Fire Emblem Warriors & the Question of Camilla

IMPORTANT NOTE: This was originally written for a Christian magazine's game review section. In the end, I didn't feel that it was a right fit for the publication, but still had some interesting ideas I thought were worth reading. So please understand that this was originally written for a Christian audience, from my own perspective as a person of faith. 

Fire Emblem Warriors is a hack and slash battle game where you control powerful characters as they blow through literally thousands of enemies on winding maps and battlefields. Each level is presented as a battle in the story, two armies fighting for control of a multitude of little “forts” that dot the map. Move your fighter to a small area, smack away at the soldiers and fort boss, turn control from their army to yours, and move on. If it sounds repetitive, that’s because it is - but please don’t get me wrong. It’s also a lot of fun.

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While these grand army battle style games all tend to be made by the same company and fall into the very specific genre of “misou” games, marrying this style to the Fire Emblem franchise brings in unique complications that add a lot of surprising strategy to a simple game.

Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising at all. If you’re unfamiliar, the Fire Emblem series is a long standing one, in which you move several individual or paired units across a chess-like grid eliminating enemies one at a time. It’s a patient game, much of the combat based on a “weapons triangle”, where your three main weapon types work in a rock-paper-scissors system against each other. Swords over axes, axes over lances, lances over swords. Most Fire Emblem games also let you pair your units, allowing them buffs and additional attack power, as well as raising their “relationship level”, allowing some characters to even marry one another for even more combat benefits.

Whereas Fire Emblem uses these systems in a very methodical turn-based combat structure, most of the transfer in unique and challenging ways in Fire Emblem Warriors.

A huge part of one map may be filled with axe wielding enemies or bosses. Well it would be foolish to deploy your lance hero over there, you should probably use someone with an advantage. So before you even begin, it’s best to make sure that one of the four playable characters you can choose (from over 20 characters, even more if you purchase the DLC) have strengths against the enemies on the map. Swap between the four of them on the fly to fight them enemy yourself, or stick with one and direct the others to specific locations and specific tasks in the pause menu.

Fire Emblem Warriors can be tedious, at times too easy, at times too difficult. I played a ton of it in its first month of release, then dropped it cold turkey for almost five months. I was suddenly inspired to take it up again when I saw they had released their final package of additional content and was immediately absorbed into it again. It’s a fickle game, really, that in my opinion plays best when you set it to your rules over its own, which is where having an easily adjusted difficulty setting is one of the best features. If it hits you right, it hits you right. And if you are like me and have any affection for the Fire Emblem franchise, it can be an absolute joy to play at times. There is tons of content here, though much of it similar to the rest. But it’s still fun content, and really demands very little of the player. As a busy adult, that’s something I can get behind.

But all of that aside, there is a very large elephant in the room. I want to talk about Camilla.

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The Fire Emblem franchise fits in an odd corner of the Nintendo canon. While most of Nintendo’s mainline properties star exaggerated and cartoony characters, think Mario and Yoshi, Fire Emblem is a rather standard “anime” style series with more realistically proportioned human characters than other games. It’s a nice addition to the overall roster, but also has served as a sort of niche way for Nintendo to work in what many call “fan-service”; creating and designing many of their female characters (some male, but mostly female) in an exaggeratedly sexual manner, with almost hilariously inappropriate outfits. One character wears what is essentially a nylon body suit, as though her entire outfit were a pair of panty hose, accented with visable underwear and gold jewelry.

Another - and the most prominent - is Camilla. She’s a powerhouse, one of the most effective and entertaining characters in the game. Perhaps six feet tall and flying in on a small dragon and swinging a giant axe, Camilla has the combat ability and the fun and sassy attitude of someone you would want to spend time with in this game, she was almost always in my top four on the battlefield. Camilla is also dressed in armor that is cut low across her broad chest in a revealing corset, and despite it being made of some sort of black steel, somehow bounces and sways with the slightest movement. Her pants, for no discernable reason, are basically cowboy style chaps, leaving most of her pelvis exposed for clear viewing of her bikini-bottom underwear.

Why? Why do that? I mean look, we all know why. In our current culture, as we finally begin the long and hard work of finally addressing how our culture sees women, Camilla offers a bizarre case study of “sexy female characters” in video games, especially in consideration of character agency.

Camilla herself offers no real sexual interest in anyone, as far as I can tell, and only seems focused on impressing her beloved sister Corrin (Corrin can also be a male brother, but I always chose to play with the sister. Either way, they are always siblings). It’s a really wonderful touch. But if that is the case, why is she dressed this way?

