Ask the Developer Vol. 8, Fire Emblem Engage—Part 3
Content pre-recorded in accordance with current COVID-19 health and safety guidelines.
This article has been translated from the original Japanese content.
The images shown in text were created during development.
Check out the rest of the interview:
Part 3: A new Fire Emblem
We have been talking about the pairing of the characters and Emblems for quite a while. How was this Engage feature, which is a key part of the Emblems' gameplay, developed?
Nakanishi: It was a very difficult feature to build.
Yokota: Yes, and this title adopts the weapons triangle (9) too.
(9) A system much like the triangle hierarchy in a rock-paper-scissors game, where each of the three characteristics is strong against one characteristic and weak against the other. This game retains the relationship of Sword beats Axe, Axe beats Lance, and Lance beats Sword. The weapons triangle is a gameplay feature passed down from past games as one of the characteristics of the Fire Emblem series.
Nakanishi: It wasn’t just balancing the weapons triangle that was difficult though. For Fire Emblem Engage, we were aiming for a clear-cut, flashy direction, but if we made the characters too strong from the beginning, we were concerned players might not find the game very challenging. Also, because of the nature of this game, where the player tactically moves the characters on a square-based grid, it was difficult to introduce an ability that was too dynamic, even for the Emblems.
Because of the nature of the game? Can you elaborate on that?
Tei: Even though we came up with many different abilities, the stage designer (10) said, “If the character can move up to five additional grid spaces by Engaging with Sigurd (11), the tactic would break, and there wouldn't even be a battle!” On our end, we were thinking the characters actually need to move further than that, because without it, we won't be able to communicate the increased character movement, nor will it look appealing. (Laughs)
(10) Responsible for balancing the game by designing the game stage and terrains as well as the character positioning.
(11) One of the main characters that appears in the Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War game. In this game, Sigurd will appear as one of the Emblems. Whenever a character Engages with Sigurd, it adds five additional grid spaces that allow that character to move further than usual.
Nakanishi: Come to think of it, our requests were so outlandish. (Laughs)
Tei: But unless we allowed each Emblem to use stand-out skills, we wouldn't be able to communicate the appeal of their looks and abilities. So we had the planning director, Ishii-san (12) join the team in the middle of development to ask him to somehow make everything work, including dramatic travel distance as well as teleporting.
(12) Yuya Ishii. Works in the Planning & Development Department at Intelligent Systems. A planning director for Fire Emblem Engage. He worked on user interface, sound programming, and so on for Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, released on Nintendo 3DS. He was also deeply involved with the game planning for Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., also released on Nintendo 3DS.
Asked him to “somehow make everything work...” That’s quite a request. (Laughs) It must have been tough for Ishii-san.
Higuchi: After many discussions, we decided to let players use the Engage feature from the start of the game, but now this system, which is key to this game, couldn’t be implemented easily. We were anxious about whether we could truly accomplish this.
I agree, the battle system for Fire Emblem is like a chess game where it’s built on sophisticated tactics. You have to think a lot, like, “First you move this while attacking this guy with this character...” and so on. And then to add a huge strategic element on top of this, like the Engage feature, must be quite a challenge from a systems perspective.
Tei: Ishii-san and the stage design team worked together and managed to complete the feature, finding the thin line that allowed the feature to work without the tactic breaking. At this point, we then had Mario Club (13) test the game, but even those who have experience with the series said, “It’s not as easy as we thought!” (Laughs)
(13) Mario Club Co., Ltd. A subsidiary of Nintendo that handles debugging and testing of software.
Not as easy as they thought?
Tei: Of course, the Engage feature is very powerful, but as is the nature of strategy games, if you use it without thinking ahead, there’s a chance it could backfire. Like moving ahead on your own and ending up getting surrounded by enemies. In Normal mode (14), which is less difficult, you can use the Engage feature to bulldoze through the game up to a certain point. If you play in the more difficult Maddening mode, you must use it wisely. We designed it to be more approachable, but at the same time, satisfying for those familiar with the Fire Emblem series.
(14) There are three difficulty levels in this title: Normal mode, Hard mode, and Maddening mode.
Yokota: I think the Emblems Sigurd and Celica (15) are real game-changers in terms of mobility. This also added the fun of thinking up new tactics.
