Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Diamond Emblem

As promised in the previous post, here's a fresh batch of letters pertaining to the newest game in the Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Waifu Edition. Read on to learn what that means!

Before I get too much into the nitty-gritty of this game, let me first say that it is great. I haven't finished it yet, (I'd hazard a guess that I'm somewhere around halfway through) but so far I wouldn't hesitate to say that it's my favorite Fire Emblem, and not just because it has the highest Metacritic score. If you have a 3DS, and even a passing interest in tactical RPGs, then I urge you to buy it as soon as you can. In fact, that's an order. Internet court-martial awaits anyone reading this who doesn't buy it. The internet police is on standby. I should also note that, while a good chunk of this post was indeed written before I finished the game, I unsurprisingly got a little carried away, and now indeed have finished. So expect this to take on a rather schizophrenic tone, just in case you did not have the foresight to expect it coming in.

However, before you buy it, you should be warned: This game is hard. On Moh's hardness scale, this game goes all they way up to 11. This game is so hard, I could make an outdated pop culture reference about certain unsavory people wanting to find it. This shit is pretty cray. When they first announced that there would be a “casual mode”, I thought it ridiculous. A mainstay of the Fire Emblem series is that if one of your units falls in battle, they're gone forever, which effectively means that all battles must be won without any casualties. Casual mode disgraced this tradition, allowing players to let their units die willy-nilly, and have them ready for action for the next battle. Now that I've actually played the game, I can see why this option was included. Even with the ability to let a unit fall without crying and restarting, this game could be quite difficult. Perhaps it's my fault for choosing to play in hard mode, but in my defense, the “hard” difficulty is the middle of the three difficulties, making it as much a hard mode as a tall drink from Starbucks is a large drink. If just one person understands where I was going with that comparison, then I'll consider it worth it.

At heart, this game is all about teamwork and companionship. At least, the mechanics are. I haven't finished the story, so it could be about moon monkeys, for all I know. Except I now have finished, and unsurprisingly enough, the power of friendship is quite important. As for the relevance of lunar simians... spoilers. How can mechanics be about teamwork and companionship? Well, the game basically plays like an apology for Radiant Dawn's terrible support system, which did away with support conversations entirely. In Fire Emblem, most characterization for non-vital characters comes from support conversations, which is why all the new characters in Radiant Dawn sucked. Awakening says “Screw that noise”, and makes it so that EVERYONE CAN SUPPORT EVERYONE. This isn't literally true, but it seems that most units are capable of supporting a whole bunch of other units. Marriage is also handled differently in Awakening. As most Fire Emblem vets (experienced players, rather than animal doctors) know, maxed-out supports between units will occasionally manifest as a joined destiny in the part of the credits where it says what happens to each person after the story is done. For opposite gender units, this occasionally results in marriage. In Awakening, any maxed-out support between heterosexual units will culminate in a proposal (barring siblings, as well as cousins, much to the embarrassment of Operation: Incest). As stated before, the number of possible supports is huge, especially in the case of the Avatar, (the player character) who can support any playable unit in the game. And, because the Avatar's gender can be chosen, this means that s/he can marry any of the 30+ units in the game. According to my calculations, The Avatar may have upwards of 300 possible support conversations, a figure so impressive that they made a movie about it. This is made all the more impressive by...

The fact that I am writing a whole two paragraphs about arranging fictional marriages. But the actual reason is the quality of the writing. I've only puppeteered 5 marriages so far, so I don't really have enough data to make generalizations, but all of them were... good? They all had a little story to them, and the proposals were singularly... I'm trying to think of a word that isn't “adorable”, but my extensive knowledge of synonyms is failing me. So, at the risk of having my Y chromosome stricken by the sacred fires of manhood, I will now describe a proposal as “adorable”. Havoc's proposal to Lissa was adorable (Havoc is the name of my Avatar). The only downside to this is the meticulous consideration of gender when deciding which troops to accept or reject, and the fact that I'll likely never have a same-gender support. But I feel that's a small price to pay for the sick glee that comes with holding the love lives of your soldiers in your hands. And now, with the wisdom of age, future-me can clarify that all units can build as much support as they want, as long as they only have one significant other, which means that same-sex support is a-go. I'm sure you're quite relieved.

