News Article

Fire Emblem: Awakening and ZombiU Developers Outline the Challenges of Permadeath

Posted by Thomas Whitehead

"[Writing ZombiU] was the toughest over 10 years of writing"

In an era of gamers regularly debating the level of challenge offered in modern titles, an argument that can be tough to resolve, the concept of permadeath is a relatively rare feature that caters to those seeking a lack of compromise in their experiences. Taking away readily-accessible checkpoints, a return to full health and a full compliment of items is a bold move, with various mechanics used to strip a gamer of their hard work and punish their mistakes.

Naturally, the permadeath idea can be utilised in a variety of ways, as outlined in an enjoyable EDGE magazine feature from the latest issue. Some games simply dump you back at the start of the whole campaign with a selection of items or, sometimes, no tangible benefits at all, while others allow you to retain upgrades and slowly, painfully, level-up and progress further with each attempt.

Two titles exclusive to Nintendo systems get a mention for their approaches to permadeath. Fire Emblem: Awakening is highlighted as — in a first for the series — it introduces the Newcomer option that removes the permanent loss of squad members; it can be easily ignored, of course, but director Kohei Maeda explained that it was important as a tool to remove the fear factor for some gamers.

I think that all of the Fire Emblem games are fun, but a lot of beginner players stay clear of them because they think they are difficult. I think this is a real shame. A big reason for wanting to include this mode was so that those kinds of people could play Fire Emblem too...Since your characters come back when they die, one advantage is that you can play more aggressively or take more risks.

Awakening has been critically acclaimed and, importantly for the future of the series, a notable commercial success. Perhaps providing that Newcomer mode was vital, though Wii U launch title ZombiU — which perhaps deserved stronger sales — makes permadeath mandatory with some potential to retrieve the situation. When losing a character they are dead forever, including the gear being carried at that time, though it's possible to store essentials in a base and kill the zombie of the previous playable character, retrieving gear in the process.

That hub location also means that, combined with quick-travel options, the game can be resumed with minimal loss of progress. Weaving these scenarios together was a major challenge for story design director Gabrielle Shrager, who also admitted that incorporating ever-changing playable characters meant that, visually, the team couldn't dedicate resources to producing beautifully defined, attracted leads.

(Writing ZombiU) was the toughest challenge I've faced in over ten years of writing for games. It took... the whole production team to find solutions for all the 'But what happens if you die here?' issues, which were sometimes mind-bendingly complicated.

I created the Prepper character and the survivors' notes to establish a link and reinforce between the survivors who all fall under this mysterious character's influence. Without a main player character, you need to embrace your main NPCs.

... Our character assemblage system produced avatars that were less gorgeous than a single player character would've been.

With so many games throwing excess lives, regular checkpoints and regenerating health into the fray, rare examples of permadeath can certainly be welcome — if not necessarily suited to all tastes.

The question is, did you use the Newcomer or Classic mode in Fire Emblem: Awakening?


From the web

Related Games

User Comments (47)



SneakyStyle said:

Perma death is great, I hope more games take this kind of approach, fully randomly generated and/or perma death is always sooo fun.



PanurgeJr said:

I liked the way ZombiU handled permadeath. It gave failure more weight without significantly slowing the player's progression.



Einherjar said:

Perma death can be both, a games biggest advantage and its biggest downfall.
If perma death isnt handled carefully, all it ends up is wasted play time, because eerything you have done is basicly lost.
If its a player skill based game and you, as a player yourself learn and grow, this isnt all that complicated. WIth your new honed skills, you can probably blast through the game even faster up to the point where you lost.
If its an RPG and you loose a well trained character, vital to your game, it can very well create an "unwinable" state.
But it also has its benefits. You grow more fond of your charater(s), since when theyr gone, theyr gone. The gain so much more value.
But to be honest, fire emblem does it a bit too painful.
You have a headcount limit of active party members. You cant switch around your team constantly because of the increasing difficulty curve, so best units only. That leaves some class doubles on the sideline. If, by some accident, your good character dies, you have to switch him out with the poor one you never used before which leaves you at a very disadvantageous position, maybe even break the game for you.
There is a very thin line between enjoyable perma death and the one, that is just too stressful to bear for anything but a hardcore player.



jon_simmons said:

My main complaint about recent Mario games is how plentiful extra lives are. It definitely takes away some of the difficulty and I play the new ones not as carefully as I play the classic Mario games. The permadeath in ZombiU forces a person to play better and smarter.



