In Fire Emblem, Marriage Can Be A Fate Worse Than Death

If you're interested in the new 3DS strategy game Fire Emblem: Awakening, you've probably heard two things about it: first, that if a character dies in battle, they're gone for good. Second, that characters can fall in love and marry one another.

In other words, the two constants in Fire Emblem: Awakening are marriage and death. It's a lot like life in that way, actually.

The thing that's not like life? You can accidentally marry a little girl, like I did. Whoops.

Let me back up. I'm playing the game in "classic" mode, which means that I have "permadeath" turned on. Theoretically, if I lose a character in battle, I lose them for good. I say theoretically because, as I'm sure is the case with many other Awakening players, instead of living with my mistakes I usually opt to restart the battle in question, rather than lose a unit I'd become invested in. (Jason's written a bit about this problem here.) Permadeath changes how I play—it makes me much more cautious, since just about every loss is unacceptable.

So while death is a constant companion, it's a peripheral one. It waits in the wings, an abstraction that rarely makes its way into my actual game. I don't really live with death, I merely avoid it.

When a character of mine goes down in battle, I go through a three-step process:

1) Dreadful realization: Shit. My character has very little health left and there are enemy units everywhere. This is all over.

2) The moment of horror: The enemy strikes! Slow mo! Sad music!

3) Panicked button-pressing: Time to hit the "home" button and reset!

Marriage, on the other hand, is a constant presence in my game. Most of my best characters have become married at this point, and because of the stat-boosts they give their spouses, they often fight side-by-side. (Their budding romances are quite entertaining, too). I wasn't prepared for just how much of a kick I'd get out of unleashing my army of fighting married couples, how much pride I'd feel watching my brash horse-mistress Sully and her foppish but good-hearted husband Virion take down foe after foe.

Here's a story.

First of all, a little bit about my protagonist, Shin. He's not really "me," in that he's his own guy with his own thoughts and story, but I did name him and customize him (and decide that he was a man and not a woman), so I feel like he's more my avatar than the other characters in the game. I'd been teaming Shin up with Nowi, a diminutive girl who the game told me was a "Manakete," meaning that she's over 1,000 years old, despite the fact that she looks about 12. Nowi is cool—in combat, she transforms into a dragon and heaves magic at opponents. She seemed like a good teammate.

This is what Nowi looks like:

In Fire Emblem, Marriage Can Be A Fate Worse Than Death

So, you know, she's basically a little girl.

In Awakening, the first thing you'll probably do after battles is check the "Support" page. This is where your characters who have grown closer by fighting alongside one another in battle chat and improve their relationship. They start at C rank, then transition to B, then become close friends at A. Then, if they're opposite genders, they can go from A rank to "S" rank, which means they get married. What I didn't realize at the time was that this happens every single time, even if you didn't want them to get married. "S" rank means marriage, automatically.

So my protagonist Shin, who I should reiterate is a grown-ass man, had spent a good chunk of time fighting alongside Nowi, and their friendship had improved as a result. After one battle, in the support page, I decided to have them chat. And suddenly, all at once, my burly hunk of a protagonist is tracking down a ring and asking this dragon-girl to be his child bride.

My reaction followed a three-step process:

1) Dreadful realization: Shit. Oh my god, what's going on. He just brought up the idea of a stone he got for her. Is this going to be… a… ring…?

2) The moment of horror: Oh god! It is in fact a ring! He asked her to marry him! They're getting married! It's showing me a close up of her face! She still looks like a child! Oh god!

3) Panicked button-pressing: Time to hit the "home" button and reset!

No, I said. No. I will not marry this woman-child character, this will be weird and incredibly uncomfortable. She and my protagonist will have kids together, for god's sake! I don't care if she's "a thousand years old." If it looks like a child and it quacks like a child, I will feel incredibly uncomfortable about this. So just like I do when a character dies, I quit my game and reloaded. And there Nowi was, highlighted in the "support" page, waiting for me to just go talk to her, give her a ring, make this thing official.

Nope, not gonna happen. In fact, as the panic subsided, I decided that I was going to marry Anna, the saucy redheaded merchant I'd picked up a little while back. Not only was Anna a fierce fighter and a refreshingly clear-eyed businesswoman, she had the added benefit of not looking like a preteen.

In an effort to win her hand (and get Nowi's constantly glowing "support" icon out of my life), I began to build my relationship with Anna. To do this, I teamed my character up with hers and took on low-level random encounters with no support so that she and I could get all of the "relationship experience" that would come from fighting side by side. Yes, that's right: just like many RPG players grind for XP, I was grinding for a wedding ring.

In almost no time, Anna and Shin fell in love and got married.

In Fire Emblem, Marriage Can Be A Fate Worse Than Death

In Fire Emblem, Marriage Can Be A Fate Worse Than Death

In Fire Emblem, Marriage Can Be A Fate Worse Than Death

(You can practically see the relief on my man Shin's face. Methinks the tactician doth protest too much.)

These days, the "support" icon next to Nowi has vanished; apparently she's finally gotten the message. She may well spend the rest of her life as just another spurned 1,000-year-old dragon-girl without a man to call her own. Sorry, Nowi. If it's any consolation, those chumps Vaike and Stahl will probably going to be alone for the rest of their lives, too.

Death in Fire Emblem: Awakening may be permanent, but because of the way I play, it remains an abstraction. It lurks at the margins, a bad but largely unknown thing that I do my best to avoid. Marriage, on the other hand, is a permanent commitment, a huge decision that changes everything, and one that weighs on my mind almost constantly.

Sound familiar?