Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s more ignored franchises when it comes to the Western world. While there have been thirteen games released in the series, only five have been released outside of Japan. Though Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance finally received an international release in 2003, the reality is that most people have only heard of Fire Emblem because Marth, Roy and Ike have appeared in the Super Smash Bros. series. To put it bluntly, the franchise simply isn’t as popular in North America and Europe as it is in Japan, and as a result Fire Emblem is rarely mentioned in relation to Nintendo’s upcoming console. But that needs to change, because a series as unique as Fire Emblem has a lot of potential that could really be taken advantage of on Wii U.
For those who have never played a Fire Emblem game, the gameplay of each entry doesn’t vary much. Combat is done in turns, and the player must strategically advance allied units to meet the goal of the mission, whether it’s to seize a base, defeat a boss or another of many various objectives. In each mission there are enemy units that must be faced, but it isn’t as simple as just moving any one of your units into battle. Most games involve a basic weapon triangle that determines advantages and disadvantages, and players need to be very careful with how they employ their units because once they are defeated in battle, they’re gone forever; death is permanent. This is one of the things that makes Fire Emblem so different from other strategy games. Your troops don’t ever come back, so the player should think twice before sending units into battle where they’re at a disadvantage.
With this in mind, Fire Emblem is a franchise that could use the features of Wii U very well, as every game contains a lot of information that the player has to be aware of before moving any unit. It would be very easy to manage all of this on the touch screen controller rather than on the television, as this would reduce the amount of clutter on the screen and leave more space for epic battle sequences. After all, while knowledge of the relationship between different weapons is vital to success, the combat system isn’t quite as one dimensional as it sounds. Units with higher levels have more health points and deal more damage when attacking, so this is something the player always needs to take into account when planning their moves. Likewise, simply having an advantageous weapon isn’t enough to win a match-up, especially since most weapons are disposable and only have a limited number of uses. Being well-stocked and having access to a back up weapon is vital, as a unit without a weapon is basically a defenseless target for the opposing troops. However, weapons aren’t the only items that units need to carry either, and a stock of healing items should always be kept in case of emergency– you never want to lose a valuable unit just because your healing items have depleted! Of course, in addition to managing your own units and inventory, players also have to keep tabs on their enemy forces too, making the touch screen a perfect place to house your strategic hub.
As you may know, in every Fire Emblem game the layout of each mission is in the form of a grid. While this is effective and functional for this type of gameplay, it isn’t exactly visually dynamic. Because Wii U is going to be an HD console, I really want to be impressed by the appearance of the next Fire Emblem game. The touch screen doesn’t have to be limited to having one use. In addition to managing units, items and statistics, it would be great if the grid layout appeared on the controller.This would allow the game to keep using this format, as it works very well for a tactical strategy game. However, it would also allow for very impressive visuals on the television screen. You could move your units on the touch screen grid while they move across realistic, HD landscapes on the television, thereby allowing the game to retain its functionality while taking full advantage of the system’s capabilities.
Finally, I would like to see more interactions between characters during the missions, as opposed to most interactions taking place during lengthy periods of dialogue in between levels. Honestly speaking, there really isn’t a point of permanent death if the player doesn’t become attached to the characters. When they lack distinct personalities, the units seem more like disposable pawns. Support conversations were a great way to work in character development, but I would really like to see them take it further. For those unfamiliar with the franchise, support conversations are interactions that can occur between specific characters if they are placed next to each other during missions often enough, and while they were a great part of the gameplay, they were also very specific to certain characters. More complex interactions during missions, rather than in between, would not only further character development, but would also make the game more immersive because it would be occurring during the gameplay, when the player is the most engaged.
But there’s one thing that I absolutely don’t want to see in Fire Emblem for Wii U. Recall that in the leaked trailer for Rayman Legends, players were seen placing specific items on the screen to initiate a response in the game. If this concept was incorporated into Fire Emblem, it would just seem like a cheap cash-in. One of the most interesting things about this series is experimenting with various conversations between allies and enemies because an opponent can be recruited as an ally if the right person speaks to them. The ability to buy figures that could be used as allies would take out some of the appeal of the game, as well as make it less challenging. Similarly, because Fire Emblem: Awakening (currently only released in Japan) is the first in the series to use paid downloadable content, I wouldn’t like to see Fire Emblem for Wii U rely too heavily on DLC.
While Fire Emblem may never reach the tier of Mario in popularity, it certainly shouldn’t be ignored as a contender for a future Wii U title, hopefully one with a release outside of Japan. In the meantime, let’s hope that Fire Emblem: Awakening heads west soon to hold us over.
All this week at Nintendojo —