Back when I got a 3Ds early in 2014, one of the first games I picked up was Fire Emblem Awakening. I had never played a Fire Emblem game before and heard much praise not only about this game, but the series in general. I had to give it a shot.
My first play throughs were generally fun, I liked analyzing the battle field, my enemies positions, how to reach them with the least amount of resistance and seize victory by the throat. However, it’s been 3 years since I got this game, and I’ve yet to finish it. There has been another title released in the series since, and since last night, several games announced for several platforms. It’s safe to say I am falling behind fast here.
I’ve had a fascination for the past few years to play games on harder difficulties. Why I came upon with this mindset started when I first played Mass Effect 3. I enjoy that trilogy up to that point, but for whatever reason, when playing through the first bits of the game, I felt like the enemies were not challenging me enough and it was taking away some of the fun for me, so I ended up cranking the difficulty to Insanity. Let me tell you, the name chosen speaks for itself. Right away bad guys were killing me, and I had trouble getting past a few meager guards. I persevered however no matter how highly stacked the odds seemed against me.
I will say, yes, the game was hard, but this I think opened up a whole new dimension of the game for me. When playing on normal, I was just breezing through the game, and considering the main story arc of Mass Effect is to save not just humanity, but the entire galaxies races from extinction, it didn’t seem fitting that this came so easily. What the increased difficulty gave me was a heightened sense of urgency and importance to the overall game. Not only were the Reapers devastating monsters, laying wastes to huge cities in the blink of an eye with seemingly no way to stop them, but the increased challenge really gave me that overwhelming feeling that everything was just falling apart and everything was working against me. In think the opening sequence helps dictate this from a cinematic point of view very well, but when the gameplay itself starts throwing these stacked odds against me, at times I felt very helpless. It became clear that Sheppard could not do this alone, in fact, even with his trusty team of skills companions it wasn’t going to be easy, but it really drove the bullet home that uniting the galaxy against this single threat was now his only hope for victory.
The game became way more immersive for me. Not just from a cinematic perspective, but even in the heat of battles. There are several instances in the game where it seems like unspeakable evil forces are throwing waves of terrifying foes at your endlessly. I mean some of the creatures looked horrifying, and to top it off, they are strong as fuck! During these battles I died a lot, but was legitimately having fun challenging myself to push forward and ultimately persevere. During the battle, my heart beat was racing, I was probably breathing as if in a state of panic, the game made me feel all these things, which I never really felt before playing a game that wasn’t considered a horror game. Things like intense explosions, guns firing, the voice acting mid battle really sold the experience with the added difficulty. I felt in fear of Sheppards life, and regardless of the inconvenience of having him die and starting all over, I wanted to see him overcome these challenges. It transformed the entire experience for me approaching the game this way and immersing myself in ways I never thought possible.
There was much reward in this, not only did I force myself to learn about the game more and really analyze how effective certain weapons and skills were. Each battle won was a huge relief and gave me a huge sense of accomplishment, and by the time I reached higher levels, my combat skills were so advanced and well trained I was running over bad guys like a tank at this point. Nothing felt better than that, to see how far the character had grown since the beginning of the game. I would approach battles dreading them knowing there was slim chance I’d get through it easily, to the point where all this work paid off and there is a huge sense of satisfaction to destroy enemies that previously were things of nightmares. I’ve never been in any battles nor do I want to say I know what they would be like, but I’d like to think what I felt playing Mass Effect 3 gave me more a less some form of those feelings one might experience and really enhanced the game for me.
Why did I go on a long winded re-imagining of my experience with Mass Effect 3? Well ever since then, any new games I’ve picked up, I’ve right away shot the difficulty up to the most difficult setting. Generally this still works in my favour and gives me that added challenge that makes the games overall more enjoyable for me now, but there are times where it backfires. Fire Emblem Awakening became one of those games. When I started Fire Emblem Awakening, I set the difficulty to max and enabled permadeath thinking this was a great way to start the game. I quickly learned that this was no easy task, given I never really play strategy games like this. I ended up lowering the difficulty slightly to the point where the game still felt challenging but I was able to progress, but I left permadeath on. This lead to an obsession where I wanted to keep progressing, but I refused to let anyone die, and I would restart the game the moment one of the characters was defeated in battle just so I wouldn’t miss out on anything extra I may not have see otherwise.
When playing games, there is this desire to see and complete everything 100%. Sometimes we get so carried away with all these extras that we lose sight of the main objective that needs to be completed. In some cases, it’s worth it as long as the game offers meaningful rewards for the effort and time spent. There are games where I have put in the effort to complete it 100%, and it was well worth it to learn things about characters I may not have found out otherwise. In rare cases I’ve had more fun playing side quests and poured hours upon hours into them and still had fun. More often than not though, there are games where part way through, I’m realizing that doing these things will not significantly impact the overall experience for me. It will not enhance the story or provide me with any additional content I may not have seen otherwise, and it’s time to move on.
The challenge of Fire Emblem however, through many of the articles I’ve read about it talk about how great it is seeing characters bond and finding out how their relationships flourish later in the game. My obsession to see the characters in this light and make it to the end of each battle did force me to play very smart, but also brought a huge downside and forced me to cheat. As soon as one of my comrades fell in battle, like a coward not willing to come to terms with their death, I restarted the game… over and over and over again. Sure it’s great that I’m able to witness my team bask in the glory of victory and bond afterwards in the barracks, but I can’t help but feel I am really cheating the overall experience and making the game drag on way longer than it should. I made a conscience decision to play on the higher difficulties and play with permadeath, but I’m unwilling to accept the consequences that permadeath is what it is, and as soon as someone dies, they are gone forever.
In Mass Effect 3, I came to terms that the higher difficulty generally meant I would be getting my ass kicked over and over again, I need to come to terms with the same in Fire Emblem and push forward no matter what, if my desire is to see all the characters make it through, then I am better off restarting the game and turning permadeath off. However I will not do this, I am going to persevere as I am making the conscious decision to play with permadeath, and I will do my damned best the make sure no one person is left behind! But should they fall, they will not be forgotten. I will avenge them as I look into their killers eyes while I drive my glimmering Falchion as sharp as a wolfs fangs through their beating heart!
And while they lie there in waste! I will rip out their heart and…
Maybe I should stop, I might be getting a bit carried away…