When you first tried your hand at Super Smash Bros. Melee, be honest -- did you know who Roy and Marth were? I’ll admit that I did not. Despite its popularity amongst strategy enthusiasts well before its debut in Super Smash on GameCube, your typical North American gamer in 2001 would stop far short of mentioning Fire Emblem in the same breath as Mario, Zelda, DK, or even the now-flagging Metroid. Thanks to 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening and an exuberant boost from Masahiro Sakurai and the Super Smash Bros. team just this morning, it appears that what I’ve suspected for a while now is finally, actually happening. Fire Emblem, on a global scale, is becoming a premier Nintendo property. Recent sales certainly support this hypothesis.
The nature of such an evolution is not to be taken lightly. After all, how long have other Nintendo franchises, even those with traditionally higher sales than Fire Emblem, been trapped and neglected on Nintendo’s backburner? Sure, Captain Falcon was a part of today’s announcement, but as one of Smash Bros.’ original twelve fighters, his inclusion is obligatory. F-ZERO hasn’t seen a console release since F-ZERO GX on the GameCube, nor any release at all since 2004. Meanwhile, Star Fox hasn’t seen a new game (excluding remakes) since 2006, and Metroid, sad as it is, appears to have joined the party sometime around when the semi-embarrassing flop Other M was released on Wii. There is a new Starfox for Wii U coming, but as of today the final product is nothing more than a figment of players’ imaginations. A 2015 release date feels wishful at best.
I suspect that Smash Bros. series director Masahiro Sakurai realizes the power he wields, and as a noted appreciator of Nintendo’s traditionally obscure heroes (Palutena’s inclusion essentially proves it), the announcement of Robin and Lucina is something of a final drive to propel Fire Emblem to Zelda levels of quality and industry respect. Does it sound crazy? A little bit. But anyone who spent time with Fire Emblem Awakening last year knows it’s perfectly possible. To this day the game’s sheer production value on 3DS is unparalleled, and as one of the better-balanced strategy RPGs of the last decade and a full-featured dating sim to boot, Awakening stands as an overwhelming milestone for handheld gaming. For me, it was the first time the phrase “maybe I don’t actually need a home console” flickered alive inside my brain, and it’s a question Nintendo itself may soon be asking all of us.
To prove the relevance of my Zelda comparison, let’s take a look at the top games on 3DS according to professional reviewers. Awakening is the console’s highest rated game sans--you guessed it--a remake of Ocarina of Time. This is a trend I fully believe can continue, and if Intelligent Systems and folks like Sakurai have their way, it likely will. For me, the announcement of the next Fire Emblem will feel like an event, and by the time Smash Bros. works its magic (and pushes a couple thousand more Awakening units to boot), I expect many gamers are going to share that enthusiasm.
Today’s news is about Smash Bros, though, and one of the most notable aspects of the announcement is what the inclusion of Robin, the humble tactician, means for Smash and even Nintendo as a larger entity. If you didn’t know, Robin is Fire Emblem Awakening’s player avatar, and as such he or she is fully customizable; like with Zelda, you can even choose whichever name you please. For example, my Robin (I stuck with the stock name) looks nothing like the one from today’s trailer, and has been described by certain peers as a “smug asshole.” Taking another look (below), I can't say I disagree.
It’s easy to forget, but Link and Robin are very much alike: a heroic capsule for the player to take hold of, whose name and traits can be altered by the power of one’s own mind. Of course, Robin’s freedoms are even more boundless, and as seen in the below image, his powers can be customized to the utmost degree (trust me, he doesn’t become a Sorcerer all that naturally).
Lucina, on the other hand, is a bit like the initial inclusion of other Legend of Zelda characters in Smash all those years ago. Throughout history Nintendo has gone through phases of stubbornness and phases of giving gamers exactly what they want, and beginning with E3 2014, they’ve made a very clear shift to the latter form. “You want Chrom, Lucina and Robin even though there are already two Fire Emblem characters announced? Alright - wish granted. Oh, and we’re bringing back Captain Falcon too. Today, he’s going to fight against these new characters in a high-quality CG short.” It’s almost as if this morning’s events were extracted from a fan’s lucid dream.
Today’s announcement doesn’t ease the pain of the hibernating F-ZERO and Metroid franchises, but it arguably does something more exciting -- it turns over a new leaf. This generation we’ve seen humble IP like Animal Crossing rise to superstar status, so why not Fire Emblem? Why not now? Intelligent Systems may be toiling away on Code Name: S.T.E.A.M., but when its finished, there are going to be some mighty large expectations to fill. Not to mention a passionate league of newly-minted Fire Emblem fans, courtesy of the fine folks at Nintendo and Sora Ltd.
Oh, and a note for Mr. Sakurai -- don’t think we’ve forgotten about the Shulk rumors. You know, the protagonist from Xenoblade? One Facebook user noted that he “wouldn't be surprised if Sakurai asked the director of Xenoblade to retweet the announcement just to troll us, and he’ll be revealed later.” Looking at the surprises we’ve seen so far, I honestly wouldn’t put it past him.