Loving Fire Emblem: A Retrospective

In light of last week’s announcement about the newest Fire Emblem game coming Spring 2019, I couldn’t help but follow up my reaction post to the news last week with a bit more of a self-indulgent post about this series as a whole.

I’ve loved Fire Emblem since my best friend Madison gave me a copy of Awakening for my 16th birthday in 2014. She was already a huge fan of the game, having played the 3DS demo to death until actually receiving the game for Christmas months before.

Through osmosis, I understood that it was a game where you got to date and marry the characters, and I had the lightest of understandings of the plot. I knew she loved Chrom from the moment she accidentally married him, and that the characters had kids you could also play.

It was one of those moves on her part where you’re so desperately obsessed with something you’ll do anything to get your friend into it too just so you’ll have someone to talk to about it, and I’m grateful she did that to this day. Fire Emblem has been a huge part of my life ever since.

For a series that can sometimes come off as controversial to some, I want to share what keeps me coming back to it again and again regardless. And I also want to speak on the specific strengths of the two main series games I’ve played, Awakening and Fates.

(And yes, I know I’m exactly the type of fan that ‘hardcore’ Fire Emblem fans hate, the kind that has only played the newer games. But I’m not really interested in getting into that conversation at this very moment, to be honest.)

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Fire Emblem: Three Houses First Impressions and Hopes

So Tuesday was kind of a weird day for me. I woke up at 8 a.m. because I needed to be at work by 9:30, and I also had big plans for the rest of the day. A trip that had… suddenly come up but I really wanted to go on loomed large over my shortened shift that day, and I wanted to get right to it. I got to work, worked, but then my plans were cancelled.

And, listen, plans are hard. Plans change. And that particular plan had been a pain on all sides to pin down. But still, when you fight hard to make something happen, it sucks when it all doesn’t work out. I got home crushed and oddly guilty.

Then, like a beacon of hope, my best friend frantically messaged our Fire Emblem Discord chat:

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It had finally happened. The moment we had all silently known was coming for us. It made sense, after all. We knew we were getting a main-series Fire Emblem game for the Switch ever since Nintendo did a Fire Emblem-centric Direct last January. (Yeah, it was that long ago). It seemed like now was the time to finally get news on that new game.

But then, here it was. Confirmation. A title and our first look at a game we had all been eagerly anticipating for more than a year.

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When Will I Quit Talking About This Game? – Top 20 Original Bandori Songs

And just like I promised last week, I’m back again with more Bandori/Bang Dream content. I’ve realized I haven’t been consistent with which name I’ve used to refer to this game (it’s changed over my first post about the game to my best characters list post to now), but I feel like the names are interchangeable to me, so, apologies for any confusion that may have caused.

Anyway, today I’m counting down my top 20 original songs from this game. Just like last week, I’ll be giving a little blurb on each one. Though it’s fun that this game covers well-known anime openings and the like, I still definitely find myself repeatedly coming back to the original music created specifically for the game.

In a lot of ways, they exemplify the personalities of the bands that “perform” them a lot better than the covers do. So, without further ado, let’s celebrate the best of the best!

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We’re With the Band (Top 10 Bang! Dream Girls)

A while back, I talked about Bang Dream, the new rhythm game app I had fallen in love with. Though the natural sands of time wore my devotion to the game down to the point where I wasn’t quite playing it daily anymore, the recent release of the official English server of the game has reignited my passion for this game.

In response to the new release, me and a few friends from our Discord server started enthusiastically discussing the new game, as the English translation helped us fall in love with the same characters we had (or didn’t have) experience with in the Japanese version.

So we decided to all come together and collaborate on a blog post where we gushed about our Top 10 favorite characters from the game. Come along with me, Madison, and Nona as we discuss just why these girls have stolen our hearts… and our free time.

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What the Ship?!?

When I first started this blog, one of the first ideas I had for a post was a Valentine’s Day post about some of my favorite couples in fiction. However, instead of going through with that post, I spent last year’s Valentine’s Day compiling a massive list of love songs, so I think the time is here to sit down and have fun gushing about our favorite couples in fiction because, really, what else is there to do on this, the love holiday?

(Celebrate actual, real-life love? On my blog? Hah! Who do you think I am, some sort of person who expresses their feelings on the internet? Ridiculous.)

These couples come from all kinds of media, from books to video games to anime, and they’re not necessarily canon couples either. (In some cases, these characters don’t even canonly… know each other. Actually, that’s in only one case but… ah well.) In addition, it should be noted that these couples were mostly selected for their importance to my life. So there’s gonna be some odd ones in there. But I intended this post to be fun, and fun it shall be.

