Another day, another Moral of the Story! This week we’re focusing on one of my all-time favorite series: Fire Emblem. These games combine tactical challenges with compelling stories and complex characters, and I’ve played most Fire Emblem games I own multiple times. You have to in order to get the full experience – there are so many characters who can become friends, fall in love, and reveal the most interesting facets of themselves through conversations, and in most of the games you can only have these conversations with so many people before running out.
Oh, and the other big hook with Fire Emblem characters? They can die. Permanently. Because of your in-game decisions. If you send a character into danger and they die, you never get that character back. This makes each one more valuable; because of their unique histories and personalities, it really feels like you lose somebody when a character falls. Emotional attachment is multiplied significantly and makes every character feel important.
There are a TON of characters in the Fire Emblem series, as each game has thirty or more playable units. So rather than do the whole series in bulk (as I’ve done with Final Fantasy and Mario) I’m gonna focus on particular games. Today, we’re going to talk about my five favorite characters from the Radiance games: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Path of Radiance was my first ever Fire Emblem game and it was love at first permadeath. So which characters had the biggest impact on me? Time to find out!
As always, SPOILERS.
Nephenee is a country girl from a dinky village in Crimea. When her homeland is overrun by the kingdom of Daein, she tries to stand and fight, only to be taken prisoner. Ike and his Greil Mercenaries rescue her, at which point she swears to fight for their cause and for the Princess Elincia.
What I love about Nephenee is her character development between the first and second games. In Path of Radiance, Nephenee appears to be very quiet and shy. Through her conversations with other party members she reveals that this is due to embarrassment at her country origins. Afraid for her accent to be heard, she keeps her mouth shut and stays hidden on the sidelines.
But fighting for her country changes Nephenee. In Radiant Dawn, when a civil war is brewing in Crimea, Nephenee steps up to fight against her own people. Why? Because those people are trying to overthrow now-Queen Elincia, a wise ruler who is misunderstood by the general population. Nephenee has grown to trust Elincia and to understand that the Queen knows what is best for the country. So this time, rather than stay on the sidelines, she quells a pocket of the rebellion in her village and then heads to the castle to warn Elincia of the danger that is coming. Nephenee grows from a shy country girl to a strong leader, and throughout the events of Radiant Dawn she is one of the strongest units in the army.
Moral of the Story: Your heritage is nothing to be ashamed of. Let people judge you on your strength of character.
Zihark is a mercenary whose homeland lies in Daein. Now if you aren’t familiar with these games at all, I need to introduce an important aspect of them: race. There are two races in the Radiance games, the beorc (humans) and the laguz (half-humans who can shapeshift into animals). In Zihark’s home country, the laguz are treated as garbage. Racism against them is so prevalent that they are even hunted like animals, or captured and put into battle against gladiators for the beorc warriors to prove their strength.
Those laguz that everyone hates? Zihark is dating one.
Despite being a beorc, Zihark falls in love with a laguz woman. They are happy for a time, but the constant fear of discovery and the terrible racism she faces every day drives his girlfriend away. She leaves Zihark (although there are some implications that she might have been killed as well), and he is left alone in a country that despises the woman he loves.
Zihark makes it his mission to improve the relations between beorc and laguz, to create a world where the two can fall in love without fear. Unfortunately, during the events of Radiant Dawn, this forces him to choose between his home country and the enemy they are at war against. He sides with Daein at first, but a conversation with his laguz allies from his first adventure persuades him to stand up for what is right, even when it means betraying his nation.
Moral of the Story: Sometimes doing the right thing means going against the crowd.
Ranulf is a laguz warrior from the country of Gallia, where the beast laguz live. He is a cat laguz who serves the king of Gallia directly as a spy and a soldier. His country has a binding alliance with the country of Crimea, an alliance that the beorc of Crimea would just as soon dissolve.
When Ranulf goes to Crimea with the Greil Mercenaries to help them in their battle against Daein, his identity as a laguz is discovered on accident. The townspeople gather around him and begin to pummel him with their fists and with stones. Ranulf could easily transform and fight back, killing those people with a flick of his wrist. But he does not raise a finger. His country’s alliance with Crimea is too important, and though the people of Crimea do not respect that alliance or respect him, he will do nothing to jeopardize it.
