success. Tohru Narihiro, who had taken over the position that series creator Shozo Kaga led for so many years, continued to lead the team as producer of the series, guiding them with the knowledge he had been collecting from the very beginning of the entire franchise. By his side was Masahiro Higuchi, a fellow veteran from the days of Genealogy of the Holy War, who had decided to take the lead as project manager, Kouhei Maeda, a writer for the series since the Binding Blade and director since New Mystery of the Emblem, and Hitoshi Yamagami, another franchise staple producer who had been with the series ever since Blazing Sword, the first Fire Emblem in the West. However, the creators of this new entry weren’t just old timers. Some new blood was injected into the series as well to update its look to a more modern sensibility. The creative duo to pull it off would be comprised of Toshiyuki Kusakihara as art director, charged with bringing the world and its many characteristics to life, along with Kozaki Yusuke, who had previously worked on the Fire Emblem Trading Card Game, as the character designer, tasked with bringing nearly 60 characters to life with their own personalities and quirks. Together all of these developers and the many people who worked under them were set to make the best Fire Emblem title possible, internally called Fire Emblem Fin: Children From The Brink, but how would they do it?
So Crazy It Just Might Work
At the outset of the project they tried throwing a number of ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck. They made proposals that were a complete departure from the series. Yamagami suggested that they take it into a wildly different direction, the modern world with a bit of a fantasy edge, in a bid that he called Fire Emblem 2011. Other ideas that popped into their heads ranged from this to even setting the story on Mars. But the team knew what experimentation had nearly done to the franchise before with The Illusive Wii Title so in the end they decided on something that made practical sense, a culmination of the entire series as a whole. If they were going to go down why not make it a celebration of everything that they had created? To do so they would put in nearly all of the concepts and innovations from Fire Emblem’s past. No idea was too big or difficult for them to implement and even as the work began to pile up everyone was still smiling and having fun. As this admiration or even love grew for this entry in the hearts and minds of the creators, it too became a major theme along with the bonds that they shared.
Various systems from the series past were put into play along with new ones that followed this philosophy. The support system that had played apart in the series ever since the Binding Blade was combined with the love system all the way back from Genealogy of the Holy War to make their own unique system that would also further along the story. Bonds as well become an important aspect of gameplay with a new dual system, otherwise known as the Pair Up mechanic, which allowed two units to work in unison with each other. This caused many fears within the development team wondering if it broke the gameplay flow but after some time it was felt that the system encouraged multiple play styles for different players. But both of these systems concerned the love and bonds that their characters, and in turn the players, would develop so to make them all the more relatable voice acting made its return to the series. The developers thought it would make the characters easier to imagine although it was thought if they voiced their lines in full it might conflict with the pace of it all so this time we went for rapid-fire lines that would evoke an atmosphere of sorts.
Among other things that they sought to bring back was Casual Mode, the controversial mode from New Mystery of the Emblem which shuts off the franchise’s staple; permadeath. It was still a hotly debated issue that still affected some but many had grown to see it as a device that encouraged newcomers to enjoy a series that they never would have before, seeing it, the classic mode, and three difficulties as a sort of volume slider where you could pick and choose the way you wanted to play. Cutscenes would also play a larger role then ever before. They would have their own unique styling compared to their predecessors and were made to create a sense of grandeur and spectacle inspired by the openings of the Taiga Drama historical series, a famous television event in Japan. Animated by the brand new Studio Anima with full blown motion capture technology these cut scenes helped make the world and its characters come alive in crucial moments of the plot.
But with all these components in mind how were they going to change and better what Fire Emblem fans had always come to the series for, gameplay? At first the development team started by recreating the very first map in the franchises history. They toyed with the idea of switching between 16×16 and 24×24 pixel characters depending on the camera’s overhead distance. However, as time went on they sought to use the Nintendo 3DS’s ability to render 3D models effectively to change between an overhead classic 8-bit style and a newer one akin to the Radiant series for combat. While designing the levels, the team created both maps with a plot-driven structure and maps that allowed for player freedom in an attempt to add variety to the series and make their design essential to their tale. Another aspect of the battle system, new to the series, was the inclusion of multiple camera options. There was one that appealed to a more classic Fire Emblem style, another that was provided a cinematic viewpoint, and a third that added a first person perspective to the battlefield. Much of this was done with Western Players in mind, as developers wanted to both give players an option on their perspective in battle and demonstrate the platform’s 3D effects.
Other gameplay elements from series past entered into the fray as well. Branching promotions from the Sacred Stones made a return, allowing nearly any unit to change their class to something new and unique making your units all your own. To go along with that, the class swap feature from Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon came back in this new iteration, serving as a way for you to try out different classes and obtain skills you never would have before. Skills too were still an important part of gameplay, however, since nearly any unit could attain any skill you were limited to only choosing between five of them to keep the game balanced. A world map just like in Fire Emblem Gaiden was also implemented allowing the player to traverse the world and return to old maps for battles, experience, and gold. You could also level up your units pretty much infinitely too, giving the player another way to set their own difficulty level. There were just so many ways to play that it wasn’t Fire Emblem that told you how to play, it was your own decision.