TeeJay said:

I haven't yet experienced a game that features permadeath. My area finally started selling eShop cards (at double the price) and it was a toss up between Ocarina of Time 3D and Fire Emblem: Awakening. Despite knowing the game inside-out and having repurchased it numerous times, I couldn't help but get OoT...again. So happy to own it again, but I really hope to play FE:A sometime soon. A Link between Worlds comes first, though. Yeesh, my wallet...



Kaze_Memaryu said:

@Einherjar This, very much.
But on the other hand, the permadeath handling of Fire Emblem makes it more emotional as well, since the player is partly responsible for the ending of the game (when they conclude each characters life). So, in a sense, this is cruel on purpose. And while some players get discouraged with Fire Emblem when their best member dies, others will then understand that you actually ARE responsible for all their action, even if they only happen within a game. When that happened to me (in Sacred Stones, that is), I instantly restarted the chapter, but still couldn't beat it. So I made a new file and trained everyone well enough to survive on the battlefield.
That's the whole appeal to Fire Emblem (to me, at least). You either have to start from scratch or accept the consequences of mistakes/one-sidedtraining/ bad planning.



Jayvir said:

Permadeath is really the only challenge these days. I like that games like FE allow you to bypass it completely. Just knowing you can't screw up makes it all that more rewarding when you finally finish it. Just like when ARPGs like Path of Exile have Hardcore leagues and you have characters that die off all the time. It's disheartening but you learn more and more about it and get better



Geonjaha said:

No. I love games using permadeath. It raises the stakes and the tension which just makes the experience so much more enjoyable and engaging, and that's part of the reason Fire Emblem: Awakening is now one of my favourite games (especially considering it uses permadeath in the best way; not just making you start over from the beginning).

It's also the reason why I'd never reset the game after any mistake. Honestly, if you're someone who resets the game when you lose someone you like you obviously dont understand the concept of permadeath, and you might as well play Newcomer to save yourself the resetting time.



Nintenjoe64 said:

I think the whole concept of permadeath needs to be fully explored by more games than tactical RPGs and horror.
I think they should put it in Battalion Wars 3 (the gamepad really needs a squad based tactical strategy shooter type thing). The permadeath aspect of 'Cannon Fodder' was one of the reasons I kept replaying it, trying to not lose a single soldier..



SkywardLink98 said:

Awakening was my first Fire Emblem game and I played permadeath. Of course I reset a lot, of course
I'd like to see a tactical game like Fire Emblem, but where soldiers can be replaced easily. The catch is they start at level one and all equipment is lost. That would add tactical risks, e.g. "should I let the enemy kill him to get the other guy in the right spot for taking? Is it worth the cost to get another one of him?" In Fire Emblem I never came across cold calculating moments like that, and I played solely defensively.



SkywardCrowbar said:

ZombiU 2 is what I want more than any other game other than a new Metroid Prime game... Blasted poor sales preventing me from getting my sequel!!!



banacheck said:

Cannot wait for Dark Souls2, had to say that sorry as this article reminds me how meny modern games are far to easy. So i welcome games like Demon's Souls/Dark Souls, ZombiU was good too and how thay implanted permadeath by replacing your character. But you could go back to get your stuff back from your last character, i would like too see a ZombiU2 also ashame.



Gerbwmu said:

Permadeath is one of the reasons I love Fire Emblem.....Adds to the difficulty and makes it, to me, a much more enjoyable game series. I guess I need to look into Zombie U as well.....I've heard that it is a very good game and I enjoy challenges.