Ranulf’s forgiveness knows no bounds. When he and Ike meet for the first time, Ike unknowingly utters a racial slur against Ranulf. Ranulf calmly explains that the phrase is an insult, and instead of harboring anger towards Ike, he becomes one of the mercenary’s best friends. Ranulf understands that hatred only breeds more hatred, and that the only true solution to racism is to stop being racist. Even if that means enduring some hardship along the way.
Moral of the Story: Racism cannot be solved with violence; only through peace and patience.
This dark little mage is the Ike’s best friend, right hand man, and the tactical mastermind of the Greil Mercenaries. He also has one of the darkest, most tortured histories of any Fire Emblem character.
Ever since birth, Soren has possessed a mark upon his forehead. He was abandoned by his parents and, when a powerful magician noticed his mark, taken in as an apprentice. The magician thought Soren’s birthmark to be the symbol of a spirit pact, and that Soren had incredible magical potential. He put Soren through rigorous and difficult magical training, teaching the small boy everything he could about magic – but nothing about how to talk. When the magician passed away, Soren was orphaned for a second time with no way to explain his predicament or make his case. Finally, mercifully, he was taken in by Greil of the Greil Mercenaries, and met his first friend, Ike.
Soren’s harsh upbringing has given him a pretty mercenary outlook, and he has no loyalty towards anything except his own self-preservation – and to Ike. Soren doesn’t believe in much of anything, but he applies his superior intellect and magical power in the service of the Greil Mercenaries out of loyalty to his friend.
The identity of Soren’s parents is a whole thing in and of itself, but the main reason Soren ranks as one of my favorite characters is because he’s a good best friend. A lot of people won’t fight for something if they don’t care about it personally. Soren has no love for Crimea and sees no reason to put his neck on the line. But because he knows that Ike cares deeply for his country, and that the Greil Mercenaries need him, Soren gets involved and puts his own life at risk to lead Crimea to victory.
Moral of the Story: True friendship is doing everything you can for the sake of the people you care about.
Does it seem like a cop-out to vote for the main character of the Radiant games as my favorite? Well too bad! Ike is awesome, and here are some reasons why.
In most games (or movies, or books) character development is measured by what aspects of the characters change. What did they learn, how did they grow, why are they different now than they were before? Ike definitely goes through some of that. But ultimately, Ike’s character development is all in the fact that he stays the same even in the face of ridiculous circumstances.
Ike begins the game with very strong beliefs about respect. He believes that respect, and things that come with it (leadership, political power, nobility) must be earned rather than given. Money is not a basis of respect. Race is not a basis of respect. Birth is not a basis of respect. Each individual person should be given respect and responsibilities based on what they have proven themselves capable of.
This attitude makes Ike pretty unpopular among beorc nobles, who believe that wealth and power should be attached to something like a bloodline. However, despite Ike’s lack of education about the laguz (and his unintentional racism towards them in his early days), his ideas about respect actually make him quite popular among them. They select their leaders by strength of body and character, and his admiration for this system makes it easier for Ike to get along with laguz government officials. Additionally, Ike doesn’t see their race – if a laguz is strong and pure, he respects them as much as he would a strong and pure beorc. Poor, rich, beorc, laguz – Ike gives everyone an equal chance and starts them all on equal footing. If someone is a horrible person, they don’t deserve respect just because they happen to belong to a certain family or have a lot of wealth.
Ike meets a number of people throughout his journey, and despite everything they try to do to ingrain in him the “proper ways of society,” he does not change. He keeps his unpopular attitude throughout the course of the game, despite the problems it causes him in the courtrooms of the world. But that attitude is what makes him heroic. He deftly avoids racism, classism, and sexism by simply judging each and every person on their own merit. This allows him to unite people of all creeds together, because despite all of their surface differences, at their core they are the same and they fight for the same cause.
Moral of the Story: Never make judgments on color, gender, wealth, or position. Judge everyone by their character and their actions.
Those are my favorite Radiant saga characters. What characters do you enjoy that I missed? Remember that this week is Multiplayer Week, so be sure to show this post to a Fire Emblem fan in person or by sharing on social media. Then you’ll be able to discuss your top 5s together and learn all the lessons that these great games have to teach.