A Perilous Fate
After Fire Emblem Awakening’s unprecedented victory, Intelligent Systems was shocked to find out that Nintendo wanted a sequel. They had thought that Awakening was to be the final game in the series, with or without commercial success. But Nintendo didn’t just want any ordinary sequel, oh no, they wanted it to succeed its predecessor in every shape and form. Quickly, Intelligent Systems came forward with a proposal that fits those specifications. Given the obvious codename of Fire Emblem 3DS 2, the story they pitched was a winding narrative that stemmed from one pivotal choice that branched out into three very different stories. In this tale, there were two kingdoms, one of Light and one of Darkness. The player would play as a prince of that darkness who had been kidnapped by the wicked King of the Dark at a tender young age. After learning of their fate the player was given three choices, side with the Light, side with the Dark, or walk a different path then either. The choice would be their own. There were many reasons why Intelligent Systems chose this type of story but the main reason behind it all was that they wished to rectify the mistakes they had made in Awakening. Fans had criticized them less for the gameplay and graphics and more for the story in comparison to past Fire Emblem titles, and they earnestly wanted to improve on that front. They not only wanted to create a narrative that appealed to newcomers but one that veterans would come to like. Still, with their next entry they wanted to do something original for once and their hook would be that fateful decision the player would make.
They wanted to weave a tale that would have players seeing both sides of a conflict and allow them to understand both of the warring forces ideologies and where they’re exactly coming from. But to do this would require a massive amount of effort on Intelligent Systems behalf. While the majority of the Fire Emblem Awakening, team was coming back for this next project their old workforce just wouldn’t be enough. The amount of writing, characters, and world building needed would require three times the man power they had on hand. Kohei Maeda and his team just weren’t enough. The most important area they needed help in was the writing department. After shuffling through nearly all of the video game writers they knew, they found the right man for the job in Shin Kibayahsi, a prolific manga and anime writer. Yusuke Kozaki had known him through their shared editor and soon introduced him to the project. At first he refused due to his tight schedule but soon after playing Fire Emblem Awakening with his daughter he excitedly agreeded. Submitting an initial ten-page outline for each storyline, he quickly grew fond of the characters and ended up writing a 1500-page outline for the whole game, driven by a need to create a high-quality story and partially to surpass his daughter’s pressuring expectations. His writing ended up creating enough script to fill two complete books worth of material. Combing through the aftermath of his work would be Nami Komuro, a writer who had previously worked on Fire Emblem Awakening and Yukinori Kitajima, a writer for the Senran Kagura series. Him and his script writing company, Synthese, would come together to write the third, neutral path and the many support conversations for this next entry, a choice that had dire consequences down the line.
But what of the sound and art department you might ask? For such a task many talented team members would need to be on hand to make it a reality. The lead character designer, in particular, was a tough one to wrangle in. The dynamic duo of Toshiyuki Kusakihara, and character designer Yūsuke Kozaki, had truly defined the look of the Fire Emblem franchise. Every entry had different character designers and art directors and all looked wildly different from each other with a small pinch of that trademark Fire Emblem style that unified them as a whole. But they lacked the uniformity that the two had implemented in Awakening and the team wanted the both of them back, especially Kozaki. The sheer amount of characters they would be asking for him to design made them wary as to whether he would be coming back or not. But they didn’t need to worry. He was just ecstatic to get the chance to work on yet another Fire Emblem title.
Designing such an exorbitant amount of characters would certainly prove to be a challenge, however, the sound department had even more work to content with. Not only would they have to compose as much music as they had for Fire Emblem Awakening but they would have to do it three times in a row and maintain the same level of quality throughout. Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh, the previous composers, wouldn’t be enough. Three others would have to be called in. Takeru Kanazaki, Yasuhisa Baba, and Masato Kouda would all have to come together to create the next Fire Emblem masterpiece. Their centerpiece to this, would be the games main theme. Opposed to the traditional Fire Emblem theme, their new project would separate itself from the norm. Lost In Thoughts, All Alone would be their creation, written by Morishita, with lyrics by Kohei Maeda, and sung by popular Japanese pop singer Renka. The role of the singer was a crucial one both for the story and the song itself. The developers were looking for a singer who could do justice to their vision for the character, and when they heard Renka’s audition, they instantly decided that she was right for the role, with several of them being brought to tears by her performance.
