What Fire Emblem Needs to Continue Its Mini-Renaissance

Fire Emblem's developers speak on the process of developing two different games at once, the characters they had their protagonist marry, and what the series needs to continue its recent success.

Interview by Kat Bailey, .

With Fire Emblem Fates launching later this week, I recently had the opportunity to sit down and talk with several members of the development team about the proces of creating two games at once, the input of Shin Kibayashi, and more.

Joining me was Fire Emblem Fates director Kouhei Maeda, producer Masahiro Higuchi, and Nintendo director Genki Yokota. We discussed a number of topics, but the overaching theme was the quest to make the series more accessible. Here are some selected highlights from the interview.

On developing two games at once

Making one game is hard; making two games at once is kind of ridiculous. Intelligent Systems is a veteran studio, though - many of its developers have been working on Fire Emblem since its debut back on the original Famicom - and it employs around 150 people. Moreover, Birthright and Conquest utilize the same pool of assets, allowing the studio to focus on developing two very good scenarios.

For Conquest and Birthright, Intelligent Systems had one team working on the core of both games, but separate teams focusing on the level design. But despite the added workload, it was more or less business as usual at Intelligent Systems, says Higuchi. "I'd like to say that the main staff involved in this project has been more or less similar to those who worked on previous games."

On the input of Shin Kibyahashi, novelist and manga writer

Fire Emblem Fates is notable for the input of Shin Kibayashi - a well-known manga writer, novelist, and screenwriter. Kibayashi's best-known works include Kindaichi Case Files, a mystery series, and GetBackers - a a story about two misfits in Shinjuku out to retrieve stolen goods. I asked Maeda what Kibayashi brought to the table in terms of the scenario development.

"We got the hint that the story has to be simple and easy to understand from a lot of people who will be playing the game, and that's sort of the idea that comes from the fact that he has been involved in a lot of stories, or manga, which is typically read by a lot of people," Maeda says. "So... to address a big crowd... it's sort of the idea that Mr. Kibayashi brought to us, and that has influences us in working on the story for this game."

Kibayashi was also involved in the development of the family members who form the core of each faction. "As you see, there are four major characters on each of the paths, four of each in Hoshido and in Nohr. If you look at those main characters, there were quite a bit of ideas that came from Mr. Kibayashi, and we salso had opinions from the development team here at Intelligent Systems. We combined everything to develop all the main characters that you see in each of the kingdoms."

On the characters that Maeda and Higuchi had their protagonist marry

The protagonist in Fire Emblem Fates can marry almost any member of the main cast outside of a family member. Out of curiosity, I asked Maeda and Higuchi who they ended up choosing.

"Well, there are quite a fair amount of characters that you can build your relationship with, and I do have many characters that I like," Higuchi says, "but I feel like through my gameplay, I feel like Felicia was the one that I had the support conversation go up to max the most. Since Felicia is always around in the story, it sort of felt natural to build the relationship with her."

Felicia, incidentally, is the male protagonist's assistant no matter which side they choose (Jakob takes Felicia's place if the protagonist is female). She's a fairly traditional representation of a maid in anime - bubbly and a bit clumsy, but in a cute way. Maeda, by contrast, prefers Nohr's Camilla, who is a bit more of a vixen. "I just really wanted to be with a unique type of character, and that was sort of the natural choice that I had."

On what Fire Emblem needs to continue its current mini-renaissance

Fire Emblem has experienced a mini-renaissance in North America since the release of Awakening. The decision to make permanent death optional and put a greater emphasis on character relationships garnered it a much broader audience than before. Longtime Fire Emblem fans grumbled, but pretty much everyone else sang its praises.

With the series continuing full steam ahead through Fire Emblem Fates and beyond, Yokota seems intent on not rocking the boat. "Personally, I feel it's very important to keep what's been working well in the series, as well as challenge ourselves to implement new things in order to make it more fun and enjoyable for a broad audience."