Einherjar said:

@Kaze_Memaryu Basicly your right. The problem i have with such a system is, that it pretty much forces you to save scum once in a while. If youre playing it for the first time, you have no idea whats comming up. You get ambushed left and right and sometimes, simply have no way to prevent your best units to bite the dust. And like i said, depending on which units die, this could very well break your game to the point, trhat you have no other option than to reload your game and plan ahead. When you ask me, this trial and error concept is the bane of immersion, and thats a pretty steep contrast to the emotional bond you are supposed to develop by having to take so much care about every single unit you have.
What would make such a system a little bit easier:
Have a hidden "life line" Say, you loose many of your best units, some vital for the rest of the game. If the developer knows that, they could implement a system that either:

  • Lets the same job class character sitting on the bank magically catch up by an artificial plot event "Archer XY told me anything i know, i will avenge him" and plop your other archer gets a boost in levels roughly compareable to the one you lost just so you dont hit a road block.
  • If a unit is essential (a battle coming up full of enemys resisten against physical attacks) and you lost it in the battle before, this invisible life line could kick in and say that "he / she could be saved in the last minute from the battlefield, and is taking a rest to be prepared for the next battle"

Dont get me wrong, fire emblem as it is has such a strong and dedicated fanbase, that it is probably me who cant play the game right and there is nothing really wrong with the game itself But systems like that would prevent an unknowing player from ruining his file but still beeing able to live with the eventual consequences, less likely to just reload because he lost an incredibly important character.
As for the endings, you could fill that with some sort of bitter sweetness. Just say that a character, previously "wounded" died in the aftermath of the war / battle. That way, you take them out of the epilogue like if they had simply died in battle, without throwing stones in front of the players enjoyment of the general gameplay.

Again, this is not meant to be a "they must change it, otherwise its bad" rant, its just my take on the whole concept.
ZombieU did a really great job by the way. Death was a penalty. You had a pretty hard time afterwards BUT you could catch up pretty fast and simply continue where you left off. That way, you both felt the consequences and could play on without hinderance.



DreamyViridi said:

@Einherjar has it right. Permadeath can be alright but it's what put me off the Fire Emblem franchise when I first played Scared Stones. "Oh great, I lost [insert name here]. Now I have to restart / now I'm screwed". Awakening came along giving me casual mode and I fell in love with the game and its characters. So I'm thankful that I don't have to restart due to an unlucky 34% hit, 2% crit KO, causing me to lose someone I care about when it wasn't my fault...



Doma said:

The influence of modern Nintendo is pretty saddening. It's a pity IS were pushed to dumb it down in so many ways.

The biggest issue with Awakening for me was being allowed/forced to grind on those time wasting sub-maps. Ruined the experience towards the end. The dual-up and kid features were horrible too (you can, but the enemies can't?... BS). This is why it doesn't even come close to competing with the best in the series, which you can playthrough without encountering such pointless filler.



marck13 said:

I like both games a lot and am very much looking forward for the Fire Emblem title on the Wii U!!
And then Zombi U.. we might not see a precise sequel, that´s very sad.
Zombi U is genius and horrifiying! I love it still it sometimes scares me and I catch myself barely breathing ..not to attract more zombies..



B-Squared said:

Still haven't gotten around to Zombi U yet (Have it but I'm no good with scary stuff ) but that whole approach to character death was why I got it.

Awakening was my first Fire Emblem game and I went Classic...and I feel I "understand" the game better that way. I still didn't like how, say, certain characters just "retire" though. For my Hard mode playthrough, I purposefully killed off any love interest of Chroms...and then Sully still came back and married him in the end. :/



retro_player_22 said:

Permadeath is one of the defining factor that makes Fire Emblem games so great. It makes your every move counts and your mistakes crucial not to mention makes you feel connected to the character that you build up to that point like Guy from Fire Emblem 7.



sevex said:

I just got ZombiU last night. I played a few hours and really enjoyed it. Such a tense, creepy game. People say the combat isn't enjoyable, but in a survival game, is combat supposed to be enjoyable?