Tears of a kind were common among the developers at Intelligent Systems as many of the seeds that they had sowed in Awakening and several of the choices they had made along the way had begun to chip away at the mindsets of many of their developers. It all began with the simple act of splitting duties among different teams. The core development staff worked on the games shared assets while additional teams handled the level design. This split the team apart but they were still working as one cohesive unit. However, as time went on things began to change. Many of the developers ended up in two different groups, Team A and Team B, formed because of their conflicting opinions. Team A wanted to return to a simpler time, when fanservice wasn’t at the forefront of the series and they were solely on crafting better stories, characters, gameplay. Team B, on the other hand, wanted to push the boundaries far beyond Fire Emblem Awakening and increase said fanservice tenfold to incredibly lewd degrees. Their argument was that some of their precious resources that needed to be focused on actual development of the game should instead be focused on the more intimate aspects of the experience. They didn’t advance the plot, they didn’t make the characters more memorable, they weren’t essential to the gameplay… but they did help bring in many players before, so having more of that should be a good thing. One group saw success in a tactful approach while another took a pandering route. These two opposing forces would fight back against each other for the entire development process, pushing back and forth on what the project came to be. Thankfully, the majority of the elements that made up the experience were left unaffected.
The most critical concept they had to get right was of course you, the player. My Unit, as it was so affectionately called had become a crucial part of the experience since New Mystery of the Emblem and Intelligent Systems had taken note. Players were always a side character, crucial to the plot yes but not the main character of the story per se. They sought to make the story surround your avatar and make him or her the main focus. There were no if ands or buts, you would be the main character of the story and of course along with this you could customize them to your own liking, making them look as wacky or serious as your wanted them to be. There was also a new feature added to further help customize this aspect of the game. Titled “My Castle” it was similar to the barracks that had existed in previous Fire Emblem titles although it was very much more of a home base that players could change and rework to their own liking. There were, of course, the Fire Emblem staples such as the Weapon Shops where you could rearm yourself along with the Arena that let you fight and bet on resources. These resources became an important of My Castle as well as if you grew some food you could use it in a dish to beef up your army for the next battle or forge even better weapons with some gemstones. On the lighter side of things the Hot Springs allowed the player to have various “interactions” with the cast and you also had your own private quarters which served as a way to invite characters over to improve your support rank with them and partake in the controversial “skinship” feature. In a mini-game unlike anything Fire Emblem had seen before, players could use the stylus to rub a character’s face, or body, on the touch screen to increase their relationship with the Avatar. It was really… odd. But your castle wasn’t only used for buying weapons, eating food, and rubbing people’s faces, there was still the much-lauded Streetpass feature to contend with. Wi-Fi battles had existed in the series ever since New Mystery of the Emblem but with My Castle things became more personal. You weren’t fighting on just some ordinary map but on your own turf, your own customized and deadly turf. You see your castle wasn’t just for looks, various traps and items were all there to help your cause. Ballistas, calltrops, healing dragons, living golems and the oh so classic fort were just some of the many ways you could try to stop the enemy along with your selected units of course. All of this could be played in person, however, it was also possible to leave your fort open to the public, allowing anyone to come in and trade while trying to best your favorite warriors. These Wi-Fi battles offered endless replay ability, even when you’ve finished the story.
With all of this it seemed like things were getting interesting with Fire Emblems second shot on the 3DS, but the dividing factor between fans of old was still to come. The Weapon Triangle, the single greatest edition to all of Fire Emblem, was the first to see such a change. It was still a triangle but no longer did swords, axes, and lances define it, bows, magic, and the newly reclassed shuriken took center stage. All six weapon types had two weapons they were superior to, two they’re weak to, and one that doesn’t effect them in the slightest so of course this irrevocably affected the gameplay, forcing many to change tactics that would previously have worked. But that wasn’t all. Personal skills made a comeback, units had only one fixed reclassing option unless they used the new Friendship and Partner Seals, nearly all weapons have bonuses and penalties to using them now, all classes were unisex save a few, and there were new weapons and classes to go with this such as Wolf’s and Katana’s. The biggest change of them all though, came with the weapons which were now completely unbreakable.
