Sunday, October 18, 2020

Fire Emblem 16's Downloadable Content

The DLC landscape in general is not a good one, with the majority of RPGs’ add-ons being unworthy of one’s time and money, ethically dubious, and sometimes even harmful to the integrity of the game they’re attaching themselves to, more like a burdensome leech than a helpful asset.  For every RPG that possesses a DLC suite that enhances one’s experiences with the title, at least 3 others offer the player little more than disappointment.  For every Witcher 3, there’s a Borderlands 1, a Dragon Age 2, and a Shin Megami Tensei: 4-1.  For every Fallout: New Vegas, there’s a Radiant Historia, a Tales of Zestiria, and a Dragon Age 1.  And the situation only seems to be getting worse as time goes on, not better.

So with that in mind, as well as remembering how awful Nintendo’s showing was with Fire Emblem 14’s collection of add-ons, I can’t pretend that I hold high hopes for what I’ll find as I delve into the Downloadable Contents offered by the recent Fire Emblem: Three Houses.  Add-ons have a bad track record, JRPG DLCs have a worse one, Fire Emblem DLC has a bad track record, and Nintendo’s already goofed up a DLC related to this game already by having the worst protagonist in Fire Emblem history become FE16’s representation in Super Smash Brothers.*  Frankly, if this entire thing isn’t a complete disaster, I’ll be shocked.

But I’m a fair guy, so fair that I typed all of this up before any of the DLCs’ releases just so that if Nintendo did defy my expectations, I’d have to give them their full due and eat crow below.  So, low expectations or no, let’s take a look at these DLC packages and give’em their fair shake.



Jeritza: As a free update to the game, the character of Jeritza was added to FE16, becoming available to players as a party member on the Black Eagles path.  On the 1 hand, this is good, because Jeritza is Edelgard’s little murder-monkey anyway so it’s sensible that he’d be on the front lines with her, and who doesn’t like free stuff?  On the other hand, this means that for you to actually experience what Jeritza brings to the table, you have to throw your lot in with that self-important, gullible, tiresome automaton Edelgard.

If you’re reluctant to follow the banner of someone who fancies herself a revolutionary and warrior for the truth yet never once thought to question anything she’s been told by the evil, deception-based shadow-society of villains that controls her family and ruined her life, though, then I’ve got good news: you won’t miss much by skipping this one.  Yeah, it turns out that the 1-dimensional murder-lust of the Death Knight doesn’t make for a much more interesting conversationalist than it makes for an opponent.  I really don’t know what Japan’s obsession with this Vegeta/Bakugo character archetype is, the one where literally the only thing some guy thinks about is being stronger than everyone else, but it is not even close to being as compelling as anime and video game writers think it is.  It’s generally a bad idea to make unrelenting obsession over a hobby the 1 and only character trait of your character to begin with--that’s how you get Hisame from FE14, whose sole memorable trait is an unquenchable need to make and consume pickles--but when that hobby is “Am I better at killing this guy than he is at killing me?” it makes for an especially empty, repellent character.

Okay, I guess, to be fair, Jeritza has a couple decent moments in his Support conversations with Mercedes and, unexpectedly, Bernadetta.  And at least his stupid unwavering interest in the act of killing isn’t entirely his choice, but more a result of the terrible experiments performed on him by Those Who Slither in the Dark (or as I like to call them, Those Who Edelgard Knows are Evil Liars But is Still Gonna Take Entirely at Their Word When it Comes to Rhea).  He’s at least not, say, that small-minded buttmunch Keita from Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor 2, or any other given examples of the Bakugo-Vegeta archetype who actually choose to have lives so devoid of meaning or value that all they care about is whether they can throw a punch a little better than anyone else.  And actually, I guess that Jeritza’s interactions with Mercedes are a decent little boon for her character.

So...I guess, since he’s free, Jeritza isn’t a bad addition, just not really a good one, either.  If you haven’t already gone through Edelgard’s route, then yeah, Jeritza’s an unobjectionable, if also uncompelling, addition to the cast.  But he’s sure as hell not worth going through the Black Eagle route if you weren’t already planning to do so.


Wave 3: Waves 1 and 2 were all unimportant cosmetics, stat items, and battle maps, so I’m not going to waste time talking about them here; y’all know already whether or not those kinds of window-dressing knicknacks are something you have interest in.  Wave 3 also has some stuff in it that doesn’t matter, like giving you the option to feed animals around the monastery and adding 1 of the most mundane, joyless minigames I’ve seen in years, but there is 1 part of Wave 3 that qualifies as story content: you get a new quest, through which you can recruit Anna!

Wheeeeee.

