I have spent most of the last week feeling incredibly hyped for Fire Emblem: Three Houses, one of a handful of games I’m most excited to play this summer. Whenever I’m feeling pumped for a new game, one thing I tend to do is go back and play or replay old games in the same series. This means I’ve been revisiting my old Fire Emblem: Awakening save, and let me tell you: I am pretty sure I was bad at this game.
First, you should know that I came to Fire Emblem extremely late. I got into Awakening after messing around with Fire Emblem Heroes when it dropped on mobile in early 2017. (The Nintendo 3DS was also something I got into extremely late.) Prior to that, strategy games were only an occasional part of my gaming diet. Some Military Madness here, some XCOM: Enemy Unknown there.
This is me making excuses for all the characters I got killed in my Fire Emblem: Awakening playthrough. I played with permadeath on, because I believed in consequences in 2017 and I believe in them now. I also, apparently, believe in keeping a record of what a strategic moron I am.
I returned to my old save two years later to be reminded that, across 14 story missions and a handful of side missions, I let 9 out of the 27 characters I recruited die. That’s a third of my army! Who in their right mind would fight for me? At this rate, Frederick should depose my sorry ass. Hell, Donnel—who is somehow still alive in my game—would probably do better. I am a reckless punk, undeserving of the burden of leadership. Give it to the boy with a pot for a hat.
This led to a crisis of conscience in the middle of my long Fourth of July weekend: Do I continue to recklessly plunge ahead, consequences be damned, living with the fallout like my colleague Jason Schreier did before me? Or do I commit to cracking this game slowly, keeping all my remaining characters alive and restarting if I fail, so I can become the mastermind I know I can be by the time Three Houses releases?
At first, I tried the latter. Instead of plowing ahead, I began Chapter 15 with the attitude that my first attempt would be merely to get to know the map, with no expectation of winning. That worked out pretty well for a couple hours. Then I got to Chapter 17, and it became impossible to go more than three turns without someone dying.
Part of this wasn’t my fault. Fire Emblem: Awakening is pretty fair as far as strategy games go—there’s room for some surprises, but you generally know how a fight’s going to turn out before you begin. Unfortunately, I kept getting surprised, with an enemy Arcmage scoring a critical hit on one of my strongest units, killing him with one impossibly strong blow on three separate attempts.
Other times I failed to read the room, forgetting that archers can shoot over some walls and mixing up the rock-paper-scissors “weapon triangle” that determines which units have the advantage in a fight. I like making big, ballsy dramatic plays, and Awakening’s rigidly defined system of character strengths and weaknesses encourage a more patient approach akin to puzzle-solving. I don’t have anything against puzzles—in fact, I love ‘em. But give me an army full of pegasus-riding valkyries and axe-wielding badasses and I’m going to want to dive right into the shit with them, you feel me?
After no fewer than seven attempts at Chapter 17 in which I lost at least one soldier every time, I think I’ve figured out how I like playing Fire Emblem games: I love being a reckless punk. I am the Dominic Toretto of the Fire Emblem universe, living my life a quarter mile at a time, fast and furious until the day I die. Or, more likely, until my entire army dies around me, because I am a monster who has not absorbed a single lesson these games have tried to impart about the horrors of war.