What do you think is poisoning Fire Emblem as a series?

The “problem,” if one can even call it that without any candid sense of introspective, is what other people said: Fire Emblem is constantly changing itself and redefining its experiences. There is a reason why the meme goes that “every Fire Emblem game is bad,” and that by definition applies to modern Fire Emblem. Everyone points back to their favorite installment in the franchise as the supposed standard that the series should live up to, but as a person who’s been around since the GBA era, I can’t help but think about all the times when “new game at the time” was deemed as the worst in the franchise. Remember when FE7 was deemed too casual while also too obtuse even though most of us never played the previous games? Remember when FE8 was snarked as “Gaiden, but worse”? Remember when Radiant Dawn was lambasted for having a convoluted storyline, a Mary Sue protagonist (In my opinion, Mary Sues don’t exist. Just poorly written protagonists.), and a very thin support system? It goes on and on. OptimalRob and FuriousHaunter have already thoroughly beaten OP’s topic like it was a bunch of egg yolks, so allow me to skip straight ahead for the meatier entities. Pretty much every topic in this thread has already been tried and questioned before and rebutted as well:

-“They should try and avoid tropey characters…that feel like they’re having an actual conversation.” No offense, but I find it a bit odd that OP mentioned FE7 because many of the support conversations in the GBA era were arguably just as quirky, cliche, romance-forced, and single-character-centered as Awakening and onwards. We all point at Beruka and Saizo’s “…” and Framme and Alear’s “You’re so shiny when you sweat!” But look at Lyn and Rath. Sain and Rebecca. Hector and Florina. Vaida and Dorcas. But after so many games, this criticism only begs the question of what a post Elibe-support should actually do. Should it have the two characters connect over similar traits and histories and ponder on their place in the large, uncaring war-torn landscape, like with Duessel and Amelia? Or should it show the two characters simply do an activity together and interact with each other, like with Gilliam and Garcia? But for every Gilliam and Garcia, we get Vaida and Canas. For every Duessel and Amelia, we get Tethys and Arthur (WHY?). Both have their pros and cons, which thus loops back to the initial problem of a diverse, fickle, and fastidious fanbase.

