Permadeath has been one of the most defining features of the Fire Emblem franchise for a long time. Though it was required in the West until Fire Emblem Awakening over five years ago, it still remains an integral, yet controversial part of the Fire Emblem experience across the fanbase. Some may call it outdated, but I think this couldn’t be further from the truth. Though its purpose is different from when Fire Emblem first launched, it still plays an important role in the franchise.
A strategic element
The permadeath mechanic was one of the primary reasons I broke into the Fire Emblem franchise in the first place. I come from an Advance Wars background, having beaten each of those games countless times over. But one thing I’ve since noticed is that I tended to be a bit more reckless with my units. Sure, having a strategy was important, but if I lost a unit, it was only a minor setback. I could always just build another.
But Fire Emblem’s permadeath takes that luxury away. It actively punishes me for bad gameplay. It forces me to slow down, to think about what my next moves are, and, further still, to think about my enemy’s responses to those moves. Losing a unit is a campaign-long consequence that I now have to adapt to. As a commander, you spend time and resources training one of these characters. These efforts are mutually exclusive, since you can’t spend those same resources on other units. But when they die? All of that goes to waste. It’s gone forever, never to be reclaimed.
An emotional weapon
Not only do these deaths make the game more challenging, but they also provide a punch in the gut emotionally. One of Fire Emblem’s strongest points is its excellent character work, something accentuated by the fact that you bond with these characters as you fight alongside them. There’s nothing worse than losing a character you’re quite fond of.
For instance, I lost Sylvain in Three Houses essentially right after recruiting him. While I was a little sad over this, I hadn’t really gotten a chance to know him that much, so his death wasn’t too impactful. However, the very next battle, I lost Dorothea, whom I had gone out of my way to spend time with and quite liked. Her death absolutely crushed me. While I would have preferred not to lose Dorothea, her death is something I’ll carry with me throughout the rest of my playthrough — a constant reminder that my actions can have severe consequences.
Permadeath as an option
Since I’m here promoting permadeath and Classic mode, I want to take a moment to address my thoughts on Casual mode. Namely, I recognize and completely support the idea of having a Casual mode. Adding the ability to eliminate permadeath from the equation is one of the best things the franchise has ever done. This option has allowed people who never would’ve picked up the games to experience them for the first time. In fact, most of the people I know play on Casual to remove the stress of losing units. Without this option, I never would’ve been able to share my love for the franchise with them.
That being said, Fire Emblem’s Classic mode is the only way I want to play. Losing a unit creates strategic and emotional impacts that serve to improve the experience for me, rather than limit it. Playing Fire Emblem with permadeath enabled provides an experience I’ve yet to recreate with any other franchise, and I can’t imagine playing it any other way. It’s not only a difficulty mechanic anymore; it actively gets you more involved in the story and the characters. As such, I think permadeath, while perhaps not serving its original purpose, continues to fill its role as an enhancement to an already fantastic series.
For an alternative perspective on permadeath in Fire Emblem, check out Dominick’s feature, also published today!