Limstella being a cutie π
(continued from HERE)
Gameplay or Seven Paragraphs of Nitpicking
・ Time to get to the good stuff: gameplay. Fire Emblem is sometimes described as an SRPG – a fusion of a roleplaying game and a turn-based strategy. If “RPG” means grinding and “TBS” is logical thinking, the latter element prevails in this duality (thank goodness it does). It’s more of a strategy in a fantasy setting, really. There’s this sort of games I absolutely love and play passionately, by which I mean the opposite of “action games”. Titles like Pokemon, JRPGs, Advance Wars, and before anything else – Fire Emblem. The kind that requires no manual skill or nimbleness from the player. They’re usually menu based and require only the bare minimum number of buttons on the gamepad. The d-pad, the OK button, the Cancel button. I suck at action games, you see. Of all those titles mentioned above, it can’t be a coincidence that two were made by Intelligent Systems. I guess they’re my favorite game devs.
・ If I were to name one, representative feature of Fire Emblem, it’s the dynamism of gameplay. Select a unit, move it, attack or wait. Do it for every one of your units (around ten) and your turn ends. It takes seconds. FE is fast, simple and limited in scope. Unlike FFT and other SRPGs that veer more towards the “RPG” side of the force, where you have to be getting through menus for like half an hour and then your attack misses anyway. The complete list of items usable in the game is short compared to your usual RPG. I like how compact and simplistic the game is, and the way I play FE magnifies this minimalism even more. I wouldn’t mind if the list of items was reduced by half. I use iron weapons almost exclusively – only sometimes do I use steel weapons if my units’ speed lets them hit twice in one clash anyway. You see, weapons in GBA Fire Emblems don’t form a classic hierarchy with objectively inferior and superior arms. Iron ones are weak but light and cheap, while silver is strong, heavy and expensive. In general, when playing RPGs, I use items as little as possible. What’s the fun in plowing through the game effortlessly? If it finds a way to *force* me to use items, that’s a sign the game is well designed.
・ In FE, you get to command a little army of units with all colors of the rainbow in their hair and eyes. Cavalry, flying units like pegasus knights and a bunch of infantry units using melee weapons and magic – from axe-wielding cavemen to gallant knights. Magic is just another kind of weapon in Fire Emblem, really – as expected of stories inspired by Tanaka Yoshiki and his works, dragging fantasy fiction down to earth, towards the status of historical novels happening in fictional worlds. There are eight sorts of weapons bound into weapon triangles – the simplest possible nets of type relations, familiar to anyone who’s ever played Rock Paper Scissors. Don’t ignore the weapon triangles or you’ll be sorry. If I were to write about one class in more detail, it’d have to be Hector the Lord, who vindicated all axe users before him after decades of discrimination. He’s the easiest to max out and pure pleasure to use. The design of maps is well thought out, too. Although nominally you have only one objective on every map (like “wipe out all enemies”), in reality you have a whole list of goals to achieve on every map. Get the treasure chests. Convince that one enemy unit with a face to join you. Defend a village. Don’t let any of your units die. You don’t need to meet all of those conditions, but Fire Emblems are hard games, so you’d be a a perfectionist. You failed at something? Reset that chapter or you might regret it later.
・ FE7 might be easier than older Fire Emblems. In FE3, you’d get your first healer only after several chapters and be forced to exclusively repair your units by putting them on forts (challenging!). Meanwhile, nowadays you get a healer early AND you get healing items from the very beginning AND can use forts (convenient!). Still, even seven games into the series, FE was still filled with bits you’d call “oldschool”, “too hard” or just “bad design”. When it comes to the rules in board games, relying too much on dicethrows makes the game so random you start questioning the point of playing it (hello Monopoly), and Fire Emblems rely on randomness to a large extent. Especially in accuracy of blows. The game makes sure the probability of landing a blow is always high for your units and low for the enemy cannon fodder – that’s how it maintains the right level of difficulty. But, since it’s random in the end, you missing everytime and the enemy hitting everytime, though the probability is low, is possible. So is getting OHKO’d out of nowhere because the enemy landed a critical hit. Growths are probability-based as well. Just go with fixed stat growths please. Even in 2003, Fire Emblem 7 was a game encouraging you to have a walkthrough near at all times. Man, have I got a story for you. On my latest playthrough, I wanted to promote Dart from a Pirate to a Berserker. I got to the desert chapter, where I vaguely remembered the Ocean Seal (the item needed to do that) was hidden. Pent, the NPC, killed off all enemy units before I could do anything of substance. I was like “oh well, there has to be a way to get an Ocean Seal later”. But, spurred by a bad feeling, I looked it up and… that was the only Ocean Seal in the game. I was like “oh well, I’ll use an Earth Seal instead”. Well, too bad cause Earth Seal turns out to only be a substitute for several class-changing items, not all of them. Guh-reat.
