Fan games aren’t made for money. They’re made because you, the creator, love a certain game series so much you want to make your own game of it. And usually, you’ll have your own story to tell. I believe our games’ stories deserve more attention, as much attention as we tend to give to the graphics. They deserve narrative continuity, proper cause and effect, and plot twists that feel real and not gratuitous. To this end, I would like to extend an invitation to anyone who would be interested in exhaustive analysis, critique, and suggestions on their game’s story. I’ll be posting about it here, and I will invite people to play along and post their thoughts as well.
Way back during the FE: Requiem LP on this site, I said I admired the game because you can tell the creator made it with the intention of telling a story. This sounds really dumb at face value, but let’s consider the circumstances in which an FE mod’s story is created in the first place. For my first attempt at one, I wrote it as I went along. This is a cardinal sin of FE fan game writing: start making vidgame first, then slap on the story (the other cardinal sin is trying to imitate the vanilla games for no reason, e.g. the generic ch1 boss kills a generic good guy just because Breguet in FE8 did it). “This guy’s got a cool portrait. I think I’ll make a game about him. So I guess he’s my lord… But he’s not nobility, because that would be dumb. Now he needs some enemies to fight. Boop! Bandits! Oh, and here’s an evil empire! They invaded his country and now he’s the last hope and becomes the resistance leader!” But why? There was no “why” to my first story whatsoever because it was ad-libbed.
Going back to Requiem, this is why I have so much respect for its narrative. Yes, it’s not perfect, the lack of a world map makes geography hard to contextualize, and there are parts here and there that feel like content got cut for one reason or the other. I suspect it was written to be a book first before it was converted to Fire Emblem form; this is because the characters feel like they had actual personalities and motivations written out for them before the game’s creation started. The hero is edgy, sure, but the story actually allows him to be heroic. During my first playthrough of the game, I powered through the gigantic maps of monotonous gameplay just so I could see what happened next in the story.
I have previously played games and later given the creators stream-of-consciousness-style text files on my thoughts about the entire game in general: gameplay, story, etc. Now, my objective is a little different. I will still be discussing gameplay and esthetics a little bit, but I want this to primarily be an exercise in helping people make their stories more compelling. To that end, rather than write down my thoughts on the entire game from beginning to end and end up with a huge, unwieldy document full of bullet points, my analyses will be more frequent; I’m thinking a few chapters or even just one chapter per post. In segments where I discuss how I would fix narrative shortcomings, I will try to be as open-ended as possible; there’s a certain point of specificity where it feels like I’m hijacking someone’s story or telling them what to do when what I really want to do is give food for thought. In addition, I find it valuable to have an outsider’s perspective on a story where there are likely a lot of elements that are either in the background or entirely unstated that the creator may have taken for granted (again, something I’m also guilty of). It may sometimes seem like I’m nitpicking too much, but I try my best to frequently remind people that I’m doing this because I like their game and want to see it get better. If there are problems, it needs to be stated plainly that they’re there so I can talk about how I might fix those problems if I were in the creator’s shoes. I’m not trying to insult anyone’s games and will always assume the benefit of the doubt to keep things positive.
Finally, a disclaimer: I will prioritise projects that are halfway done above others. I will still have insights to offer on a demo of just one or a few chapters, of course, but it’s not really enough for me to get a gist of the greater story. I’ll likewise have lots of opinions on a complete project with 20 of 20 chapters finished, but there is an understandable reluctance to go back and make substantial changes to a project that’s already had “FINISHED” stamped on rather than move on to something new. Even worse, there’s the temptation to go back and just change some words in the dialogue here and there or otherwise slap on a “band-aid” fix rather than actually address the problems with extensive editing of scenes, events, etc. To that end, though, I will try and be mindful of a game’s length when talking about how I would fix things. I will be more adventurous with shorter games, since they still have lots of room to explore, and more conservative with larger or complete ones, since easy fixes are often the only thing there’s room for after an entire Fire Emblem story has already been committed to a rom. Additionally, I’ll prioritise GBA mods above SRPG Studio and FEXP games because it’s the format I’m most familiar with. I’m still open to playing the latter, but there may be certain things such as cutscene cinematography that I won’t be able to make suggestions on as well because I don’t know the engine as well as I know GBA FE.