Ah, the strategy RPG. Is there any genre that’s more in need of love? I highly doubt it. Whereas the current video game industry eats up any First Person Shooter, Western RPG or just straight-up Action game, the SRPG remains a niche genre. In fact, turn based strategy in itself may already be niche, god forbid it has leveling
in it. “So it’s basically chess, but the pawns have faces on them?” you’ll hear people ask. To which we of course eloquently reply: “NUH-UH”! But for those of us who do appreciate a good strategy game every once in a while, there is always Fire Emblem
, a series that itself was not being released in the West until people playing Super Smash Bros. Melee
started wondering “who the hell are Marth and Roy?”. With Lyndis’ story on the GBA, however, Nintendo finally answered the calls of the Western gamers who couldn’t wait to jump into a series that has been so popular in Japan. But even with the GBA game and its sequel, Fire Emblem
didn’t really take off until the Nintendo Gamecube got treated to a little game called Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
. Ike and the Greil Mercenaries were responsible for creating many new fans of the series, and Ike himself remains a recognizable face. As we all know, he even replaced Roy in the latest Smash Bros
. And that’s when you know you’ve made it as a Nintendo character.
But one of the most important characters in Path of Radiance
has always been shrouded in mystery; little is known about him except that he loves gold. And yet he’s the subject of today’s Save State.
As always, spoilers abound.
The basic story of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
is as follows. Greil, leader of the Greil Mercenaries and father to both Ike and Mist, enjoys a quiet life in the country of Crimea, where him and his loveable band of rogues make their money tossing bandits out of places where they don’t belong. Ike and Mist’s mother, Elena, died when they were both still very young, and Greil has been a single parent ever since. Although the Mercenaries don’t get paid much, it’s always enough and they do good work, ensuring the safety of all.
Of course, this life of relative peace can’t last forever. Crimea’s neighbor Daein, under the rule of the mad king Ashnard, invades the country with brutal efficiency. As a result, the Greil Mercenaries are put on the side of Crimea’s own army, trying to defend themselves against an army that outclasses theirs in every possible way. Rather suspiciously, from the moment of the attacks Greil decides to put Ike in charge of the Greil Mercenaries, something he’s never really done before…almost like he’s preparing Ike for something.
That something soon becomes apparent. In a duel sought out by the greatest general in Daein’s army, the mysterious Black Knight, Greil is mortally wounded. Ike has to watch it happen right in front of him. And not too long after, Greil dies in Ike’s arms. The Black Knight himself is not satisfied; he was obviously expecting more of a challenge, remarking in disappointment: “…no…resistance?”
- Ike and Mist mourn their father at his grave, marked by his weapon of choice: his trusty axe.
With Greil dead, Ike is the only one left to lead the Mercenaries. And that’s where our real story begins.
Not too long after Greil’s demise, a rather suspicious fellow approaches Ike. His name is Volke. He only wants one thing: to speak with Greil. He refuses to even just tell Ike what his business is with his father: Volke will speak to Greil, and Greil alone. That is, of course, until he is told that Greil has recently died. Upon hearing that, Volke reveals that he is in ‘intelligence’, and is willing to share an important report for the 'nominal' fee of 50,000 gold. While the report was meant for Greil alone, Ike is a valid substitute. But it goes without saying that the Mercenaries have nowhere near that amount of cash laying around. So I guess we’ll just send Volke on his merry way, right? How important could that report really be?
- You are SO ripping us off right now.
Well, not exactly.
I mean, Volke looks like a resourceful kind of guy, and it just so happens that the Mercenaries’ next mission involves rescuing a bunch of prisoners. He looks
useful, at least. And who knows, perhaps a shady guy like him would know a thing or two about picking locks? As a matter of fact, he does! For a small fee of 50 gold per lock (the money-grubbing bastard!) he’ll be perfectly willing to help out the team for a little bit. And with that, Ike has a new recruit on the team: Volke, the Thief.
As expected, he instantly makes himself useful during the mission that follows. There are lots of locked cells and treasure chests around, and although he charges for each one, the gains far outweigh the costs. From even more new recruits (including fan-favorite Nephenee
) to a whole slew of new items, Volke has more than proven his worth.
