Fire Emblem Fates has finally released state-side, to the joy of many and chagrin of many others. The translated and localized version unsurprisingly still suffers from the problems that it had in its original release, but I don’t believe those watching the game were that surprised with how it came out. While those problems deserve discussion, and talk of how the translated dialogue itself also deserves some scrutiny, today I’m not looking at any of those. (And probably won’t until I finish all three games.)
In the previous installment of Fire Emblem—Awakening—the player character had to help the royalty of their world to put an end to a war; not a particularly new theme to the series, but neither is it a theme that suffers from possible interesting and poignant takes on it. Again, in Fates, the player character must help to bring an end to a war that will devastate the world if allowed to go on. I don’t have a problem that Fates is using the same plot again—though I would say the writers added a sort of nuance to Fates that Awakening didn’t have—but I do have a problem that its catalyst for the characters getting “serious” is the same. That is to say, the war really only comes to a head over the death of a woman.
Spoilers for Awakening and Fates (Birthright and Conquest), and a trigger warning for suicide under the cut.
Awakening’s war between the countries of Ylisse and Plegia are over a powerful tool—the titular Fire Emblem. The king of Plegia, Gangrel, captures the Ylisseian Exalt (ruler), Emmeryn, in a bid to have Prince Chrom trade the Fire Emblem for his sister’s life. However, Chrom’s actions make no difference, as instead of allowing herself to be slain by Gangrel for her family’s crimes against Plegia or be saved by Chrom, Emmeryn commits suicide.
After this act, Chrom’s forces hit harder than ever, and many of the Plegian forces begin to lose their conviction, feeling touched after Emmeryn’s sacrifice.
Similarly, in Fates, the war between Nohr and Hoshido sits at a simmer as King Garon (from Nohr) slowly begins to capture Hoshidan forts. However, when player character and Nohrian royalty Corrin is captured by Hoshidan forces, they discover that they’re actually the child of the Hoshidan queen, Queen Mikoto. Though they have no recollection of their childhood, Corrin immediately finds Hoshido a nice, welcoming place, and that despite their absence, Mikoto loves them just deeply as ever. When Mikoto calls for a gathering to re-introduce Corrin back into their family formally, the sword Corrin received from Garon explodes, leading to the death of Queen Mikoto. The death both leads to Corrin’s ability to turn into a dragon being unlocked, and the intensifying of the war between Hoshido and Nohr.
There is nothing inherently misogynistic about women dying during a time of war, but in the case of these two recent Fire Emblem games, what makes it troublesome is that these women were denied their personhood. Emmeryn and Mikoto are not characters, they are ideas. Both women are the personification of everything good and pure in their respective worlds. Emmeryn is an idealist, a pacifist, and kind to a fault. She wants the war to end so that all people will stop suffering, even if it’s at the cost of her own life. Mikoto, similarly, loves all of her children dearly as well as her country, and in return they love her back just as much. To Corrin, who states that they don’t remember her and don’t really feel the same kind of familial love for her, she is patient and kind, giving them space to figure out their own feelings, despite the fact that Hoshido technically now has a member of the Nohrian royal family as a prisoner of war. However, the player outside of the game world never gets to see any further interactions with these women: no character talks about any aspect of them that isn’t related to how good and pure and just they are. So when they die, it isn’t a character dying, it is a direct attack on the concept of goodness in the world. We are prompted to react not because someone we like was unjustly killed, or that the death will have negative political ramifications, but because it’s bad to kill such good things.
Furthermore, these deaths are just plot devices to force the male characters to act. In Awakening, the player character was really a secondary character to Chrom, the prince of Ylisse. It’s only after Emmeryn’s death that Chrom really accepts the difficulties that come with being a member of the royal family and the protector of the Fire Emblem. Additionally, Emmeryn seems to only be remembered postmortem in relation to how Chrom has grown as a leader, without much emphasis on her own achievements. The death of Mikoto in Fates likewise serves to cut Hoshidan brother, Takumi, into a sharp edge of vengeance and bitterness. In the Conquest path, his body is literally possessed by this rage and causes him to single-mindedly target Corrin. In the Birthright path, Mikoto’s death is also the sole reason why Corrin decides to join with Hoshido, rather than returning to the only family they’ve ever known in Nohr. No matter the path, though, this event is the sole trigger to the awakening of Corrin’s dragon powers (despite Corrin admitting that they never really thought of Mikoto as their mother previously). While I should note that Corrin can be any gender, it’s not difficult to imagine that they were canonically intended to be male since they can wield one of the legendary weapons, and all the other wielders of legendary weapons in Fates are male. Yet even if Corrin wasn’t male, this doesn’t excuse anything.
As another famous game series said, “war never changes,” but that doesn’t mean that war has to rely on the same old harmful tropes. For two games now Fire Emblem has asked me to feel emotional over an attack on an ideal rather than a character, and I’m just tired. If, in your game about war, you can truly find no better reason for the rising action to happen than to kill off a woman, then maybe you need to sit down and consider what the stakes of the war truly are. This is a trend of laziness. The question we really need to ask is, as posed by fireemblemfanatic, “… had Emmeryn been a male character, would she have acted the same way?” By the same token, if Mikoto had been a male character, would she have been killed off in a way where she had no power to fight back? In Mikoto’s case the answer is clearly “no”, as her husband was also a victim of the war but instead died protecting baby Corrin from Nohrian forces (you know, with a sword and actual battle). And if Emmeryn had been male, I’m sure we would have gotten a scene of the Exalt going down in a much less pacifistic way. Unfortunately, with the massive popularity of both games, I doubt we’ll see a change in this trend any time soon.