I’ve finally taken the time to sit down and watch the Fire Emblem Direct that aired on the 18th. While I’m excited for the proposed game coming out for the Switch in 2018 (about which no details have been given yet), and I’ll probably enjoy Fire Emblem Warriors with the same undevoted, “it’s good for killing some time” mindset that I did Hyrule Warriors, I find myself conflicted on the other two titles that were brought up during the event. Both Fire Emblem: Echoes and Fire Emblem: Heroes are beautiful games that will probably be fun and enjoyable. However, with both of them, I fear that the series may be slipping back into some tropes that we really should be past in 2017.
Like many others, I jumped on the Fire Emblem train back in 2012 when Awakening came out (or maybe a year after, since I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to buy it). Understandably, I had very little knowledge on the games that came before outside of the fact that they existed, and that some of them probably had Marth and/or Roy in them, since Smash Bros had both of them as playable fighters. So while Nintendo says Fire Emblem: Echoes is a re-telling of an earlier game, it may as well be a new entry entirely, to me; but I digress. Echoes is a re-designed release of 1992’s Japan-only Fire Emblem: Gaiden, which focuses on a pair of friends, Alm and Celica, and the building war between two vastly different nations. As I don’t want to spoil the story for myself, I haven’t looked into the finer details, but from what I’ve seen it doesn’t seem terrible by any means. In fact, both Echoes and Gaiden are interesting because they star dual protagonists: the knight Alm and the priestess Celica. Additionally, the armor design looks surprisingly functional and suitable for battle, and Echoes has even taken one of the more important-seeming party members, Boey, and changed his skin color to a darker shade, adding at least a little bit more diversity to the incredibly pale cast.
Taking all this into account, I can now say that my hesitation with Echoes is not necessarily with the game itself, but its advertising. While we have dual protagonists, each with presumably equal importance to the plot, they’ve been promoted in vastly different ways. Alm is shown in the promotional art bravely holding his sword, stoically facing down dangers untold. Celica is shown praying and… praying… and that’s it. I get it: Celica is a priestess, so of course she’s going to be praying at some point, but this shouldn’t be the only thing she does. She has a sword, damn it! Let her have a cool sword pose too. While there are only one or two pieces of artwork out at this moment, the Direct had the most troubling hint of Celica not getting equal treatment. As the features of the game continued to be shown off, much of the gameplay showed Alm in battle as part of a story mission and whatnot. Over and over, Alm was shown fighting, yet Celica was only shown engaged in battle once. I realize this is a small thing, but it doesn’t make it any less disappointing to see. Glancing briefly through the Gaiden characters, it seemed as though all of the ladies were either magic users or pegasus knights (a battle class only for women), and while it’s disappointing to see less equal gender distribution between all combat classes, it’s even more disappointing to have it be implied, intentionally or not, that the female protagonist just isn’t going to sell the game like the guy can. As I’ve explored in previous articles, games created for girls have a much lower chance of actually being advertised, and even when the games feature both male and female protagonists, it’s much more likely that the male will be the one focused on because this is what’s considered more marketable. This could absolutely change in the future—I could be forced to eat my words once more material comes out—but I would have much more faith in this if Echoes’s announcement came with equal screen time for both protagonists doing roughly equivalent actions (ie: fighting, being in cut-scenes, etc.).
On the other side of the spectrum, Fire Emblem: Heroes is exactly the kind of game that is going to suck me in whether I want it to or not. I don’t have a lot of time these days, so when I game, I usually play mobile games, which is exactly what Heroes is. Heroes once again puts the player in the middle of a war between two sides, but this time the player’s army is comprised of various heroes from previous Fire Emblem games—you can see how that could be appealing to fans of the series, new and old. Of course, there’s a very basic “problem” that, given it’s a mobile game, it’s going to have gatcha mechanics. “Gatcha” is a specific type of microtransaction in which you pay for a chance to “recruit” various characters—getting the character you want is never guaranteed, and rarer/more powerful characters typically come at a 1% or lower chance. Given that Nintendo’s implementing a mechanic where each successive pull from the gatcha will cost less, parents with kids playing this game and other players alike will have to keep tabs on their spending habits closely. (Gatcha in other games have gotten me quite a few times—I feel your pain.) However, Heroes maintains the same issues with race as well as adding on some creepy moe-inspired shit on the side.
The problem with Heroes is that right now, players don’t know who will be in the game. So as of this moment, the only non-pale character is advertised as being an enemy. This is a trope that’s used all too often in video games—especially JRPGS—and it’s really disheartening to see it make a comeback here. Furthermore, currently Nintendo is running an event where prospective players of Heroes get to vote on characters they want to see in the game—the most popular choices (one guy, one lady) will be included without doubt. Given the already slim pickings, the chance that characters of color will get in on popularity vote is very small, and if Nintendo/Intelligent Systems doesn’t think that the character will be profitable, they may not make it into the game at all. This could have been slightly less of an issue if the two main characters from the “good” side were not pale; however, now players will have to rely on chance and the good will of the developers that these other characters get in.
While Fates, the previous installment of the series, brought the waifu-ing to a whole new level with the “My Room” feature, Heroes may potentially be doing something with a similar potentially creepy tinge. Showing battle damage is not something particularly new in Japanese games—when a character takes enough damage, their character sprite, in turn, looks more damaged and injured than before. Heroes implements this into its gameplay as well. While I absolutely don’t think this is a problem in and of itself, it can quickly get into really awful territory if approached in a less accurate, more moe manner. What I mean by this is if the damage is simply shown to be clothes ripping in provocative areas, we’re going to have issues. This gets into worrying territory almost immediately since, depending on which heroes are in the game, this sort of graphical extra can quickly turn pedophilic, because Fire Emblem boasts many underage and underage-looking characters. While Lucina’s damaged artwork is veering on the creepier side of this, Tiki’s is… not the worst thing ever. However, given the more cheesecake-y vibe of a lot of the armor in Fates, I don’t exactly have the hope that they’ll continue with this sort of discretion.
Older fans of the Fire Emblem series have repeatedly complained that the series has been declining ever since Awakening’s success. True, some of the more dating-sim-y, otaku-appealing aspects have irrevocably changed some of the focuses as far as development is concerned. While I don’t think these have ruined the series, I do believe that Fire Emblem shouldn’t be reliant on them when moving the series forward. Echoes is set to be a good test to see if a Fire Emblem that doesn’t focus on the support system or who you can marry can be popular in an overseas market. While I sincerely hope it does well, I also hope that marketers take another look at the promotional material and decide to give a fair shake to the ladies of the game, especially since given the general gaming demographic, it can be assumed that a sizable portion of Fire Emblem players are women. Heroes, on the other hand, needs to try extra hard to not slip into alienating, creepy otaku fetishy bullshit while also doing its best to diversify its characters with the lack they already have. Either way, they will be popular, I’m sure, but man, some trends we just need to put a pin in already.