The support system was, as always, an important part of the adventure with many of the ideas introduced in Awakening translating into the new 3DS title. Like Awakening, two characters can build support points with each other, giving them bonuses in battle. Also like Awakening, there was virtually no limit to how many Supports you can be build for a character, allowing them to support with all applicable units if the player puts in time to do so. Unlike Awakening there were also A+ rank supports that were between two best friends instead of two lovers. You can also once again have children when you reach S rank between two units, although unlike Awakening where they impacted the story in a major way, this time they seemed to have no effect and were less of a crucial gameplay element and more of an afterthought. But the Pair Up Mechanic that had become a crucial part of the series wasn’t like that. Yes it still acted the same way as before but now the enemy had the ability to wield it to, making it less of detriment and more of another tool in your toolbox.
Out of all of these Casual Mode of course made its return, turning off the permadeath that the series use to flaunt. However, the developers felt something was missing from this optional edition. Due to Casual Mode, nearly everyone who played Fire Emblem Awakening had the ability to beat it. This seemed fine and dandy until they realized that some people still were unable to complete their adventure. This is where Phoenix Mode came into play. When using this now whenever a unit fell in battle they wouldn’t just be out until the next chapter, they’d revive in the next turn. Now with this newcomer mode nearly 100% of the people who would playthrough the game would beat it. But at what cost would this pandering have on the Fire Emblem veterans who’ve been around for years? As with many things, only time would tell.
Fire Emblem Fates
With all of these features and iterations and past innovations there was still something missing, something crucial, a name. Looking back to the projects initial concept, it’s easy to find it. Their story was all about ifs. What if you sided with the Kingdom of Light? What if you sided with the Kingdom of Darkness? What if you rejected both? Fire Emblem If was the answer. Releasing in 2015 and later 2016 worldwide as the retitled, and appropriately named, Fire Emblem Fates, the release of this title was most intriguing. It wasn’t released as just one game, not two either, but separate three journeys for you to take. Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations were their names and each equally told a thought provoking story. At its core Fates starts out in the land stricken with a war between two sides Hoshido and Nohr. These two warring nations were very different from one another. Hoshido, a land not too dissimilar from ancient Japan, was a peace loving and prosperous country that was only protecting themselves from the conniving hands of Nohr, a nation torn right from the pages of classic Fire Emblem medieval fare. They seek not peace but war and wish to conquer Hoshido and its neighboring countries while its own citizens suffer in poverty. Caught in the middle is you the Avatar, otherwise known as Corrin. As a prince of Nohr, Corrin has been locked away in a remote castle for nearly all of his life, wishing to only see the outside world. He is eventually given the chance to do so when his father, King Garon, sends him to an outpost near the neighboring Hoshido. But before he knows it he’s been betrayed by a fellow Nohrian and caught by Hoshidan forces; but he isn’t killed immediately for some reason. That reason is that Corrin is actually a prince of Hoshido, kidnapped and raised by Garon to fight against his family. After a fateful meeting with Azura, a princess who shared the same fate, and learning of his dragon heritage, Corrin is thrown onto the battlefield and forced to choose. Will he stay with the family that is bound to him by blood or the one that raised him to be what he is? The choice is yours.
Now the game begins to split into those three paths, Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. Each of their stories is not only unique but have their own classes, weapons, and unique gameplay style to them. Fire Emblem Birthright is the easiest of the bunch, following Corrin and his army as they seek to rid Nohr of their king Garo. Since Hoshido was based off of Japan the weaponry and classes had to reflect this. Bow’s became Yumi and Swords became Katana’s with new classes such as Diviners and Oni Savages taking the places of Mages and Warriors. The game itself was also significantly easier too, with the ability to level up characters outside of the storyline by paying a small amount of gold. The only objective, generally, was to rout the enemy and take over their castle. This was Fire Emblem for beginners and was the recommended starting point between these three titles. While each of the three titles were standalone adventures, little hints and tidbits spread throughout were crucial in understanding the story.
