Nintendo and developer intelligent Systems have not released a new game in the Advance Wars series since the release of Days of Ruin on the DS in 2008. Fans of the series have been clamoring for another release ever since. In that time, however, another of their franchises has risen in popularity, namely the Fire Emblem series. It’s gone from a curiosity and a niche title to something people have been genuinely excited about when new games are announced. There have been four new titles released in that series since then, a mobile game, a crossover RPG with Atlus, and two more games upcoming, including a collaboration with Koei Tecmo.
Speaking with Eurogamer recently, the producer of the Advance Wars series of games from Intelligent Systems spoke about why the company has been having a problem reviving the franchise. According to him it’s a popular gameplay mechanic of the Fire Emblem series, namely the relationship mechanic that is keeping them from making a new “modern war” strategy game.
In the Fire Emblem series characters who spend time together on the battlefield can build relationships with each other. They can benefit from maintaining those relationships by fighter better together in battle. The more the two characters like each other, the stronger they become when fighting side by side. If those relationships blossom enough it could lead to marriage between the two and even offspring being born and able to fight alongside their parents.
It’s a feature that many fans of the series love to play around with. I’ve played through some games a couple times trying out different relationship combinations to see what happens. It’s interesting to see the what if scenarios play out in front of you.
However, even Intelligent Systems themselves don’t necessarily feel every game in the series has to have it. The most recent release on 3DS, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia doesn’t include this feature. Characters can have conversations with each other on the battlefield and those relationships do build up over time and that’s reflected by a rating (just as in previous games), but those ratings don’t mean anything to the game itself and no characters get a bonus when fighting next to someone else.
It could be argued that because the game is a remake that’s why it wasn’t included so as to keep the game as faithful to the original Famicom release as possible. I think, however that if the company really wanted that to be a heavy feature of the game it would have been included in some meaningful way with this release.
Advance Wars doesn’t really need that aspect to be successful and I think it could be harmed by including it. The two series are both strategy games at their core, but aside from being in the same genre they’re really not that similar at all. The units in Fire Emblem represent one character and are represented one to one on the battlefield. If you select the sprite that looks like Lucina you’re controlling Lucina at that moment. In Advance Wars that’s not necessarily the case. Each sprite on the map represents a unit of troops that work together as one. So even if there’s only one gunner on the map you’re actually controlling up to 10 or so troops at one time. It’s kind of hard to build relationships with units of troops the same way it is two characters who are talking to each other and interacting with each other.
Advance Wars is a much more abstract representation of battle when compared to Fire Emblem. Fans of that series don’t necessarily need every unit commander to interact with every other one and build relationships with them so they’ll fight better. What they want is a solid strategy experience that tells a fantastic story.
Real world troops will tell you that the people they fight alongside are like their brothers and sisters. They build solid, life-long bonds with those other members of their unit. Advance Wars could do that, but it would have to be on a much more abstract level. You couldn’t really simulate that in the same way you do relationships the way they’re done in Fire Emblem it just wouldn’t work.
There are releases in the series that it could work better on. Battalion Wars breaks combat down to a much smaller scale where you see individual troops and could build those relationships in ways that Fire Emblem does. Advance Wars just doesn’t need that. Keep the game abstract. Let people feel like they’re in controls of a hundred troopers that they’re moving around on a map.
People want another game like Advance Wars so much that third parties are stepping in to fill that void. Later this year there will be a game that feels identical in nature to Advance Wars released on Switch. It’s called Wargroove and really could be a mash-up of Intelligent Systems two most famous franchises.
Fire Emblem has had it’s day in the sun. Now it’s time for Advance Wars to shine once again. Please Nintendo. Please Intelligent Systems. Please Mr. Yamagami give us another Advance Wars game. Don’t let the relationship mechanic be the thing that holds the franchise down. Keep them separate. Let them have their own identities. Don’t change one simply because another has become so popular. People like them both and there is a place in the market for both. Not every game needs to feel identical to another to be successful. That’s why people have liked your franchises for so long.