Press Start

Video game news, reviews and commentary with Gazette reporter Jake Magee.

Press Start: Perma-death is the best way to enjoy strategy games

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Jake Magee
Wednesday, July 20, 2016

I'm not the biggest fan of strategy games. Like everyone else, I've played “Warcraft III” and “XCOM: Enemy Unknown” and had some fun with them, but their slower pace and penchant for methodical decision-making puts me off.

But I found a way to play them that makes them so much more enjoyable and rewarding: by making deaths permanent.

In most strategy games I've played, players control several characters at a time, deciding where they'll go and what they'll do during battle. One wrong move spells death for any given character, but in most strategy games I've experienced, that's not a big deal because the character will magically revive at the end of a battle. Several players prefer this because the last thing they want is to sink a bunch of time and resources into a character only to have it die after one wrong move or unlucky attack.

But I find when characters die permanently, strategy games become much more fun and rewarding to play.

A couple of weeks ago, I picked up “Fire Emblem Awakening,” a fantasy strategy game I got for Christmas years ago and never got around to playing. After choosing the standard difficulty setting, I was given another choice: I could either play “casual mode,” where fallen units return, or “classic mode,” where dead fighters don't return and “each decision counts.”

It didn't take much thought for me to choose the latter.

Near the beginning of the game, as I was still getting my bearings and learning strategies, I lost quite a few low-level characters to my unrelenting enemy. These were characters with names and dialog and relationships with other characters. Watching one die wasn't like losing some faceless pawn from my army; these were personable characters whom I'd started growing attached to.

And I loved it. I was so much more immersed in the game because I knew, in the end, it was my fault if someone I cared about died. War isn't fair, so why shouldn't a strategy game based around such a theme be any different?

Losing characters to bad luck or, worse yet, stupid mistakes sucked, but it changed the way I played. As I got better at the game, I started prioritizing defense over headlong rushes into combat. I know if death wasn't a permanent consequence, I would be a lot more brash and risky in how I play “Fire Emblem Awakening.”

I'm almost 20 hours into the game and haven't lost a character in several battles. Those who remain, especially those I've had since the game's opening battle, are incredibly strong and so attached to other characters that they're an unstoppable force when working in tandem. Some of them are even married to each other and have had children together. It would sting to lose one now. That thought makes the strategy component of “Fire Emblem Awakening” that much more consequential and, in turn, enjoyable.

It's not for everyone, I know. It's probably possible to do so poorly in a battle and lose enough characters to make progressing to the next fight impossible. Such a thought is off-putting to plenty of gamers who prefer a more laid-back experience.

But if you find yourself playing a strategy game in the near future, consider giving the perma-death option a shot. You might be surprised by how much more enjoyable it becomes when you add in a sprinkle of realism.

Video game columnist Jake Magee has been with GazetteXtra since 2014. His opinion is not necessarily that of Gazette management. Let him know what you think by emailing jmagee@gazettextra.com, leaving a comment below, or following @jakemmagee on Twitter.

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