Soul Eater Evans / Maka Albarn (Soul Eater)

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When I first thought about this list, there was no iteration of it that didn’t include this pairing. There were ships that came before it, and ships that came after it, but it sticks out in my mind to this day as one of my all-time favorite relationships in a fictional story, romantic or otherwise.

The world of “Soul Eater” sets itself up for some interesting relationships right from the get-go. It’s a world where part of the population can just turn itself into various weapons, and another part of the population gets to wield those weapons. It sounds… odd, I know, but by the time you’ve gotten used to the concept, it’s already quite charming. Important too to the world of “Soul Eater” is the idea of “soul resonance”, or the natural connection between a weapon and its wielder (called a “meister”).

Maka and Soul are the main meister/weapon pair in this anime, and it was always their relationship I cared about the most. In the beginning, Maka is distrustful of Soul (due to her cheating father making her distrust men in general), and Soul is too headstrong to respect Maka much (just because he’s a jerk). But by the end of the series, they’re incredibly tight companions, caring about each other, protecting each other, and knowing each other better than anyone else. Even putting aside the possibility of a romance, just their relationship is key to the progression of the story. You end up rooting for them to work out their differences, and watching their bond grow stronger as they do is probably my favorite part of the series.

Even if they never officially got together in either the manga or the anime, there are strong hints in both that their bond is at least a little romantic. They live together and share in each other’s triumphs and failures throughout the series. And honestly, just the focus on their strong bond and how it changes both of them for the better, making Maka more trusting and Soul more mature, is enough for me to admire this pairing for years to come.

Cynthia / Owain (Fire Emblem: Awakening)

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There are a lot of great pairings in Fire Emblem, just as a consequence of how the game works. But I have to give a shoutout to the OG Fire Emblem ship – Owain and Cynthia.

As second generation characters, both Owain and Cynthia have the heavy weight of their doomed future hanging over their characters, an element that makes them such tragic and fascinating characters. But it’s also just as important that they’re both huge, dramatic goofballs who love heroics and theatrics. Faced with adversity, both of them turn to old-school heroics, and though how exactly they display these heroics is a conflict they work through in their support conversations, it’s obvious they’re working for the same goal.

I admit a lot of my love of this pairing comes from headcanon land. They both admire their mothers greatly and lose them in their doomed future, so I always thought it made sense that they would turn to each other in their time of grief and train together. At the same time, I imagine they’d have a lot of fun together, with both of their goofy and fun-loving personalities on full-display. But there’s plenty of great stuff about them in canon too. They’re childhood best friends who drifted apart, brought back together by tragedy and adventure. It’s just a good dynamic. (Even if their S conversation left… something to be desired.)

Vinyl Scratch / Octavia (My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic)

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An odd pick, I know, but I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t include this landmark ship for me. If you think shipping two ponies from “My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic” is weird, try shipping two background ponies who barely get appearances in the show.

But it’s the aesthetic of it all, really. They first appeared in the same episode, Octavia as a classy cellist for a party and Vinyl as a head-bobbing DJ. Fans immediately noticed both of their designs – Octavia for her unusually muted colors, all in gray and black alongside the usual pastel, and Vinyl because… well, come on, look at her. From there the fanon expanded. Obviously they knew each other, and obviously they had a rivalry because of their conflicting music genres. Several fanarts were drawn, several notable fanfictions were written (my favorite being this one), and it was hard not to see the possibility for an interesting relationship between them, romantic or not.

And now since I’ve stopped watching My Little Pony, they’ve appeared together once more in an actual scene in an actual episode… man, how cool is that. These two are just great. Conceptually, visually, and fandom-ly.

Percy Jackson / Annabeth Chase (Percy Jackson and the Olympians Series by Rick Riordan)

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(Fanart Credit: viria)

Another pairing I could possibly skip mentioning when talking about great fictional couples. The “Percy Jackson and the Olympians” series was monumental for me – it inspired me to write and it gave me a great leading pairing to root for.

Rick Riordan’s series has been widely loved for a lot of reasons, but his colorful characters are probably the most notable. Percy himself, the voice of the series, oozes personality and boy-hero charm from the get-go. But add on the smart-aleck, cooler-than-everyone-else Annabeth Chase, with whom he shares a ton of chemistry, and you have a slow burn romance for the ages. This pairing, like most of my favorites, is built from a friendship, developed over five books. The vast amount of time the book spends exploring their relationship is one of the reasons that their getting together in the end feels so satisfying for the reader. Annabeth and Percy grow up together throughout the books, taking on insurmountable odds and improving each other along the way. It’s hard not to root for them, snarky and at-odds as they might be at times.

