I talked about this in my last blog a little bit, but with E3 about to start I thought this might be my last chance to scratch my itch and speculate what Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem will be like. While its not like Atlus to make big reveals at E3 - and largely why I snicker when people hope for a big Persona 5 reveal (spoiler: it won't happen) - SMTxFE is partly Nintendo's baby and they really need to show Wii U games so I think it will be an exception. While I don't expect it to be Nintendo's biggest priority reveal, it is my most anticipated game.
I guess I should start with my history with these two franchises, though.
Shin Megami Tensei: Nocturne was the first game in the SMT series and I originally played it back in 2004, but I never got around to beating it until 2008. I was kind of addicted to Final Fantasy XI at the time, but another part of it was I found the tutorial, menus and skill systems of Nocturne to be rather cryptic.
That and Matador whipped my ass, but later I managed to make my way through Persona 3, Persona 4 and Devil Summoner and the latter two really taught me the series vocabulary very well. This allowed me to return to Nocturne, play it well and win. Then I followed it up with Digital Devil Saga, Devil Summoner 2 and I've pretty much been buying and playing anything SMT-related ever since.
Right now, I'm on SMT: Strange Journey and having a blast.
My history with Fire Emblem is slightly longer, but more troubled. I'm one of those people that often tries to play strategy RPGs, but gets burnt out on them fast. I've never finished a single Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics game, in fact, I can count the ones I've beaten and finished on one hand:
- Onimusha Tactics
- SMT: Devil Survivor
- Fire Emblem: Awakening
Pretty much in that order, too. Onimusha Tactics was a pushover, though, so I'm not terribly proud of it. Jeanne D'arc eventually executed its ideas better but Level 5's games bore me to death for some reason.
Anyway, I started Fire Emblem series with the first western release (aka FE7: Rekka no Ken) on Game Boy Advance. I did complete Lyndis and Eliwood's acts, but quit in the middle of Hector's story. From there I bought, tried to play and shelved every FE game except for Radiant Dawn which I never tried. I left all of them incomplete. I liked them, but just couldn't stick with them. Something about Fire Emblem: Awakening clicked with me, though - probably the access to a world map to roam, the joint attacks and a revamped class system. I still played with permadeath on, though.
Now I'm looking to give much of the series another shot, I even have the fan translated games. I'm relatively familiar with the skills, systems and lore of the series now.
So how do I think these two franchises will mesh?
Which games it will focus on.
First off, I don't expect anything but main series MegaTen and Fire Emblem to be represented here. I know crossovers cause fans to wishlist the characters they're most familiar with, but I just don't see Persona, Devil Summoner, Digital Devil Saga or Devil Survivor being invited to this party. None of them are as compatible thematically as SMT and FE are.
When you play a Fire Emblem game, you're someone in a nation that's being pulled into war by the machinations of royals and power-hungry madmen from other nations. You see the whole affair from the view of the nation being pulled into conflict, whether the hero is royalty, a sellsword or an ambiguous tactician of your own creation. Each character you meet and ally with gives the nation, its allies and sometimes even your enemies a human face, which sometimes complicates things since even some enemy generals you face are honorable and good despite whom they fight for. That your vibrant allies and honorable foes can permanently die on the battlefield makes your choices and losses sting more than most games are typically capable of.
In Shin Megami Tensei, you meet a teenager and he and his friends are granted wearable computers and a demon-summoning program to protect them from a demon outbreak. They are eventually pulled into a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and gradually find themselves choosing sides in a war between Heaven and Hell. The other people you meet begin to give Tokyo a face and you get to see how they survive, cope with these supernatural forces and also gain insight to their relationship with technology. You see how the world influences and shapes the ideology of your friends and you can chose to side with one of them or oppose both, but one will certainly die by your hands. You know, feel good times.
Persona is more about interpersonal relationships and overcoming internal struggles. Its a series very interested in exploring the works of psychologist Carl Jung and concepts like dreams, archetypes, the collective unconscious, the tarot and shadow integration. Character death does happen, but its never based on player choices or errors. Death tends to serve as a plot device here.
FE and SMT aren't devoid of plot device death, but the blood is on your own hands more often and tinged with regrets.
So while I love Persona its hardly as aligned as SMT and FE are thematically. Additionally, I think Atlus and Nintendo want to avoid SMTxFE being the cacophony of fanservice Project X Zone was. If every SMT spin-off character was invited to the main story the characters of both SMT and Fire Emblem would be swiftly deemphasized. Best to keep the MegaTen side of things to just mainline SMT, I think.