And we’re in luck! Despite claiming that he’d only help us out for the one battle, it seems that Volke has taken a liking to the Greil Mercenaries. He decides to join Ike and his team for the rest of the way. They have “sparked [his] curiosity”…and I guess he hasn’t got anything better to do? While Ike still has some suspicions, ultimately everyone decides to let Volke tag along. He’s not the most trustworthy guy, but hey. The Greil Mercenaries can use any help they can get their hands on, and he has already proven himself useful once before. Besides, as Soren observes: “He is a dubious character at best, but at least we know his motives. Everything begins and ends with gold. He'll be easy to control.” Finally, having Volke travel with them makes it all the easier to give him his money once they’ve saved up enough. It could take a while, but he doesn’t really seem to mind. For now, Ike knows his team strengthened with a shiny new knife-wielding lock-picking Thief. Permanently, this time.
But how does this rather suspicious guy know Greil in the first place? And why did he suddenly become so cooperative when he learned that Ike was Greil’s son? Not to mention, it seems a tad difficult to believe that a Thief like him would join the Mercenaries just because he’s ‘curious’.
And on top of everything, he’s still got that report to give…
A long time after Volke has joined the troupe, Ike is in for a stroke of luck. After an excruciating battle against Daein’s forces, what does he find but a whole fort full of gold! Naturally, because it all used to belong to the Daein army, nobody has any objections to just taking the lot as spoils of war. Ike entrusts the gold to the team’s financial advisor….but there’s the little matter of that 50,000 gold he has a very good use for. After all this time, Volke has been paid. In full.
And now for that report.
- WELL FUCK!
So that’s it? It was all for nothing?
Well, no. It turns out that Volke never had a report that he wanted to give to Greil. But he does
have some other information. He just didn’t want to share it with Ike until he deemed him ready to hear…what may be a shocking truth. And the 50,000 gold? Well, he likes gold a lot. What can you say?
Volke, it turns out, once had an important contract with Greil himself. He was to shadow Greil wherever he went, and if necessary…to kill him. Volke explains it all:
Ike’s mother once possessed an historic artifact, Lehran’s Medallion, also known as the Fire Emblem. Upon her death, it went to Mist. However, dark powers rest within the medallion: anyone not pure of heart who touched it would instantly go berserk. And this is the fate that had befallen Greil. Greil was once a high-ranking general in the armies of Daein, but all of that changed when he touched the Fire Emblem. Gone completely berserk, Greil slayed every soldier who crossed his path with little difficulty and even less remorse. He killed enemies, complete strangers, and even friends.
In the end, he even killed that which he loved most: his wife.
And only when he saw his wife impaled by his own sword did he regain his senses. Haunted by the vision of Elena dead by his own hand, he swore never to pick up a sword again. He was serious too: he slashed the tendons of his right arm to make sure it could never happen again. And as a final measure, a failsafe, he hired Volke to kill him if he ever went berserk again.
Volke himself almost refused, because he knew of Greil's reputation. Greil was hailed as one of the best swordsmen in the world, and it was no coincidence that his berserker rage at the hands of Lehran's Medallion caused as much destruction as it did. There's no way even someone as sneaky as Volke would be able to take him down. Only when it has become clear that Greil has crippled himself to the point where he could never hold a sword again does Volke agree to the contract...if just barely.
Finally, Volke had one other job: to tell Ike the entire story once Greil was dead and Ike was mature enough to hear it.
And when he has finally explained all that needed explaining, Volke offers Ike a new contract: to become part of the Mercenaries once more…and to kill Ike, should the need ever arise.
Now knowing the dangers of Lehran’s Medallion, which is still with Mist after all, as well as the true fate of his parents, Ike can't do anything but agree.
And with that, Volke shows his true colors. A thief no longer, he becomes what he has always been:
Volke, the Assassin.
Unfortunately, there’s no good video available, given that this moment is strictly text-based. This Let’s Play page
however, does a good job of capturing it.
Well, that certainly changes a few things.