I’ll never be a true Fire Emblem fan, I think, because I sincerely do not understand the appeal of this perpetually under-developed, shallow merchant-NPC-inexplicably-turned-series-mascot.  Her role in this game certainly hasn’t enlightened me at all on this point--even the woefully unexplored Anna in FE14 had a single Support conversation chain with Corrin, whereas FE16’s Anna has none at all.  The quest to actually recruit her ain’t exactly a shining beacon of effort by the writers, either: you go up to her, have her say a couple lines foreshadowing the final DLC, and then she asks to be in your party.  Truly moving stuff.

Anna does have a Paralogue chapter, which she shares with Jeritza...but it’s trite and meaningless.  All that happens is that Anna brings the party along as muscle for an economic venture, her fellow merchant tries to screw her out of her share, and Anna and company fight back and beat the enemy merchant’s forces.  And then Jeritza wanders off to murder the guy.  Not exactly a stirring narrative in its right, and all it does is reinforce the facts that Anna likes money and Jeritza likes killing people, both of which were quite clear already.

On second thought, looking at Anna, I think the ability to wordlessly cram rotten fish down a stray cat’s throat might actually be the narrative highlight of this DLC package.

This DLC, like Waves 1, 2, and 4, is not sold on its own, but rather is a part of purchasing Fire Emblem 16’s Expansion Pass.  Basically, you either buy all the DLC packs for FE16, or none; there’s no picking and choosing.  Ah, yes, taking the ability to choose away from your customer...truly the hallmark of a vendor with confidence in his products’ quality, eh, Nintendo?  Well, Wave 4 had better be able to justify that $24.99 price tag all on its own, because Wave 3’s Anna is worth nothing.


Cindered Shadows: This is such a dumb idea.  Look, whether Cindered Shadows ends up being good or bad overall, I contend that the idea of there being some group of medieval Dickensian misfits living in the monastery’s basement who somehow can go through an entire over-5-year-long war centered around said monastery without once having a single interaction with the conflict is STUPID.  It’d be like if JK Rowling suddenly told us that there had been a secret fifth house at Hogwarts all along, hiding in a corner of the pantry, and that Blurgledrumbershnufft House just happened to somehow never once come into contact with any other character in the entire school and wasn’t once affected by the yearly catastrophes of dark magic and war that pervaded Hogwarts through the entire book series.

...Oh dear, now that I say it, that totally does sound like something she would spontaneously retcon in a tweet, doesn’t it?  Everyone, for the love of Tophia, don’t tell JK Rowling about Fire Emblem.

But enough grousing about the absurdity of the situation.  Is this DLC good or bad or what?  The answer may shock you.

But it probably won’t, because it’s bad, and that’s what’s consistent to the series, in terms of add-ons.

The main plot for Cindered Shadows is okay as a concept (I mean, besides the whole “hey just FYI there’s been a nest of ragamuffin freaks living in our basement all this time” thing).  At least, I guess.  It’s thematically appropriate to FE16 as a whole, being about the machinations of a villain who can’t accept the death of the woman they loved most in the world and is willing to go to unethical lengths to revive her--the villain is basically a significantly more extreme version of Rhea.  It expands on some of the lore of the FE16 world in new directions, and provides an opportunity for Byleth’s mother to have some slight postmortem importance and presence in the game.  And it...um...

...Actually, I think that may be it for the main story’s positives.  Can’t say all that much for the general flow of events for it; as an adventure, it’s mostly just there.

Unfortunately, the story is extremely rushed once it actually gets going, which really hurts Cindered Shadows on a number of fronts.  There isn’t enough time for the game to capitalize on the villain’s thematic similarity to Rhea (nor point out their differences, so Cindered Shadows manages to simultaneously fail to draw this line of comparison adequately, and incorrectly make Rhea look more like a bad guy if the player does pick up on the comparison).  And on that note, the villain has virtually no time to develop as a character, and certainly not enough of a presence that his big reveal/twist makes any impact on the player whatsoever; the game tries halfheartedly to tell us through other characters’ dialogue why this guy’s villainy is something to care about, but this isn’t the first time that Fire Emblem 16’s approach of Tell, Don’t Show has been utterly inadequate.

Other pacing problems: while you get an alright feel for the personalities of the 4 new party members, the climax of Cindered Shadows hinges on the overall set of relationships and trust they have with one another, and the length just isn’t such that the strength of their bonds really comes across to you.  The finale to this DLC overall is dissatisfying, with the bad guy just transforming into a corrupted dragon thing offscreen, because the Artificial Drama in RPGs for Incompetent Slobs Guidebook says he has to, and there’s no lasting result or message that affects any of the characters.