-“I am tired of there being an Avatar MC. Only Awakening did it well…” I can see why people feel this, and I kind of like Robin, too. But the issue is that Fates and Three Houses would be fundamentally different games without Corrin and Byleth. Fates, being literally called “if,” ponders on what if Corrin chose differently. The story splits and changes simply wouldn’t happen if there was no central character to tip the scales (Robin reference not intended). Much of the drama occurs as a result of Corrin’s choices; the Yato was the fire (emblem) that blew up the tension between the two nations. People can argue all they want about the quality of writing, and I completely understand, but the fact remains that Fates would be a completely different story if it was “Family Feud: Xander vs. Ryoma,” to the point where you’d wonder what’s the point behind the idea of Fates at all. Of course Fates revolves around Corrin; it’s their story about the results of their choices.
The route split of Three Houses would also make little sense if Byleth never existed. How on earth would there be such a great differences in terms of character arcs and political fallout if there was no deciding factor? It would make no sense for the game to be called Wind-Flower-Snow-Moon if there was no true distinction between the stories of the four factions.
The route splits are supposed to make you toss and turn and ponder on which side was the “right” one. They make you ponder on what your choices say about you as a person and about what you believe. Even Revelation, the golden ending of Fates, isn’t the perfect ending. (Yes, this is the only thing I like about Scarlet’s forced death. I kind of wish that more forced deaths existed, but that’s another topic for another time.)
“But wait,” you might protest. “Didn’t FE8 also have route splits without avatar characters?” And I hear you, fellow FE8 fan. In fact, Fates was deliberately based on FE8. But FE8’s story is still very different compared to Fates. What makes the Magvel drama so unique even now is the autopsy of Lyon. Eirika sees Lyon one way, Ephraim seems him another way. Ei!Lyon pretends to have more control over himself than he really does while Ep!Lyon pretends to have less control than he really does. These seeming contradictions are supposed to blend together to form the portfolio of a villain who has a complicated relationship with his friends. Eirika also learns that she has to be more like her brother while Ephraim realizes he has to be more like his sister; these two learning to emulate each other creates a dark shadow on Lyon, whose quest to emulate the effulgent twins and not be his own person only hurts him. The route split here does not create two different stories but rather two sides of the same story, even though some bits of the minutiae change.
Then there’s Shez and Alear; despite being avatar characters, they have a good chunk of characterization beyond being nice to their friends. Shez is a brash, rough-and-tumble mercenary who’s driven by revenge, and if they manage to kill Byleth, they realize that their desire for revenge has consumed them. Yes, the typical revenge-seeker schtick isn’t the most original plot, but chocolate is still a step away from vanilla.
And even Robin and Corrin can be said to be fixed characters in their own right as well. So let’s go back to Fates. Is Birthright perfect? No. Is BR!Corrin a well written character? Not really. But one reason I like BR!Corrin is because he firmly prioritizes his sense of what is right. Note how he never mentions his birth family when telling Xander his reasons for defecting to Hoshido. BR!Corrin’s journey has him wrestle with his notions on what justice is and what it means. There’s a reason why he suddenly becomes so ruthless. There’s a reason why he hardly interacts much with the family he never knew. He’s devoted himself to an ideal of morality that in a sense transcends conventions of morality. This culminates in a duel between Corrin and Xander, a battle between two flawed notions of justice: one so pure and enthusiastic it’s hardly equipped to deal with the rest of the world and one so jaded that it props up the evil system that kept it downtrodden. Yet both ideals are sterile and merciless. But just when Xander tries to kill Corrin to make an example out of those who would become martyrs for their own definition of justice, someone intervenes. And who is this person who causes the big breaking point between Corrin and Xander? Is it Azura? Is it Garon? No, of course not. It’s Elise. Elise is one of my favorite characters in the entirety of Fire Emblem, and of course, you ask, why? Is it because she’s a lovable little sister who’s not annoying? Is it because she’s a magical powerhouse? Okay, you got me there. But it’s because her characterization makes her a unique mirror to Corrin, almost like a pseudo-Azura. Was she a Nohrian kidnapped by Hoshidans? No, that’s Azura. But Elise starts off the same way Corrin does, as a naive person who trusts to a fault, seeks to be validated by others, and thinks that their family can still get along even after the great war. When Corrin leaves for Hoshido, Elise “betrays” the family in her own way by going outside and selling flowers, even lodging with her nanny Cassita.
The Nohrian siblings, especially Xander, are often criticized for their obedience to their father, not necessarily because how dare the children obey their parent who could kill them, especially in a game made by a Japanese company, but because of how haphazardly inconsistent said obedience is, whether in terms of reasoning or methods. Sometimes it feels like they really believe in Garon, and sometimes it feels like a “baby’s first realpolitik” story. But Elise, despite being part of said screwed up family, is a bit different. Unlike Corrin, she is more accepting of change, whether she realizes it or not. In her support with Arthur, she confides that she knows that people must often change to become who they’re destined to be. Xander was her hero, but now has to be Nohr’s hero. If Xander never grew up, he could never lead it. Xander changed, and so did Corrin.
More importantly, she knows her family will never truly get together again and that the war will continue. Evil will always pop out, even if it’s from her own family. Elise’s support with Azura has her say with no uncertain terms that some people don’t even want peace. Her optimism that good can change the world is weary and worn out, and she holds onto it not necessarily because she truly believes in it, but because she has to believe. It’s not convincing, but she has to hold onto it to get through the day. In a sense, she’s more compelling to me than CQ!Corrin. Everyone hates the forced deaths in Fates, and for good reason, but rarely do I ever see anyone say anything bad about BR!Elise’s sacrifice. Why? It’s not just because it’s consistent with her character. It’s because she forces both of her siblings to reckon with the consequences of conflicting ideals of what’s right and wrong. In one move, she not only demonstrates her definition of justice but also what happens when justice becomes fanaticism. Xander dares Corrin to fulfill his vision of justice, but Elise is the one to say, “bet.” She is the perfect person to ask the armor-piercing question to Xander (which was altered in the localization): is this justice? Are ideals truly worth killing your own family over? To her, you don’t need to hack and slash in order to protect those one loves. Xander, and to an extent, Corrin, must reconsider his own ideas of what justice truly means. After all, you know something’s really off when justice has you kill your own family rather than protecting them.
Why spend several paragraph’s worth of words on Elise? Because her sacrifice would not make as much sense without BR!Corrin ever going down the same road as Xander: not the path of the Nohrian kingdom but the path of merciless justice, which only further highlights BR!Corrin’s development. This is the reason why “You will die fighting for your cause. I shall defend my homeland!” is one of the most prominent scenes in Fates trailers. It sums the extremes of Birthright Corrin, the supposedly cleaner path. This is what gives Birthright a bit of charm, even though Birthright is often viewed as less gray than Conquest, and it’s what allows me to replay it even in spite of BR’s many story flaws. BR!Corrin is, in a funny way, Marth’s motif of “being a prince before being a son or brother” taken to the extreme, even if it isn’t exactly executed well. To reiterate: is BR!Corrin’s story well-written? No. But it’s a far cry from “Avatar = non-dynamic character who hardly matters in the long term.” Many note that Birthright is an inaccurate term for the Kingdom of the White Night, but it’s not just because Corrin hardly interacts with his Hoshidan kin. It’s because the story revolves around the consequences of Corrin’s choice. The whole point of this ramble on why I kind of like BR!Corrin? I just don’t think that this is something that CQ!Corrin would do. In fact, she would do the exact opposite: put aside her own ideals and faith in hopes of working things out, and while she initially justifies her morally suspect actions, she deteriorates and ultimately doesn’t lift a finger to stop a raging Takumi from killing her. This isn’t something that can be neatly downplayed as, “lmao, avatar = flat character.”
In the end, if you think that the Avatar characters are clumsily written, I agree. If you think that the Avatar characters are clumsily written especially because of being Avatars, I agree. But I really don’t think that every single problem with these characters can be chalked up to solely because they are Avatars or because they are flat characters. Even if they weren’t Avatars, we still have plenty of “fixed character” Lords with their own issues and problems. Even if they weren’t flat characters, it should be understood that being a flat character isn’t always bad. Not everyone needs an “arc” in order to be a developed character. Challenge, not change, is what makes characters compelling. That’s why flat protagonists like Superman or Marth remain inspirational to this day. But let’s be real: as long as Erdrick stands on a shrine, Japanese players will prefer stand-in Avatars over fixed protagonists.