Higuchi also speaks to the need to continue cultivating a broad audience, "Maeda-san mentioned earlier about this game being a tough RPG - sort of like a simulation type of game - with a turn based system; and while some people really enjoy the interaction with the various characters that you play with during the game, there are some other players enjoy more of the storyline. We feel like it's very important for us to continue suggesting all these different ideas that would make the game more accessible to various people, and, to be honest, there's not a single answer to this. But, I feel like the key to continue making the Fire Emblem series successful is to continue challenging ourselves and implementing all these good ideas that come up during the development process."

Naturally, every series wants to continue broadening it audience; but for Fire Emblem, the need is especially urgent. By catering to casual fans with Birthright and veterans with Conquest, Intelligent Systems is hoping Fire Emblem can be all things to all people. And in the end, their strategy may well pay off.

Fire Emblem Fates launches on February 19. Look for our full review of Birthright and Conquest later this week.

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Comments 16

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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #1 Vaporeon 2 years ago
    So psyched for both games. Thanks for the preview, Kat. Now I just have to figure out how I'm going to finish Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel BEFORE Friday (I just reached Chapter 4). If I put it down and pick up Fates, well... that will get messy, though I guess it's a good problem to have: too many awesome games to play!
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  • Avatar for Ralek #2 Ralek 2 years ago
    If it leads to more Fire Emblem being made, I'm ok with a lot of the changes that lead to the games being more accessible. The only change that really, really bugs me, is the inclusion and heavy emphasis on DLC. Now, I'm not talking about the whole issue with the three campaigns for FE:Fates, but the additional DLC that will be available, and was already available for Awakening.

    I think especially those "cheating" maps (I don't know what else to call those money/xp-making maps) really go against the grain of the series, but honestly, the ability to endlessly grind any DLC map itself is kind of a huge NO-NO to me. I'm ok with difficulty settings, or casual mode, even phoenix moe (although I think for that to really work, an A.I. redesign needs to happen, but I'll get to that in a second), but just throwing these modes out there, and going like: "No need to balance the game, people can just grind now ..." really attacks the very soul of the franchise, that was always about the conflation of a) tactics and b) strategy (read: longterm management of tactical goals and achievements).
    (If you don't get what I mean, just go online an read a "lunatic guide" for Awakening ... for some reason, most if not all of them stop right after Ch. 5. Go figure ... and it tells you everything you need to know.)

    If you throw endless grinding opportunities and cheat maps into the mix, you just pi** all over that tradition, and frankly make people wonder why they should put in the serious effort of thinking about any and all battles all that deeply. I know it is optional, but I still think the psychological effect of a $2 purchase completely negating the games underlying premise is kind of .... well, enormous. I mean, it was to me. When I reached said point in FE:A, I realized I could go on spending hours at times at "perfecting" one map at a time, or just do a quick and dirty on the campaign, only to pick up any kind of xp/money/support I want/need on a DLC map. I went with the first option, because I figured, if I went down the other road, this would probably be my last FE game.

    Frankly, the story in the games is serviceable at best, and personally, I'm in it for the gameplay, the challenge and a certain sense of gratification, once you really build an amazing fighter, who, on top of that, has a personality that really clicks with you. I also cannot deny, that even by being offered the option to take the easy way out, my enjoyment of the game was in fact hurt. Whenever I struggled with a map, with giving xp to a certain weak charakter I wanted to train, then it was right there, at the back of my mind, that niggling thought, that I might be wasting my time here pointlessly. It should not be that way, it never was before, and I do hope it won't become the new standard for the series (though I am afraid, that ship has probably sailed).

    Anyways, as to what I think the series should do going forward (aside from sacrificing it's very heart and soul as described), is matching the new difficulty and more importantly mode settings with accordingly improved A.I. Why? Because the A.I. in FE is very specific. For the most part, it will just to try to kill any charactere, mostly your weakest link, even if that makes zero sense in the larger tactical consideration. Basically the A.I. works on the premise, that most people will reset if they loose a charactere, and as such, dealing out defeat means managing to make that one kill at all costs.

    That A.I. is simply put pretty much broken in casual or phoenix mode, as loosing a charactere is no longer a "you loose" scenario. Also, the A.I. should become smarter, as more processing power becomes available. "Lunatic" should be harder not due to a game of increased stats and more frequent silver weapons or so, but (mostly) due to smarter and more challenging enemies. I know this is a long shot, but it would take the series to the next level, as a serious tactic game, despite all the anime appeal, and it would also fix the issues with the A.I. versus "accessibility".

