Forgive me Tharja, for I have sinned.
I have a confession for all of you. A shameful, dark, secret that is a blight on my Nintendo fandom. I’ve never finished a Fire Emblem game. There have been close calls in the past, but I’ve always fallen off before the end. What’s an acceptable penance? Saying 10 “Hail Mario’s”? Pray to the Rosalina beads? I don’t want my Nintendo card revoked!
Perhaps you don’t think this is a big deal. Fire Emblem has only recently gained mainstream popularity with the 3DS games and the success of Three Houses on Switch. Unfortunately, I can’t use that excuse. This transgression on my part goes back decades.
I was a GameCube early adopter, and I loved that little purple lunchbox. Super Smash Bros. Melee was a wonderful Christmas present for me in December 2001 and it was my first exposure to Fire Emblem, as Marth and Roy were unlockable fighters. In fact, Roy was one of my favorite characters to use in the game despite not being as knowledgeable about his place in Nintendo history as other characters like Link or Samus Aran.
Fast forward a few years to 2005. Another Christmas, another GameCube game. This time it was Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. By then, I was familiar with the series from Nintendo Power and other video game media. I don’t think I had played a strategy RPG before, but I made some headway with the help of a strategy guide (remember those?). I very distinctly remember that I made it to chapter 18, because the prior chapter is a 4-part beast. At some point after that, I stopped. No idea why, but I never went back to it. I let my cousin borrow the game and he fell in love with it, probably getting farther than I ever did.
My next opportunity to right the wrong came with the Nintendo DS and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon in 2009. This remake of the first game in the series featured Marth, a character I already knew from Melee. I can’t recall exactly when I bought the game, but I did at some point. Multiple times apparently, as I have 2 copies of it, making it twice as damning that I’ve only played it for a few hours.
Ah, but surely that’s the worst of it, right? I wish that were true, but sadly, this is just the beginning of this woeful tale. Alas, the 3DS was the pinnacle of my guilt. Again, I was an early adopter, and as such was rewarded with the wonderful title of “3DS Ambassador” after the early price cut. What was the gift? Free games! Beloved NES and GBA games including…hold on, what’s that? Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, you beautiful reminder of my tainted past. Could Erika and Ephraim carry me through to the end and quell my degenerate behavior? They battled valiantly for 28 hours according to my 3DS playtime log but succumbed to defeat. Another Fire Emblem title added to the pile of skeletons in my closet.
Hark, what is that ray of light? No, it’s not Radiant Dawn. That shining beacon in 2013 was Fire Emblem: A-Waifu…er, Awakening. This, my friends, was it. My chance to dispel the curse that had haunted me for years. My own personal version of The Tell-Tale Heart would be coming to an end. Permadeath was now optional. There was a relationship system with time shenanigans to recruit the offspring. Accessibility options in the Fire Emblem series were better than ever. I was all in.
I bought Awakening at launch and was hooked. The gameplay was polished and fun. The characters were interesting and genuinely fun to interact with. I didn’t care that Tharja had no feet…neither did anyone else. I looked past her awkward behaviors and dark ways as we are all wont to do at times. Things were going great. I was pairing off characters left and right, hoping to see what useful children they would provide. 35 hours strong…I was finally doing it! And then I didn’t. I stopped. Again.
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me every time? Permadeath for my Fire Emblem love. I was a broken man. No weapon triangle could overcome the Fire Emblem-shaped hole in my heart. More 3DS games came out and I passed. Why would I buy a new installment when I still had Awakening to finish? Three Houses came to Nintendo Switch. It looked great and by then the characters had real, actual feet, and yet I knew in my heart that the ending would be the same. If I bought Three Houses, I would never know the true joy and satisfaction of playing through to the end. So, I passed on it.
Honestly, I don’t know what it is that causes me to stop playing Fire Emblem games. I’ve obviously paid enough attention to the series to make the terrible jokes that litter this article. Maybe I’m just a deviant…it’s not you, Fire Emblem, it’s me.
I can’t say that it’s the strategy genre as a whole either. I’ve played and completed Mario + Rabbids, and while I know it’s not a 1:1 match, it’s still similar enough to compare. Wargroove is like Advance Wars with a Fire Emblem aesthetic, and I finished that one too. I even beat Code Name S.T.E.A.M.! Ok, that’s a lie. Very few people actually played that one.
Not even the threat of permadeath can be used as an excuse for me since Awakening made that optional nearly a decade ago. The Fire Emblem games have only grown more accessible and popular since Awakening when I really gave it the last chance.
And now, another opportunity has peeked over the horizon. Fire Emblem Engage was revealed at the latest Nintendo Direct and releases in mere months. Perhaps, I should make the jump with this entry and really open my heart to it? They’re practically begging me to get back into the series with the name of this entry. “Engage with us, you silly scallywag!”
Yet, I’m afraid of being hurt again. How many times must I be sprayed with water before I stop jumping up on the counter? Time and time again I fail myself and fall deeper into this hole of humiliation. I’ve borne my soul as a naughty Nintendo boy and it seems that I will have to endure whatever Fates, Fire Emblem has in store for me.