-“They need to go back to what got them big in the first place…an original or subversive story that twist[s] the formulaic method.” FE2 and FE6 spring out as the chief “subversive” stories in my mind. Gaiden/SOV is a funny case because it laid out the “unbuilt tropes” that stick out in the franchise’s history. The big empire invades the peaceful kingdom, except both nations are corrupt and evil. The tyrant in armor and the dark patron god are actually good guys in their own way. Did FE2 make the franchise go big? No, not really, for obvious reasons. Did Shadows of Valentia make the franchise go big? I mean, it was the first game with complete voice acting, and its more cinematic feel did convince a lot of fans that its story was good for a while, but nowadays most people overlook it for 3H.
FE6 is like a big review session of the previous stories, being filled with dragons and holy weapons, but then it turns things on its head with the major twist that humans instigated the Scouring. The evil emperor was never brainwashed, just a fanatic. The dragons, on their last legs, kidnap and sacrifice one of their own and crush her soul to make her little more than a dragon-churning machine. And after everything is said and done, maybe humans and dragons can never truly live together in peace, even when Arcadia is still standing. On top of that, it has many things that people here seem to demand from a new game: a fixed protagonist, “interactive” supports, Player-Phase focus, and even some reverent adherence to Kaga philosophy, such as having a huge amount of replacement units. Did FE6 make the franchise go big? Maybe? I mean, I guess its play on originality caused Japanese fans to be more forgiving of it for not being FE64 (compared to their outright calumny at Mother 3). But even now, FE6, for whatever reason, still stings in some people’s mouths to the point where newcomers just don’t want to play it or veterans just download Project Ember.
FE8 and Awakening, on the other hand, are the prime examples of “doing what you know that works.” FE8, one of my favorite installments, is nevertheless arguably as cliche as Engage, at least in my opinion. The evil empire invades a peaceful neighbor. There’s a series of magical stones. An evil sorcerer seeks to resurrect the king of demons. An old ally betrays you after having wife issues. There’s also a recurring theme on loss, corruption, and how to cope with both. But the minute details are what makes FE8 so memorable for some players. The main antagonist happens to be the heroes’ best friend. The invading emperor, the frequent target of suspicion that he is brainwashed, was dead all along and resurrected by his own son as a puppet. Contrast that with Michalis and Zephiel. You play two routes that start from the same place and yet still have different perspectives even after they converge again. Is it Gaiden 2? Yes. But its details would never be as impactful if the story was completely original. It’s original precisely because it’s unoriginal.
FE13 was essentially a 3-part saga, with each part recalling the motifs and plot threads of previous games: Path of Radiance (mercenary group led by a guy with a large pauldron defeats a mad king), Radiant Dawn (clumsy politics happen due to the machinations of an order that wants to resurrect their leader), and Mystery of the Emblem (a prince finds the Divine Dragon and does the magic ritual to defeat the evil dragon).It also brought back almost every mechanic you can think of: a world map and skirmishes, branching promotions, generational inheritance, class skills, playable non-humans, and so on. How do I feel when people lambast Awakening as unoriginal? I get what they mean, and even laugh along with them. As a swan song game that was codenamed, “Fire Emblem Fin,” the unoriginality is still somewhat fitting. But how do I feel when those same people, with the same breath, mutter that it “introduced” the “problems” that caused “stagnation” in the franchise? Frustrated. (Here’s your daily reminder that stagnation does not mean that progress is going down. It means that it’s at a perfect balance, neither deviating upwards or downwards. It’s the Internet; please use terms properly and just say that you think the franchise is getting worse.)
The fact that both Awakening and SOV are recent games on both sides of the spectrum, and yet nobody really gives these two a second thought goes to show that this argument doesn’t really hold much water, at least in my opinion.

