A cautionary tale on why you should always play for love, not numbers
I joked about the illegitimacy — not canon! — of dumb-haired, blonde/blond Robin in Super Smash Bros. recently. I did not ignite a waifu war, but there was talk about the “best,” most efficient ways to play Awakening. Shacking up with saltine Chrom to pass on certain favorable traits to different children, namely.
I played a lot of Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I definitely didn’t play it right.
In that comment thread, my explanation was loud and capitalized: “BECAUSE CHROM AIN’T WORTH MARRYING, I PLAY FOR LOVE, NOT MIN/MAXING EFFICIENCY.” And that’s it, right? Kanji Likes Boys hit me back on Twitter a while later: “A uploader on YT is choosing Fire Emblem pairs based on hair colors the kids will have…an we at least agree that this is more ridiculous than pairing for love or stats?”
Do you know how many times I reloaded Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door to get a Yoshi of the right mohawk color? The answer is way more times than would’ve been necessary had I just bothered to consult the internet. Way more times than I would’ve if the only difference was +2 HP. And what about finding the right Seventeen personality quiz answer combination to get that damned frou-frou dog in Animal Crossing to give me a haircut that didn’t look like an upside down crown or a Crispen Glover my-mom-didn’t-let-me-touch-my-own-hair-so-I-play-with-rats middle part. Or eyes that don’t make me look stoned.
Just take it back to Awakening. I’m not the only one who agonized over the character creator to craft the ideal, actualized self. Ear pressed to the 3DS speaker to get a vocal feel from brief combat barks. Wondering, “Too tall? Oh dear, the short one looks much too much like a loli girl, can’t have that.”
Serafina, the grand tactician of Ylisse, stayed single until I got into a weird “I don’t want this to be over” holding pattern. The only man good enough for her was Stahl. His ruffled brown locks gave him a boyish charm, but his deep kindness is why I fell for him. He knows how to talk to people — anyone — because he’s a great listener. All his support conversations show this. Every woman in the army could fall for his aloofness, his fondness of food, and the way you can tell him anything. Unfortunately for Serafina, Stahl stumbled into a perfect relationship with Sully at the onset.
I watched that pairing blossom with a heavy heart. Yes, they worked. You know that they’d be vacationing in Spain into their 70s, dancing, as in love as they were during these hellish wartimes. And I wanted that.
Serafina remained single. “I don’t use any of the children,” I told a friend. I was greeted with an incredulous, “What?” I didn’t have too many of them. I struggled matching units. Stahl and Sully, of course. And Lucina. I paired Chrom like Speedy Gonzalez at a speed dating expo held on treadmills aboard a moving bullet train once I found out the game could’ve automatically bound me to him in an arranged marriage (again, Chrom ain’t worth marrying).
On Hard/Classic, I was getting along without too much trouble (depending on how many reloads I’ve blocked from my mind thanks to suicidal AI). I had grown attached to my team. No point in messing things up now and throwing these also-ran children into the mix (okay, except Noire). Even if they’re all meant to be “better” than their parents because of stats and moves. And, again, I wasn’t about to force pairings for the mechanics of it. If I wasn’t feeling it, I wasn’t feeling it. That went for my whole team. A lot of great friendships formed. Contrary to what little net trawlers might tell you, this is okay (take off the damn hat).
I used Olivia and let her keep dancing because she was a dancer, damn it. Even when she became a supreme liability and her Dance ability couldn’t make up for her lack of range. Even in the final level. Her allies protected her. I used Anna, the merchant Trickster even though her support pairings were limited and also without romance. She is an independent business owner. She doesn’t have time for men.
This is always how I’ve played numbers-based games. My shallowness started early. My Pokemon choices, Final Fantasy parties, Dragon Warrior Monsters slaves. They have been and always will be based on my connection to the characters, typically through their design, occasionally through writing. It started more simply: What/who looks the coolest. It evolved somewhat (what/who looks the cutest). I’ll take that personal connection over the slightest care for numbers and systems.
Why evolve a Spoink? Spoink is so cute. This is shallow, but that interpretation belies the value in relationships formed by treating pixel pals as more than tools of efficiency. I’m the underdog anime character who wins with the power of friendship in the face of impossible odds. Mine is the drill that will pierce the heavens.
A good man is hard to find and Serafina wasn’t going to settle just because it would yield a play piece with good abilities. Who was I going to fuck, Donnel? And sit through his aw-shucks trying-to-work-out-how-sex-works on the honeymoon?
Donnel, the pot-headed villager, is the secret best character in Awakening once you train him. I knew this because someone from Nintendo told me at a preview event before the game even came out. Recruiting Donnel, which I did, was the “right” thing to do. He never made it into my party, though.
I want to allow that “min-maxing” your way through a game, focusing on efficiency, is fine, if you’re into that. That it’s not super boring. But then I would have had to listen to the people who told me not to roll Swordsman in Dark Souls II and I wouldn’t have been dual wielding swords like a very cool madman. Playing with the “best,” rightest characters means acknowledging Hope’s existence in Final Fantasy XIII instead of rolling Fang/Lightning/Vanille (or acknowledging Vaan’s existence in Final Fantasy XII instead of rolling Basch/Balthier/Fran/Ashe). I cannot abide by that.
But the thing about morals is that having them is hard. As I alluded to, I reached the dreaded spot of RPGs where the overlong journey has the audacity to end, the intent of leaving you alone. How many JRPGs have you abandoned at the final boss? Or at the “point of no return?” Am I the only one with follow through and commitment issues?
My unease and my desire to sate that unease with more Fire Emblem led to me grinding stages for no reason other than force pairings upon single units into relationships I didn’t believe in so as to open up more challenging, child-bearing Prologue stages. My gameological clock ticking. I was under inward and outward pressure. I broke.
Serafina stayed stalwartly single, true to the story I meant to tell, until just about every unit shacked up. If there wasn’t a man good enough for her when she lost Stahl, there certainly wasn’t now. I settled on Gaius, a hitherto unused character. His sweet tooth might have otherwise been endearing. Now, the tic was infuriating. I needed a glass of red wine to forget the marriage I felt compelled to jump into. The unlocked Prologue stage spawned a disgustingly orange-haired child I detested personally and for that loud-haired reminder of his awful father.
When the credits rolled an Animal House “where are they now” epilogue, Gaius’ indifferent face and stupid bandana marred the written historical record. His name, picture, and stunning historical irrelevance strode atop my own, an even crueler reminder of the ill-advised marriage. He should have been an asterisk in the annals of history. “She had a husband, by the by. Nothing more to say on that.”
Instead, my biography read, “Scholars, poets, and bards agreed on one thing alone — she loved her husband, Gaius, above all else.”