Nora Valkyrie / Lie Ren (RWBY)

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It’s probably rather obvious by now, but I tend to fall the hardest for side characters, and even harder for side character romances. And even harder harder for side character romances built on friendships. Thus, Ren and Nora.

RWBY isn’t at first up-front about how these two came to be friends. There’s hints, even an entire song talking about how the two of them have been through a lot together, but just the hints were enough to sell this couple entirely to me. The pink, energetic ball of brutality and her slender, serene companion? Plus the implication that they’ve been looking out for each other for years, and have a bond forged in fire? Say no more, I’m sold.

Mix in the unrequited “oh god I’ve fallen for my best friend” storyline on Nora’s end, as well as the recent seasons finally revealing what actually went down to bring these two together, and I’m a devoted fan.

Wakamatsu Hirotaka / Seo Yuzuki (Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun)

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Okay, so, Gekkan Shoujo Nozaki-Kun is a stupid show. It doesn’t have much of a plot, it’s just a bunch of idiotic high schoolers going about their daily business with a loose motif of manga tying it all together. But I’d be lying if I didn’t say I love the characters. They’re silly and don’t really get anywhere, development-wise, but it’s so fun to watch them that it doesn’t even matter.

And the best two characters are Wakamatsu and Seo. Wakamatsu is the youngest and tallest of the cast, a basketball player, insomniac, and naive sweetheart. Seo, on the other hand, is terror incarnate. She doesn’t care about anyone around her. She revels in chaos. And she has the singing voice of an angel, the only sound that can cure Waka of his insomnia and get him some sleep. And thus, a strange dance begins to play out between the two of them. Waka is constantly tormented by Seo, but she’s the only one who can bring him peace. He also doesn’t know she’s the one with the voice he relies on, but she knows their connection and loves his ignorance too much to tell him. It’s pure stupid comedy, and yet I still can’t help but root for them to get over their weird hangups and finally just admit they love each other.

Cloudtail / Brightheart (Warriors)

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(Fanart credit: JinxBC)

Another oldie, but a goodie. I was capital O obsessed with the “Warriors” books as a kid, and my favorite character was always Brightheart. Her story just spoke to me, an idealistic kid caught in a conflict too big for her and forced to wear the scars from it forever. She’s such a fighter, going through all the terrible things she did, losing one of her best friends, being rejected by her leader, being forced to relearn all her fighting skills… and then there’s Cloudtail.

Cloudtail is… well, he’s a jerk. He’s a spoiled, pampered jerk. And you’d think that a guy like him could never deserve a scrapper like Brightheart, but you’d be wrong. Believe in the redeeming power of love! Because, when Brightheart was in her deepest and darkest point, it was Cloudtail who, unexpectedly, stepped up to the plate to help her out however he could. Their romance developed both of them – teaching Cloudtail how to be humble and Brightheart how to trust others. And then… they stayed together! Through all the crazy stuff the clans went though, Cloudtail and Brightheart are a series constant, always there helping out, being awesome. So obviously they’re the best characters, and deserve the biggest shoutout. They may be cats from an edgy series for middle schoolers, but they’re still relationship goals for sure.

MU / Silas (Fire Emblem: Fates)

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Someday I will do an entire post about how much I love Silas. That day is not today, unfortunately, although now come to think of it that would have made a wonderful Valentine’s Day post as well… but oops. Anyway, Silas is great. He’s the player character’s childhood best friend, whose ill-fated attempt to throw a picnic for them ended in disaster, and his permanent removal from their life. But, ever-devoted to his best friend, Silas dedicated his life to becoming a knight so that he might one day see the player character again.

That’s admirable enough, but then when Silas actually meets up with the player character again, they’ve forgotten all about him. But in lieu of being upset, Silas is willing to rebuild their friendship. And even if the player character chooses to pursue him romantically, it’s revealed that his devotion to the player was always rooted in friendship, and it was only after he met the player character again that he developed romantic feelings for him. Anyway, friends or lovers, this level of devotion is one of the reasons I love this pairing… and Silas.

Nozomi Tojo / Eli Ayase (Love Live)

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Ah, Love Live. With your cute singing high schoolers and hinted-at romances. There’s a lot of teasing in this series of certain couples, but no pair gets teased about as much as Nozomi and Eli.