(15) One of the main characters that appears in Fire Emblem Gaiden, which launched in March 1992 in Japan for The Family Computer (Famicom) system (known as the NES in North America and Europe), as well as Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which launched in April 2017 in Japan (May 2017 in the U.S.) for Nintendo 3DS. If you Engage a character with Celica, that character can teleport towards an enemy regardless of where they are on the field, and can perform high magic attacks.
Weren't there some characters in past titles who moved so slowly that by the time they reached their opponent, the other characters had already finished the battle? (Laughs)
Nakanishi: Yes, in that context, I think even Armor Knights (16) will be able to battle up front in this game together with Emblem Sigurd, who increases mobility.
(16) One of the classes in the Fire Emblem series. As heavy infantry, Armor Knights have high attack and defense skills, making them fit for protecting the player's base, but their mobility is limited.
I see. So casually changing the combination of the Engage with the Ring affects your characters' abilities, allowing for a greater variety of tactics. It certainly is a completely new way to enjoy the game.
Tei: Oh, by the way, one clarification. Because Emblems allow characters to enhance their abilities by simply wearing their Rings, players may think of them as just “items,” but we didn't want to treat them as objects. The Emblems are important characters, in their own right, that we have developed and cherished, and we wanted them to always perform well in their own active role. So, to help players feel a genuine affinity towards the Emblems, the bonds between the character and Emblem will strengthen as they fight together. Outside of battle, we’ve prepared events and conversations unique to the Emblems.
Speaking of conversations, there’s a system that unlocks events when characters develop a deep enough bond with each other, right? What kind of events can we expect in this title?
Tei: In previous titles in the series, there was a feature called Support conversations that strengthened the relationship between characters. For this game, on top of Support conversations, there are also Bond conversations that occur between Emblems and characters.
Nakanishi: Once the Bond level deepens between a character and an Emblem through Bond conversations and such, the character can inherit the Emblem’s skills and utilize them even when the character is not wearing the Emblem Ring. Not only that, but as your Bond with the Emblems develops, you can inherit weapon proficiencies and change to classes previously unavailable to those characters. For example, by strengthening the relationship between an Archer character and the Lord Emblem Marth, that character will inherit the sword proficiency that Marth uses and will be able to change to a sword-wielding class.Not only does it help you understand the story better by learning the background of each character, but I hope it also adds new gameplay features that players can further enjoy.
You mentioned these conversations occur not just between characters, but also between Emblems and characters. That must be a tremendous number of combinations.
Tei: We couldn’t manage to create one for all character combinations, but there are about 650 conversations between the characters. And we have prepared Bond conversations for all Emblems, which is about 1,300 conversations. There's quite a lot of content there for those who want to listen to every conversation. (Laughs)
Wait, and all of them are fully voiced?
Tei: Indeed. We have a great cast of voice actors, so we hope you'll enjoy these conversations.
Hearing that makes me want to listen to them all.
Tei: Since this game's story doesn't branch out into multiple storylines, I hope players will enjoy choosing the pairs they like and strengthening their favorite characters to their heart's content. Let me share with you another way the Emblems will enhance the gameplay experience. Emblems can use Engage weapons by Engaging, and players can strengthen those weapons by collecting various materials in this game's world.
Nakanishi: Each player will probably have their own unique way that they raise and strengthen their characters. As a result of allowing the 12 Emblems to merge with all the characters, we now have various attacks and weapons available and they can fight in a way that has never been done before in the series. For instance, you can even give armored units, often placed on the front line to fend off the enemy advance with their high defense stats, a staff for recovery to protect and heal their allies.
Yokota: Online play (17) is also available, so we hope players will enjoy it in various ways and also use it as a place to show off the characters they have developed to others.
(17) Any Nintendo Switch Online membership (sold separately) and Nintendo Account required for online features. Membership auto-renews after initial term at the then-current price unless canceled. Not available in all countries. Internet access required for online features. Terms apply. www.nintendo.com/switch-online
Nakanishi: I want players to be proud and think, "Look! I've come up with this interesting combination!”
Higuchi: Engaging also changes the characters' appearance and catchphrase, so we hope players will enjoy trying different combinations.
It must have been a tough process making so many variations, one by one.
Higuchi: It was very challenging. It's been a while since we spent this much time on developing one title. Since there were many new challenges, we repeated a cycle of brainstorming ideas, testing them, and throwing out any ideas that didn't work. And then, just when we thought we had finally come up with a good one, another hurdle appeared. It always felt like we were going three steps forward and two steps back.