And can we talk about Byleth’s mother?  The story also goes fast enough that it completely misses the huge opportunity to develop Byleth as a character through the fact that the story is centered around her/his mother’s life and death.  Nintendo already bungled the 60+ hours of game time you spend with Byleth in terms of character development; Byleth is, as I’ve noted before, a colossal failure as a silent protagonist, and silent protagonists are generally already failures as characters.  Cindered Shadows having Byleth’s previously-almost-entirely-unmentioned mother as the centerpiece of the plot’s table was Nintendo’s last chance to actually fucking do something with Byleth, develop her/him in any goddamn meaningful way.  But like every other table centerpiece I’ve ever seen, this opportunity is a complete waste of space, decorative rather than at all valuable.  Byleth has no fucking reaction whatsoever, as always, doesn’t advance in any way as a character, doesn’t give the slightest indication that the involvement of her mother in this story has any draw or drama for her at all.  Not that it’s easy to blame her/him, of course, given that basically the only thing this DLC really tells us about Byleth’s mom was that she loved Jeralt, which was already known to us, but still!  This entire side story gives the impression of having been created for the sake of wringing some drama out of Byleth’s family and origins, and yet Nintendo did nothing with it!

But of course, why waste those precious 8 hours or so of the DLC’s main campaign on any of that thinky-thinky stuff?  What the players really want is for 5 of those 8 hours to be dealing with unceasing waves of enemy reinforcements!

But the main story of Cindered Shadows isn’t the only thing about it, of course.  Yuri, Balthus, Constance, and Hapi, the 4 new party members it adds, are the other half of its content.  So how do they shake out?

Ehhh.

They’re not bad characters, and Nintendo did take steps to fully integrate them into the game proper--they have lines of dialogue throughout the game as any other party member does while you’re going around Garreg Mach and talking to people, they chat with one another and certain other characters during meals, there are a few situations during the major battles of the game proper in which they’ll bandy words with their foes, and so on.  As pieces in FE16’s character collection, the party members of Cindered Shadows don’t feel like outsiders.  And credit where it’s due, a couple of them even manage to expand on other characters through their presence--Constance provides another desperately-needed Support conversation to flesh out Jeritza (it’s not much, but he’s so lacking in general that even just a little character development is invaluable for him).  And Yuri provides a completely unexpected plot twist to Bernadetta’s backstory that took me totally by surprise, which is neat.

...And, of course, anything that gives more screentime and dialogue in general to Bernie-Bear is a solid positive in my eyes.  Between her and FE14’s Mitama, I’ve arrived at a far greater understanding of the siren call of the Waifu than I had prior to modern Fire Emblems.  So thanks for that, Nintendo.

Back to business: at the same time, though, all 4 of the Cindered Shadows party additions are easily among the lesser characters of Three Houses as a whole.  They’ve got personalities, and backstories that inform them, but not a lot really stands out about them on either point.  Yuri’s got a decent history, but a boring personality, Balthus is basically just Hobo Raphael, Constance is another individual whose motivations revolve entirely around her status (or lack thereof) as a noble,** and Hapi is a pill whose history sounds like it has potential, but isn’t explored much.  They’ve got Support conversations with some of the game’s characters beyond just one another, but it feels like they’re missing some Supports they ought to have.  For example, with the way that Yuri feels about the nobility as a whole, you’d think he’d have some conversation chains with at least Edelgard and Claude, not to mention perhaps Ferdinand and Lorenz.  Given that her existence revolves around being a noble who's lost her social status, shouldn't Constance have a Support chain with Catherine?  And what was the point of Ashe recognizing Yuri at the beginning of the DLC if he wasn’t going to be 1 of Yuri’s Supports?

Also, half the Cindered Shadows characters seem to have been built primarily around some quirk personality traits that are weird, silly, and stupid, even by Fire Emblem standards.  Hapi’s only notable contribution and involvement in Cindered Shadows’s main story is the fact that when she sighs, it summons monsters.  What the hell kind of defining quirk-trait is that?  Forget Final Fantasy 8’s Zell and his hot dogs, forget Asdivine 4’s Olivia and her glaring at stuff, even forget Tales of Eternia’s Max and his utterance of the word “Yeah.”  Hapi’s foundational quirky trait is so dumb that it might rival Millennium’s James, a man defined by the enjoyment of wearing a hat.

And then there’s Constance, who might somehow be worse, as she suffers from possibly the most made-up mental illness of all time: when she’s in the shade or indoors, Constance is a brash, aggressive, haughty go-getter, but if she’s in sunlight, suddenly she becomes quiet, humble, and self-deprecating to a tiresome fault.***  Yes, at any given time, Constance is a single passing cloud away from going from Marianne to genderswap-Lorenz and back again.  Really, Nintendo?  This is the best you could come up with?  A character who makes Dragon Ball’s Launch look serious by comparison?