As “mom” and “dad” of Muse, Nozomi and Eli serve as the guiding older figures for the rest of Muse. They also knew each other before they both joined the idol group. Specifically, it was Nozomi who quietly guided Eli toward approving of the idol group. It’s obvious throughout the series that Nozomi cares deeply about Eli and knows her incredibly well, and Eli, though not always wise to Nozomi’s scheming, trusts her the most of all the other girls, confiding in her first, always. Theirs is a quiet and trusting relationship, and adorable as all-get-out.

Not to mention their beautiful duet, “Garden of Glass.” Listen to that and tell me these two aren’t in love. Go on, tell me.

Akihito Kanbara / Mirai Kuriyama (Kyoukai no Kanata)

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(Sorry for the grainy screencap, but this is the one that always wrecks me)

Perhaps the most aesthetic of all of these relationships, Mirai and Akihito are a textbook OTP. Meet-cute? Yep. Well, if you call Akihito running up to the roof of the school building, worried Mirai was going to jump and instead getting a sword in the gut a meet-cute. But it’s fine, he’s immortal. Tragedy? Plenty. Mirai is a demon-hunter and Akihito is half-demon, you can bet they’ve got all sorts of drama going on. A relationship that builds? Totally. Mirai spends most of her first week of knowing Akihito stalking him in an attempt to kill him, but by the end of the series they’re in love!

Anyway, these two are sweet goofballs who have to withstand a lot of terrifying obstacles together. They look out for each other and defy great odds to be together. Plus, as in every good pairing, they improve each other. Even Akihito’s weird fetish for glasses progresses to the point where he learns to love the girl behind them more than the girl in them (see the several promotional images of him removing her glasses), and I, not being a fan of weird fan service, was very thankful for that.

Anyway, that’s ten couples I love, just in time for the love holiday. I’ve neglected to mention so many more, so there’s a good chance these sort of posts can continue into the future. Either way, have a happy Valentine’s Day!

The Choice was Never Yours – A “Doki Doki Literature Club” Analysis

(The following post will contain major spoilers for a really, really good game. It’s free on Steam, so if you haven’t yet played it, close this post and do it! It’s about a 4ish hour experience. Do heed the content warnings, however. This game is not for the faint of heart… and I mean it.)

When I heard about “Doki Doki Literature Club” (henceforth referred to as DDLC), I wasn’t expecting too much of it. Sure, a psychological horror game disguised as an anime-styled dating sim sounds like a fun little novelty, but I was expecting the scares to be cheap. You know, your usual jumpscares and incoherent plot leading to more jumpscares. I was expecting a game for youtubers to record their reactions to so we can all have a little chuckle about how 2spooky these anime girls are. What I was not expecting was a genuinely horrifying and yet somehow heartfelt story about the nature of choice.

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The New Idols on the Block

I like to think I have a fairly refined taste in all things media. The truth is, though, we all have things we love even as we also acknowledge they can be, at times, silly and maybe even a bit problematic. Such is my love affair with rhythm games Love Live and BanG Dream.

I’ve been a fan of Love Live since my sophomore year. It’s a bit of an institution in my life and the lives of many others, I think. It was my introduction to the world of addictive rhythm mobile games, and it remains an important part of my life to this day. I’ve watched the anime all the way through and cried several times throughout. I’ve logged hours and hours into the mobile game.

(For those wondering, best girl from μ’s is Nozomi and from Aqours is Yohane. Best subunits are Lily White and Guilty Kiss respectively, obviously. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, don’t worry about it.)

BanG Dream is more of a recent favorite. It was introduced to me by a good friend of mine, and I had to jump through a few hoops to download it from the Japanese app store. Since then, though, I’ve been hooked with this game. It’s relatively new, and currently only has a Japanese version. (I had to enlist the help of my friend and a few guides to figure out what all the buttons do because… well, I don’t read Japanese.)

(And, once again, for those wondering, best girls are Misaki, Kanon, and Kokoro, and obviously best band is Hello Happy World)

And sure, it’s comparable to Love Live, but there’s something about it that has distracted me from returning to Love Live for a while now.

Because both BanG Dream and Love Live are made under the same parent company, Bushiroad, they get compared a lot. These comparisons aren’t always completely fair – true, they’re similar games, but they’re made by different teams and they have a lot of key differences. Actually, I think there’s a lot Love Live can learn from BanG Dream, and that’s what I want to talk about today.

First off, let’s get a little more in depth about what each game is.

Love Live is a rhythm and card-collecting mobile game. It involves “scouting” for cards of the eighteen main idols and a large collection of side characters. These cards are of different rarities and can be leveled up, strengthened, and put on teams to play “lives”, or songs where the player has to tap along with the rhythm of the music. Each card can be used to unlock small stories about the girl. These stories usually involve the girl just talking, although there are overarching stories about the eighteen main idol girls that are unlocked as the player levels up. These follow a loose story similar to the anime (I’ll go into the story a bit later).

