Lands largely unknown and reeling from a mostly forgotten and misunderstood cataclysmic event which shook humanity so deeply and twisted the world into an era jarred. Trying times lay wake to desperation as people slowly and painstakingly try to claw back into a world they once felt safe within.
Fallout broke shards into further shards as man and woman fight tooth and nail, bloodied knifes half set in backs as they all try to pull threads that bound them to each other and in this game of madness they’re all puppets to their own depravity.
The region of Baltia, borderline circling a band of mountain ranges that house few and far apart towns, with the core cities home to the prestigious wealthy and high-ranked military. A nation that offers few paths of life to the men and women who reside the outward and broken down ghost towns, the people live for armed service and for supplementing of this armed service.
Secluded and detached from the world at large, the capitals of Baltia run high and dry on everything and the left behind hungry and thirsty prey on the outer areas, taxing food stores and demanding supplies in excess to sustain their indulgent lifestyles.
Though it’s challenged one day when an important woman is ambushed mid travel by men of the plains, assassinated along with her protection detail. Nuance and subtlety is lost as high brass brigade for an invasion as they send forward armies on cleansing campaigns, to ensure the safety of the people.
Friss Reiner is an up and coming arms maker, living out her slow days hidden within the Drake Woods, nestled deep in the north western mountain ranges of Baltia, an isolated region of city-states along mountain slopes.
Unfortunate happenstance has her crossing paths with Jack, a sordid military man who together journey through high-rise mountains and across great plains on a mission to deliver arms to extended troops running low on resources.
Hard-headed and stalwart, yet considerate and empathetic. She’s easily frustrated and has a tempter that she buries to the best of her ability but her utopia is a quiet place in a quiet place.
A drunken and sordid ex-soldier who’s mysteries are hidden ten bottles deep beneath a broken shell of a man, forgotten to the world and left to wander about as he tries to make sense of it all.
A General of Baltia, carries his name with great honour and lives every waking moment for the betterment of his country and the people he serves.
A rebellious and cunning soldier, a snake of a man but with an undying focus and conviction.
Doran of the Kieraz.
A heavy-set, hard in his ways tribesman of the southern plain, leader of the Kieraz and self-proclaimed King of the Plains.
An enigmatic man or woman who keeps to the shadows, their goals and allegiances are unknown…
Human Strings is an attempt at a Fire Emblem ROMhack by NICKT, the latest iteration in a long line of forgotten ideas that go back just shy of a decade. With a current total of 41 planned chapters, complete original cast and an entirely brand new soundtrack, Human Strings aims to be a considerable hallmark within the Fire Emblem communities and fanbases.
I’m a really depressed guy, motivation is a fancy that seldom comes my way and when it does those futile moments are spent on either fixing the small amount of work I’ve done to make it perfect or being disappointed that something I want to do isn’t working or is impossible to do.
Human Strings is a passion project but it’s one of many that floats around in my head, in the same world it’s already seeing followup project ideas starting to swirl around but it seems having ideas is more fun than actually sitting down and doing anything with them.
It’s a slow burn, I’m scared that it’s going to sit as a piece of junk on my computer and never comes to fruition but who knows, could even become something.
So it’s been a while, a couple months and following some incredulous discourse we come to now and having just been reached out to for a status update on Human Strings I felt compelled to have a little wrap-up post on it all.
Sorry if it’s a bit windy.
About a decade ago I came upon a forum called Fire Emblem World and straight away took into spriting, with hacking back then being nothing more than a joke by today’s standards. To even change a characters name it involved navigating to an unknown site in the far reaches of space and doing some tedious stuff to download it, from what I can remember. Even then, it’d still chop off letters of words from time to time, but it was what we had and how we would deal.
My early days and ideas were typical fare for high fantasy, kingdoms and lords duking it out for big dick badges but due to the limitation of hacking at the time they never came to light so the ideas just stayed in my head and gestated over and over, taking on new forms and new ideas. I then started a project that was attempting to make a sequel to FE8, my favourite at the time, and all my personal ideas would then get warped into this project.