Tender_Cutlet said:

Permadeath is my mode of choice when applicable. Achieving success through other means than just brute force I find far more rewarding.



unrandomsam said:

The pay to win DLC messes up the new Fire Emblem. (I wouldn't say I am that good at the 2 games I have but I don't reset if they die they die if I end up in a mess I start again. The next time I do better).



unrandomsam said:

I am more interested in when you have to become better so you cannot just get the best equipment or mindlessly grind to make it easier you have to become more skilled. (There again I am not bothered at something taking a few months to properly get into).



Einherjar said:

@DreamyViridi "when it wasnt my fault" thats exactly the point. Dont get me wrong, twists and turns, ambushes and leaving / joining partymembers mid battle can create a really fun and challenging scenario, but it also causes some "not my fault" moments. And when you permanently loose someone to circumstances like that, its not a consequence to live with, its just punishment down the road of the game.

@unrandomsam It is. The character you were playing is permanently lost and your stuff is gone. You can get it back, but its not that easy. But the most important part is, that it is beleavable. You take imediet controll of another survivor in the same city at the same moment. Just because someone died doesnt mean that his belongings vanish. But you have to get there first and get your old backpack back, and all that with little to no recources.
You can just continue the game with a character from scratch or try to hunt down your former belongings. Either way, the character itself is lost forever, and maybe even your stuff if your unlucky enough.
Letting the equipment vanish with a playes death would just make this game much more of a hassle. Complete and mercyles perma death only work in games that can be played / finished in short bursts (roguelikes etc) but if you have to invest time into finishing a game, hindering the player by stripping away all his precious belongings saved up would just put up another roadblock.



theblackdragon said:

to be honest, the ability to avoid permadeath was the main reason i chose to take the plunge on a copy of FE:A in the first place, and i was very, very pleasantly surprised. I'd always avoided FE games due to the permadeath thing; i can't stand the thought of losing people but i don't have the time to invest in a 'perfect' run of any game. i hate having to repeat battles, and having to repeat them until everyone makes it out alive sounds more like a chore than fun to me.

i was very happy to see Awakening given the options it was, that way everyone — long-time fans and newbies like me — had the option to play the game however they felt it would be the most fun. I hope Awakening gets a sequel eventually, i'd love to play through another game like that :3



ultraraichu said:

Personally I'm not big on the concept of permadeath. It's kind of the reason I was put off from the Fire Emblem series until Awakening. With my OCD, I would restart the game every time I lose a character to the point I stop playing the game in general and move on to the next without completing it. I understand the thrill of it when it comes to planning and surviving, but that's out the window when the opponent have more luck than you. I can't stand to lose someone or something in a game.

Still haven't played my Zombi U yet since I got the Wii U Could be the permadeath, could be my dislike (not fear....) for zombies and zombie-like creatures, but one day I will play it.



Firejonie said:

I went newcomer mode on FE:A, since it's my first FE game, and I just dislike the concept of permanently losing a character.



nasachi said:

both Games Fire Emblem and ZombieU werde Great with an incredible challenge That makes Games like Dark Souls or Ninja Gaiden look like a piece of cake for casual gamer



Kaze_Memaryu said:

@Einherjar Gotta admit, that's absolutely right. I guess it really boils down to who can or can't deal with these 'surprises'. I can see how that's a bit too much for some players!
Nice insight, much appreciated!

@Amin_and_Azizah I hope so, but it's not too likely. ZombieU was a commercial failure, and Ubisoft already expressed their disappointment. I mean, a lot of people seemed to be hyped for the game, yet it didn't even sell well for a WiiU title. One hell of a shame.