Let’s stop again and look at it through a social lens, then again myself as a Christian. There is a strong argument for women in the world to be allowed to dress as they want to dress, an argument that I agree with. So it would be easy to write this off as “well Camilla wants to wear that.” The main difference, obviously, is that Camilla is not a sentient woman who can make her own choices. And when we consider the earlier point that Camilla has no other intent than impressing her sister, it becomes embarrassingly obvious that Camilla is a fictional character who was designed and drawn a certain way to please the player gazing at her. No one in her world is benefitting from her appearance, and she doesn’t even seem to take pleasure in it herself. (An important note: Camilla also appears in two other Fire Emblem games, two halves of the same story. In those games the player can create a romantic connection between her and several other characters, marrying them off and having a child. So it’s a fair argument that Camilla IS attracted to someone in her history as a character, but not specifically in Fire Emblem Warriors)

This relationship between her, the other characters and the fourth wall is only complicated by her end of battle animation sequence. At the end of a successful fight, your most used character will have a little cinematic where they look to the camera and say something pithy, inspiring, or some other little character touch. “Only through friendship and teamwork will we prevail!” is the sort of message you’ll get. But when Camilla has her moment, she walks towards the camera, looking directly at us. The camera, however, is trained on her chest. She then leans forward, reaches out as to grab our chin and says, “Sorry, darling, but my eyes are up here,” as she tilts the camera upwards to her face. Having played through the entire story, I have not found any other character that is drawn to Camilla, who lusts after Camilla, or has any affection towards Camilla that isn’t from immediate family members. The implication is clear: her appearance is for the player to enjoy.

She may playfully chide you, because that’s part of the fun of her personality. She frequently portrays herself as naive, but winks her self awareness to us and to the other characters in a way that suggests serious self-confidence. But she is dressed the way she is to titillate, to please no one but the person holding the controller. Perhaps we’ve already put fault on her in this situation. She is not dressed, no - she has been dressed by someone else to please the player.

But while Camilla is dressed in a specific way in a fictional world, we can pull a real world lesson from her appearance, and from her clothing in contrast to her actual figure. Camilla is obviously a designed character, meaning her body isn’t something she was born with, but something drawn by an artist, but it still invites discussion to parallels in the real world. The easy assumption is that Camilla was given the specific proportions she has to serve the notion of sexual appeal. There are, however, real women in the real world who are built in a similar way to Camilla. Not exactly, obviously, it may not be physically possible, but they have similar physical features, and unlike Camilla, they were not given those features by an artist. Those are their natural bodies. Are these women not allowed to exist in a video game like this because they are simply “too sexy”? Should the developers have intentionally omitted someone built this way because of OUR tendency to lust after bodies? Are we to keep characters like Camilla out of games simply because many people find her attractive, and attraction is dangerous?

Unfortunately society - and the church, tragically - is riddled with stories of women who are leered at, ostracized, scorned or scrutinized due to their appearance, but an appearance they cannot control. It’s bizarre but not impossible to imagine Camilla walking into a church on a Sunday morning wearing a well-fitted sweater and skirt and still getting judged simply for the way her body sits on her own skeleton. It’s happened before in our churches, and it will happen this Sunday, the next, and on in our world. We need to be aware of the bizarre expectations and judgements that we put on people - especially women - for how they look, frequently in ways that they cannot control or anticipate.

Let’s return to the game. Perhaps the easiest answer is to simply remove Camilla. Would removing her from the game have fixed the problematic situations that arise around her? Should Camilla be removed from our sinful gaze simply because of her figure? Well, should living women be removed from our environment because we cannot contain our lustful thoughts?

Thinking about this whole thing reminded me of a pivotal line in the movie Who Framed Roger Rabbit. Jessica Rabbit, Rodger’s voluptuous wife, is in conversation with the main character, a private eye. After accusing her of abusing her sexuality against others, Jessica offers up a stunning defense: “You don’t know how hard it is being a woman, looking the way that I do… I’m not bad, I’m just drawn that way!”

Camilla can’t help it, as a character. That’s who she is, that’s her body. There are women in the world who look like her. That is the lesson I believe that we should pull from this idea. And as Christians, we must admit that we often project our own sins onto people who have no control over our behavior. It’s the difference between saying: “How DARE she tempt me in such a way!” and “Am I unable to see someone as the person God created, knows, and loves? Am I trapping myself into focusing on someone based on my own attraction?”

This is, in the end, is still just a video game. Female characters are placed into this game with the express intent of drawing players in with their exploited sexuality. As characters, that is not their fault; therefore it is not a projection of our own shortcomings if we decide to remove those elements from our gaze. And while I could understand an argument that Camilla should simply never have been in this game, I would push against that. Removing a character because of their body type is a horrible thought. Should we demand our entertainment to be populated only with bodies we approve of for one reason or another? Certainly not. Her clothing, however, should have been reconsidered, and if it is a stumbling block for you, I recommend avoiding using her in your playthrough. Luckily, that is an easy option while playing this game - you can ignore using certain characters at all and still do fine, and you can CERTAINLY avoid many of the more revealing outfits provided these women. If it’s not an issue for you personally, play on! But we are all better off when we take into consideration how women who have no control over their appearance are put before us as consumers. It may sound rather silly to say about a game like this, but Fire Emblem Warriors has inadvertently given us a chance to discuss how we take in the real world, and to confront the idea that we may be projecting our own shortcomings on those who have no control over them.