-“Illegal ROM hacks and fangames make IS lose [money], so they’re forced to appeal more and more to visual novel, Persona, and dating sim players.” See, OP says that, but this comment reminds of how back in the late 2000s and early 2010s, DS piracy was an all-time high. Fire Emblem, Pokémon, and pretty much every franchise that isn’t an automatic gangbuster suffered due to piracy. Now you may ask, “Pokémon? Are you kidding me?” And I dare say yes. It’s no secret that ever since Gen III, sales were declining, and it took until Gen VIII that sales finally caught up with Gen II’s sales. Salty Gen V fans will rage that B2W2 sold so poorly due to this phenomenon, and I understand. But this sentiment often prefaces the silly idea that the franchise has been on a downward slope. As a Gen V fan, I find this sentiment ridiculous, especially since many of the “problems” people accuse Gen VI of “starting” were present in Gen V or before, and 80% of the time worse. So imagine my frustration every time people accuse Awakening. Both are flawed 3DS titles that get ragged on, but often for the wrong reasons. It’s my time with several fandoms like FE and Pokémon that has taught me that hindsight isn’t always 20/20. I also find the rather specific labeling of visual novel, Persona, and dating sim players to stick out, as if OP seems to regard these sub-demographics as somehow being less legitimate than the so-called “true fans.” It’s even more strange when you consider how many games, past and present, were made with the intent to resemble and appeal to other genres, whether they exist in games specifically or outside. Star Fox was made to resemble episodic shows like Thunderbirds, not just in terms of aesthetic, but also how it’s designed so that you can pick up the controller, play for 20-30 minutes, and come back another day for another adventure. FE4 was built around the framework of historical drama and tragedy, including things like, you know, romance (keep in mind that Kaga himself later stated how he felt that the emphasis on narrative hurt FE4’s gameplay). So apparently, Fire Emblem needs to “change,” but “only in the way I want”?

