Monday, December 7, 2015

In defense of... The characters of Fire Emblem: Awakening.

...and in that moment I thought to myself, "That's a waifu."
Genwunner (JEN-wuhn-ner)
Noun - A term coined by the fanbase of the popular Pokemon franchise, typically used to describe long-time fans of the video games series who prefer the first group of games in the series and usually denounce any subsequent release as unoriginal or stupid compared to the originals. Typically used in a cynical or derogatory fashion towards this type of fan in response to their relatively narrow-minded viewpoint. The word is a corruption of "gen one", in reference to the original three games being part of the series' first generation.

I have no doubt that at least some of you like Pokemon enough to have heard of genwunners, especially given how surprisingly common they are in more casual parts of the fanbase, such as Facebook meme pages. You may or may not be surprised, however, to know that many other beloved game franchises have their own variation of these.

Sometimes, preference of an earlier installment is completely justified. Super Smash Bros Brawl and 4 overhauled the game mechanics in such a way that it alienated the competitive players that 64 and Melee had drawn in. Street Fighter 3: Third Strike has a smaller, yet largely superior character roster than 4 and 5, and in general had a more "fast and loose" gameplay style with more advanced techniques to learn.

 "New" doesn't always have to be synonymous with "bad", though. If you read my posts about the Smash games, I briefly mentioned that Melee, Brawl, and 4 were some of the main factors in boosting the popularity of the turn-based strategy series, Fire Emblem. If you didn't read the title for some reason, the subject of this post happens to be the 13th installment into the series, Awakening. Since its release in the states, this game in particular has been a target for nonstop hate and general disdain from long-time fans of the series. But why?

On the surface, this is explained rather simply; Awakening caused Fire Emblem to "go mainstream". No longer was it a niche strategy game with discussions about it being limited to smaller communities. No longer did you have to be "in on it". Before Awakening, most people just mained Marth or Ike in Smash without touching their actual home series.

Now, I'll be the first to admit that there is indeed some novelty in being the guy who could say he "liked it before it was cool". I fondly recall watching the now wildly famous let's player Chuggaaconroy when his subscriber count barely broke one thousand. However this does not merit the sheer amount of hate they harbor towards those who played Awakening first, as their "gateway game", if you will. And yes, this really is the main reason that these old-school Fire Emblem players dislike Awakening so much, and it's one of the many wrong reasons to dislike something.

I personally did not get Awakening until very late 2013. I found Robin and Lucina to be the only interesting newcomers in Super Smash Bros 4 (sorry, I wasn't exactly chomping at the bit to play as Rosalina), and I after deciding that Robin would be my main, I felt the need to do the character justice in a sense and play Awakening, and I honestly liked it a lot. The gameplay was questionable at times, and I will agree that the writing in the main story itself doesn't use as many original elements as it could, but one of the game's strongest points is its massive, yet diverse cast of playable characters.

Before I go any further, I want to state that I'm making this post partially in "response" (I use this term lightly because I don't think he'll see it and showing it to him directly would likely be a waste of time) to a prominent member of a Facebook group I'm active in, after he repeatedly stated that every character in the game is generic and bad. This person got many facts wrong and only really made general blanket statements without anything to back them up, even admitting that he never played the whole game for himself. He's one of those people who could, to quote Vegeta in DBZ Abridged, "give you an aneurysm from sheer stupidity".

Anyways, Awakening does have quite a large production value. Every playable character (and even some non-playable) is voiced. Despite this, one would think it near-impossible to fully flesh out over 40 characters, and you'd be very right to think that. Each character does have one or two very obvious character traits that they will likely show as early as their first appearance. This exact thing is one of the main things that Awakening's detractors love to point out. Although it's true that Fire Emblem's "genwunners" largely hate Awakening because it transitioned the series from niche to mainstream, it was actually that very reason that lead to them specifically looking for more reasons to hate the game. They ruin the experience by going into the game with a previously-formed negative opinion on it (exactly as I did with the first Dark Souls, shame on me).