There are a couple of reasons for why I particularly like this moment. For one, I feel that it is particularly strong because it just goes to show that in Fire Emblem
, any character can be a vital piece of the puzzle. Even a suspicious guy such as Volke, who’s only real interest seems to be in gold, has important extra baggage. This is only strengthened by the fact that, in true Fire Emblem
form, any of your team members can permanently die. So your Mage took one blow too many? Who can say, he may have known a thing or two about king Ashnard. And Volke is just a Thief, right? Surely we can miss him! As our moment shows, no you can't. Moreover, I like how the moment is set up way in advance, from the very first moment Volke joins the crew, but has an immense pay-off when it finally arrives. It puts many things in an entirely new light.
Ike lost both of his parents over one strange medallion, and in the worst way possible. He now knows why his father was such a feared warrior, and how his mother passed away. More than that, he knows what the mad king Ashnard and his Black Knight are truly after. Ashnard wants to harness the power inside the Fire Emblem to win the war once and for all, and expand his empire across the entire continent. It was never just about the invasion of Crimea: Ashnard knew that Greil took the Fire Emblem with him into hiding. The Black Knight, meanwhile, just wanted to prove himself against the famous Greil, the most powerful general in Daein's history. And why wasn’t he satisfied with the fight? Because ever since that fateful night, Greil has never again been at his full strength. That is also why he’s still following Ike and co. around: Ike is the only one left who could match Greil’s potential, so the only way for the Black Knight to prove himself the best…is through killing Ike once he has become strong enough to rival his father.
- Which goes about as well as you'd expect, by the way.
But I think the most interesting thing about this moment is Volke himself. He may be an assassin, and he deems himself very good at his job (rightly so, I might add), but there’s just no way he could ever beat Greil. Greil may have crippled himself to make it a bit easier, but he was still able to wield a giant axe with deadly efficiency. On top of that, someone gone completely berserk wouldn’t hold anything back. Volke would face a tireless madman waving a giant axe around, and with a reputation for knowing how to use it. There’s just no way he would ever stand a chance. He knows this.
And yet he takes the job anyway. Was it just for the gold? He never did explain what he needs all that gold for, but it does seem to be his one focus in life. It could be that he simply decided to take the gamble and hope for the best. Or was there maybe something more to it? Perhaps he felt for Greil, who had to live in the knowledge that he killed his own wife, not to mention many of his friends and comrades-in-arms. Perhaps Volke wanted to protect Ike and Mist against their father. Both were still very young at the time, and survived purely by the incredible luck that they weren’t around when Greil touched the Fire Emblem. Could they survive if it happened again? Who knows, maybe Volke himself had a wife once, or children; maybe he knows what it’s like to lose a loved one. Maybe he was unable to save his own family and wanted to save Greil's instead. Or perhaps his mind was more on the grand scheme of things. It could be that he wanted to shadow Greil to prevent the Fire Emblem from ever falling into the wrong hands. He might not be able to take on a berserk Greil, but he can sure stick a knife in some over-enthusiastic bandit’s back. That way, he could make sure that this powerful medallion stayed safe.
Finally, while he already doubted if he could ever kill Greil if something went wrong, he shows no fear of doing the same to Ike. In fact, he himself suggests that Ike make the contract. But Volke knows perfectly well that Ike has trained very hard with his father, that he has the potential to be as great a swordsman as Greil ever was…and no slashed tendons to hamper him. Surely, Volke must realize that he can kill Ike no more than he could kill Greil. So again I ask: just the gold? Maybe. However, in Path of Radiance
’s sequel he pays Ike the 50,000 gold right back, seemingly for no good reason.
The greatest thing about this moment is that it makes you wonder. There is a lot of backstory behind this guy which is never really shared, and the game subtly tries to make you fill in the blanks for yourself. Who is Volke really, why did he ever become an assassin, and why would he ever take a job he had no way of carrying out, twice? All that for a character who, when you first meet him, seems like he cares nothing for anything but money. That is something we don't see too often in video games nowadays, and why Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
stands out in my mind.
One thing is for sure, whatever Volke’s real motives. Truly, an assassin takes on any