A war’s brewing, you say? The country’s on fire? I ain’t your guy, then

Fire Emblem Gaiden (1992)

It’s all going nuts again. Geopolitically, I mean. Of course, even that sentence doesn’t date this piece too badly – a headline like “Tensions mount in Middle East” could be on any online news outlet since the mid 90s and still be relevant. For today’s purposes, let’s just say that the Taliban are at it again. I wonder if they’ll still be at it in 20 years time? Or will there even be a 20 years time, because it gives you a right frightenener down the jacksy when those boys are at it, America and Russia are responding (the UK tries to pop up but deliberately gets ignored) and then suddenly fingers begin hovering over the big red button.

Before going nuclear though, the Generals try to “exhaust all options” by sacrificing as many pawns as possible across land, sea and sky. And when bodies start running out, new ones get drafted in. I doubt I’ll ever become a victim to a draft, living in Ireland. But what if Ireland needs to defend his or her borders? We generally need the Brits to help us out of a spot, whenever Russian jets fly in our airspace or our nine (9) ships are down the garage. What then?

I know Britain battered us for 800 years, but they’re entitled to call in some favours. They may need some of our finest men and women, and when those are “depleted” (torn asunder), they’ll turn to the medium men and women, then the slobs, then finally the Burkeys. Yes, this is all very unlikely, but God if the thought of it doesn’t keep me up at night.

Ireland’s neutrality, keep in mind, isn’t through some treehugging wish for peace and love but because we have next to no equipment. If I had to tool up and hit the ground running, I’d probably be taking my pick between an antique rifle, ready to blow up in my face, or a tree branch. It’s not that Ireland doesn’t have a standing army either – we do – but you’d be more accurate calling it a resting army.

Case in point, and this is anecdotal evidence for you, the best kind of evidence, but the boys in the Irish army (and maybe the 2 or 3 girls) are actually happy to be deployed to Lebanon and other such trendy destinations on peacekeeping missions. Why? Well, the alternative is sitting around, or mucking up the occasional march. If the alarm bells started blaring and these boys had to spring to action… I wouldn’t be confident, would you?

And then of course there’s national service, which still persists in some countries. I’m not talking about backwards joints either now, I’m on about upright places like Finland and Turkey (well…). That’s a year, 18 months or more of your life gone for a battle that never happens. Instilling discipline? Forget it, let the parents do that. Is the changing attitude towards corporal punishment and spanking your kids a secret conspiracy to up the army numbers? Maybe. You can’t trust anyone when deployed, especially not your spouse. I suppose national service does the trick in making the Finns and the Turks some tough mothers, but I’d prefer a year or two of dossing, personally.

It’s all about happiness at the end of the day, innit? And happiness is the absence of boredom, in my opinion. Could you just imagine the boredom of national service? You’ll almost be crying out for the war to start, something to keep you from sitting around lighting each other’s farts on fire, cleaning the terlet with a toothbrush and sitting in the scratcher, daydreaming about Mary-Jane Rottencrotch You don’t really think it’s gonna get much better out there on the battlefield, do you?

It’s not exactly a laugh riot for the boys in Fire Emblem Gaiden who get drafted, I know that much. And I was just starting to reckon myself a Fire Emblem boffin, all up on my strategy RPGness and my social knights and my Canto, but then they went and changed the rules again. What is it with second instalment of NES games tearing up the rulebook? Gaiden, to be different, brings you around a world map, into towns and dungeons, and equips you with weapons that never break. It even requires a bit of grinding, which top-drawer Femblem players like me always advise against.

Even when you do finally level up, it’s almost always a disappointing affair, the worst feeling you can get in the series. It’s common practice to reset if one of your patsies dies in battle, but resetting for better level ups? That’s a whoe other level of torture. There’s a hidden Easy Mode actually, but this only really helps with the EXP gain. And you’re thinking, was any of this stuff in the manual? Hell if I know, this was obviously another Japan only game, not even worthy of a Switch localisation decades after the fact.

And you can see why, because this is one monotonous game. It’s as slow as a week at the barracks, trying to move your ragtag bunch of manual labourers across maps that are far too big and empty to bother with. The team you start with are essentially farmhands and inbreds, the types of dopes you grew up with on the street.

It’s a bit like when you’re at college getting drunk with engineers, as a doctor falls drunk at your feet and a future government minister is yakked out of his head on yokes. You’re thinking, can this really be the future of our country’s workforce? And so it is for the dumb clots like me who get bullied into enlisting. Could the future of the country really end up depending on me? Let’s face it, if our forward guard consisted of me, you and the slowest kid in our year, then we’ve already fallen.

See, the first Fire Emblem I actually enjoyed, even though it’s objectively pretty depressing to witness. But at least it’s a bit of history, a chance to play as Marth, a clunky, archaic old romp with your disjointed army through a number of missions with lots of stuff going on. I don’t feel any of that in Fire Emblem Gaiden, a game from 1992, far too late for the NES, or Famicom, or Dendy. Rather like the guns the Irish army are fiscally coerced into using, this game is far too old to pass inspection, obsolete the moment it arrived.

The AI is a little screwy as well, not that I expect great things from 1992 AI programming, but the enemy moves in strange patterns. You wouldn’t want to have been deployed in this particular battle as a sniper that’s for sure, even if that’s one of the few military roles that I’d actually sign up for. The enemy will leave almost dead allies of yours well alone, in favour of your well-hung Lord Alm, the guy trying his best to get to his old childhood flame Celica. Otherwise they’ll desperately try to clamber back to the healing squares, often resulting in the slowest, most tedious game of tag ever unfolding across the map as you try to pin them down. 

It might be that you can get a bit of play out of Gaiden, if you use the fast-forward on your emulator and mute the music immediately. You’d be better off though picking up the much needed 3DS remake, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. This version keeps the weird aspects of Gaiden intact, such as the dungeon adventuring, the towns, and the diamond-hard swords. You might even be able to enjoy a bit of StreetPass with the rest of your platoon. Anything to while away the hours and hours of waiting before being sent to your miserable death, right?

14 January 2022

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