I'd be here all day if I looked at every one of these characters, so I'm only going to look at three of them for this post, but I'll want to make an unexpected comparison here. Awakening's characters are Dark Souls characters. "What the fuck are you talking about?" you may ask as you edge closer in your seat. Well, what I mean is that these characters don't fully "reveal themselves" to you in a traditional sense. Characters who only have a short time to make a first impression on you. Characters with many hidden depths, and most importantly, characters that were meant to be speculated on. I don't work for Intelligent Systems, so I can't outright confirm if that was the writers' intentions, but I personally believe that this is the case.

The first character I want to look at is Cordelia, and not for the reasons you might think. I strongly feel that Cordelia is an example of a badly-written character, and by far the most overrated character in the franchise. Cordelia is what some might call a "Mary-sue". This is a term used by writers to describe a character with no flaws who has everyone bend to them and can typically accomplish any goal with little effort, and that's exactly what she is. She's beautiful (to everyone but me, apparently), athletic, smart, and does everything perfectly on the first try. They try to make her seem humble about her amazing feats, but I feel this only further serves as the makings for a generic character right out of a bad fan fiction.

dis is my OC her name iz cordelia nd she always beet teh enemie but doesnt liek 2 brag about ti
she got da long prety hairs nd all teh bois luv pls reed and reveiw my fic all h8er comments will be deleted thx

Let's take a quick look at her design. In most ways it resembles a standard "pretty anime girl" look. Long, free-flowing red hair, form-fitting "armor", thigh-high boots, and no real physical flaws. Now, I'm about the furthest thing from a Tumblrista, so I'm not going to rant on how she's some unrealistic image of female beauty or an anti-feminist or blah blah blah muh patriarchy. Looks aren't everything, and it's entirely possible for a beautiful woman to have flaws and other things that make for a realistic character. I just think she's kinda boring as a result of these traits. The other main thing she is known for is her unrequited love for the game's other main protag, Prince Chrom. It doesn't go much further than her inability to confess to him for... some reason, I guess.

She honestly comes off as desperate at times, such as when she mentions reading a book titled something along the lines of "How to Win His Heart in a Fortnight" in order to win over Chrom, and it was the one point where I actually felt sorry for her. Huh, I guess there is more to her than I thought. This still seems unrealistic given how she's basically perfect. Hell, even her ingame stats are ridiculously good, and her daughter is the best unit in the game. Personally I rarely use her and can't fathom how she's favored over certain other characters in the game. Anna. The second character I want to talk about. Anna was the first character to truly catch my interest and the first one I got married to ingame. Anna has actually been in every main series Fire Emblem game, or rather some incarnation of her has. Anna can be seen as a parallel to Nurse Joy in Pokemon; just a long line of identical girls who tend to have a similar profession. However, it was not until Awakening that one could finally recruit, play as, and even marry Anna if they chose to.

Anna's main character trait is her love of money and business, which makes sense as she is a saleswoman trying to earn a living in Ylisse. On the surface, she could be easily judged as a one-note moneywhore who only cares about her gold, and that's how many people view her. This is merely on the surface, though. Funny enough, two of her other character traits show themselves on the Shepherds' first meeting with her. You'll have to watch or play her chapters to fully understand what I'm talking about, but I'm referring to her confident, can-do attitude and her sarcastic, biting wit (though to be fair a lot of her quips are money-based puns).

Not pictured: Her almost implausibly thick thighs.

Maybe it's because I'm good at reading voice inflection (especially thanks to Karen Strassman's phenomenal performance as her), but it seems like she does a great job putting on a brave face even when she's shaking in her red-and-gold metal boots on the inside. Many of her quotes in battle are things like "We've got this!" or "I'm not worried!", and other things that don't relate to money at all. Her general pluckiness and positivity in the face of danger in a game where death is permanent calls to mind Kamina, the hero of Gurren Lagann who had a similar demeanor.