Now for a lightning round focused on less detailed responses.
-“The main game should have its own self-contained story from A to Z…” So…Three Houses just doesn’t exist? Shadows of Valentia doesn’t count even though it adds a bunch of new stuff to the story, for better or worse? And as much as Engage relies on nostalgia bait (because how dare the anniversary game rely on nostalgia bait), the Emblems often feel so barebones that you could swap them out for original “crusaders” or what not, and the story would hardly change at all.
-“Bland level design has been turning me away from later entries in the series.” Shadows of Valentia? I get that. Three Houses? I get that. But that leaves Engage sitting on the chair. You don’t have to give it a try if you haven’t played it, mind you, but when so many people say that it has what you want, and you still won’t try it, then maybe something else is the issue.
-“[The villains aren’t as memorable.]” Yes, we all probably have that one favorite midboss who may or may not be relevant to the plot. But for every Pablo, Carlyle, and Gheb, there is also 3 times a Binks, a Bazba, and a Bone, to say nothing about generic monster bosses. Is saving space by trimming the fat in terms of bad guy rosters so unforgiveable that it’s a stain on the franchise? I know that OP was somewhat jesting, but it’s still something to ponder, considering that so many people have arguments on their subjective definitions on something as subjective as “soul.” As for me, I’m not upset with the Four Hounds, the typical centerpiece for “bad villains” because there are four of them. I’m upset with them because they don’t switch up their Engage Ring tactics. Granted, some of the rings wouldn’t exactly fit well with their classes. For example, Celica is a perfect match for Griss due to his penchant for magic and hurting himself, and it would be hard to think up a different ring that would fit him just as well. But sometimes unpredictability can be its own strategy. Problems can be remedied, but you first need to diagnose them properly.
-“Keeping half of the series locked away in Japan is a bit poisoning[.]” OP here mentions Square Enix, which I feel like is a bit disingenuous. Square Enix did not port over every single game like FFII NES or Romancing Saga 1 SNES in the exact same manner. They sent out remakes and reworks of the originals. Even then, people still throw a fit about preservation regardless of whether these things significantly change the originals or not. If a remake changes things, people complain that it’s too much. If a remake doesn’t change things, people complain that it’s too faithful. Keep in mind that Japan is very conservative and usually doesn’t favor radical changes. And when they do put out stuff like RS: Minstrel Song, ORAS, P3 Reload, and the FF7R Trilogy, they still have their detractors. So would I like a worldwide FE4 remake? I suppose. If they changed the wallet system, would I hate it or like it? I’m not sure. Does it matter? In the long run, not to me.
-“[I hate it when] Units [are] able to swap to any class.” Do I think that being able to swap to any class can be silly? Yes. Do I think that unit identity is important? Yes. But how much distinction should exist in order to qualify as identity? And how and why should unit identity be important? Did not people complain that modern FE titles, especially 3H Maddening, were getting too difficult to ironman because there was too much unit identity, meaning that losing a unit can really cost you? Shadows of Valentia also technically allowed the villager kids to become any class, and yet I’d still argue that they still have some sense of unit identity. Even non-villagers can become any class with the pitchfork. There are plenty of ways to balance units and create identity beyond just classes. Stats, weapon ranks, skills, Gaiden magic, Holy Blood/Crests/etc., and so on. For example, FE4’s wallet system meant that units had to consider their starting weapons.
-“Good vibes / aesthetics beating a logical, coherent world.” I know OP was talking more about worldbuilding, but still…when was the last time war landscapes were actually realistic? Plenty of times wars have occurred for the dumbest of reasons and were solved in the most contrived of methods. If I published a recap of WWI or WWII and passed it off as fiction, people would roast it to heck and back. Let’s have Japan attack Pearl Harbor, and have the guy at the radar think it’s a glitch. Let’s have Germany suddenly attack their own ally, a giant nation with terrain and weather advantage, because “bahaha, we’re evil.” Let’s have said allied nation ignore the warning signs of said invasion, get rid of some of its best officers, maintain a bad defensive formation when said invasion occurs, and still win anyway. Let’s have one of Japan’s most competent generals make up decent plans that actually stand a chance, only for subordinates and enemies alike to screw them up. Let’s have the US show up with a big superweapon that almost no one’s ever heard of before and just dump two of them on a bunch of civilians. And what about those German soldiers dressed in black, with skull lapels on their hats? How unapologetically evil! Who on earth would want to follow them and their unrealistic promises, back then or now?

