Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Short Thoughts on Fire Emblem: Awakening vs. Fates and emotional manipulation

I listened to some music from the soundtracks of Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates a little while ago, and it occurred to me that while I look back (not that far, admittedly) on Awakening very fondly, I tend to feel a bit ... bitter when I think about Fates. The sentiment that usually comes to mind is based around a comment I saw on a gaming website: "'Fire Emblem: Pay For the Canon Ending'".

This got me thinking. For all the improvements we saw in Fates' gameplay features over Awakening, like the revised (read: less broken) Pair Up system and the multiplayer-friendly features like My Castle and actual PvP combat, the story (and some gimmicks related to it) feels like a step backwards.

Awakening, in my opinion, for the most part has a very generic-feeling story, but makes up for it with great characters (which the Support conversation scenes flesh out well) and decent pacing overall, save for the lull in the middle of the game. Meanwhile, Fates, in my opinion, tries too hard to make you feel for the characters, to get you invested in them and their struggle regardless of how naturally inclined you might be to do so.

I would go so far as to say that Fire Emblem: Fates is deliberately emotionally manipulative.

I mean, yeah, a lot of stories are to some degree, depending on your point of view. I don't think it's uncommon for a writer to stick in some sad lines or disastrous events to kick in the reader's empathy. But Fates hits the player hard and fast - most people will get to Chapter 5 within an hour or two, and we're treated to a fully-animated cutscene where a character very close to the protagonist - the player's Avatar - is killed by a sudden and brutal attack, courtesy of the Avatar's surrogate father, and the Avatar is filled with so much grief and rage that they transform into a dragon, right before kicking off Chapter 5's battle.

Awakening waits until Chapter 9 to pull its big death stunt (barring the opening cutscene, which carries different connotations because of the circumstances), which (as I remember) takes around 6-9 hours to arrive at, depending on difficulty. It gives you a lot more time to get emotionally invested in the characters and their plights. Plus, not every emotional moment is directly related to you, as the Avatar; the Avatar's role is more of a deuteragonist in this game (though it does shift a lot in the third act).

In contrast, every big scene in Fates is supposed to be tied to you (the Avatar) somehow. Your family from the house you sided against brand you a traitor. Your father of Nohr turned evil. Your mother dies. Your eldest siblings face you off near the climax.

On top of this, while Awakening gives what many consider to be a very satisfying ending, Fates leaves the player hanging if they play Birthright or Conquest.

All of this leads me to believe that Fates was written specifically to manipulate the player into feeling invested in the characters, so as to want a better resolution and pay for the other story paths. Indeed, the aforementioned "canon ending", Revelationcannot be played through without also buying Birthright and/or Conquest. You must spend $60 to $80 instead of the baseline $40, to get either a downloadable copy of Revelation's data or a physical cartridge with all three paths.

I don't know why Intelligent Systems went with this pricing path. Maybe they thought it was honestly clever. Maybe they knew they needed a way to give newcomers and old hands appropriate ways to enjoy the same world and wrote Revelation because they couldn't fit the necessary plot threads into the separate versions. I don't know. But what it feels like is that they tried out a different scheme to make some extra money that turned out to be just a little too transparent, and I'm less inclined to buy the next Fire Emblem as a result.