So unfortunately, this DLC is, as a whole, kinda bad.  It’s sloppy because its storytelling is rushed, and the characters it adds bring a few positive elements to the table, but are ultimately lacking, and half are highlighted by such absurdly dumb gimmick traits that I have to wonder whether Nintendo assigned whoever came up with the keychain Pokemon to develop them.  If Cindered Shadows were, like, $5, then I’d say it was an alright purchase.  Maybe even worth as much as $10, if you’re a huge fan of Fire Emblem, as the main campaign and characters’ Support conversations shake out to about 10 hours or so altogether.  But as I mentioned earlier, FE16’s add-ons are an all-or-nothing venture; you either buy them all for $25, or you don’t get any.  And since none of the previous DLCs to Wave 4 were worth anything at all, Cindered Shadows is essentially saddled with justifying that 25 bucks all on its own, which it just can’t do.  In no reasonable terms can one view the cost of the Expansion Pass as anything less than 2.5x more expensive than what Cindered Shadows is worth, and even that’s a generous estimation.



So, the final verdict for Fire Emblem 16’s Downloadable Content?  Awful.  Unsurprisingly, given what I said before: A, Nintendo’s history with Fire Emblem add-ons, B, JRPGs’ history in general with add-ons, and C, just the history of add-ons overall.  I guess I’ll credit Nintendo in that last time, with FE14, they only put even the slightest narrative effort into 1/3 of their DLCs,  while this time, it was 2/3 of them, so, I guess that’s a step up?  But with the exception of a few positive blips here and there, the quality of this new content is still low across the board, under-performing and grossly overpriced.  I’m at least happy that I learned my lesson well enough from last time to experience these through Let’s Play videos rather than waste my money on them, but frankly, I still feel cheated just for the time I invested in this crap.











* Don’t get me wrong, I’m not 1 of those slobbering morons who were shocked by the fact that Nintendo stupidly decided to shove another Fire Emblem character into the roster.  I think that for that to surprise you at all, you basically have to never have played a Smash title since the original N64 version; any idiot looking at the Smash roster’s growth from 1 game to the next could see that Three Houses’ inclusion was regrettably destined.  But couldn’t Nintendo have at least given us a better character than Byleth?  I can’t think of a less worthwhile representation for the game than the static, less-personality-than-a-tree-stump Byleth.  Even Dimitri, Hubert, or Edelgard would have been better selections--and they’re a dipshit, an asshole, and a dipshit AND an asshole, respectively!


** I do admit to quite enjoying Constance ripping Ferdinand a new asshole in their initial Support conversation.  That, however, is fairly subjective, as I generally just don’t like Ferdinand.  Guy’s a dingus.


*** I find it amusingly ironic that, when this aspect of Constance is first introduced, Dimitri observes that he’s never seen anything like this before.  Because if anyone in this game should be able to identify with an unwell mind instantaneously going from 1 extreme to another, it’s the guy who goes from 0 to CRAWWWLING IN MY SKIIINNNNN in 60 seconds.

4 comments:

  1. I never bought the Three Houses DLC. It didn't seem worth it, and I already felt fairly burnt out on the game after completing all four routes.

    Nintendo has released some decent DLC (the Mario Kart 8 DLC was both excellent and good value, and I like the Breath of the Wild DLC, although it is a bit pricey). Their Fire Emblem DLC, though, hasn't been much of anything special. The Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation DLC was okay, but it was still easily the worst of the three Fire Emblem Fates paths, in my opinion.

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    1. I don't even count Revelations as a DLC, although I suppose technically it is. I just see it as an exclusively digital release of a third of the game, while the other couple thirds could be bought physically or digitally. So the FE14 DLC scene is even worse for me, heh. Nice to know that Nintendo CAN release some good DLCs, though; maybe I'll eventually hit 1 of them.

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  2. So there's a secret Fourth House in the basement? Come on, man. Content being at least worth the time it takes to consume sounds like a low bar, and a damning one to undershoot. My sympathies for your lost time.

    All or nothing expansion passes are dumb, and do seem telling about their quality overall. I am currently going through Breath of the Wild with the expansion pass and am reserving judgment on that until I go through it.

    Anna was a fun recruit in Awakening when I knew her as the recurring NPC and meme RNG goddess, but she's not nearly interesting or compelling enough to warrant continued DLC presence. I'd rather she pop up working in taverns and talking about her boyfriend Jake than this.

    Awakening was rough in places, and I didn't care for some game mechanics. Conquest had some brilliant maps and sadly some horrible writing/characters/ideas to go with it, and I haven't heard much to get interested in 3H. Unless something unusual happens, Echoes is the end of the series for me. It's a fine end, at least.

    All I ever wanted in Smash was Hector. I don't care if they want to use Smash to advertise for their waifu hoarding eugenics simulator anymore. It's one of the few franchises in Smash that isn't dead, so maybe it deserves all the slots it gets?

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    1. Metroid and Kid Icarus wouldn't be dead if they would just MAKE ANOTHER GAME.

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