Once plans for that fell through the first time I went back to the drawing board, just wanting to make stories I ended up with a tale of a land faced with turmoil as it fought over three crowns belonging to an ancient legendary king. This world was a magical world inspired by Golden Sun’s world with a limited magical people and people who were essentially animal and monster mixes. I remember never being certain if I wanted human and monster hybrids of sorts, or humans that could turn into monsters, though for the latter I remember one scene idea I had was a character was taken prisoner and being flown in a flying ship and breaking out as the ship flew over a huge lake, as this character fell into the water he transformed into a leviathan-like monster leading into a boss fight.
I’m not sure how much of that story is still in the DNA of Human Strings or other ideas I have, but there are definitely characters left over from this era still around in newer forms. The character now called Brill Aga originally was named Gabriel and was a second main character. One of the three crowns also belonged to a character who is still named Eden, though originally he was a plain Ephraim splice, interesting to see how far he’s come. Gabriel/Brill and Eden/Edin respectively.
This idea never came to fruition, if not the limitations of or frustrations towards the limitations and constraints of ROM hacking then just the lack of motivation, seems to be a going trend for these. FE8.5 then had a second run and I opted to work on a story this time with other people, we had a very, very small team doing writing of chapters and supports, a person doing character concept art and a couple people doing mugs and it was fun despite creative differences in regards to writing that lead to the project’s downfall.
I then lost interest on doing Fire Emblem stuff for a long time, either doing random mugs that were pointless or working on projects for other people, though my ideas still gestated. The thing though, is that during this period of time my tastes changed, I discovered new games, new movies and new music and slowly it was like my mind was in a different language and I was trying to translate the old one and all the ideas I had were contextualised in this new mind of mine. They weren’t fit for Fire Emblem anymore.
But I would not give up, as a writer I at least wanted one Fire Emblem project under my belt that would come to fruition. Going back a handful of years ago I started working on a small little project, maybe about 10 or so chapters ago that theoretically would have been easy to make, something to just say that I’ve finally done something. This project came to be known as The Burning of Helios. The original Helios character.
The story was simple, an unknown emissary of a nation in strife travels to a foreign land to seek aid. She faces adversity both socially and physically as she reaches out and tries to gain just a moment of time from the ruling classes, when she finally reaches the king’s chamber, she reveals herself as royalty from her home land, calls said king out for causing the troubles her homeland faces and kills him to retain the honour of her people.
Originally Helios was the king, but then he became the king of her homeland, her brother, and the burning was in regards to his hubris and his tasking his sister with the assassination and the fallout that ensues. Ultimately Helios was changed to the nation and the character was renamed but the Burning of Helios was still a small, straight forward package with minimal frills and hassles. The emissary and her brother. Helios, now named Horvath.
It never happened.
It may have been motivation, it may have been frustration, it may have been cluster fucks that happened in the FEU community that killed my interest. Who knows? The only thing that was for certain was that the Burning of Helios project was dead in the water, but you know what that means!
Dystopia! New idea, this time a little bit in depth. Years before this, it was a FE6 sequel or an FE7 prequel, I honestly can’t remember. I seldom remember anything from it as it existed in this form, aside from that you played as Bern because I wanted to have a Fire Emblem that you played as the antagonists, explicitly represented visually by having you play as the red units against blue units. This idea’s been done now a couple times so it’s not as novel as it was back then. Paris, soldier of Bern. Not the original design, not the final design.
The overall story of this early Elibe tangent never existed, at least from what I can remember, but I liked the name and adopted it again for this new story. Stemming again from wanting to do something interesting within the confines of Fire Emblem, the first chapter would have you avoiding fights, avoiding enemy detection ranges and making your way through a castle as a thief, ‘Mo’, looking to plunder the royal coffers. (This chapter’s map: Nickt™)
This goes awry however, as he bumps into two young women who appear frantic. Initially the situation is hostile but the two manage to drag him into their problem, it being that the younger woman, Eris, is related to the lord of the castle and is being wedded to a neighbouring lord to secure new land. As is her want, she’s denying the proposal and escaping with her guardian, Athena. As a trio they make their way out of the castle and fill him in with the details.
The story culminates in them returning to the castle and killing the lord to prevent the deal, however Athena then takes a sword and stabs Mo, as he bleeds out she tells him that they’re pinning the murder on him so that Eris can take over the castle.
