For whatever reason, the 20th of April has been the release date for several significant games throughout the past 30 or so years. (As for why, we can only speculate.) And thus, it is with much celebration we say happy anniversary to the grand genre-creating strategy-RPG Fire Emblem, the godly art adventure Ōkami, and the strange, funny, and heartrending masterpiece Mother 3.
Released on this day in 1990, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light kicked off the now legendary series with trademarks such as permadeath, unique playable units, and breakable weapons. It followed series icon Marth and his comrades as they struggled to take back the kingdom of Altea, purge the continent of Archanea of evil, and defeat the wicked Earth Dragon Medeus. While not localized in English, the game was remade for DS as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, offering Westerners a chance to play the classic for themselves. And the first FE isn’t the only one celebrating its birthday: two of the franchise’s best titles, Path of Radiance in 2005 (following Ike and his band of mercenaries on their quest to take back the kingdom of Crimea) and Shadows of Valentia just last year (following two protagonists, Alm and Celica, on their respective journeys to save the land) were released in Japan on this day, and Awakening’s release date was just yesterday (and that game’s tritagonist, Lucina, celebrates her birthday today). Phew!
Meanwhile, this day in 2006 saw the release of one of the most majestic games ever released, Clover Studios’ Ōkami. Taking on the role of the sun goddess Amaterasu, incarnated as a majestic white wolf, players traveled throughout the game’s world with the intention of cleansing the land, helping the people, and smiting evil. Directed by the illustrious Hideki Kamiya, it is perhaps the only Zelda-like game in existence to actually be better than Zelda, propelled by the genius Celestial Brush system, an absolutely stunning aesthetic, and more than its share of humor and heart.
Also in 2006 (was it some kind of holy date?) released one of the extreme few games on Ōkami’s level: the sincere, goofy, and tragic Mother 3. The long-awaited sequel to EarthBound examines humanity’s corruption of the natural world, the loss of innocence as you grow older, and the hate — and kindness — that people can give to one another. As poignant as it is lighthearted, as devastating as it is hopeful, and still not released in the US after all these years, Mother 3 remains a pivotal game not merely in terms of examining the passions and drives of fan communities, but also as a video game narrative, and its unique ways of instilling the darkest — and greatest — of emotions within us.
The three games’ connections seem somewhat tenuous, if still present. Ōkami and Mother 3 are both games of natural beauty, emphasizing environmental care and respect over greed and neglect. Mother 3 and FE are not only both classic bildungsroman tales of maturation and coming into your own, but real-world examples of franchises that took (or are taking) forever to make the overseas jump — it took 13 years for Fire Emblem to have a proper title on western shores, and Mother 3 is rapidly approaching that number. FE and Ōkami both deal with narratives of a mythic quality, with ancient and deeply entrenched evils of an inhuman nature that must be blotted out with holy power (which is, admittedly, somewhat common of a theme).
But I think what truly connects these three — not just as games, but as art — is a single concept: humanization. Fire Emblem’s unique units, each with unique personalities and the possibility of final death, encourages you to value their lives as if they were real, making sure that no soldier falls or is left behind. Ōkami’s interactions between Amaterasu and the people of Nippon show that many commit ill-conceived deeds, but they ultimately come from a place of humanity, who simply need a guiding hand to help them along — and Amaterasu herself is hardly above humankind, showing a surprising amount of spunk and vigor for a mute pup. And Mother 3, while showcasing the absolute depths of depravity humanity is willing to commit to in order to satisfy its own selfish desires, also displays how kindness, family, and love triumph over such horrible misacts, and how even in the darkest of hours, the world may be reborn anew.
Games are typically seen as sandboxes for the player to mess around in, separate worlds free of care or consequence. But these titles show the potential of video games to make us care — for our friends, our family, and even the world we live in. By immersing you as the commander of an army, a goddess of light, or just a simple, scared little boy who struggles to understand the world around him, these titles strive to make us see games as something more than just code and mechanics. And for that reason, they remain some of my absolute favorites to this day.
So if you haven’t taken a whack at any of these, I encourage you to do so. You can pick up three excellent FE titles for 3DS now, or download Fire Emblem Heroes on your phone. Ōkami HD is coming to Switch this summer, and if you can’t wait and can find a copy Ōkamiden on DS is also fantastic and adorable. Heck, play Pokémon Mystery Dungeon Explorers, too — it came out today in America in 2008, and it’s also an incredible game with a gut-wrenching narrative. And Mother 3… well, we’re still fighting the good fight on that one. But I truly believe that, one day, it will come. And I certainly won’t give up on it.
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