Further augmenting the support system is the ability to “pair up” units. Essentially, this allows two units to join together to act as one unit. When asked how it works, the most succinct explanation I could come up with was “It's like rescuing, except instead of taking a stat penalty, you get a stat boost.” If that sounds overpowered, then, well, refer to the third paragraph. You need every advantage you can get. When two units are paired up, the primary unit fights as normal, except with some stat boosts, depending on the stats of the supporting unit, and the support level between them. In addition, the supporting unit will occasionally get in a bonus attack during combat, or block incoming attacks. This can lead to amusing circumstances, like your cleric heroically jumping in to defend your general from an incoming arrow. This can also happen when units are just adjacent to each other, but it's probably more likely if they're paired up. This leads to a number of interesting strategic implications, and is also just pretty neat in general.

It's hard to make a judgment on the story, as I haven't finished it, but it seems pretty good so far. Perhaps the best of any Fire Emblem. I'm not sure if Zero Escape has just destroyed my ability to play games without drawing comparisons to it, (it sure has destroyed my ability to play real life without drawing comparisons to it) but the story seems to share some elements that I cannot specify, at the risk of spoilers. But I mentioned it anyway, because screw you. Yeah, you. Not the rest of the readers: just you. You know what you did.

In some ways, Awakening represents Intelligent Systems' attempt to gather all of the good ideas over the history of Fire Emblem into one place. It borrows the overworld and branching evolution system of Sacred Stones, the Skill system of the Radiant Console games, the universe of Shadow Dragon, the breeding system of some Fire Emblem that no one's ever played, the general goodness of Blazing Sword, and the difficulty of every other Fire Emblem combined. The overworld allows players an opportunity to train their weaker units, while discouraging the rampant grinding that inevitably occurred in Sacred Stones. The overworld map also lets the player complete “paralogues”, which are like sidequests, except with a ridiculous word that sounds exactly like something I'd make up. Not even spell-check believes in it. The skill system is complicated, and not very well explained, so I will graciously attempt to make both heads and tails of it here, so that my readers may have an edge over their jealous peers when playing this game. You're welcome. As your units are trained, certain classes gain certain skills at certain levels. Quite certainly. By using a “Second Seal” to reclass units, one can customize their units to possess whatever skills one desires. I think? The game takes place in the same universe that Marth once inhabited, although far enough in the future that everyone from that era is dead and forgotten. Which is a shame, because I'm sure you were all looking forward to a continuation of Shadow Dragon's deep and engaging story. Breeding is an interesting concept that seems rather well-done, but is off-putting for several reasons, not least of which is that I continue to insist on referring to it as “breeding”. When some characters marry, they have children. This leads to the unfortunate implication that your units have resorted to profane and forbidden magicks that they might create life. Or perhaps something even more unclean.

In Path of Radiance, Intelligent Systems made the dubious decision to separate magic and strength into two different stats that each unit had, while in previous games, a magic unit would have a magic stat, and a lesser unit would have a strength stat. This served to completely ruin magic swords, which now used the pathetic magic stat of most swordsmen, and ruin the ability of some mages to hit twice, as the strength stat replaced constitution in determining a unit's capacity to wield heavy tomes. I guess the strength stat also came in handy if you chose for your sage to wield knives, rather than staves, but I'm kind of hoping that the game just blanked your save if you were stupid enough to do that. But in Awakening, this splitting of offensive stats comes in handy, as there are units capable of using both real weapons and real magic. It also removed the weight of weapons, letting you use steel weapons without fear of missing the opportunity for a double hit. This is as awesome as it is dreadfully impractical.

I'm sorry for interrupting this riveting paragraph, but all my posts are written stream-of-consciousness, so it can't be helped. I just learned something so surprising, so amazing, so wonderfully stupid, that I have to type it RIGHT NOW, and I refuse to put it somewhere that makes more sense. Dark Fliers cannot use dark magic. Dark knights cannot use dark magic. Both can use magic, and both have “dark” in their name. Dark knights are a possible evolution of dark mages, yet they can't use dark magic, meaning, as far as I can tell, that your dark mage will immediately forget the forbidden arts as soon as s/he becomes a DARK knight. I have a dark magic tome that is named after a dark flier. But apparently dark fliers can only use dark magic if they're bad guys. To try to comprehend how stupid this is, imagine if Flareon didn't learn Flare Blitz. I think we can all agree that would be unforgivably wrong.