Mo, Athena and Eris respectively in their initial stage and their current stage.
Again, another idea that never came to pass.
“But NICKT, why are you telling me all this” you say, well I’ll tell you after this odd monodialogue joke. Because the eventualities of Dystopia and Burning of Helios paved the way into Human Strings.
Dystopia’s lord eventually became the Helios character and the two were linked through this character. The strife his land faced lead him to eye off a foreign land to offer as a new haven for his people as their lands burned, but to secure this deal would take offering his daughter as a bride. Eris and Athena would then deal with both the ramifications from his death and the actions of his sister that take place in Burning of Helios.
Combining these two ideas into one story together meant I needed a new idea for a small standalone story. Again I needed something small and self-contained to make so I went to the drawing board again, at this time I was really into making maps and a few of the maps I really liked thinking about the context of them and wondered how they could be expanded upon and linked. If you go to my gallery thread and go through the first few maps, the ones in particular I’m referencing are “The Forward Operating Campaigns”, “The Warchiefs”, “The Dragon’s Roost” and “An Affront to Gods”.
The Forward Operating Campaigns came after playing MGSV and it’s FOB functions and wanting to take that concept and use it myself in some capacity, I liked the idea of a military campaign, we the player and the lords of these stories essentially go on these long stories but we never really see any other character embark on long-term events like these so having a character do so seemed interesting to me, his distance and isolation from those in power also made for an interesting dynamic.
The Warchiefs, I looked at it and imagined this big peace meeting between a bunch of native tribes and a more civilised nation that would devolve into a fight for one reason or another, acting as one of the culminations from the campaign mentioned before.
The Dragon’s Roost and An Affront to Gods eventually became a part 1 and part 2 of the ending, with the final boss sitting in this castle on a small island, you’d start on the beach and head north in a kind of Normandy reference. You’d breach the castle but alone the main character would venture to the top of the castle to confront the villain in which a one versus one duel would take place, a contest of will, belief and conviction.
At this point, I knew I didn’t want a protagonist that was in the military and I definitely didn’t want a lord, so I was looking through my collection of mugs and I came across a mug that’s character had been long abandoned. Originally a mage by the name of Lin, a young man was eventually reworked into a younger teen and then reformed completely into a young woman named Lisa, now becoming Ris, pronounced like Reece, a blacksmith who was often on order to supply armaments to her country’s military. Lisa, Ris, old!Friss and new!Friss.
To link with the maps earlier, she gets an order for a sword and is told to deliver it to a man who’s on a campaign to the southern plains, where she gets dragged into a conflict with natives, something something something, on a beach and then a tower to fight the last boss.
Now I started trying to think of Fire Emblem, how to implement this story and what it’d need. Things like, if you’re doing a Fire Emblem game you’ll need to account for how your party accrues more members, because it’s not like an action game where you only get one character, so I began trawling my gallery for characters to put in for allies and bosses, not really having anything in place yet.
I looked into a folder I have of old splicing contest entries and found a mug I hadn’t used at all in the gallery, he looked interesting and I developed this idea of this in control young woman and this washed out, hopeless man who was strung along into helping her after causing her some trouble, thus, Jack entered into the story. Old!Jack, New!Jack and young Jack.
The first chapter set the tone, in the past I’ve written very negative stories, very dramatic and often excessively angst ridden, so before the project was even known as Human Strings I referred to it as " A Magic Blade, a Fair Maiden and the Drunken Swordsman" ~August 2018.
These early chapters were attempts at being light hearted, but it’s just not in me to be that way, so slowly this negativity crept in and the world I had created became black at it’s core. The story became seeped in this idea of manipulation and selfishness, of how little we care for the depths of others and we treat them as machinations in the grander schemes of our own lives, like puppets, then the project became “Human Strings”.
The country the story plays out in was finally given the name of Baltia, a smaller country that was mostly a mountainous region because I loved making mountain maps. The idea of them outsourcing production of military arms developed into this idea that because of the fragmented nature of Baltia’s big cities that they outsourced everything to wherever was applicable to generate the needed resource. This leads into a negative class dynamic where people who live in the centre of Baltia in it’s more grand cities can’t produce enough food and materials if at all to supply their excessive desires and so they would take more than necessary from outer cities and areas, leading to shortages, famine and desolation.