Beyond this, she potentially can show character development. The pre-marriage conversation between her and the player character is very endearing and realistic, and Anna comes to the realization that happiness doesn't have to be bought, even stating that she loves you more than money. This is further extended in the ending of the game as well as the support tiles. She even makes a direct sexual reference to you, which believe it or not is rare in these games and actually rather humorous.

In stark contrast to Cordelia, her design is quite unique and stands out. Her clothing could be considered a fusion of a jester and a traditional RPG thief, and the red/gold color combo is a lovely design choice. Hell, she even has a small teddy bear dangling from her sword. Her outfit is extremely modest (I'm saying this as a positive), although her pants seem designed to show off her thick, curvy thighs (another positive, considering most "pretty" girls in Japanese games have the same twig-like figure).

Overall, I haven't seen a lot of people outright hating Anna or anything of that nature, but she's definitely underrated compared to characters like Cordelia. If you were to ask me back in early 2014 who my favorite character in the game was, I would've told you it was Anna.

...were it not for Aversa. Aversa is the best kind of character because she took a very long time to even begin to grow on me. I played the game (and some DLC!) to completion twice before I ever had interest in her. Aversa serves as the story's secondary villain, so out of most of the characters, she's one of the most important to the story, yet can appear the least fleshed-out to someone who only looks at her with a passing glance. I completely ignored her during my first two playthroughs. It was not until my friend and I were watching videos of all the support conversations and marriages one day that I truly began to appreciate her as a character. This appreciation grew so much that Aversa has cemented her position as my favorite female character of all time.

The fiercely loyal type.
Looking at her design, she definitely exudes a lot of fan-service at first glance. For those not in the know, fan-service typically refers to characters, of both the male and female variety, that could be considered sexy. Fire Emblem turned up the fan-service considerably in Awakening, with the ability to marry any character of the opposite sex, complete with beautifully-rendered artwork of each character's confession scene. There was even a DLC featuring artwork of some characters in swimsuits. This is another point that the FE genwunners love to use against the modern games, and I can't do much except laugh at them and say "sucks for you", because I wholeheartedly enjoy fan-service in games like these. It's being ramped up even more in the next installment.

Anyways, aside from the outfit's risque design, which is backless, has thigh-high stockings, and shows off her "assets" well, it's also extremely unique and original in structure. You can't see it in that picture, but she even has some weird... cowl (?) thing that covers the back of her head and reaches her chin. I've never seen anything like it. She's also got these black metal spiky things on her hips, shoulders, and even a crown-like head piece. It almost appears to be wrought from an iron gate and, combined with her high collar made out of feathers, honestly looks like something Lady Gaga would wear. It's weird, but she pulls the look off rather well, and you can tell that a lot of time was put into it. Instead of just throwing her in a bikini or a short skirt, they made her look attractive in an original way that isn't seen in a lot of media.

Physically, she appears as a black woman (or whatever Ylisse's equivalent of African-American is) with some very eye-catching features. I want to mention that Awakening has possibly my favorite art style when it comes to faces. It deviates from the traditional anime style, with realistically-proportioned eyes, mouths, and even the noses. Aversa features magenta facial tattoos as one of her defining features; this isn't seen on any other character. Her long, straight, white hair is admittedly nothing new, but it does contrast well with her pitch-black outfit.

Even her body is something rarely seen in Japanese media. And yes, I know I will be nigh-impossible to take seriously when describing this, but hey, I do happen to have a girlfriend in real life, so I'm totally definitely allowed to have a waifu, right? Her breasts, though perky and prominently shown off every time she talks, aren't particularly large. For comparison, my girlfriend is a c-cup, and hers are larger. I bring this up because it's almost a requirement for a female character to have overwhelmingly large breasts to be considered attractive in Japanese media. She makes up for this with what is ironically almost never seen in games and anime: her massive, round butt. I'm being serious here; I genuinely appreciate Aversa's big booty. She adds variety to the game's characters, ensuring that there is someone for any taste, including my love for badonkadonks that could rival Space Dandy's desires.