I'm so glad that you were able to finally complete the development. (Laughs) You've shared a lot of information so far, but to close this interview, could you tell us what you value most when developing a Fire Emblem title?
Tei: As I mentioned at the beginning, I'm not very good at strategy games myself, so during development, I hoped to create a game that even those like me would want to try out or find interesting. Also, we have a lot of characters, so I hope many players will relate to the story and cry and laugh along with the characters. If you find a favorite character in this game, we hope you'll continue to be a fan of them for many years to come. We believe that the charm of the Fire Emblem games is that players become attached to the characters through gameplay and that the characters grow beyond the game.
Higuchi: I want to keep creating formidable strategy games, which we have been releasing since the beginning of the series. I hope that those who are familiar with Classic Mode (18), in which defeated characters are lost forever, will continue to enjoy the game with this unforgiving mode. At the same time, to encourage more players to enjoy the series, we'll continue developing new features for future titles, such as the Casual Mode, the Engage system introduced in this title, and items that turn back time.
(18) In the early titles of the Fire Emblem series, the characters were lost forever once they were defeated. Since Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, released for Nintendo DS in July 2010 in Japan, players have been able to choose between Classic Mode, the original strict tactical mode, and Casual Mode, in which fallen characters are revived after each battle. Overseas, Casual Mode has been an option since Fire Emblem Awakening released in February 2013.
So, you want to attract more players to the Fire Emblem series by offering new features and characters while maintaining the series’ traditions.
Yokota: I think the idea of "choice" is what makes this game interesting. This includes not only the major choices you make, such as story branching, but also every small choice you make, such as which weapon to give your character or how you move your units around the battlefield. In this title, players can also choose which character to pair with each Emblem, and I think each player will have their own unique choices they make. I believe that “choice” will continue to be an important keyword in our future development process.
If you are interested in Emblems – the past heroes – I highly recommend you try out the Fire Emblem Heroes mobile game. You'll meet many heroes, including the Emblems that appear in Fire Emblem Engage, and there are also weapons and items you can get by linking the app with this title. I also hope that by playing Fire Emblem Engage, players will become interested in Fire Emblem Heroes as well as the past titles.
Nakanishi: I believe the appeal of the Fire Emblem series is the bond formed by trusting each other and fighting together. One thing that's consistent throughout the series is that even if the characters are from different countries, they build a trusting relationship with each other as allies to whom they can entrust their lives. This is a feature I'd like to keep in future games. One of our goals during development was to create a game that would be enjoyable for both newcomers to the series and those who have played the series' previous titles. I would be happy if this game gives players the opportunity to interact with each other – those with experience playing past titles teaching newcomers tactics. It's just like Emblems – the past heroes – guiding Alear, who is a novice. It has been over 30 years since the release of the series’ first title, so it would be wonderful if parents and their kids play the game together.
There will also be additional content available, right?
Nakanishi: Yes. The Expansion Pass, which includes four waves of content, is divided into two main chapters, “Divine Paralogues” and “Fell Xenologue.” Many more Emblems will join you in “Divine Paralogues." In the first wave, you will be joined by Tiki from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (19), who helps boost characters' stats when they level up, and the three house leaders from Fire Emblem: Three Houses, who increase the EXP characters can get. So, you should be able to develop your characters more effectively. In “Fell Xenologue,” you can play a new side story. Also, a free update will add more facilities to the Somniel, so we hope you will look forward to it.
(19) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light: A game released in April 1990 in Japan on the Family Computer (Famicom) system (the title was released in North America on Nintendo Switch for a limited time to commemorate the 30th anniversary of Fire Emblem).
Thank you. One last question for Tei-san. How was it working as a director for the first time?
Tei: By adding in everything we wanted to do, we have been able to create a game with a lot to offer in terms of visuals, gameplay, and story. Of course, there was pressure and anxiety about being a director for the first time for a series that has been running for over 30 years. But with the support of the development team, I could make it through, feeling like Alear embarking on an adventure. Similar to how heroes of past titles, like Marth and Sigurd, helped Alear, my predecessors who created the past Fire Emblem titles supported me in bringing this new Fire Emblem game to life.
I am looking forward to the new Fire Emblem game. Thank you very much for your time today.