This was masked by the ruling class as they scapegoated every issue, often blaming the bandit groups that would emerge in these conditions to survive or the security necessity brought on by tribes that lived south of the border. People were so disconnected and so far that this life was all they knew and they accepted the status quo, they never laid eyes upon the grandness of the cities that the ruling lived within so the idea to them was that everyone lived this way.
Eventually the chain breaks, when a member of the ruling class is travelling from one city to another he is set upon by tribesman and killed, his small security detail barely surviving with considerable casualties. This lead into an open condemnation of the tribesmen and a new initiative, leading with Sir Marshall who would helm the campaign to meet with tribal war-chiefs. Fleur, Doran and Sesui, chiefs of the plains.
Early on, the magical sword Ris made garnered a lot of attention, a man named Lohengrin in the Baltia capital is ordering a self-proclaimed bandit lord to fetch the sword at any cost, before speaking to a young woman about something they’re plotting. Cut to Ris running from said bandits as she bumps into Jack, a roaming drunkard who helps her out against the bandits before absconding with her magical blade. Lohengrin, Leonard and Melanie.
Just a quick aside here, I hate magic and so Baltia and the world it exists in was either free of magic users or had very little of them. Magic is a world-changing element and it’s almost never used that way from stories like Harry Potter to the X-Men, the world is largely ours with minor additional elements and I can assure you that magic wouldn’t be so if we were to discover it. So in Human Strings, her magic sword, having immense strength both in it and imbued to the wielder, along with it’s never breaking quality, made it very desirable to those who would seek dominion.
And that was the setup in this first chapter, I took to google sheets and began writing. I put in the chapter ideas I had and then filled in slowly between the gaps, going from more important events and trying to see how it all relates. I think the original story was about 20 straight chapters, give or take.
One of the first things I settled on was Jack’s history, an ex-soldier assigned to high guard. He was part of the security detail that was involved with the assassination that instigated the war, he resigned shortly after and was never heard from again until now.
The big twist, if you will, is that the whole assassination was a fabrication. Jack and the small group he was apart of were ordered to take out the lord and stage it to look like a tribal ambush, silencing an outspoken dissenter and providing a substantial scapegoat to keep people subjugated both in one fell swoop.
When Ris reaches Marshall and delivers the sword, Jack reveals that Marshall was his superior during the security task, but was unaware of payout and deception the rest of them engaged in. Marshall is elated to see an old friend, asking for his help in quelling issues that are rampant in the area, assisting the locals and the like. Ris and Jack reluctantly agree and the second arc begins, a free-company assisting in maintaining the peace in a foreign land as Marshall makes his way to the meeting.
The group discover that the different tribes are all vying for control of the land, each going their own malicious and back-handed ways to come out on top. The Kieraz tribe is as blood-hungry as it gets and they’ve reached with a deal with a general of Baltia named Seymour that when Baltia take over the land following an invasion that his tribe will be given the reigns, however Seymour was the one responsible for the security manipulation that lead to the war and is only focused on maintaining peace through subjugation. Seymour and Marshall.
Marshall is unaware he is walking into a trap, tribes are openly attacking Baltians as they travel in response to their condemnation and the higher ups in Baltia are wanting to maintain the lie and are setting up their own soldiers who aren’t complicit in hostile situations to keep them quiet or get them killed. When Marshall reaches the war-chiefs to begin discussing the conflict he’s set upon, with Ris’ assistance makes it out alive but decides to return to the capital to figure out what’s going on as you all are labelled as traitors for siding with the savages.
Arc 3 begins when Ris and co. look to clear their name, they return to mainland Baltia to find it in military occupation as Seymour has executed emergency control of the governing body in times of war. He’s sentenced Marshall to death pushing Ris and co. to try and save him, they ultimately fail and the magic sword falls into Seymour’s hand.
Another couple chapters and the group confront Seymour and after defeating him it’s revealed that he’s given the sword to the banking clan who financed a lot of his operations as a means to cover his debt. They kill him and then decide to deal with the banking clan who backed the occupation, eventually coming face to face with the man who was in charge, Hughes. Hughes.
