As counter-intuitive as it might seem, I don’t think approaching Fire Emblem Echoes through the game it was based off will be all that productive. There’s a lot I could (and perhaps will) say about it, but it’s been about a decade since I’ve played Gaiden and my memories of it are hazy. In addition, Echoes, like so many remakes, is a reinterpretation of its source material instead of a faithful recreation of it. This reinterpretation is so removed from the circumstances of the original’s creation that the new set of circumstances clouds out the former, forcing us away from any purely comparative analysis.
How then, do we go about understanding this game? I think it would help to see Echoes not as one unified game, but as several games coexisting within the same body. Its task is a delicate one; it straddles many thin lines at once. Each one pulls the game’s attention in different directions, threatening to disrupt Echoes’ balance. I’d be lying if I said the game never loses its balance, and I’d be lying again if I said the game always lands on its feet when it does. But the tight control the game maintains the rest of the time allows it to reach its greatest heights, and the acrobatic displays during its tumbles lead to some memorable performances.
Hopefully the examples I’ve provided illuminate just how much the game has warped the ideals that Persona is supposed to represent. Or maybe Sessions’ follies reveal problems that had always plagued the series in one way or another. Whatever the case may be, this much is clear: there’s a mismatch at the game’s heart between what it claims to be achieving and what it actually achieves.
Note: Like my Nier blog, this piece ended up longer than I thought it would, so I’ve decided to split it up into two parts.
Another thing that bothered me was the trend of the main character always being portrayed as someone special — a legendary warrior, for example. It was the equivalent of saying you can’t succeed unless you’re from a wealthy family, and I just couldn’t stand that. I wasn’t born with special genes, and I’m sure most other players weren’t either. No matter who you are, if you’re given a chance and have the guts to try your best, you can become a hero… That became the concept of Megami Tensei.
These words, spoken by Kazuma Kaneko in a 2004 1UP interview, are often seen as perfectly summarizing the Shin Megami Tensei ethos. I’ve often seen them quoted as praise for the series, but that overlooks the fine line this ethos asks its creators to walk. They contradicted that spirit as early as Shin Megami Tensei II (whose protagonists are specifically engineered to bring about change in the world), and even if the creators hold true to the idea, venerating the average person presents its own dangers to avoid. Still, judging by games like Shin Megami Tensei If… and Persona 2 (and to a lesser extent the later Persona games), Atlus has successfully managed to tread the line for the past 25 or so years.
Over the past five months or so that I’ve played the game, Fire Emblem Fates has proven quite the journey. Even though all three games in this pseudo-trilogy are made up largely of the same parts, each one leaves their own distinctive mark. Birthright, for example, while structurally sound, was nonetheless uneasy about challenging or otherwise experimenting with anything it presented and suffered for it. Then Conquest picked up the mantle, doing more to challenge its story while preserving a lot of its predecessor’s idealism. The result was a richer, far more grounded counterpart to the Hoshidan campaign.
So where does that leave Revelation? Somewhere in between. This may not sound that surprising for a game that expects you to have completed both of the previous Fates (and is impossible to play unless you already own one of them), but it’s honestly the best way I can describe Revelation. For everything the game does to forge its own path, it achieves that by remixing various bits and pieces from the last two games. Unfortunately, such an awkward approach doesn’t work, at least not as well as it could have. Any chances Revelation had to realize its full potential are noticeably reduced by creative decisions that either distract from or drag down the story’s thematic thrust. Some of that potential shines through, but it also casts a long shadow of what the game could have been.
A couple of months back, I reviewed Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright on this blog. While there was quite a bit I admired about the game, I ultimately found it too idealistic to accomplish the goals it set out for itself. There were never any significant roadblocks for the relationships to overcome, and the narrative was all too willing to affirm the good/evil dichotomy between Hoshido and Nohr. So imagine my surprise when I found Conquest, a game born of the same blood, more willing to challenge many of these assumptions. In fact, Conquest is a lot more challenging a game all around; not just in the sense that it presents difficult tasks for the player to overcome (although that is part of why I liked it), but also in the sense that it’s more willing to challenge itself. The results speak for themselves. Conquest comes out as a more robust and grounded game than its Hoshidan cousin.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is by far the strangest game I’ve played in a while. Even putting aside the surface oddities, like the subtle intricacies to the rules or all of Chapter 3 (just trust me on this one), there’s a much deeper weirdness permeating the game. Before I go any further, I want to clarify that I found Birthright to be a compelling game; just not for the reasons it thinks it’s a compelling game. And to be perfectly honest, I’d very much prefer to forget those reasons altogether. But I can’t. They’re so strongly connected with Birthright’s greatest strengths that ignoring them is impossible. While they don’t condemn the game to outright mediocrity, they still hold it back in some very important ways.