Actually, that kind of turned out to be relevant, as dark knights and dark fliers are the two classes (along with tactician and its evolution) that can use weapons and offensive magic. The problem is that Dark Fliers evolve from Pegasus knights, who are incapable of using magic, and thus have terrible magic stats. The reverse goes for dark knights, who evolve from mages or dark mages, (but not knights, curiously enough) and thus have so little strength that there is no reason to use a sword. The tactician has stats that are pretty well balanced, but that just means that you should use magic, because magic is mo' better. The only way to produce a good mixed sweeper is by breeding one from scratch, but the mechanics involved are even more confusing than those in Pokemon. Are my general and cleric in the same egg group? If I give the mother an everstone, will the offspring retain her nature? What really happens in day-care? All these questions go woefully unanswered.

If you have played Fire Emblem before, and you still aren't convinced that you need to pick up this game, I have 5 words that will fix that problem right up: Anna is a playable unit. That is all.

Because I am too oblivious to realize how sad it is that I apologize all the time, I would like to say I'm sorry that this was more of a review/explanation of Fire Emblem than a post of substantive humor, as is expected of this blog. My excitement over this game has demolished my talents of writing, to be sure, but take heart, for it has marred my other skills as well, and made a lesser man out of me. Indeed, this game has condemned me to a life of poverty, as the damage it has dealt to my scholastic pursuits prove insurmountable, and I will be forced to get one of those jobs that you have to get if you don't have a piece of paper that says good things about you. Probably one outside of the lucrative field of “Having strong opinions about Turn Based Strategy RPGs”.

Oh, and because a gentleman never goes back on his word, I guess I should explain what a “waifu” is. It's a not-actually-Japanese word that means “wife”. It is used by the kind of people who have a real passion for animated women.  

Monday, February 11, 2013

The Inevitable Apology

This post was ordained by fate. From the moment I created this blog, nay, the moment I was born, I have walked an undiverting road to this instant in time. It is a fixed point; there can be no rewriting. For this is the post wherein I apologize for not updating in awhile.

The reasons for the lack of updates are myriad. Of primary concern is Physics lab, specifically how hard it's crushing my spirit. Harder than Battletoads, if you were wondering. I also have other classes that I take, and I may even start caring about them once I start learning things that I don't already know. I've also been accepted for a workstudy position, where I will be doing something at some place for 10 hours a week, and then I'll tell the government that it was work, whether it was or not. But don't tell them that. Pinky promise?

I'm also working on a secret project that may take up some of my time. I can't divulge much information, as I'm still under a NDA, but I'm working as an undercover agent, infiltrating a particular organization for reasons that I do not have the authorization to divulge. Plus, Valentine's Day is coming up, so me and my girlfriend are probably going to... I'm sorry, but I just can't continue that sentence. I'm comfortable with making ridiculous statements and unbelievable implications, but I have to draw the line somewhere. The idea of me having a girlfriend is so farfetched, it's holding a leek right now. And using “me” as a subject? Preposterous.

And, to top it all off, I recently started playing the new Fire Emblem, which, to put it mildly, has been catastrophic to my willingness to do things that aren't playing Fire Emblem. But I sense that to be the subject of a future post, so I'll leave it be for now.

For all of these things, I am deeply sorry. If I had the courtesy to stick to blogging, and dared not cling to the foolish aspirations that I may some day be a real, functioning member of society, then this betrayal of your trust would never have occurred. My hubris must be punished, and it is you, my dear readers, who pay the price. And so you know that my words come from the heart, let me speak the sacred oath, binding my words in blood: I am being so sincere right now.

When writing a paper in English class, teachers often instruct students to “tell them what you're going to tell them, tell them, then tell them what you told them.” And, if you read through this post, you'll see that I've done that. I say that I'm going to apologize, give a couple reasons, then actually apologize. That being the case, what is this paragraph doing here? The one you're reading right now? What purpose could it possibly serve? Well, I guess it could possibly COULD contain some incredible secret that I need to share, like the key to cold fusion, or how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Roll Pop. But it does not. The closest thing to a purpose is that, if you guys had to wait so long for a post, I'd feel bad if it wasn't at least as long as the meandering rambles I've come to be known for. Because we all know that blogs are measured by their quantity, rather than quality. If it helps to put it as an analogy, (And I hope it does, because I consider myself quite the analogist) then this paragraph is like the part of Wind Waker where you had to salvage the Triforce pieces from the bottom of the ocean. Except Wind Waker ended with one of the most epic final boss battles in the series, and this post doesn't even end with a proper joke.