BanG Dream is similar in that it employs the card-collecting rhythm game format and uses a combination of small single-character stories and larger overarching unlockable stories. Like Love Live, BanG Dream also features options to strengthen your cards and put them on teams. However, unlike Love Live, BanG Dream also features a relatively large world that is inhabited by the characters. Players can explore this little world and watch the girls talk or buy songs and powerups. In addition, BanG Dream features a multiplayer option that allows players to play alongside each other in order to increase their points and rewards. Finally, the biggest and most important difference between the two games is in their events.

Both Love Live and BanG Dream have events – these events coincide with the release of new cards, and participating in these events allows players the chance to earn these cards instead of hoping to randomly draw them in a gachapon. Love Live actually has several types of events, some allowing players to compete against each other directly, some making them play long strings of songs for points, and some simply adding on a chance to earn event points alongside their normal rewards for playing songs. BanG Dream has only one type of event, and it’s the most similar to the last event I mentioned in Love Live. However, and this is important, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the game.

Yes, events are fun and change things up in Love Live, but the reality is that they’re not always very worth participating in. The event card that is available is of the third-highest rarity in the game, and most seasoned players, unless they particularly like the look of the card, will probably have cards that are more powerful than the event one. In addition, Love Live events are notoriously brutal. A lot of success in events depends on playing near constantly in order to fully maximize the time given. If you look at guides on how to succeed in Love Live events, you’ll find instructions like “set an alarm to wake you up every few hours in the night so you can make sure you’re playing as much as possible!” And that’s… that’s ridiculous. I’ve never found the motivation to devote myself so fully to an event, and as such I’ve never been very successful in them.

In addition, events are just sorta… extra. The event cards are separate from the cards released into the gachapon “scouting box”, so a player who is looking only to get specific cards from that box might find more success avoiding the event entirely to focus on working towards increasing their chances to draw their desired card.

And that’s all fine and good, but it means that gameplay in Love Live can get really stale really fast. There is basically one good way to get love gems (the most valuable currency and the one used for scouting), and that is to build three of the strongest teams possible and to play lots of songs all by yourself. That can be fun for a while, but the game never challenges the player to change everything up. In fact, consistency is rewarded in this game. The players that continuously play in the most efficient, constant possible manner are the ones who tend to earn the most love gems… or least that’s what I’ve seen in my experience.

On the other hand, BanG Dream’s events are pivotal to the gameplay. All cards that are released into the gachapon are released in conjunction with an event. In addition, each event has specific girls and specific traits of each card that give multipliers to the amount of event points you earn. This means your best team for one event will most likely be wildly different than your best team for the next event. So, the most successful, efficient player has to change up their play style every so often.

In addition, and this is important to stress, multiplayer is always an option in BanG Dream. In Love Live, multiplayer modes are restricted to one type of event that rolls around every so often. In BanG Dream, it is always a good idea to play with other players… and maybe it’s silly, but that adds even more to the constantly changing feel of the gameplay. When you have to constantly collaborate with others to be the most successful, it keeps things fresh and interesting.

Don’t get me wrong, Love Live is a great game and has a lot of things going for it. For one, it has a lot more years under its belt. There’s way more cards available. Plus, as an English speaker, it’s far more accessible. And I’m not really talking about the animes, but the Love Live anime is like… way better than the BanG Dream anime. Like waaay better. Although, interestingly, I find the overall plot of BanG Dream to be a bit more fascinating and complex than Love Live’s plot. (That might sound kind of weird, but… like, stick with me here.)

The Love Live anime is a simple story but it’s enjoyable because of the lovable characters, the music, and the fun and mostly high-quality package. The BanG Dream anime, on the other hand, is the same simple story but in a far worse package… or at least, that’s how the anime is. In the game, each of the five bands get their own unique story, and these stories can get surprisingly dark and complex. I enjoy it.

But I’m getting off track. Love Live is a great game, but I think it has a lot to learn from the likes of BanG Dream. Sure, the formula has worked for Love Live, but I think it could benefit greatly from the ways BanG Dream diversifies the gameplay experience. Love Live should add a constant multiplayer mode, or perhaps make use of the same sort of “certain characters and certain attributes give bonuses in the events” system that BanG Dream has. This could encourage changing up play style and would keep the game from getting stale, as it often does.

And maybe, just maybe, Love Live could wrench me back away from BanG Dream’s addictive clutches.

(Oh, who am I kidding, I’ll go back to Love Live again someday. I can never fully escape idol hell.)