Why I Love Permadeath
I’ve always loved games that feature permadeath. Having a character die for good is realistic, which can improve immersion in the game world. I definitely felt that way when my soldiers died on ground missions in the super-tense game XCOM: Enemy Unknown.
Permadeath also increases the stakes for every battle where dying is a possibility. For instance, in Fire Emblem: Awakening, you level characters, choose their classes, even marry them off to improve their stats — but in any battle, they could die, and you’d lose all that progress. It’s sad to see all of that hard work go to waste, which gives me more incentive to strategize with care in every battle.
Other times, permadeath has an emotional impact, too. Mass Effect 2’s suicide mission is heartbreaking if you lose a character — or several characters — you’ve come to care about. The Mass Effect series is known for its strong character development, letting your Commander Shepard have conversations with squadmates about everything from their military backgrounds to daddy issues. Getting to know the characters so personally makes the suicide mission even more emotionally intense.
But video games have save points. And save points are temptations, even for permadeath-lovers like me.
My Death-Defying Fire Emblem Experience So Far
I started Fire Emblem: Awakening with the best intentions. I decided to let fate take its course and whisk my characters into the fictional afterlife whenever it was their time to go. It was sad and at times frustrating, but I let death happen. Then I moved on. When I heard about people who do the permadeath thing but reload battles when someone dies, I thought, “What’s the point of permadeath then?” I was confused, and I was tough, and I was going to let the blood spill when it spilled and not cry over it.
But at some point, I realized that I was missing out on too many great characters. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, you can marry characters to each other for stat boosts, and they’ll help cover each other by fighting in tandem or pushing one another out of harm’s way when an enemy sword, arrow, or spell gets too close.
This system is ridiculously fun, but it also means that you don’t just invest in individual characters: You invest in pairs. And that means that if you lose one, you lose something of the other, too. The stakes are just incredibly high.
Beyond marriage, your characters can also have children, who inherit some of their parents’ abilities. This makes strong pairings essential for unlocking more characters later. I’ve heard Donnel is a great father — you know, in terms of stat boosts to his kid and stuff — but I don’t have him around in my permadeath-ridden game. This means I’m missing out on him and the boosts he could offer his potential wife and child.
Maybe I’m just not very skilled at Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I’ve gotten to the point in the game where battles are suddenly very challenging. I’ve always been impatient, so occasionally I rush into battle with a little too much bravado and find key characters getting their health sliced away, fast.
At one point, Lissa died. And I love Lissa. I had her all ready to marry someone, and I’d switched her from her previous position as the resident healer to a pegasus knight so she could deal some damage of her own. I’d invested in her, and I refused to let another good character and potential mother die on my watch!
So I reloaded the battle to save Lissa. I made use of my previous save file, which is so video game-y of me. There’s nothing that breaks immersion in a game quite like a save file that lets you redo mistakes.
Dying is Easy, Resurrection is Hard
But maybe that’s exactly why we love games. Nothing is permanent in a video game with save files — not even permadeath. If Fire Emblem: Awakening had the autosave feature that games on other systems often have — rewriting past progress with the latest progress so you have just one save point at any given time — the stakes would have been even higher. Maybe they would have been too high.
Now that I’ve banished permadeath from my Fire Emblem: Awakening experience, I find myself more frustrated in some ways. Having to restart a battle tries my patience after I’ve failed a couple of times in a row. And there are even times when I want to let characters lay where they’ve fallen, because as much as I love them, they’re not essential to the progress I’ve made with the group as a whole. Do I leave those characters and only save the ones I need most? That would be playing god a little too much, and it might break the immersion too much for me to pick and choose like that, just for the sake of finishing a long battle.
I suppose the key for me will be taking care when I enter every fight and, you know, playing better. Sure, permadeath inspired me to play carefully so I wouldn’t lose characters, but working around permadeath is even more grueling. It’s a total boot camp for getting things right the first time, because otherwise, I have to restart the sequence over and over until I do get it right. When working around permadeath instead of embracing it, there is no room for failure.
Fortunately, I love Fire Emblem: Awakening, so I’m glad for the kick in the ass to improve this time.