That said, Persona's spiritual predecessor Shin Megami Tensei If... is a part of SMTxFE. Longtime Persona fans should recognize Tamaki Uchida from Persona, Persona 2: Innocent Sin and P2: Eternal Punishment, so there's her at least.
I think we're going to start SMTxFE adventure in an FE-themed, feudal eastern nation which one day will become Japan and where a post-apocalyptic modern Tokyo happens. This would fit the "story of a nation/city" motif both franchises have. Since both SMT and FE are somewhat aware a multiverse exists, its entirely possible to have and FE world that eventually becomes an SMT one - or just do some multiversal/time travel fuckery. Plus there's this mercurial fellow named Steven that seems to jump around the multiverse distributing demon summoning programs and he might also enlist the aid of leading knights, mages, demons and messiahs from various worlds to combat a potential threat.
And you, some amnesiac, slumbering Tactician he finds laying unconscious in a field will be the true hero/messiah of the story. He sticks a weird gauntlet with a demon summoning program in it on your arm and disappears. You have some dream about two or three friends, each of whom you will meet later and possibly ally with to the end. But first some Fire Emblem kids find you on that field and decide you should travel with them until you sort yourself out.
I'm sure SMT's Law/Chaos factions will team up or even clash with FE's evil/benevolent, omnipotent dragons to get the action rolling. People given into Law/Chaos extremes arr often the source of SMT conflict and in Fire Emblem some cult usually wants to resurrect an evil conflict and to do so nations must be manipulated into turmoil. FE's world seems ideal for the Order of Messiah and Cult of Gaea to set up shop.
Anyway, you can see Atlus and Intelligent Systems already have a ton of material they can work with there.
As for the gameplay format, I think that Fire Emblem's grid-based maps and tactical gameplay may take precedence rather than SMT's dungeon crawling leanings. With such a potentially large cast in play, this format is the best way to accommodate that. SMT is no stranger to the Tactics/SRPG genre anyway due to its Majin Tensei and Devil Survivor spin-offs.
Fire Emblem's weapon combat is consistent throughout the series and something SMT could likely conform to well. Persona 3 FES recognized blunt, slash and piercing damage types where much of the series just stuck to Slash/Peirce damage. Fire Emblem's weapon triangle has swords besting axes, axes beating lance and lances beating swords. The weapons could still play by those rules with swords also having slash properties, Axes doing blunt damage and lances doing piercing damage
Bows would also be piercing damage, but have dominion over flying units and enemies naturally weak to piercing rather than dominion over other weapons. That suits Fire Emblem anyway and this limitation on ranged weapons would offset the fact the SMT crowd comes loaded for bear with guns.
If you ride a mythical flying beast, its sure to make your life hell but if FE's class evolution/reclassing is in play as much as demon fusion and evolutions might be, well, Peg Knights can become Dark Fliers and learn Galeforce (which allows you to move a second time after you kill an enemy, presumably to retreat or attack again). Going through that hell is ultimately worth it.
Magic triangles seem to fade in and out of relevance in FE, so I could see SMT's magic system fully replace it. Most of the elemental spells are the same in nature, but SMT's Hama and Mudo spells are light and dark magic that have a chance to insta-kill enemies and players. Kind of nasty considering Fire Emblem tends toward character permadeath. Various entries of SMT and Persona have let you collect items that served as dummies to absorb such attacks, though, so maybe Hama and Mudo are viable to implement.
If observing weaknesses from SMT and FE holds true here, and I think it will, then some of FE's stats might be better used in an SMT context. In FE, the speed stat determines whether you can perform additional attacks in the same turn. In SMT, you gain additional attack turns by nailing enemy weaknesses, so redefining the speed stat to an Agility stat to boost accuracy and evasion might be for the best.
How demons are implemented is a big question I have regarding this game. In SMT you negotiate, barter and ask questions to recruit demons to join you. SMT practically stuffs your pockets with money and items to make that negotiation possible. Fire Emblem differs in that gold, weapons and items are more limited and precious - not to mention weapons break after so many uses. The higher the damage, the quicker they break.
Will FE characters get cyberpunked up with wearable computers, demon summoning programs and barter away valuables to gain demon allies? Devil Survivor, DDS and Persona gave up the negotiation angle for other methods of obtaining demons like online auctions, collecting cards or just becoming a demon yourself.