    Last but not least, I think FE needs to move beyond Nintendo's handhelds once more. I think the NX (if not the near-death WiiU) should see another Path of Radiance-/ Radiant Dawn-esque homeconsole entry into the series. One where finally the contrast between gameplay and cutscenes is not so grating and stark, plus - dare I even say it - MOBILE.
    Yes, the thought is not exactly pleasent to my oldschool-gamer-brain, but FE on a smartphone? That just makes sense on about every level. It's well suited for portables (as we know), it got all the hallmarks of "addictive" and short-session gameplay, plus it does NOT need physical controls. So ... yes, it would make sense for FE to be on smartphones in some capacity. Preferably with exclusive titles though, as to not hurt the core business too much, but maybe even at that cost. I don't love the idea emotionally, but it is just the smart move, and again, if it leads to more FE being made, I'm mostly on-board. I would even buy those games myself, if they live up to the name. Having a FE game in my pocket at all times, even if my 3DS is not with me (which it often is not, because of the additional weight and bulk and all that), would be great.

    Other than that, I'm delighted with the "Mini-Renaissance" - as Kat rightly put it - the series is currently experiencing. I'd say, it was about time, seeing as RD came out in 2007 (not that anyone outside of core fans even noticed on a system like the Wii ...).
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  • Avatar for Namevah #3 Namevah 2 years ago
    @Ralek "Last but not least, I think FE needs to move beyond Nintendo's handhelds once more. I think the NX (if not the near-death WiiU) should see another Path of Radiance-/ Radiant Dawn-esque homeconsole entry into the series."

    I'd be shocked if we saw Fire Emblem on a home console anytime soon. The last three (Thracia 776, Path of Radiance, and Radiant Dawn) are among the worst selling games in the series, and I hear that the Shin Megami Tensei crossover didn't exactly do amazing in Japan.

    Of course, if the NX is a home console/handheld thing as rumored, it'll be interesting (and a bit scary) to see how Fire Emblem performs.
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  • Avatar for Tetragrammaton #4 Tetragrammaton 2 years ago
    Thanks for conducting the interview Kat. It's always fun to see insights on Nintendo's development process, though I'd hoped for more specifics on where they see the series going next. Some stuff in the last two games (split versions and the child characters) shouldn't come back unless the story is built around them.

    For those interested in reading more about Fates, I recommend the Iwata Asks on Fates.
    @Namevah #FE is actually selling okay as a bundle... because the Wii U is experiencing stock shortages in Japan and the bundle is still in stock. The game did terribly.
    @Ralek: You're in luck, Nintendo's next console seems to be going down the "handheld and console play the same games" route, which would make the handheld version of Fire Emblem the console version of Fire Emblem. Stay tuned for news on that front.
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  • Avatar for himuradrew #5 himuradrew 2 years ago
    I already pre-loaded Conquest (no thanks to Nintendo for issuing a very limited run of the SE)

    I chose Conquest because it's more patterned after the classic FE games (no grinding, more strategic) - but I will eventually get all 3 paths. Who says no to more FE anyways? :)
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  • Avatar for TernBird #6 TernBird 2 years ago
    @Namevah With how powerful Nintendo's handhels are becoming, I don't think we can claim that any game suffers as a result of being on a handheld. We're still getting phenomenal experiences and quality, with the added ease of being portable.

    HDTVs can eat my dust; I don't need Monster Hunter in 1080p if I can play it in the doctor's office.

    As for the revelation that the writer of GetBackers is behind FE: Fates' story... that's worrisome. I enjoyed GetBackers (read it as a teen), but I don't recall it being particularly phenomenal...
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  • Avatar for joshuasmith54 #7 joshuasmith54 2 years ago
    @Vaporeon You probably have about 15-20 hours left of Cold Steel. It's totally worth it though! I finished it last week to try and get ready for Fire Emblem. It's worth sticking around for!
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  • Avatar for Mooglepies #8 Mooglepies 2 years ago
    Interested in the game (played a few hours of the Japanese version and the gameplay seems solid) and the but no release date for us here in Europe yet. Booooo. Presumably it means NoE are waiting on more translations for the market here before they proceed.

    What I'd quite like to see is some progress with the AI. As it stands, regardless of difficulty, is that if the AI CAN kill one of your troops, regardless of how important or not they are, it will pile in to that single soldier to the detriment of everything else. They don't play the objective, mostly because of a lack of imagination on the design side for the enemy objectives.
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  • Avatar for Ralek #9 Ralek 2 years ago
    @Namevah It's not really about sales though, call it a vanity project if you will, but in the end, it's about showing presence. Also, I know several people who got into FE through PoR or RD, and who then went on to buy a 3DS for Awakening/Fates, plus of course similar DS/3DS games available on those system, like Devil Survivor. They simply did not know the "sRPG" genre as such, before they came into contact with it on consoles. It's worth keeping in mind, that that was more than a decade ago though ...
    As for SMTxFE, or GIR#FE as it is apparently called now, I think the problem with that was the marketing, or more precisely how the outcome related (or did not relate to) the given name. I guess many people expected something akin to Majin Tensei, and as such, their expectations were disappointed, which always means the same thing: the game in question is no longer judged on it's own merits, but against what it was *supposed* to be.
    @Tetragrammaton I'm aware of the whole "hybrid console" speculation, and while I'm not 100% clear on how that could or would work, I'm certainly intrigued, and I also think it would be smart for Nintendo to be able to focus their whole first-party development ressources on only two platforms NX and mobile, which NX hopefully still being the core focus.
    If it turns out that way, it seems very likely that the NX FE game might be a homeconsole as well as portable game, like probably all NX games then. We will see, luckily I think we won't have to wait long anymore to find out about the NX, I doubt it will be much longer than a month or two, E3 at the very, very latest.
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  • Avatar for WiegrafFolles #10 WiegrafFolles 2 years ago
    Not really your fault, but their answers didn't have much substance to them.
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  • Avatar for pashaveliki #11 pashaveliki 2 years ago
    Already preloaded Birthright... ugh.
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  • Avatar for Vaporeon #12 Vaporeon 2 years ago
    @joshuasmith54 Thanks for the encouragement! I'll resist the urge to start Fates until I'm done with Cold Steel, then. I'm surprised and delighted at how relaxing I find the chapter-based formula. And Easy Mode. On that point, maybe it's because I'm getting older and want my play sessions to be smooth and successful - or maybe I just feel I deserve easier experiences after a childhood of thrown NES controllers. Either way, I'm enjoying it. And - disclaimer - I AM getting Conquest, as well, and plan on playing it after Birthright, so for the hardcore FE fans out there, rest assured I'm warming myself up for extra challenges. Everyone speaks highly of the traditional FE experience, so I'm optimistic about it.

    Also, maybe it's just me, but maintaining momentum on my individual gaming experiences (especially JRPGs and the tactics in Fire Emblem) is critical to enjoying them fully. It's tough for me to swap games on the fly. Anyone else feel that way, too?
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  • Avatar for joshuasmith54 #13 joshuasmith54 2 years ago
    @Vaporeon I agree! I've left so many RPGs unfinished after putting them down for a couple of weeks. I played Cold Steel on Normal, but found myself really frustrated early on with the boss battles. After I realized that leaving all of my characters clustered together was a bad decision, things clicked into pace, and I didn't have too much trouble. I have also found myself gravitating to easy modes as I have aged. Being in seminary and having a son limits my gaming time considerably. It is nice to sit down and relax with a game when I can play.
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  • Avatar for Darji #14 Darji 2 years ago
    So nothing about the whole censoring? Nothing about removing features, costumes and conversations? Of course not...

    Sadly I will not buy this game even I love Fire Emblem but I love my morals and standards about censorship even more.
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  • Avatar for Kat.Bailey #15 Kat.Bailey 2 years ago
    @Darji They weren't willing to comment on the localization.
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  • Avatar for Iliya-Moroumetz #16 Iliya-Moroumetz 2 years ago
    Ah, so, it's Kibayashi's idea to put in the whole 'drug the lesbian to make her fall in love with you.'
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