・ You spend a whopping ten chapters of the game being taught how to play, but there are also some unwritten rules to Fire Emblem. You could say that about pretty-much every game, but in FE, playing the wrong way might get you into a world of trouble. If you’re playing this game for the first time, the probability that you’ll paint yourself into a corner and will have to start your playthrough all over is quite high, and the earlier you realize that and change your ways, the better. This ain’t a “do whatever” sandbox, you’re expected to deviate as little as possible from one, optimal way of playing, and discovering that narrow path could be called the defining challenge of Fire Emblem games. There is no “overworld” in FE. You beat chapters one after another. You can’t replay old chapters. No replayable maps. That detail gave birth to the number one unwritten rule of old Fire Emblems: limited resources. You can only play every chapter once, so you’d better be extraordinarily careful. And among those precious limited resources, experience points are the most important one. Juggle that EXP like your life depends on it. It’s best to plan your playthrough before you start it: out of all the available units pick a nice, balanced list of ten. And then execute that plan. Make sure nobody is lagging behind when it comes to gaining levels. Don’t waste EXP on units you’re not going to use. If you can get a gaiden chapter, lengthen your playthrough and gain more experience, do it. My last playthrough, even with that Dart fiasco, was my most successful yet – I had multiple maxed out units in the last chapter and could kill the last boss without having to resort to the stuff you’re given so that you can’t possibly lose (Athos and Canas with Luna). Playing Fire Emblems is kind of like how hardcore powergamers play Pokemon, except here you’re *forced* to be hyperefficient like some corporate manager.
in spite of killing a hecking dragon, he got his wish
・ I would like to have a more detailed look at one aspect of the game. It’s called “class change”, but the name kind of implies a wealth of choice that you do not get. They should have gone with “upgrade” or something. Or, they should have thought it out completely differently. When asked about a unit’s level in Fire Emblem, I answer something like “twenty by twenty” and then am being stared at weirdly. Twenty is the maximum level a unit can get to. However, sooner or later in the game, you’ll encounter class-chaning items claiming they’re intended for units at level ten or more. So, if it’s your first time playing, you’ll upgrade your peeps at level ten, right? The sooner the better, right? That’s what the tutorial made you do, after all. No. That way, your unit’s maximum level will be 10/20. That’s thirty in total. Yup, if you used that Knight Crest at level 20, your General’s life as a unit would last forty levels instead. You call that gameplay? It’s just a sneaky trap. One that will make you realize what’s happened too late and make you redo your playthrough. Or just throw your GBA out the window. Should class changing even be there? What should they have done instead? Oh I dunno, maybe play FE8 to learn what…?
・ To wrap this long post up, I’ll direct your attention to one positive aspect of the game: the replay value. Off the top of my head, I cannot name a game that encourages you so much to play it multiple times. And the first argument for replaying FE7 might be the Supports. It’s a feature you do not need to complete the game or anything. The tutorial only alludes to it vaguely, saying the characters “can support each other” or something. Basicly, it’s about making units that know each other stand on adjacent squares as much as possible to deepen their friendship. After a number of turns spent near an acquaintance, Support conversations happen – there are three for every pairing. Most available units only get several lines to say in the proper campaign, but thanks to Supports, you get to read dialogues that develop them as characters. As a teen completionist, I wanted to unlock the untire list of Supports available in the menus next to the Sound Room… but that would take twenty playthroughs at least, so I gave up after a while. You could say FE7 taught me to be less of an obsessive-compulsive tard. And that’s only one reason to play the game multiple times. There’s the Eliwood route, the Hector route, hard modes for both, perfecting your tactician rating, unlocking CGs and tunes in the Sound Room… And even without those, simply trying out different units is fun enough.
Such is FE7. A game that makes me tear up to this day, for more than one reason. The music, the visuals, the gameplay, the story… It’s a game I probably devoted several percent of my life to. I regret nothing, though. Love it.