I have spent most of the last week feeling incredibly hyped for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, one of a handful of games I’m most excited to play this summer. Whenever I’m feeling pumped for a new game, one thing I tend to do is go back and play or replay old games in the same series. This means I’ve been revisiting my old Fire Emblem: Awakening save, and let me tell you: I am pretty sure I was bad at this game.
First, you should know that I came to Fire Emblem extremely late. I got into Awakening after messing around with Fire Emblem Heroes when it dropped on mobile in early 2017. (The Nintendo 3DS was also something I got into extremely late.) Prior to that, strategy games were only an occasional part of my gaming diet. Some Military Madness here, some XCOM: Enemy Unknown there.
This is me making excuses for all the characters I got killed in my Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough. I played with permadeath on, because I believed in consequences in 2017 and I believe in them now. I also, apparently, believe in keeping a record of what a strategic moron I am.
I returned to my old save two years later to be reminded that, across 14 story missions and a handful of side missions, I let 9 out of the 27 characters I recruited die. That’s a third of my army! Who in their right mind would fight for me? At this rate, Frederick should depose my sorry ass. Hell, Donnel – who is somehow still alive in my game – would probably do better. I am a reckless punk, undeserving of the burden of leadership. Give it to the boy with a pot for a hat.
This led to a crisis of conscience in the middle of my long Fourth of July weekend: Do I continue to recklessly plunge ahead, consequences be damned, living with the fallout like my colleague Jason Schreier did before me? Or do I commit to cracking this game slowly, keeping all my remaining characters alive and restarting if I fail, so I can become the mastermind I know I can be by the time Three Houses releases?
At first, I tried the latter. Instead of ploughing ahead, I began Chapter 15 with the attitude that my first attempt would be merely to get to know the map, with no expectation of winning. That worked out pretty well for a couple hours. Then I got to Chapter 17, and it became impossible to go more than three turns without someone dying.
Part of this wasn’t my fault. Fire Emblem: Awakening is pretty fair as far as strategy games go – there’s room for some surprises, but you generally know how a fight’s going to turn out before you begin. Unfortunately, I kept getting surprised, with an enemy Arcmage scoring a critical hit on one of my strongest units, killing him with one impossibly strong blow on three separate attempts.
Other times I failed to read the room, forgetting that archers can shoot over some walls and mixing up the rock-paper-scissors “weapon triangle” that determines which units have the advantage in a fight. I like making big, ballsy dramatic plays, and Awakening’s rigidly defined system of character strengths and weaknesses encourage a more patient approach akin to puzzle-solving. I don’t have anything against puzzles – in fact, I love ‘em. But give me an army full of pegasus-riding valkyries and axe-wielding badasses and I’m going to want to dive right into the shit with them, you feel me?
After no fewer than seven attempts at Chapter 17 in which I lost at least one soldier every time, I think I’ve figured out how I like playing Fire Emblem games: I love being a reckless punk. I am the Dominic Toretto of the Fire Emblem universe, living my life a quarter mile at a time, fast and furious until the day I die. Or, more likely, until my entire army dies around me, because I am a monster who has not absorbed a single lesson these games have tried to impart about the horrors of war.