Multiple Versions: Archaic Mechanic or Useful Expansion?

Since picking up Pokemon Sun for my trip next week, I started thinking about how some game companies still do multiple versions of a single game. I felt the need to dig into this and to further explore if this system is something archaic or something that is still necessary.

As an Archaic Mechanic

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Perhaps the biggest criticism one can make about games with multiple versions is that they’re no different than the board game example I linked above: The same game sporting one-or-two unique features and a handful of cosmetic fluff that doesn’t warrant the price tag of an entirely new game.

Pokemon in particular is pretty bad with this; When you consider the differences between Sun and Moon, the most you can attest is that there are a handful of different pokemon in each. Sure, there are some mechanical nuances such as starter gender or otherwise, but the games are fundamentally the same.There are rarely unique mechanics that you can find in either that don’t carry over.

To further exacerbate this issue, these games are often sold at the same price. Meaning that sometimes if you want to catch an extra ten pokemon to complete your pokedex, you need to either find someone to trade with or drop another forty on the same game. It’s no fun to have to buy the same game twice for minute differences…

As a Useful Expansion

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When done correctly, different versions can serve as impressive expansions or differences that make the two games truly unique, even if they use the same mechanics. The perfect example would be the two fire emblem games. Despite having the same mechanics, each path is radically different.

Conquest is the more traditional, harder route. Tough maps, limited gold/experience and overall more traditional fantasy units. Birthright features easier maps, the ability to grind and units inspired by the nation of Hoshido, which in turn is heavily inspired by ancient Japan. These two games, while similar, offer radically different paths and gameplay despite using the same core gameplay.

But most importantly: The other edition won’t set you back by much. Each additional story path (including a third not pictured) will set you back only a fraction of the cost of the core game. Meaning that your initial purchase can remain your initial purchase. Any content you miss out on is merely an entirely different game with different rules, maps and units that you have to work with.

Earnestly, it strikes the feelings of an old RTS expansion pack: Additional content at a reduced price that radically changes the game.

My Take

In earnest, there are things you can’t really replicate. The necessity multiple versions creates where you have to find friends to trade and communicate with. The requirement that you’re going to have to step out of your game to finish everything, if you’re a completion. The need to check a list before your buy one version in case you’re missing something important only one copy provides.

When done well? I think it’s fantastic. But I do think that most versions these days are not really worth keeping around. Doubly so when games like Pokemon often create a third, “best” version that has everything you missed from the opposite version and more. Versions and editions are not something conducive to gameplay anymore, something that we don’t truly need to worry over.

While I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for these games, take the two versions and slap them together. I’d feel far more confident buying “Pokemon: Eclipse” than I would buying either Sun or Moon.

How “Unhappy Reunion” in Fire Emblem: Conquest exemplifies the entire series.

Picking up Fates again after a long hiatus, I discovered something. In replaying the map “Unhappy Reunion”, I came to realize just how this single map compresses every aspect of Fire Emblem into a single map. Be warned: There are VERY slight spoilers but don’t worry too much. It’s only chapter ten so there won’t be any shocking reveals here.

The Premise

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“Unhappy Reunion” takes place in chapter ten of Fire Emblem: Conquest. In this map, you’re leaving to meet the rainbow sage before you encounter your blood brother, Takumi. As it turns out, he’s more than a bit upset that you sided with Nohr over your kingdom of birth. You’ll have to hold out and defend the town until backup arrives or else risk losing a valuable port town to Hoshido.

The map itself is a bunker-style map. Takumi sits in the lower left corner, sending waves of his troops to assault you while your meager party of ten hold out against what seem to be overwhelming odds. That said, there are turrets which can change the tide…but that’s getting ahead of the real glory of the mission.

How the Mission Proceeds

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Up to this point, Conquest has been stingy with good units. From an unlucky champion of justice to an frail, smarmy mage, good units are at a premium. Along with that, experience has been low for Conquest so every kill counts. Likely at this point, the player has been relying on Corrin to get by. Further still, it doesn’t help that there are houses you can visit to gain valuable items like gold, a dracoshield and more. Even worse, your fastest units are Elise (who is made of paper) and Silas (a tanky knight). Things seem stacked against you.

That’s when this mission throws you the first (and only) bone: Camilla, Beruka and Selena appear to aid you. While Selena is another useful swordswoman, Beruka and Camilla are likely your first flying units. Camilla is also the first “godly” unit you get. A flying powerhouse known as a malig-knight, Camilla can easily tank scores of units provided you don’t send her suicide diving into her weakness of archers.

Yet as the mission progresses, things become more dire. The units keep coming as you struggle to hold out. Walls break and new paths are open. Perhaps the biggest “Oh shit” moment comes when Takumi taps a dragon vein, evaporating the water and making it even easier to assault your position. It’s a hard map, especially on harder difficulties and even more so when you try to get out without a casualty and with all the items.

Exemplifying Fire Emblem

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Fire Emblem is a game series about strategy, choice and sacrifice. It’s a series built around taking risks and maximizing resources so you can hope to make it past the later stages where the difficulty ramps up significantly. You’re often given a powerful unit early but one that degrades in value as a handful of good units often outweighs one god-tier unit. This is where “Unhappy Reunion” truly shines:

  • You have to make tough calls. Do you bumrush Takumi so he can’t tap the dragon vein or do you turtle up so it’s harder to get to the tiles?
  • You can’t rely on godly units. Corrin and Camilla might be amazing but you need your team to strengthen for later maps.
  • Planning requires thinking ahead several turns. Can Niles hit the pegasus units if they get close enough? Can Odin hold down a choke-point despite being a mage?
  • Risk-taking is rewarded. In a mode where gold and items count for everything, can you afford to miss the gold? More importantly, would losing Felicia be worth that item?
  • It’s hard. Even on the easiest mode, the game will kick you in the teeth if you make even a slight mistake. Enjoy losing Mozu to the wrong crit at the wrong time.

All in all, this single eleven turn map puts the entirety of Fire Emblem, a series spanning decades, into a single scenario. It tapped into everything about the series, good and bad, to create a great encounter. Tropes, commonalities and even overarching strategies all culminate in a single, really amazing fight against your blood brother.

Regardless of how much you like the series, one has to admire the quality and skill it took to put the entire series down into a single map.