Hey ya’ll, Noguchi here. Y’know, that guy that writes for Legends of Avenir and harasses Snakey and lurks around? Yeah that’s the one. So, this is kind of an essay I’ve been plotting on and off for awhile now, and given the rapid approach of FEE3, I figured it was a good time to go ahead and write it up before that event hits. So, what’s the purpose of this? What do I mean by “correctly”?
Honestly, that should become pretty obvious as we work through this post. There’s a few different parts to this I want to tackle before I reach a conclusion, however. I’ll preface this with a couple things: This is not going to be about Avenir. This is not going to be a massive guide on how to design levels. This is not going to be a guide on how to write chapters. This isn’t a guide. The title’s just something fancy to grab your attention. This post exists to tackle two issues: Controversial Mechanics, Hack Diversity, and Playstyles. And no, this isn’t meant to be a nice professionally written essay, I’m stuck doing enough of those right now as is (we love the college life). This is a nice casual thing that I hope will decrease some of the current issues and toxicity that I believe face this community right now. I’m not attacking anyone here. We’re all human. I know for a fact I’m guilty of some of the things I’ll discuss in this post. I just hope this will ultimately allow us to be more accepting at large within this growing community.
Let’s start off with this wild concept: Fire Emblem is a video game. I like to see video games as a sort of art form. If movies, TV shows, music, books, and all those things are art, then certainly video games are art as well. The really cool thing about art is how everyone does it differently. If you compare Picasso to Van Gogh, you’ll see a wide variety. Does that mean either of them are making something inherently bad? No, not at all. Cubism wouldn’t fit Van Gogh’s style, however. Does this make cubism bad? Not even remotely. It’s different. Different, wildly enough, isn’t inherently bad.
Extended metaphors aside, the same thing can be said for game mechanics. An individual game mechanic doesn’t make a game inherently bad. For a non-FE example, let’s look at Skyrim and the Shout mechanic. I think most people are probably pretty fond of the shouts in Skyrim. Who doesn’t like blasting these chickens off the tallest mountain in the world or breathing fire on your enemies? This mechanic wasn’t just thrown into the game. They calculated out how to balance the mechanic, make it work within their engine and with their combat. Imagine if Fire or Frost Breath actually worked as a constant stream of damage. It would be unbelievably overpowered. What’s the point here?
An individual mechanic can never be inherently bad on it’s own. If you balance a larger thing around a specific design choice, and it works, it’s good.
To put this into a Fire Emblem-related context, let’s look at the Skill System. This is far from the most controversial design decision hacks mack today, but it’s still controversial. If you insert the Skill System, with it’s default numbers, into vanilla FE8, it’s bad. Myrmidons can’t be hit so long as they initiate combat, Shaman get killed in one hit but also get killed in one hit, and seal skills basically make a character useless for a couple of turns. Vanilla FE8 wasn’t balanced with skills in mind, so the mechanic doesn’t work there. However, if you adjust numbers and balance your game around having skills, it can work. Take into account what classes have what skills, and make certain classes/skills counter those builds. Increase numbers across the board. But number inflation gives its own problem. On its own, it doesn’t work well, because the default formulas for battle calculations in FE8 just don’t work well with larger numbers. If you adjust those formulas, however, larger numbers are perfectly fine. In just a few sentences there, we’ve taken one mechanic, shown how problems CAN exist with that mechanic, and fixed them. Obviously it’s not really that easy and there has to be some pretty specific balancing, but regardless, the Skill System on it’s own isn’t bad. Neglecting to balance a game around the intended mechanics, however, is bad.
This can be applied with any number of things. Spellswords? Useless, right? Why would you ever use the sword on a spellsword character? They’ll almost always be fighting a character with lower res than defense, not to mention magic has 1-2 range whereas swords only have 1 range. How can we fix this? Well, you can rebalance Res and Defense across the board within your hack. You could find a way to debuff the spellswords spellcasting ability. Perhaps give them 2 range exclusivity with magic, or maybe can only use magic on player phase and default to their sword on enemy phase. It all depends on what YOU are seeking to do with YOUR hack. You can give spellswords higher strength, so that the only time it’s ideal to use magic is when you’re fighting heavy armored units that have extremely high defense but low resistance. Though in almost any other case, it’s more ideal to use the sword because damage output is higher with it. Implementing spellswords straight into any vanilla Fire Emblem? Yeah, pretty useless.
What this boils down to is no mechanic is inherently bad. There are so many other mechanics that often yield a “this hack bad” mentality from the community. But the question is, are the mechanics bad or is the balance around those mechanics bad? Too often will a hack creator decide to try something new with their mechanics and will get a “this hack bad” from the rest of the community. Often, the hack may be condemned without someone even trying to play it to see if the person took the steps to make their mechanics work. Saying that an individual mechanic is bad isn’t the answer. This acts as a good segway into Part 2…
This section should be a bit shorter, but it goes back to the same ideas voiced above, particularly going all the way back to Picasso or Van Gogh. For the record, it’s been years since I took an art class of any form and I don’t know why I’m sticking with this metaphor. Van Gogh especially had his art criticized as being bad. Why? Because it was different. Is different bad?
Well, let’s discuss that. Say every Fire Emblem hack in the entire community used the exact same mechanics. Every single one of them had a Lord that was a prince and use swords as a primary weapon. They all used a system where bows had 2-4 range. They all balanced classes exactly the same way. They all used the skill system with the same modified numbers. Every single hack had really amazing level design that really required you to think and place your units in good positions every turn, with incentive to move quickly to complete each chapter as “efficiently” (whatever that means) as possible. I could go on, but you get the idea. Every hack was great. But all for the exact same reasons.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I think that would be the death of the community. Nobody would play anybody else’s hack. If they all played the exact same, what would even be the point? What would the distinguishing factors be? It seems like it would be dreadfully boring to slog through another game that uses the exact same mechanics. There would be no “hey they did this differently, that’s pretty cool.”