At this point, Hughes was designed as one of the few magic users you’d encounter and the strongest. He’d wear golden armour and be in the centre of a map with a long ranged spell hidden behind several doors you’d need to open to reach him.
It’s also revealed that Hughes was personally responsible for financing the security manipulation payout and again pays out Jack to turn on his allies, however this time Jack leaves instead of fighting. The party successfully eliminate Hughes, taking back the magic sword as all the major players in the conflict are gone and now hopefully the end is in sight for the people of both Baltia and the plains.
Though, Ris still has one last problem to tend to, Jack. She and the group travel to a small island that he was given lordship to following the incident many years beforehand, they make their way to the castle and Ris alone ventures to the roof to face Jack alone. He tells her of his wife, the love of his life and how when he returned from his time in the military he couldn’t face her, couldn’t look at her in the eyes without seeing himself as the monster that he never wanted her to see, so one night he snapped and choked her to death before throwing her off the very roof.
Since that day he’s been emptier than he could ever imagine, every day seemed to almost exist solely to remind him of his darkness and he wants nothing more for it to end but he could never bring himself to do it. His one last request of Ris, to fight him, to beat him, to kill him. She succeeds and he dies, hoping that one day everything he’s done will be fixed by Ris. She, using the power of the magic sword, breaks it into pieces and casts it into the water with Jack, hoping that it’ll all be over now.
And that was Human Strings in it’s first pass, then slowly I added in more little details and story elements, expanded on others. Things like Seymour having a bastard son, a young soldier in the military named Tyson who was attempting his own insurrection to take out his father upon discovering all the things Seymour did, including the incident shortly after he was born where his mother one night met Seymour and told him that he was a father, filling him with rage causing him to stab her to death and leaving her body in the streets. However though, following the coup, Tyson is forced to protect his father from Ris and is subsequently killed by her and her party. Tyson, bastard son of Seymour.
Lohengrin throughout the story was going to sort of act as an antagonist and an indirect cause for a lot of the complications and conflicts you face but was ultimately never going to end up face to face with Ris, I liked the idea that they were so far from each other both physically and plot-wise but would still effect each other. Eventually Lohengrin was written to be from a foreign land and was manipulating Baltia to make it easier to occupy.
One thing that I considered was how the world came to be, I didn’t want gods or religion and I didn’t want to spend time on crafting centuries worth of history just to establish this world and it’s context. So I came up with an event known to the people as the planet flash, a moment in time where time seemed to slow and the sky shone a bright magenta, time returned and the world was different. The world was suffering from all the negative and malice that existed within it and so it tried to return everything to a blank slate, ineffectively. The world now had an unknown history and context that was both unnecessary to future stories and could be hand-waved away so I didn’t have to write it.
This also worked out well with my idea for magic, that it’s a very limited occurrence and now stemmed from this flash, gifting a very small amount of people with the inherent spirit of the world. It was inconsistent in it’s powers and for some it was a curse. Hughes was one instance of a being imbued with magic and another was the woman speaking with Lohengrin earlier in the story who can read minds.
It was at this point that the other stories come into play and why I spent so long talking about them. Baltia was made to be a small country that existed inbetween all these other countries that were fighting, I think I was playing too much FFXII at the time…
So now Human Strings came first, the small land of Baltia and it’s mountainous ranges a good control point to protect against and facilitate invasions so was a major contention between the big players in the global conflict.
Each project was now developing their own context and gaining context from each other and my own little world was really blooming, though only in my mind.
However, nothing came to fruition… cough
Eventually, one thing I realised about myself is that I’m not super into medieval fantasy. Orcs, elves and sorcery doesn’t interest me and I was constantly trying to force the story I have into this environment I didn’t like. I’ve also for the longest time wanted to see if I could rework Fire Emblem to have more modern elements, maybe combine it spiritually with Advance Wars. Human Strings and this world slowly drifted from high fantasy and took on a little bit more modern/sci-fi.