All in all, Fire Emblem is fine. It will remain that way, no matter how many “shark jumpings” the franchise undergoes. The past won’t be magically erased or negated by whatever new content we discover. And even if the franchise takes a subjectively ugly turn, there’s plenty of stuff out there that can still appeal to your appetites. Valkyria Chronicles, the Shining series, etc. If Yoshi can survive having some of the most polarizing games in its repertoire, then I’m sure that Fire Emblem can be just fine having some of the most “mediocre” games in its repertoire. And even if the series does go under, there’s nothing wrong with letting go. The only poison that exists is expecting and demanding that a franchise has to appeal to me or you. Also, here’s a completely irrelevant take that’s about as hot as 30 degrees Celsius: Three Houses is the FE4 remake. [Edit: grammar typos]

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True.

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I feel shame, now, having read through this. I was ignorant of what happened with the Nintendo DS, what happened Pokemon Black and White, or even that Thunderbirds existed. But that’s no excuse. If I cared, if I really cared, I would have done the research. I would put time into understanding what IS is, and has been, going through this past decade.

The truth is that I just wanted something to be angry at. I didn’t care what it was, I cared even less about who I hurt. I want to formally apologize to all the persona fans. A persona fan ruined my marriage, and instead of blaming the individual, I blamed a collective of people that had nothing to do with it. For that, I was truly sorry.

I was tired of the seemingly irrational ways my life has been changed, and I thought I was entitled to Fire Emblem’s stagnation. I was a fool, and I am enterally grateful I was made to see the error of my ways. I ask everyone else in this thread to join me, in repenting for how we acted.

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If the next four Dark Souls games took steps to “Entice new fans” by copying Genshin Impact’s visual style, letting you marry anyone you want even if it goes against the characterization (Would this character really be interested in a relationship right now, or ever?) and sexualities (I heard Engage contains a lesbian woman you can marry if male but I haven’t gotten to her chapter yet so someone could have lied to me about her) and familial lines (Incest Emblem: Fates Incestright, Incestquest, and Incesterlations) of certain characters, giving you more options to become so overpowered you don’t need to think when playing, designing the game so you are encouraged to buy convenience and buy power through DLC and microtransactions or grind for it, introducing a gacha gambling system, treating harder modes as an afterthought, shoving characters with potential out of the spotlight so some self-insert can steal the spotlight and claim the credit for everything good that happens ever (maybe with a fake zero to hero arc where instead of being born a prince or god or god-king you start out as a nobody who finds out you were actually a god-king prince all along) do you think any of those new fans would say “Different people play games for different reasons and I like grinding so you can’t criticize it and you don’t know what you want anyway and media criticism is when the toxic fandom is ungrateful so shut up and stop talking about this because we’ve already had this discussion”?

Fundamental aspects core to what makes Dark Souls appealing to its existing audience would be lost if it tried going in this “new direction”. It’d be less like Dark Souls and more like other games. People could argue forever over whether that makes new Dark Souls better or worse, but it would certainly make it different, and I don’t think being designed to be appealing inherently makes a game better than one designed to evoke different emotions.

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Your Answer

Yes.

dark souls fucking sucks though so nobody loses anything