I’ll be honest, this is definitely less of an issue than the controversial design choices discussed previously, but I think, to a degree, this is definitely still an issue. A lot of people in the community want people to design their hacks the same way. Especially with the fact that there are very few ways to make a hack unique as far as structure goes (obviously you have short hacks vs. long hacks, route splits vs. pure linear hacks, and then hacks that completely change up the structure), there’s no ignoring the fact that this community needs a diversity of mechanics. Each hack has to be able to bring something of its own to the table in order to survive. What better way to do that than to take some of the controversial mechanics and try to balance your hack around using some of them? Make a new magic system. Alter how weapon ranks work. These sorts of interesting quirks are the things that help make a hack stand out to me. I don’t want to play the same hack with a different story a billion times over, and I’m a story person. I play games for their story. Speaking of how I play games, let’s segway into Part 3.
As we’ve discussed, Fire Emblem is a video game. Most video games have a wide variety of players. Look at any FPS. Some people prefer to be a sniper, some prefer to go crazy with two SMGs, some people are like me and have every class in Call of Duty with a rocket launcher to deal with air support as soon as it spawns. Games have a sandbox that allow players to play the game how they want to play it because at the end of the day, games exist for our enjoyment. They’re meant to be fun activities to allow us to escape from the cold pressing reality that we have two big exams in the same class this upcoming week (anybody else? Just me? Oof).
What is that sandbox for Fire Emblem? Well, it depends. Is it the characters? Sure. Absolutely. Challenge runs where you restrict character use are fun. Is it mechanics? Absolutely. The point is, everybody plays Fire Emblem differently. Some people don’t necessarily WANT to have a brutal challenge when they play. Some people don’t WANT to have to rush to beat a chapter and get all the loot. Some people enjoy training characters to level 20/20 just to have the satisfaction of seeing a couple green stats.
So what’s the “right” way to play Fire Emblem? Avoid the pitfalls, right? Train your Jagen so they can steamroll, right? Promote ASAP, right? Yes. Duh. But also no. But still duh.
The correct answer is that there is no answer because there is no single way to play Fire Emblem. Personally, I like to take my time, see every character reach their maximum potential, and feel the satisfaction of obliterating enemies with my powerful units, but that’s not everyone. Some people want to have a true strategy experience, where stats don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things, just unit placement and management. Some people are LTCers and want to beat the game in as few turns as possible, whatever it takes. Is anyone wrong for wanting to play the game how they want? No. It’s their life, and their experience. Don’t rob them of their enjoyment, that’s what I like to call a “dick move.”
“But Noguchi, I can’t possibly make everyone happy with my hack. What should I do? Whose playstyle should I cater to?”
Well. That’s up to you. Because it’s your piece of art. You’re not getting paid for this. Personally? Alternate chapters. Have your chapters where you’re encouraged to move quickly, but also your chapters where you’re able to relax and take it at your own pace. Have your brutally difficult chapters, but also your easier chapters. If you’re making a straight linear hack, you’ve got plenty of time to work different types of chapters in. Personally, I’d rather have to play every chapter differently.
But, that’s not the only option. You can cater your hack to a specific playstyle. Does this make your hack bad? No, not at all. Just because it doesn’t appeal to me doesn’t mean it’s bad. If you try to cater to a playstyle and fail, that’s a different story. The first step is designing chapters YOU enjoy. Don’t worry about other people at first. As time goes on, try to make some chapters that appeal to other people. It’s okay to have a chapter here and there that some people don’t like, if it fits you or anyone else’s playstyle.
There’s too much toxicity and elitism in the community right now. Not all of these issues are arising internally from FEU. Obviously, the issues that faced Arch and Elibean Nights didn’t come from FEU for the most part, but plenty of hacks do face “this hack bad” “don’t play this hack” “you’re a big dumb” “your hack bad” from plenty of members of the community. And frankly, that’s not okay. If you don’t like something a hack does, give constructive criticism. Don’t just say “remove this mechanic, it’s bad.” Advise the creator on an alternate mechanic or a way to better balance the mechanic they have. We are all passionate and love what we do, but we also all do this for fun. We aren’t professional game developers. Don’t destroy someone’s passion project because your OPINION doesn’t agree with it. Build each other up, as opposed to breaking people down.
We’re gonna be seeing a lot of showcases for a lot of projects here when FEE3 comes up. We’re all gonna see things we like and dislike within different projects. I’m no moderator, but it breaks my heart when someone puts their heart and soul into something, and it gets shit upon at an event like FEE3 because one or two people notable people disagree with something, call it “bad”, and then a ton of other people follow them because they “know what they’re talking about.”
I’d like to refer back to the FEB vs. Buildfile debate of a while back. We had similar issues there. Elitism and toxicity from the Buildfile, the “superior” method of hacking, towards the FEB hackers. I think I’ve seen those issues mostly dissolve since then. That’s evidence, in my eyes, that this community can grow. If we can learn to accept different ways of doing what we do, I think we can accept different visions for what makes Fire Emblem fun and enjoyable to play.
If you somehow read through all of this, I invite you to join the discussion. I was careful to refrain from putting too much personal experience into this, but I personally believe this to be a big issue. Thanks for reading this lengthy-af post. Please don’t be toxic. Be nice to each other. This is a hobby, nobody deserves to have their hard work shit on or anything because someone dislikes it. Art is subjective. I really love this community and everyone in it, and just want to see stupid petty toxicity go away, and I think we’re capable of it.
Thank you all, looking forward to seeing all of your fantastic projects at FEE3 this year!