A Re:Zero Background
Approximately two years ago, Re:Zero − Starting Life in Another World debuted its first episode in April. Subverting the expectations of the upcoming, popular genre of “isekai” (essentially transport to another world) shows, the series centers around a young adult by the name of Natsuki Subaru who suddenly finds himself in a new universe outside the realm of his day-to-day life. However, he quickly finds that he has been cursed with something he coins “Return by Death”, essentially acting as a game over whenever he dies, resetting any progress that he’s made within the universe unless reaching a checkpoint of sorts.
In all honesty, I appreciate the attempt to craft something original within the subgenre, and its politically rich universe and interesting story beats once made watching the show enjoyable.
The key word in this case being “once”
Unfortunately, I stopped watching the show approximately fifteen episodes, solely due to the fact that its shock value and concept wore itself thin. Return by Death was clearly supposed to be a vessel to explore the psychological trauma and reaction after Subaru loses all his progress and serve as a counterbalance to convey a sense of helplessness. However, I eventually found that after the first few deaths, Return by Death cemented itself in my mind as more of a blessing than a curse, and any emotional investment I had for Subaru quickly washed away as the narrative progressed.
A Fire Emblem Background
Approximately five years ago, I first laid hands on Fire Emblem: Awakening. While I had played segments of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon in the past, I would safely call myself a newcomer to the series.
By far the most intriguing aspect of the series was the permadeath mechanic, whereby a unit is lost forever if they fall on the battlefield. This alone can heighten the stakes and requires careful tactics and patience to get through a map unscathed, especially within the higher difficulty modes.
However, Fire Emblem: Awakening also introduced a new “Casual” mode that eliminated this feature altogether, so even if your units died on the battlefield, they would not be lost permanently. This is a change that I retrospectively appreciate, most crucially for newcomers or those who want to enjoy the narrative.
Knowing my limited experience, I chose to first play the game on “Normal Casual”. Long story short, I breezed through the game, since I could indiscriminately position and attack other units without fear that I would lose them permanently down the line.
Having completed the game once, I then told myself that I could step it up a notch. So then I decided to play again a few months later on “Hard Classic” mode. Initially everything seemed to going smoothly, but I soon hit a chapter where no matter what I did, I kept losing two important units that I found critical to keep for the rest of the game. So to remedy this, I reset the game again and again and again and again. Frankly, I think I repeated the process nine to eleven times (yes I’m not great at Fire Emblem), until the found the perfect strategy to beat the map without losing any units.
This was not an isolated instance, however, and I continued to use this tactic throughout the coming chapters until I beat each map without losing any units. I took the same approach when Fire Emblem Fates, and with my “newfound confidence”, I jumped straight into the Conquest pathway (the most difficult version of Fire Emblem Fates) and played on “Hard Classic”. This time, I made it up to Chapter 13 before I started running into major issues with my team composition, and once again I reset the game when events weren’t going in my way.
So What’s The Point?
Yes, I just rambled on about specific experiences I had with both Re:Zero – Starting Life in Another World and Fire Emblem. On the surface, they may have appeared to have nothing in common, but on a personal level these two franchises share an integral connection, with my time reflecting on Re:Zero directly reflecting my playtime with Fire Emblem Fates and the series onward.
For those still confused, I’ll sum it up: I find Re:Zero‘s biggest flaw to be the redundancy of its central mechanic (Return by Death), where Subaru resets his progress whenever he dies. Because of this predicament, it opens up the option for him to adjust his plan to move forward with the most ideal conditions. While the series does not depict the logical consequence of “desensitization” that comes about as a result, it mitigates the investment I had with the characters and expectation for future events, since he could easily die, make terrific progress, and reach a checkpoint without worry.
If this sounds familiar, it might be because I described a similar scenario within my background with the recent Fire Emblem games. Because I chose to constantly reset the game without warning at the slightest of mistakes, I essentially morphed the game into a “Casual” experience, not playing the game the way the developers intended. While the challenge was still present in completing the map without casualties, it nevertheless reduces the purpose of playing “Classic” mode in the first place.
And it was not until I had watched Re:Zero in April that I came to this realization.
It had only been slightly less than two months earlier when I purchased Fire Emblem Fates. I happened to be slowly working my way throughout the second half of February and some of March, as I had been extremely busy. From what I recall, I had been on Chapter 18 when I started watching Re:Zero.
And it had taken a few weeks afterwards for me to grow tired of Re:Zero‘s central mechanic. During this same week, I had decided to pick up Fire Emblem Fates again and continue playing. And I once again ran into significant trouble, prompting a reset multiple times.
Finally, it was at the eighth reset that I stopped for a moment. I held my 3DS firmly in my two hands and collapsed upon my bed, my eyes glued to the screen in front of me. I tapped on the icon for Fire Emblem Fates, went through the title sequences, chose the appropriate save file, and made my way to the world map screen.
And then I switched my game difficulty mode to “Normal Casual”.
Within the moment, I had come to the conclusion that given my experience, this play mode was the optimal one for my skill level. Pushing aside my preconceptions about my ability, I settled to adjust my gameplay setting to align my skill level with the difficulty mode that the developers intended for someone like me. Doing so, I played through the rest of the game with relative ease.
But I didn’t stop there: I chose to play the other two pathways, Birthright and Revelation on the same difficulty mode, except I chose to practice playing the game more strategically and focusing heavily on tactical placement and team composition. I chose to challenge myself with the constraints I had enabled, attempting to evolve as a Fire Emblem player. With this mindset, I completed both pathways, although my newfound approach had made the game a little more challenging.
With this newfound experience, I resolved to go back to Fire Emblem: Awakening and play the game on “Hard Casual” to test my skills. Once I completed that, I proceeded to “Hard Classic”, where I told myself that I would approach the game with permadeath in mind.
And yes, a couple of units died along the way, but I did manage to finish the game with a strong army in the end. While it was definitely not the hardest mode in the game, I still felt proud that I had improved as a player.
I even felt the desire to play through Fire Emblem Fates in its entirety in “Hard Classic” mode, but I chose to forgo the opportunity to lend the game to a good friend. Perhaps one day I can truly put my skills to the test again 🙂
Even today, I still remained shock that a criticism that I had of a TV show managed to impact the way that I play. Not only had the timing been impeccable, but the specific criticism I had with Re:Zero seemed to perfectly align with a fundamentally core principle of Fire Emblem that has cemented itself as a defining aspect of the series.
But it also reminded me of something important: entertainment has the capacity to change us in ways we may never anticipate. Regardless of the means by which we remember its content, certain elements may stick with us, memories may subconsciously influence our behavior, until they reveal themselves in their entirety through the manifestation of original actions and thoughts. In this case, I may not have enjoyed Re:Zero as a series, but I will certainly cherish the role it played in refining my aptitude and interest with games from Fire Emblem.