At the same time I was playing Fire Emblem 3 Houses and realised for the most part that I found the gameplay to be pretty boring. I gave it some thought and spent a lot of time playing Final Fantasy Tactics before pushing to Fire Emblem and came to the conclusion that I liked the slower battles of Tactics and the lower army counts, it worked better for my story which was mostly about smaller groups and not large armies. This is why everyone at this point does less than expected damage in Human Strings.
Well, either way there’s more to it all and there’s more that I’m thinking about and want to say but I’m tired I guess. This all feels kinda ramble-y and not anything like the digest I was hoping it would be but I’m just looking at all of this story and planning that most likely won’t be finished and kinda just wanted to share it.
There’s more to the planet flash, I wrote up stuff about things following the event and how the world sort of redirected into what’s seen in Human Strings. Other people at play, events, side things like chapters taking place in the past dealing with Marshall, Jack and Vicks as they travel the land, the first chapter has them dealing with a zombie of a woman who’s gone missing and then there’s a side-chapter in the present where you deal with the man responsible after all this time and he’s continued to turn the women he loves into zombies to keep them from ever dying.
Ah, man, what else… Flyn being the son of a pair of swordmasters that went to fight in the war, but his mother went missing on the plains and his father fell sick and never recovered upon his return. When you go to the plains and you’ve got a support or whatever ranked up you can unlock a side chapter where you find her.
Another one of Jack and Marshall’s allies has a daughter who kills him when she finds out what they did and starts a small band of rebels that assist Ris when she comes back to the mainland.
Oh, Ris also got renamed to Friss and got a redesign with a white coat for some reason, the white coat also helped develop her new story with new context and I guess that’s now a thing, that whatever this all is still is a thing just, not really in this way.
Because every Fire Emblem game has to have christmas cavaliers, so did Human Strings in Alexander and Gordon. Alexander has two sister’s back home he’s supporting with his military service and Gordon is following his father’s footsteps by doing his honour-bound duty before he returns to a life of music on the farm.
Charon Armeitz, named after the boatsman who rides upon the river styx. Sir Armeitz was responsible for the order and defence of Gate Quiema which sits upon the river which I can’t remember the name of. Quiema apparently means stillness but I don’t remember the significance of that at the moment. There was also some backstory about a kid who was drowned in the river, I think it may have been Helios’ child but that name is now the nation and man, this shit seems like forever ago…
Charon Armeitz, keeper of the gate Quiema
The first flashback chapter that would go over the early adventures of Jack and his friends dealt with a monster that was attacking local villages, they eventually discover the creature to be a mind-melted woman who went missing prior. This would foreshadow a later chapter which involved a lord who desperate to avoid losing his lovers would engage with nefarious and dark methods to either preserve or lengthen their existence, leaving many if not all barely functional and zombie-like. Emil McKinnon and Nossian McKinnon
Isaac Higgins, an old cranky farmer archer man who takes residence near Gate Quiema and has many late night tea drinking sessions with Sir Armeitz. His portrait was originally an older Colm mug used in FE8.5 that I reused 'cause I’m lazy. Old!Colm who would then become Korma before becoming Higgins.
Swibu and Omiz of the Aga Tribe. Siblings and in charge of their small branch of the Aga Tribe, when Omiz leaves to fight in the war on behalf of his branch Swibu takes sole responsibility and when their hunting grounds are encroached upon by foreign militants she and her group retreat to a small space nestled within the mountain ranges called Nysa by the locals. Here initially is when I planned on introducing choices into the hack, where you’d choose to side with the locals or with Baltian military but I felt it didn’t work in the overall narrative and scrapped the concept.
Swibu’s name is a twisting of Sui and Omiz is a twisting of Mizu, Japanese words for water. I think Aga was similar in it’s naming but I don’t remember. Anyway, the tribe viewed water as a sort of blood for the planet and felt spiritually bonded with it and the planet they lived upon, these names reflected the bond they held towards the water.
Swibu’s mug started as a splicing competition mug over on Serenes, originally named Garnet. I think Omiz did as well but I’m not too sure on that one.
Swibu, Omiz, Garnet and some guy
Human Strings, the cluster fuck headache.
I don’t know what the point of this is anymore, thanks for putting up with it, maybe someday I’ll do something somewhere and I hope that you enjoy it.