Originally posted 2 June 2017 on Nerds4Life
Alright, you did it. You clicked on the article with the Camilla swimsuit header. Don’t try to deny it, I see right through your deceit. You’ve committed now, so you may as well join me on a journey through the darkest recesses of the human mind.
Fire Emblem has been a Nintendo staple for longer than most realise, debuting on the NES in Japan all the way back in 1990. It took a while to catch on in the west, with their final gambit coming in the form of 2012’s 3DS title, Fire Emblem Awakening. The tale is legendary now: if Awakening didn’t perform well, they were considering pulling the plug on the series for good.
As you’re well aware, Awakening more than delivered its end of the deal, eclipsing 2 million units sold. With the franchise safe for now, they foraged on with another success in the form of the Fire Emblem Fates trio, Birthright, Conquest and Revelation. Most recently, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was unleashed on the world; a remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden.
Harkening back to the more classic style of Fire Emblem games, Echoes features your archetypical heroes (Alm has a sword because MEN ARE TOUGH and Celica is a priestess because GIRLZ HEAL I GUESS), but is absent an ‘avatar’ figure. In the previous two games, this mouldable main character became significant for a great many reasons, not the least of which being, it was… you, in a way. You could name them how you chose, assign them a gender and a physical appearance. Even describe their strengths and flaws. There was something organically symbiotic between you and the avatar.
And yes, this includes the fact that you could take yourself a ワイフ。
To the uninformed on the waifu/husbando phenomenon, hoo boy… There’s no gentle way to ease you into it; it’s effectively the idea of placing yourself within a universe and assigning that persona a love interest.
It’s wrong. It’s creepy. It’s vaguely infectious.
Allow me to explain. I was late to the Fire Emblem party (though mildly earlier than the majority of people), first growing to love the series via Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones in 2011. Though it was originally released on the GBA in 2004, I only happened upon it due to the 3DS ‘Ambassador’ project, wherein Nintendo compensated early 3DS adopters by gifting them free NES and GBA games. I mostly played Wario Land 4 before I ever set eyes on that Fire Emblem title, so unfamiliar at the time.
The short version of the story is, I tried it, I loved it. I buffed up Cormag, Joshua and Amelia so mightily, they became a three-unit wrecking crew; every other soldier basically superfluous compared to their might. When Awakening was first announced, and the ‘My Unit’ concept was unveiled, I made a decision: my avatar would look old, weathered and white-haired. I named him after my father, one of the most trustworthy, stoic figures in my life.
Which makes the following events more than a little eerie, if we’re being frank.
As the gripping story of Awakening developed, Raymund (yes, spelt with a U. The amount of hardship my father suffered for this is no secret to me) morphed from a tribute to my papi to a veritable digital identity. It certainly helped that the avatar unit (canonically Robin) was impeccably written — his calm, reassuring demeanour and fascination with strategy made him instantly likeable. So you didn’t want him (or her, should you have opted for the equally wonderful female Robin) to settle for just anyone.
In my case, I set my eyes on Sumia.
The loveable, clumsy pegasus knight, so courageous yet self-doubting, made for an obvious pairing. The courtship between her and Raymund was immensely charming – her attempts to find him the perfect book is one of my favourite bits of writing in a game. It’s simple, it’s quirky and it works. Their marriage yielded two children, Cynthia and Morgan.
Cynthia went on to become one of my favourite units (probably #1 all-time, character-wise), and the interactions with her father tugged on a few heartstrings. Meanwhile, Morgan is the red-headed stepchild who is infinitely more useful in battle, but despite everything else, is not Cynthia and therefore majorly expendable.
Here’s where things get weird (things are already weird, don’t think I don’t know this) — I felt a sense of pride every time Cynthia won a battle. It was as though my own daughter was finding success, assigning my non-existent future daughter a fair bit of pressure if and when she should come to be. She’s already behind the 8-ball, actually, because Cynthia had the initiative to go back in time to find me. Poor effort, conceptual real daughter!
Much to my chagrin, you could say I had been successfully waifu’d, at least this once. The more likely pairing of Sumia with fancy-boy Chrom seems perverse to me, and I have no doubt other people have felt similarly when alternative pairings have been revealed. What’s that? You dared woo Cordelia with Lon’qu? You had the audacity to gift Cherche to that hick, Donnell? You tempted the fates themselves by having Nowi play a romantic game of hide-and-seek with Kellam? Kellam, dammit??
Waifu’ing is a weird practice, no doubt (incidentally, I don’t think I’ve ever seen it used as a verb, but it’s contextually useful and therefore acceptable). Three save files allowed for multiple affairs, but they were far less engaging to me. My female edition of Robin fell into Chrom’s unambitious arms because, I don’t know… he seems like a cuddler. My infuriating third save file, inexplicably set at lunatic difficulty, yielded Flavia as my bride since, clearly, she’s awesome.
But it all felt very alternate reality. A ‘what-if’ scenario. A Rand McNally, if you will, where people wear hats on their feet and hamburgers eat people.
Such stubborn insistence on established tropes would carry over to Fates’ multiple campaigns, as you might expect. My initial Corrin would court Rinkah, and sure, that was cool and all, but it was mostly out of admiration for her ability to smash stuff with aplomb. The consistently female second file saw a relationship blossom with Laslow — of course it was Laslow, he touches my ovaries in ways they’ve never been touched before — but there was no love there, just lust. The final Revelation route matched the avatar with Nina, and moralistically, that feels icky. Ickier, I should say.
So what does this all mean? Everything and yet nothing, I suppose. I levy judgement upon the fascinations people have with non-existent characters on occasion, but I’ve had my own dalliances with the fine art of imaginary seduction. Perhaps part of the appeal in Fire Emblem is that these units are part person, part warrior — the fruits of their bloodthirsty combat fuelling your desire to see their personal success — but when it all comes down to it, it’s a queer sense of kinship that I may never fully understand.
Does that mean I’m ready to embrace the shipping community, complete with my own obsessive Robin/Sumia fanfiction/fanart/fanogling?
…No. I’m neither depraved enough, nor talented enough to make such crimes against humanity become reality. Besides, I don’t think my waifu would appreciate that.