Monday, June 6, 2016

Fire Emblem Fates' Child Problem

I've been playing Fire Emblem Fates as a creative recharge and plan to write a dissection of the story as I've done for other RPGs, but there is one secondary game component that I figured was worth its own separate discussion, and that's what I'm calling its "child problem."

As I mentioned when writing about Fire Emblem Awakening, one of the unique things the game did was how the children of characters who married in the first generation went back in time to save the lives of their parents, resulting in two generations of characters fighting side by side on the battlefield.

The marriage plus children feature was hardly required for beating the game, but went over so well with the player base that it was kept almost entirely intact for Fates. But the problem is, going back in time to save their parents was woven into the main narrative of Awakening's story and Fates doesn't bother with the same trick (nor should it, since it would be contrived to figure out a convincing way to do it a second time).

So instead we have the introduction of the Deeprealms.

Under the justification that it's too dangerous to have the children raised at home, their parents send them to the Deeprealms, essentially pocket dimensions in the Astral Plane (presumably with some attendants to watch over them). But in a surprise that no one expected, time passes differently in the Deeprealms than in the regular world, which causes the children to age much faster during the time they're away.

Now, it's not like their parents sent them away and found out the next day they have teenage children. The narration (and subsequent dialogue during recruitment battles) make it clear that the parents visit their children from time to time so even after finding out about this crazy accelerated aging, apparently no one cares whether or not their children largely grow up without them.

Though some of the children rightfully chew out their parents for being away, it's a little surprising the group as a whole aren't more resentful for having been left behind. More than a few eventually break out of the Deeprealms and go to their parents' world on their own, though usually this isn't out of a desire to seek out their parents so much as they're teenagers now and more likely to bend the rules.

Compounding this is that player's base of operations is already on the Astral Plane and cannot be touched by the enemies they're at war with, so it seems ridiculous to send the children even further into the Deeprealms. The garrison does get invaded from time to time by otherworldly entities, but so do the Deeprealms, as we find out during the recruitment missions, so I can't say they're much safer.

The cynical min/max gamer in me considered that the kids are intentionally being left there to grow into adults, because once they're old enough, they can join the army! But this is not actually borne out by parent/child dialogue. (Though it is part of Nintendo's selling point if you watch this promo video at the 0:52 mark.)

Involving the Deeprealms rather than time travel, also results in some weird time dilation as to just when in the story the parents ended up having time to manage pregnancies.

In Awakening the only characters who have a child during the story itself are Chrom and his wife, and the pregnancy and birth happen during a two year time skip. The rest of the children have not been born yet, which is fine, since they're coming from the future.

As other couples marry in Awakening, side missions appear on the map, but the underlying assumption is that the children have already arrived from the future. It's just they have not been located until this time. This bears out with characters like Laurent, who says that he actually arrived a few years ahead of everyone else, which is why he now appears to be older than the other children.

In Fates there is a similar BAM! Instant children! recruitment mission right after a couple gets married, but since the children are being raised in a sped up timeline rather than coming from the future, that means that all the women (who are currently soldiers in an army no less) have somehow managed to get pregnant and take a leave of absence in a ridiculously short period of time.

To give an idea of how this played out in my game, my female avatar married Silas at the end of Chapter 14 in the Conquest storyline, which was right after completing a difficult mission and they returned to Nohr before the start of Chapter 15, which means that there actually was downtime in the story when they weren't on the march.

I don't think that it was two years' worth of downtime, to allow for their children Sophie and Kana to be born, but it could have been, so narratively I could buy it. Wars could drag on for years and this could have been one of them. But on the other hand, they could have gotten married between two chapters when the army was on the move, and the kids would have appeared anyway!

Which should result in awkward conversations. For example, in Chapter 16, Xander, the adopted brother of the avatar, returns and asks how things have gone since the last time they met (around Chapter 10 or so).

I kind of pictured the conversation going like this:

Xander: Well met, little princess. I hope I have not missed anything important.

Avatar: Oh, nothing much. I got married and now you have a niece and nephew.


Avatar: They're also teenagers because I sent them off to the Deeprealms for some accelerated aging.

I understand having the children in Awakening was a nifty feature, but part of the reason was for the narrative. It was a unique twist and involving the player's decision-making in who got married to who was solid gold for shipping fans.

But shoehorning the second generation into Fates feels tacked on, since the plot makes no mention of their existence. Considering that most of the major characters are royalty and you'd think that succession would be a big deal, it's incredibly weird that someone like King Garon wouldn't comment on having a grandson by Xander or comment on who Xander chose to marry.

Chrom in Awakening, who was royalty, had a limited set of potential partners, probably to prevent him from marrying someone who would be considered too far out of left field for a queen. Xander, on the other hand, can marry the majority of marriageable female characters in the Conquest storyline, with only his blood-related siblings being ineligible. In my playthrough, he ended up taking the former assassin Beruka for his wife.

I figure they don't have much in the way of bedroom conversation, but damn if they didn't make a fantastic wrecking crew on the battlefield.

Going back to the topic of time dilation, this also creates something strange in Xander's particular case, being the crown prince of Nohr. From his parent/child conversations with Siegbert, we can see that he's concerned about making his son into a good heir, but when you consider that they're physically no more than ten years apart in age by the time Siegbert joins the army, it's unlikely that Siegbert would spend much time ruling at all. Barring accidents, Xander isn't likely to die much ahead of him, making his son's reign a very short one.

Maybe it's because I'm older now, but it feels like the person who wrote the Deeprealms parts of the game either doesn't have kids or know someone who has them.

For gameplay purposes it's fun mixing and matching the parents and looking at the kids that come out of the relationship, but I'm not entirely sure the game needed that. I would have been fine if they had left the support system in (since it has been a Fire Emblem feature for several games now) and just stopped it after marriage.

The kids generally forgive their parents for the bone-headed decision of having left them to grow up alone in a speedier timeline, but it just feels like all that trouble was ultimately unnecessary from a storytelling perspective. And I still would have liked to see how the pregnancies were managed while on the march. I mean, seriously.