On Second Seals and Going Cold Turkey

For the past week, I’ve been feverishly playing Fire Emblem: Awakening unlike any other long-term engagement I've spent with the game since its release. This time, however, I’ve been spending time with my neglected Hard/Classic playthrough as my magic-focused/strength-addled “Charlie” (yes, Charlie) and while the beginning was wrought with much restarts and careful planning to ensure Frederick only acted as a mere meat puppet, everything turned for the worse when I began to build spreadsheets specifically for the game.

You're disgusting, Virion.
You're disgusting, Virion.

It was all so simple at the beginning when all I cared about was who will marry whom and for no particular reason other than the fact that they didn't get married in my first playthrough, with some measured preferences for Chrom and Charlie, of course. From then on, it became a bit of an obsession now that my knowledge of skill inheritance entered the equation and how their children will make use of their Master Seals (that was a mistake). Referring to a Skills list allowed me to meticulously plan my, hopefully, overpowered children characters by taking note of skills such as Aptitude and Galeforce (perhaps the most revered mainstay, and rightfully so) and appropriately reordering their parents’ skills to make sure they would be passed down.

"MAX" -- yeah right

Everything went pretty smoothly for the first few days, progressing through the story and paralogue chapters, slowly, with tons (tons) of replaying of the EXPonential Growth map DLC littered in between. What surprised me was how simple it was to "max out" my characters yet still feel immensely underpowered, especially compared with the children characters, which I suppose is expected after all from being carefully produced through what is literally selective breeding, and made it seem like they were meant to be thrown away once I recruited their kids.

Eventually, I caught on.

There had to be something to this stockpile of Second Seals in my inventory as I never really needed to rethink anyone’s class sets or question their given class upon recruitment, so my curiosity finally caught up to me and I decided to use it on a character I thought couldn’t develop any further.

The “>”’s indicate the usage of a Seal, the color green signifies what’s maxed or acceptable, orange means it needs some work and yeah, I needed to stop.
The “>”’s indicate the usage of a Seal, the color green signifies what’s maxed or acceptable, orange means it needs some work and yeah, I needed to stop.

Unsurprisingly, there was more to the game than I originally thought.

And so I proceeded to use a Second Seal on everyone and thus began my own personal descent into madness much like Brad with Dota 2 wherein I just could not stop playing this game, enough so so that my hands started cramping (clearly not as seemingly health-threatening as something tingling in your back, but notable nonetheless). It was fun imagining the sheer relentlessness my team would be delivering as they blazed through the main game and difficult DLC chapters like Infinite Regalia and The Future Past DLC’s, but the amount of time necessary to make that dream happen -- there’s only so much one man can take of Champions of Yore 3. So, so much.

The game became a chore, basically, and with that the game lost its original, and unexpected, appeal to me: its characters.

While my genuine enjoyment with anything remotely anime-related or, hell, Japanese-related stretches as far as select Final Fantasy games, all things Persona 3 and 4, Bayonetta, and choice animes (Case Closed and Lupin the 3rd), my total experience with individual unit strategy games is slim. With XCOM: Enemy Unknown, I was not only introduced to an entirely new genre last year but one that came with an element of fear and uncertainty attached to its ostensibly (hah) third-person gameplay, but not quite. Rather than controlling one member of a squad, I controlled of them one and their designations and actions, one by one.

There’s a simple beauty to leaving things up to a player’s imagination when it comes to attaining a nickname, but that’s all there is to it.
There’s a simple beauty to leaving things up to a player’s imagination when it comes to attaining a nickname, but that’s all there is to it.

While the gist of it can be boiled down to prioritizing placing units behind full cover and frequently risking ammo with low hit chances on standby, what disappointed me was how replaceable each of my units were. Unlike Fire Emblem, XCOM’s focus relied on the heart of its gameplay, playing on the intensity and almost desperate feeling one can have against unknown overwhelming odds, leaving character development and story by the wayside.

What separates the two and makes the other more memorable was the existence of meaningful character interactions. Rather than providing a ubiquitous blank slate, Fire Emblem strived to make units’ interactions on the battlefield matter through supportive means, be it specific stat increases or reacting to their partner’s well-being when affronted by an enemy. And not only that, they retained these partnerships beyond the battlefield producing (usually) clever and funny dialogues toeing along my unfamiliarity with anime tropes, all thanks to 8-4’s wonderful translation duties.

To take this all away and diminish the experience to grinding for hours on end, stepping back to allow myself to realize exactly what I was doing reminded me of my original goal: to see every pairing’s conversation. It’s still an arduous task, but a much more manageable and exponentially entertaining one. By just sacrificing my first playthrough’s save with “Chie” (yes, Chie), all my memories of mindlessly grinding returned and terrified me; powering down my 3DS was never sweeter.

A day later, my time with Fire Emblem: Awakening has gone down from six hours a day to zero. I suppose my time spent with this document also counts, but my biggest takeaway from all this is that I should have internetted harder before I got into this whole self-deprecating mess. You're one damn amazing game, Fire Emblem: Awakening, please stop... because in a few days my PC will finally be completed and I guess I'll share its specs then? Join me next time on Spreadsheets 'n Shit with rjayb89.

Hey girl. Damn girl.
Hey girl. Damn girl.

Notes:

  • document created on may 27, 2013 (Chrom's birthday)
  • saved over first playthrough (separate save) with new playthrough on same day in attempt to stop addiction; to instill the thought of having to do it all over again, I just cannot bear the thought, at least not anytime soon = successful (possibly temporary) disengagement
  • dat severa
  • backflips ‘n bioforge is fucking awesome
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