Permadeath Doesn't Matter If You Have Enough Save Files

Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Image: Nintendo

From XCOM to Fire Emblem, it feels bad to watch your team die in a tactical game. It’s way better to save a million times so that you can re-do part of a battle to keep everyone alive. On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Kirk and I brought on Gita Jackson to talk about Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which has a time travel mechanic that will make the game a lot less grueling for players who can’t stand to let any of their fighters fall.


First, Kirk and I talk about games we’re playing. In my case, it’s tabletop games like Skull, as well as more Outer Wilds and the perfect anxiety antidote, House Flipper. Kirk’s playing Betrayal Legacy with his tabletop group, and he’s also back on Dishonored: Death of the Outsider. Next, we bring Gita on (34:28) to discuss Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which she’s playing for a review next week. We also discussed her article “The Video Games That Made People Question Their Beliefs.” Finally, we get into off-topic discussion (1:10:37) about the podcast Criminal, Veronica Mars, and Kirk’s music pick of the week.

Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.

Kirk: There’s been permadeath in [Fire Emblem] games in the past. Is there permadeath? There’s like a rewind button? Tell me about this.

Gita: I’m playing on normal difficulty, and I’m actually finding it a little bit too easy. I’m playing on classic mode, because in my first go-round, I just wanted to make sure that I met all of the characters—

Kirk: So, normal difficulty is just how hard enemies hit and how hard you hit them? Classic versus casual is whether there’s permadeath?


Gita: Yeah, exactly... If you are afraid of permadeath, this might be the game to try permadeath, because the Divine Pulse — which is the rewind thing — gives you a lot of leeway. So when you trigger the Divine Pulse, you can go as far backwards in time as you want to. You can go all the way back to the beginning of the battle if you wanted to. And while you only start out with two uses, there is a way to earn more uses later in the game. I now have four Divine Pulse uses.

Maddy: Per battle?

Gita: Per battle, yeah. That usually is enough for me to get out of a battle without losing a unit and not having to save scum. Basically, it’s made with enough depth for people who love Fire Emblem and who have played every game to still be entertained by it, but it also is really good for weenie little babies who are afraid of their children dying.


Kirk: Which is all of us, right? It’s a realist game design thing to do. I wonder if there are people out there—I’ve never met them—people who actually just go with permadeath and just let their characters die. I’m a relentless save scummer. In XCOM 2, I can’t handle it, even though I’m playing with permadeath on, and I could just turn it off. I don’t turn it off. I leave it on, and then I basically play as though it’s turned off, because I don’t let anybody die. So this is just for me. And for everybody. I feel like this is everybody. I don’t really feel like there are that many people out there. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we’ll hear from listeners.

Gita: Most people that I talk to that have played permadeath say that they also are relentless save scummers. But I feel like the Divine Pulse was made for those people in mind, those people that can’t let anybody die. Because it does just give you carte blanche to go and have an entire do-over if you want. Sometimes the random number generation gods will bless you, and you’ll get a critical when you didn’t on a previous turn, and it’ll really change things for you in the battle. I also feel like it’s a really good tool for you to immediately learn from your mistakes.


I had an experience recently where I put a Pegasus Knight out in front because I thought she had enough HP to defend herself, but then she got attacked on both sides, and she completely ate shit. I was like, okay, Divine Pulse time. I want to figure out how to get through that little encounter without that Pegasus Knight dying, because I knew that she would be useful to defeat other enemies in another part of the map. So then, I actually did it four times. I used all of my Divine Pulses on just this one thing.

Kirk: Just to experiment?

Gita: To see what happens when I put my Fortress Knight out in front of her. What happens when I try to just leave her in the background and try to defeat these other characters that were coming for her. I’ve been trying a lot of Divine Pulse stuff with just taking riskier moves, just to see if I can pull them off. It teaches you — it’s learning by failure, but without the crushing confidence blow that actually failing can sometimes give you.


For much more, listen to the entire episode. As always, you can subscribe to us on Apple Podcasts and Google Play to get every episode as it happens. Leave us a review if you like what you hear, and reach us at with any and all questions, requests, and suggestions.

Deputy Editor, Kotaku.


I think you nailed the reality of permadeath.. The only people I know who ever honor that (no save scumming, no save copies, no rebooting the console instantly) are people who had permadeath as an option.

If the game is not normally permadeath and has a permadeath option, and I play that mode, then I will honor that. I knew the rules. I knew the boundaries. Mahalo, my character.

On the other hand, if the game doesn’t offer me the choice and only offers permadeath, then I will cheat the hell out of it, at least till I feel I’ve mastered it. [This doesn’t apply to roguelites, where ‘death’ is part of the process]

So I like that games are finally admitting this and offering compromises.