Einherjar said:

@Kaze_Memaryu It was a bit too much for me at least Im not that big of a FE fan, or any other SRPG from them (Advance Wars for that matter) simply because if find them a bit to difficult for my taste.
In FE, its the importance to keep each and every unit alive and up to date, that gets me paranoid pretty fast Either i loose interest in playing or i get frustrated by constantly restarting, because that one unit didnt get the kill neccessary to advance to the next level to survive the next stage just because the random number generator didnt feel like letting me win.
In AW, i simply cannot manage unit deployment very well. Since each side can put out random units, i find it hard to come up with proper strategies to deploy the right amount of units at the right time. But thats a problem that lies entirely by me and not the game at all
Like i said, FE is a bit too stressfull for me, and the perma death tops it all off. One little slip up and you can bring your progress to a complete halt if you dont exactly know what youre doing (which i dont )
But i guess that these games dont have such a huge fanbase for no reason, and that part of the problem im having is simply my skill as the player. I can live with losing, i can even live with loosing a unit for good, but i find it hard to swallow that it is the RNG and certain unpredictable story events that determin if the rest of the game will be pure bliss or a simple chore because im missing that key unit the designers thought of when designing that stage, lengthening the playtime to get the bench sitters in shape not to be good, but to simply surivive.
But at the end of the day, it is a question of nerves, patience and taste, and i might lack a bit at the first two I like FE, but i never really gotten into one enough to finish it sadly. Its a love / hate relationship. Cant go with, cant go without it



Memeboy3 said:

@Doma You pretty much Hated everything That made FE:A awesome, I bet you only play CoD and halo.
Shut up 13yr old Sony fanboy.



Noboty said:

Fire Emblem : A did permanent death right by making it OPTIONAL. I don't like mermanent death as a feature. I don't like seeing all my progress go down the drain after a single mistake with no chance to recover it all, the main reason I avoid the "rogue-like" games. At least in Fire Emblem, I have the option to avoid it all, only using it when I feel that I am ready for it.



Jaz007 said:

I'm glad they put the newcomer option in, I already loves the series, but I chose to use it anyway because I thought I would enjoy the game more with it, I did play on hard mode to make up for the lost difficulty though. I think I'm enjoyi g the game more this, espcially since I always restarted the game when I lost someone before. One bad thing about permadeath is that it really limits the story in the games because they can't rely on characters to be around so a lot of characters can't improve the story like they could if permadeath wasn't there at all.



MAB said:

The users saying ZombiU isn't really permadeath obviously haven't played the Survival mode part of the story... You get one character and if he/she dies it's game over man



EaZy_T said:

FE:A is a great game, permadeath included.
I lost Sully & Virion in an early battle and actually felt a little bad about losing them. I just had to suck it up and carry on without them, lesson learned.



zool said:

I used the Newcomer mode. Because I would still have the Classic mode to play at a later date.
I gave up on Zombie Wii u after a few hours play. I only paid £10 for it in an Asda sale so it was not to bad.

A game should be fair to the average player. Fire Emblem is fair. I give up on more games than I ever finish. Some get to tough as you progress through the levels while others seem to get boring and I lose interest.

Another thing, and maybe I'm alone on this one, but why do almost all games have to have 'Bosses'. Ok some are easy, but if I don't complete a hard Boss after say 20/25 goes I stop playing the game.



Darkness3131 said:

Permadeath can be great. If executed properly. The first time I tried a fire emblem game, I didn't know there was permadeath. I decided to keep playing though and took it as a challenge. By the end you get so attached to characters that when they die (unless you press power and try to save them ) you actually feel like you lost something. I think this is a really good feature in these kinds of games. I respect newcomer mode too; its really good to just play the game and its always an option to switch over if you feel like it.



AutumnShantel said:

Even though I play alot of video games, I am, by no means, skilled. I have beaten all but Path of Radiance (because I never owned it, just borrowed it from a friend). When you set the game on "normal" it shouldn't be a turn-off to beginners. It's not that difficult of a game if you don't want it to be...



Shambo said:

ZombiU is one of my favourite survival horror games thanks to the constant -almost ACTUAL- fear of getting killed. Rarely has a game offered such tension. And in the few parts were you have to hurry guns blazing or defend against a horde of zombies, it gave actual adrenaline rushes, while the rest of the game was more slow and incredibly tense. Especially on the highest difficulty!

Leave A Comment

Hold on there, you need to login to post a comment...