Yes, this is her official in-game model. She could knock over a table with that thing!
As much as I've been playing her up in this fashion, surely she must be another one-note character who does nothing but show off her body, right? Well, maybe if you're of the simple-minded persuasion and love to judge books by their covers. Really, Aversa is perhaps the deepest character in the whole game, and a contender for that title within the entire franchise. She is established early on as one of the game's main villains. Her actions, such as holding one of your allies hostage and killing her own troops when they deliver bad news, build her up as an exceedingly cruel officer of the Plegian army. Every other line she utters in the early-mid phases of the game is a sexual innuendo or double entendre, which is why a lot of people are turned off of her. Each sultry line is delivered smoothly by voice actress Cindy Robinson, in such a way that I could never imagine her lines spoken by anyone else.

However, those who give her a chance and finish her entire story will see how brilliant she actually is. Originally, her story seemingly ended after her second defeat, where she was presumed dead. Not long after the game's release, Intelligent Systems released a pack of free DLC that made several previously non-playable characters able to be recruited, as well as properly continued their stories. In Aversa's, you find out through a series of weird messages that Aversa was actually from some obscure village and kidnapped as a child by Validar, one of the game's main villains. Validar not only raised her to believe he was her father (and did the same with the player character, making him/her think Aversa was actually her brother/sister), but also performed some BioShock-esque mental conditioning on her, resulting in her cruel nature and her spearheading of the war between Plegia and Ylisstol.

After breaking free of this conditioning and reluctantly joining the Shepherds, she begins to show amazing character development. Aversa's story is one not of the villain who turns out to be "not all that bad after all" as many less-educated fans seem to believe. Rather it is one of a woman who's preexisting personality traits were brought to the forefront by "her kindly master" (I love BioShock too much, sorry). To clarify, she's still plenty cruel even after joining your side, even coming off as borderline sadistic to her enemies. Still, she has a strong desire to atone for all the horrible things she did over the course of the story. You can really feel her immense guilt considering just the things you've seen her do up to this point.

This is perhaps shown best in the support conversations with the male player character. Starting off, you and Aversa are more or less at each others' throats, with Aversa resorting to teasing and insults to the player. Only through gradual progression does she seem to warm up to you, and your confession of love to one another is perhaps the most realistic in the game. Not only did I look at some of the lines and think to myself, "huh, that actually sounds like something I'd say", but the scene actually managed to come off as heartwarming to me. Considering romance scenes typically don't merit much beyond a scoff from me, this is another thing I have to applaud the game for.

From there on out, her development only continues. Subsequent conversations triggered through the game's support tiles show insight into your relationship with her, as does her quote during the game's ending, which she only says if you marry her. Her random lines even show less of the constant innuendos in favor of other things (though I consider her ability to constantly come up with them as a positive from a psychological viewpoint; it shows that she is witty and able to improv lines like these on the spot, which can be seen as a good social skill) and doesn't slip back into her old self too often, unlike many characters do in these types of games.

And no, this doesn't happen instantly. This is a scene from the game's ending.

Again, I can't refer to everything I've said in this post as confirmed canon, but after my time with the Dragon Ball fanbase, my days of canon-worshipping are long over. You could dismiss this as "over-analyzing" but anyone who truly appreciates a story should prefer over-analysis to under-analysis by a clear mile. And if you still have the same negative view on these characters after reading all this? So be it. I didn't write this to change anyone's firmly-held opinion. But honestly, if you're that much of a narrow-minded genwunner fuckwit, your best course of action is to stop forcing your flawed opinion down the throats of people like me who take the time to look at things on a broader scale. No matter how hard you try to look like a special snowflake defending your precious niche series, you'll always look as stupid as you objectively are. I'm probably better at the old Fire Emblem titles than you could ever hope to be, anyway. : )

Hahaha, you actually thought I was going to be nice for this whole post? I'm a fucking savage.

On a more serious note, it's like my friend said when I addressed him about this. "It's just an opinion, bro. All that really matters is that you like her." There are plenty of well-liked characters I think suck, and hey, if I can't take the heat, I've no business dishing it out.

No comments:

Post a Comment