Thought Bubble: I Finally Understand the Appeal of Fire Emblem

I’ll be honest. I’ve always been slightly dismissive of the Fire Emblem franchise. It’s not that I have anything against Fire Emblem as much as the series just never seemed that relevant.  I’ve never played any of the previous installments and none of my friends or colleagues seem to think that’s particularly odd. Given my limited time for games there wasn’t much incentive to get caught up. Fire Emblem rarely gets mentioned on ‘Best Of’ lists alongside other beloved Nintendo properties like Mario and Zelda. No one has drunkenly sung its praises to me while eagerly recalling the games that shaped their childhoods.

That’s why I rolled my eyes every time Nintendo added another dozen Fire Emblem characters to Smash Bros. I couldn’t quite figure out why Corrin got the same pomp and circumstance as Bayonetta and Cloud. Was anyone truly excited to see Corrin turn up in a fighting game reserved for Nintendo’s most popular and iconic characters?

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Fortunately, I always try to admit when I’ve been wrong, and after going to Nintendo’s recent Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest launch event in Toronto, I’m guessing that the answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’ Even though last Friday was one of the coldest days we’ve had all year, people still lined up outside for hours in hopes of spending twenty minutes with a game that would be on store shelves in less than a week. The line stretched out the door and around the block, filled with enthusiastic fans undeterred by frigid temperatures and crowds.

In other words, Fire Emblem apparently is the kind of franchise that inspires people to willingly brave the worst conditions. People showed up, some in costume and most with a 3DS in hand, each ready to demonstrate an undying devotion to a franchise that I’m only familiar with in passing. It’s yet another reminder that one should never underestimate the passion of fans of a well maintained fan base, even (and perhaps especially) when you’re not personally invested in that series.

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At the very least, I finally appreciate the energy that Nintendo and its fans have put into Fire Emblem over the years. I don’t have much to say about Birthright and Conquest because I only spent a few minutes with the games and I don’t know enough to comment on the more specific gameplay features. It looks like a fine tactics game, and it’s definitely the sort of thing I’d like to play if I had more time for handheld gaming. The story is especially ambitious, and I love the dramatic tension that results from Corrin’s split position between two warring families because it all but ensures that you’ll have meaningful, emotional connections with characters on both sides of the battlefield. It’s an excellent setup that forces the player to make difficult decisions with real stakes and that’s everything I look for in an epic RPG.

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That doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m about to jump on the Fire Emblem bandwagon, and in any case it’s not as if I’ve really doubted the quality of any long running Nintendo franchise. The company tends to make good games.

But it’s one thing to know that a game is probably good and quite another to play it for yourself to see the appeal firsthand. I’m a little unclear on the distinction between Birthright and Conquest, but Fire Emblem seems to be doing a lot of things right and I’m genuinely thrilled for the fans that will soon be playing a game that has them so excited that they’ll endure a cold Canadian winter just to get a picture with a replica of one of the swords. It reminds me of what it was like to love video games when I was younger, and I’m glad that that kind of unbridled enthusiasm still exists given the medium’s frequent forays into cynicism.

Fire Emblem fans have a cool game to look forward to. I hope Birthright and Conquest live up to your expectations.

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Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest debut on February 19.

 

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