It was a team effort through and through with any idea being taken into serious consideration. Fire Emblem Fin was a serious labor of love from true fans of the series from the very beginning who just so happened to be creating it. But this ultimate culmination of a project still needed a name. Something that was fitting to their situation yet still contained the hope of a success that they yearned for the series to have. It needed to impact anyone who came across it so Yamagami came up with the idea of Awakening. At the same time Intelligent Systems knew that this could be the end, the rest of the world didn’t, so calling it that meant that fans wouldn’t see it as the same old game they’ve been playing for years, they would see it as something new. But players still had to play it for that matter and after 2 years in Japan and a year later in the rest of the world, everyone would get to see Intelligent System’s culmination of the entire Fire Emblem franchise.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Fire Emblem Awakening, releasing in 2012 and 2013 globally, was a love letter to the Fire Emblem franchise in more ways than one. Its story was a return to a setting that the series and its creator had failed to return to before, Akaneia and Valencia. 2,000 years in the future after the events of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, we find ourselves in the halidom of Ylisse, the newly renamed Akaneia, following the journey of Chrom, Marth’s descendant. But his adventure starts not by his own accord but by you the player. As an amnesiac tactician that he finds on the side of the road, you play as the Avatar or Robin for short. Unlike previous attempts at making a customizable unit, this time the Avatar could be tailored to your own tastes. From male to female to hair color and even voice there were plenty of possibilities for you to choose from to insert yourself into the Fire Emblem lore. But getting back on track as you join Chrom’s army and become his tactician, the group travels throughout Ylisse attempting to thwart the advances of the Plegian army, find out the source of the monstrous Risen, confront the origin of your Avatar, and save the world from destruction by yet another dark dragon, Grima.
In many ways, Awakening was a return to the storytelling of the originals with an evil wizard and dragon to fight against but it was oh so much more then that. As a culmination to the series as whole other elements were mashed in such as the series trademark morally gray storytelling and less stereotypical character types that it has developed over time. Majorly, much was brought over from what many consider to be the greatest Fire Emblem title, Genealogy of the Holy War. As the team sought to bring back the love system in turn they also wished to put something akin to the child storyline into play while integrated it into the main story. They achieved this by adding in a future storyline dealing with a mysterious character named Marth who’s later revealed to be Lucina, Chrom’s daughter from a future destroyed by Grima. These new characters, aside from Lucina, are all completely optional units to obtain. Now whenever two characters reach an S support rank they will marry and have children. In turn, their child from the future will appear and become recruitable. Based on your various pairings they also have the potential to look very different from another players run through of the game, as whatever child is born is dependent on the mother and the hair color the father along with differing stats and skills from each.
Interestingly enough, Fire Emblem Awakening was also Nintendo’s first attempt at paid DLC or downloadable content. Since this could potentially be the last entry in the entire franchise, experimentation had always been apart of the production and this was no exception. Even after their adventure was over, players could still play for hours on end, further extending Awakenings lifetime past many of its predecessors. There were many different types of maps created for this. Some were made for the purpose of giving players an easy source of experience and money while others brought back characters from series past such as Leif and Alm as Einherjar, essentially beings that took the form of cards that allowed you to bring classic Fire Emblem characters onto the battlefield. Along with future downloadable adventures that expanded on the story, Fire Emblem Awakening was truly a celebration of all things Fire Emblem in more ways than one, and it seems that the whole world took note of this. To save the Fire Emblem franchise, Awakening had to at least sell 250,000 in Japan alone… and it achieved that in only one week. As the year went on it doubled that, assuring the series success.
But that wasn’t all, on no the world still hasn’t gotten their hands in the masterpiece. Its release was so incredibly anticipated that the number of pre-orders placed far outstripped the supply that Nintendo thought was acceptable. This was unprecedented for a Fire Emblem title, and especially after its previous lackluster releases you’d think no one would be look forward to the next game. However, because of Nintendo’s largest marketing push in Fire Emblem history, Fire Emblem Awakening was plastered all around the world with more coverage than it could ask for. Because of this Awakening became even more successful outside of Japan selling nearly 1.5 million copies, a feat reserved for most mainline Nintendo titles. It was also one of the most critically praised titles in all of Fire Emblem, with near perfect scores and reviews about.
A Franchise… Saved
All the hard work and determination of the team at Intelligent Systems had paid off in droves. What had once been a franchise declining in popularity with only its fanbase to hold it aloft had now become one of the most successful entry in the entire franchise and on the console, that it now called home. An amalgamation of everything they had made up until that point, from their complex yet easy to understand battle system, intriguing support conversations, and hardcore difficulties, Fire Emblem Awakening was a game for both the fans and newcomers alike. A demanding series that was near impossible for the majority of people to get into for a time, this brand-new entry had a truly global appeal. There was nothing stopping anyone enjoying the franchise for what it is, a franchise filled with a rich assortment of characters, gripping narratives, and fascinating medieval worlds. But now there was just one problem, the eyes of the world were now watching. Intelligent System’s next effort had to be a knockout hit that rose above the lofty heights of Awakening and more. The pressure was on and the true fate of the Fire Emblem series was about to come to light.