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Fire Emblem: Three Houses is upon us, and finally we all have an opportunity to

2020-01-17

Live our collective fantasies of teaching Defence Against The Dark Arts at Hogwarts. Make the most of it, this job only ever lasts a year. Its no wonder people are calling this game the medieval Persona. Fire Emblem has evolved a lot in a relatively short period of time. Theyve gone from relatively simple tactics games to expansive, sprawling social simulators that focus on forging relationships and navigating complex interpersonal and international politics. The games almost never made it this far. Once upon a time, Nintendo brought the axe down, attempting to cancel the entire Fire Emblem outright. Forced into a corner, the developers of Fire Emblem: Awakening had to either make an impossibly popular new title, or pack up shop and say goodbye to the fantasy world theyd created. This is the story of how Nintendo very nearly brought an end to Fire Emblem, and the incredible final game that revitalised what has become one of Nintendos most beloved franchises. While the Fire Emblem games have been around for a long time, prior to 2007 theyd always been considered fairly niche. The series has its roots on the NES, but Nintendos higher ups were hesitant to localise any titles outside of Japan until the Gameboy Advance era. It was only after Western gamers were introduced to Roy and Marth through Super Smash Brothers Melee that a Fire Emblem game was translated into English. The series was never Nintendos biggest seller, not even in Japan. Thus, in 2010, longtime series producer Hitoshi Yamagami was called into a meeting with his bosses, and received some very bad news. Later, Hitoshi would recount the meeting thusly: , who was working as the head of the sales department, he said "The Emblem series isn't making the numbers, so this is going to be the last one." Due to this progressive descent in sales, they told us that if the sales of this episode stayed below 250,000 copies, wed stop working on the saga. I remember when I came back from the meeting and told the team, What are we gonna do! The end has come! The entire Fire Emblem team were dejected. At first, there was panic. Nobody knew what to do, or how to react. There was no chance that Fire Emblem: Awakening could possibly reach their ambitious sales target. In truth, the project had been stalling for a long time. The developers had come up with various pitches that theyd brought to their overseers, but nothing seemed to click. Theyd been trying to find something that would shake up the series. They made up a pitch that involved a Fire Emblem set in the modern world instead of its traditional medieval Europe inspired setting. This hadnt felt quite the right direction for the next game. Theyd also tried a pitch that involved action taking place entirely on Mars. This, too, had been shot down before it had got very far for being just too weird. So, here they were, without a good idea among them, facing the end of everything theyd built. Then, collectively, they made a decision. If this was the end of the road, there was no point in trying to fight it. Instead of attempting to ensure their continued work on the series, they might as well go out in style. According to Hitoshi: The members said "This is going to be the last one, so let's put in everything we want so we don't have any regrets." This gave the team a focus for the last Fire Emblem game. They could make a remix of all the ideas and gameplay mechanics that had been fun in previous game. Awakening could be a kind of greatest hits for the series. The team called this their ultimate culmination. The ethos for the project was that they didnt want any regrets when the dust had settled and their work on Fire Emblem had come to an end. Galvanised, it suddenly felt like the team did everything at once. Morale on the project suddenly changed as everyone began pushing to make real, genuine progress. A survey went out to the entire staff at Nintendo to identify their favourite parts of previous games. Everyone was encouraged to share their ideas as the developers started compiling ideas. The team also took feedback from their spouses, and it was this input in particular that helped inspire a controversial new addition to the game: Newcomer Mode, which makes the gameplay much less frustrating for those players who arent quite as familiar with tactics games. Hitoshi had one particular gameplay element he wanted to bring back. He announced, I want to get married again!, in reference to the marriage mechanic that the games had flirted with in the past. This was expanded dramatically, as Awakening focused in large part on creating and maintaining bonds between various characters. The team knew they had an aggressive deadline for finishing their work, but nonetheless, they kept pushing to include as much as possible in the game. They even went the extra mile by animating individual soldiers on the games map, so that the player got a sense of the variety and diversity of the games characters. Having kept his eye on the project, Satoru Iwata later recounted how impressed he was at the teams synergy: Maybe I'm exaggerating, but I sense that for the most part, there is a pile of work to be done on a desk, and everyone took care of one by one without any instruction, which is the ideal way to carry out a project. The energy behind your desire to make an ultimate culmination of Fire Emblem pushed everyone along. Despite its aggressive deadline, Fire Emblem Awakening shipped with the majority of its planned features intact. It was a love-letter to the series that the team had been working on for so long. Their work was finished, and they were able to say with confidence that theyd finished on a high note. They had done their best; they had no regrets. What happened next surprised everyone. According to Hitoshi: Hatano-san completely changed his tune. "When's the next one coming out" We asked, "Huh I thought this was supposed to be the last one" And he said, "Of course. That's how Sales works. If something sells, we start asking for the next installment." So we talked to everyone at Intelligent Systems and said, "So, now we have to hurry up and make the next one." It turned out that Fire Emblem: Awakening had proven a huge commercial success. It managed to sell 240,000 units in Japan in its first week on sale alone. It went on to prove a popular title around the world, more than justifying the teams continued work on the series. From this point, with a refreshed, refocused direction, the Fire Emblem series went from strength to strength. What was meant as the final sendoff for the series has become the template that all future games are built upon. So as youre exploring the Officers Academy of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, appreciate just how lucky we are to have this game, and, indeed, this entire series. The moral of the story is that sometimes, its worth giving your all to a project you care about. You might not always be able to do everything you want to do. Just as the team working on Fire Emblem seemingly couldnt keep making games in the series, you might find your own prospects and opportunities cut short. Do the best with what you have at your disposal. Make sure that you can be proud of what you accomplish, even if its not necessarily what you originally intended. Even if you dont end up setting the world on fire with your achievements, its nice to be able to say that you have no regrets.