Collecting cards to summon allies is something Fire Emblem: Awakening actually did. Otherworldly phantoms of heroes and villains known as Einherjar, in addition to other players' tacticians, poured out of a gate to FE's multiverse and could be challenged and collected for use in battles. Some of this came from streetpass tags, Spotpass DLC and also paid DLC, but it made every version of any character in Fire Emblem history a combatant to summon regardless of what world or alternate history they came from.
So maybe demons and Einherjar could be summoned and created via SMT's demon fusion in this game. This could actually serve to address some of the crossover's dicey issues. For one, Einherjar could come from FE and SMT alike to help appease character wishlists by offering some fanservice while not narratively encroaching on the relevance of main series SMT and Fire Emblem. This can be the backdoor that lets Persona, Devil Summoner and other past FE heroes in. They'd be there as phantoms, but not a real factor in the story.
Those Persons kids are getting four damn games between 2014 and 2015, anyway. They don't need to be relevant characters here.
Also, this would also allow SMTxFE to exclude some of SMT's roster of dick demons and vagina angels. I realize Mara is a bit of a series staple and has run wild on DS and 3DS in the past, but I just don't see that one making the cut even though all of Kazuma Kaneko's creations deserve their HD glory. This is a Nintendo game, after all. Then again, Majora's Mask had a ton of phallic statues in it.
The angels can simply revert from their contemporary bondage gear to robes. They did in Devil Survivor anyway.
Personalities, Marriage and kids.
If there's one thing that worries me a bit about this game, its the rather blatant Hero/Heroine pairings on the SMT side of this. Fire Emblem Awakening was partly popular for its relationship building, marriage and childrearing but outside of Persona, SMT games don't make romance and relationships a huge bullet point.
I'm kinda hoping the game avoids being a romance sim but the potential is sitting right there. Maybe Lyndis falls in love with Demi-Fiend and they have a DemiKid. Marriage and kids FE-style would add an unusual dose of camp to SMT's darker tendencies. Not that SMT ever entirely goes without camp but its not as lighthearted as FE sometimes gets.
I also find some of the character choices of the female half of SMT curious. While strong female characters are common in both IPs, the Heroines in SMT usually serve as the Neutral alignment path in contrast to the Law and Chaos paths the male friends represent. In SMT II, there are two heroines, but one is replaced by the other so Beth is out and Hiroko is in. Nocturne deviated from franchise formula and gave Chiaki the chance to be a Chaos Heroine but she's represented here while the actual Neutral heroine of Nocturne, Yuko Takao, is not.
I'm guessing Ms. Takao didn't make the cut because she's the protagonist's and Chiaki's homeroom teacher, in addition to being the flimsiest Neutral Heroine in the series. Cultural differences and taboos are likely to blame, but in Nocturne Ms. Takao was arguably the Eve to Demi-Fiend's Adam. She helped return the world to the womb and he created a new one from it, in a metaphorical sense - so Yuko Takao's exclusion still feels weird.
Maybe Chiaki is there to add a snooty, Social-Darwinist to the mix. Time will tell.
Setting that aside, while I am interested to see how these characters hit it off, there's another issue.
All those Heroes aren't known to actually speak. The silent protagonist thing works in their favor in their own games, but FE characters and Heroines are often a bit more vocal. There are semi-canonized conclusions we can draw for the Heroes, though, so there's a huge risk to damage the idea of these characters to fans if the writers go a different way. It will need to be handled carefully due to the agency players had with those characters.
SMT's Hero is believed to be Neutral, Aleph is said to have chosen Chaos, Demi-Fiend is assumed to have eventually destroyed time itself and became Lucifer's top general and Flynn's choice is questionable until SMT V happens but most players assume it was Neutral.
Though maybe these characters were plucked out of time before they made those choices and could be entirely different people. Crossovers tend to dodge series canon, but SMT also sometimes likes to imply everything is canon.
Just as an example. Chiaki's alignment in SMT Nocturne desires a world where the strong and beautiful survive, might makes right and so on. The world of Digital Devil Saga lives by those rules and the Demi-Fiend does invade that world as its megaboss. Maybe he did chose Chiaki's path. Maybe all paths are real.
Still, I'd avoid deviating from fan interpretation too hard. I liked Yu Narukami until he started talking in Persona 4 Arena.
There's a ton more I could speculate on here, I just see loads of potential in SMTxFE and I'm eager to see where Intelligent Systemd and Atlus go with this. Even if I'm wrong about half of this, I'm still excited to see how FE characters cope with a post-apocalyptic Tokyo and how well SMT characters function in FE's feudal setting. Given how well-made Atlus and Intelligent Systems games are I have faith it will turn out well.
LOOK WHO CAME: