The promotional material and news leading up to the release of Fire Emblem Warriors have given me mixed feelings. A stew of conflicting hopes and worries stronger than any other pre-release ramp-up I can remember feeling in recent history, and the recent interview from the developers about how they chose the roster has done nothing for me but add a pinch of salt to that stew. On one hand, I’m a big fan of Warriors games and a little fan of Fire Emblem. On the other hand, most of my Fire Emblem experience comes from games that have long been confirmed to not be represented in this crossover. On another hand, I did enjoy Awakening a good deal, it wasn’t my favorite FE but one I’d gladly revisit. On a fourth hand, something about that interview didn’t fill me with confidence about the future of this game. And on the tip of my tongue, I’m telling myself “This is a Warriors game,” to dismiss that worry.
I’m tired of dwelling on it like this. So I’m going to sort out those feelings right now and get the dwelling over with. To do that, I’m going to debate with myself by explaining the concerns I have with the game—particularly those that relate to the recent article by Mike here on Destructoid—and presenting counterarguments against those concerns.
For better or worse, Warriors games are iconic for their repetitive nature. I accept that repetition, but with a caveat; Warriors games feel less repetitive than they look because of the characters. Their diverse rosters offer varied movesets for me to learn and master. More characters give more experimenting to do and moves to remember as I attempt to optimize my army-sweeping skills. Rowan and Lianna (the original Lords for this game) were a strong example of this, wielding an axe and a lance… until, they were given swords instead. Because… they’re Lords? Because teaching players about the weapon triangle that early would be too difficult? And then the game was shown at E3 last year with a focus on sword-using Lords and nothing else? It seems not just lazy and overly restrictive to focus on so many sword users, but it also feels somewhat patronizing to think that giving the starting characters different weapons was too advanced a concept for the very start of the game.
The apparent overabundance of sword users is definitely just an illusion from the game’s early advertising; while the original Lords wielding only swords still feels excessive, they won’t necessarily overwhelm the full roster. One of the most hype-inducing things to do in any massive crossover’s early promo material is to show multiple protagonists gathering together for the reveal of their games’ representation. For almost any Fire Emblem games you could choose to represent, that just means by default that many swords will be shown; the sword is simply the prototypical “protagonist” weapon. The gradual trickle of character reveals since have given us almost no new sword users at all; Robin is eschewing his sword for the most part so that his moveset can focus on magic. Even among users of similar weapon types, past Warriors games have demonstrated a capacity to mix things up. Preview footage available from coverage at events like E3 has shown the same to be the case here; see Corrin’s dragon transformations in her combos, or the fact that Xander is on a horse. Let alone the more subtle differences that would be much easier to notice with the controls in your hand than on someone else’s screen. There’s already plenty of evidence against the fighters feeling samey on the battlefield, and the continual roster reveals are guaranteed to prove it more and more.
The interview explained that the team chose the games they did to represent this crossover to cut down on the number of sword using main characters. Okay, sounds fair. So… why did they insist on giving Rowan and Lianna swords instead of an axe and a lance? Because it’s tradition and required? Something about this reasoning feels off and counterproductive. Similarly, the interview discusses a system that the developers introduced to plan out who to add into the crossover, ranking characters from A to C. Until, an S rank somehow got introduced to the system, and nobody knows how? And so many characters flooded the S rank that B and C characters needed to be almost completely cut? Such a disregard for their own decision making processes comes off to be as unusually careless. As if it tells sign of some deeper issues within the development team; miscommunication issues that are trickling down from elsewhere in the project, which could possibly harm other aspects of the game’s design.
Then again, these are the Dynasty Warriors guys we’re talking about. Omega Force is a team of AAA developers that have continually proven they know what they’re doing, especially when it comes to making very specific types of games like this. So what if the devs are screwing around a little bit with their own ranking system? They aren’t doing so thinking that it risks the game’s quality; their profits are still on the line. It’s not unheard of for development teams to just roll with occasional bouts of weirdness that happen during development (Drinkbox Studio's antics as described in this old article from Brett comes to mind as an example of more exagerrated shenanigannery). These few weird choices don’t actually say anything about the expected quality of the game; their track record does.
This one doesn’t need much explanation if you’re this game already, but let’s recap. A Famitsu article confirmed that most of the characters in this crossover will be from Shadow Dragon, Awakening, and Fates. The reasoning given was that if the roster was made of main characters from the whole series, there’d be too many swords. Except for Hector. And Lyn. And Celica. And Micaiah. And Ephraim. And more. You could also probably get away with dropping a few of the sword users too, like maybe Seliph or Eirika. They almost left out Lucina of all characters to trim down the swords. The focus on only the first and two most recent games comes off as complete ignorance towards the rest of the series the game is made to represent. I can empathize with focusing on the more mainstream side of the fanbase. So did Fire Emblem Heroes. But to give the other games no mention at all, despite that even Smash Bros gave us Ike and Roy, feels like a step too far. Personally, I believe that one of the worst things a massive series crossover can do is to leave a huge gap in the history it acknowledges.
Despite the initial roster spread in Fire Emblem Heroes, the vast majority of all new units added in updates come from other areas of the series’ history, from Valentia to Tellius to Elibe and pretty much everywhere else. In fact, barring limited time events, the mobile game still hasn’t seen the addition of any more characters from Awakening or Fates from any time six months after launch. Sure, we know they’ll add Miriel and Rinka and the others eventually, but for now, the rest of the series has been given a lot of the delicious pie it was missing before. A precedent has been set; if that crossover can receive so many representatives from the rest of the series, should we really worry that Warriors won’t have any at all? Even if not at launch, demand has been rising, and it’s almost a foregone conclusion that this game will receive DLC after the launch. The same can be said about Hyrule Warriors; it launched with mostly representation from three games (albeit more evenly spread across the Zelda legacy), but updates and DLC gradually gave more attention to the rest of the series after launch. If Fire Emblem Warriors adopts a DLC model similar to Hyrule’s, we can expect to see at at least 7 more characters join the fray after the game ships—possibly even more, given the developers’ claim that the starting roster will be larger than any other first entry in a Warriors subseries. I’d much rather the other games in the series be represented in the base package than just paid DLC, but it’s still a better outlook than before, isn’t it? This much is definitely more speculation than the rest of my counterarguments, but I think it’s a very logical assumption that Ike, Celica, Ephraim, and the like aren’t out of the running just yet.
When I carefully look at each of these concerns, it’s safe to conclude that all of the worries and complaints I’ve had about this game’s pre-release really come down to a single matter; the lack of representation from the middle children of the series. Every other complaint and concern that comes to mind, whenever I analyze and deconstruct them, just feels like an extension of that. A complaint that is blown out of proportion with my own overly judgmental lens, ignoring the dozens of previous counterexamples that prove the consistent quality of games these developers have made within this genre. I still believe that it’s not a good design choice to focus on only Shadow Dragon, Awakening, and Fates, especially with the explanations given to do so. Despite that, that’s the only real issue I have with this game, and it’s grounded more in subjectivity than objectivity. I was judging the game based on what it wasn’t, not what it was. While I’ve never played Fates, I enjoy the casts of Shadow Dragon and Awakening. And the Fates characters look like they’re fun to play as according to press footage. The characters are part of the reason I play Warriors games. The bigger reason why is to enjoy a solid hack-and-slash with over the top action, cathartic army sweeping, and light tactical elements. I see no reason that the bigger reason won’t be delivered on. So… do I really have a reason to be worried?
I think that Fire Emblem Warriors will still be awesome for Warriors fans. I think Fire Emblem Warriors will still be awesome for fans of Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon, Awakening, and/or Fates. I think it still could be awesome for fans who only enjoy the rest of the FE series. But there’s still a lot more to learn about it before its release. And in order to understand truly what type of game we’re looking forward to, it’s important to study what the game is, not what it isn’t. I’ll probably make another blog on this topic in the future; I’m a big Warriors fan, and I have a lot more to say about what I believe makes a good Warriors game and how that ties into my high hopes for Fire Emblem Warriors. In the meantime, I want to know what you think. What are you expecting out of this game? How do you think it’s going to turn out? Will Fire Emblem Warriors live up to its hype?