But many skipped this version after seeing how much it strayed from the standard Fire Emblem formula. Instead, many preferred to go with the next version, Conquest. This version was more at home for the Fire Emblem faithful, with classic weapons and classes at their side. Instead of siding with his true family, Corrin chooses the family that raised him and seeks to expel the darkness hidden withing his country. This wouldn’t be your standard; kill everyone in sight journey however, as each mission in Conquest is structured differently. New and unique victory conditions became a part of the everyday experience. Now you could be forced to defend a base from an enemy attack, break through the ranks of your opponents to escape, or even have certain turn restrictions depending on the map. On top of this you had to worry about where and when you killed your opponents and who their experience was being sent to. This time around you couldn’t just grind to success like in Birthright, you had to careful plan out your moves and units on and off the battlefield. It was the true Fire Emblem experience that any fan could ask for and while certain aspects of the game still bothered some, Conquest more than made up for that.
But between the simplicity of Birthright and the difficulty of Conquest lay Revelation. The midpoint of the two, Revelation took the best of both worlds and molded them into one. Corrin, in this version, decides to choose neither side and instead opts to find a peaceful resolution between the warring states and learn the inner workings of the world. To do this he follows Azura into the secret kingdom of Valla, a land hidden beneath the world, to discover both their pasts and save the world from utter destruction at the hands of yet another dark dragon. The story wass all about bringing the world together so of course every single unit from every other version is playable, allowing for even more possible combinations and pairings. Even though Revelations does increase the difficulty like Conquest, many of Birthrights ideas such as unlimited experience and the only objectives usual being to route the enemy remain the same. However, something seemed to be missing from this most crucial quest. The heart and soul that beat in the quest for newcomers, Fire Emblem Birthright, and the quest for Veterans, Fire Emblem Conquest, seemed to be missing from this final storyline. It just felt out of place compared to the other adventures and while it provided a good midpoint for the three the overall experience was sort of lackluster in its conclusion.
A Triumph… And Yet
Fire Emblem Fates had faced development hell up until this point but, somehow, it succeeded in many ways. Offering many stellar additions to the franchise and two equally compelling storylines, walking away with just one uninspired narrative and a few… odd mechanics was nothing to snuff at. But they weren’t out of the fire just yet as their international release was plagued by controversy. Several features and additions had to be removed entirely to make way for the Fire Emblem Fates release in other countries. Skinship was stripped down to remove many of its lewd and perverse elements and a support conversation that resembled gay conversion therapy to some was changed outright. These localization issues and more made many feel like they should boycott the game in protest of these changes. But, as with many of these protests, nothing ever came of it. Instead it was released as it was, localization problems and “censorship included. Fire Emblem Fates was another smash hit for the series selling a whooping 1.84 million copies worldwide during its run. Fates had succeeded its predecessor by a small margin showing just how much of a fanbase the series had now. It was a benchmark title for the series in many ways and showed just how valuable the franchise had become to the world. The days of being an obscure and niche set of video games were finally over.
A franchise that proved time and time again that it could hold its own with the rest of Nintendo’s icons, Fire Emblem was now one of the greats. This respect, in turn, lead to the franchise being declared as a major IP by Nintendo, a move that was unexpected but appreciated nonetheless. Fire Emblem had become one of the greatest success stories of the generation. From its humble beginnings as the first major tactical rpg, to its many successful years with its creator, the franchise struggled to find its footing for nearly a decade. A plethora of stellar titles came out during the intervening years yet the public never took notice as the series slowly began to fade away. Only when they were given a final ultimatum and forced to work the hardest they had in their lives did they truly find success. And now they knew that success wasn’t a mistake. Fire Emblem wasn’t planning on going away anytime soon.