Permadeath Doesn't Matter If You Have Enough Save Files

Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Image: Nintendo)

From XCOM to Fire Emblem, it feels bad to watch your team die in a tactical game. It’s way better to save a million times so that you can re-do part of a battle to keep everyone alive. On this week’s Kotaku Splitscreen, Kirk and I brought on Gita Jackson to talk about Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which has a time travel mechanic that will make the game a lot less gruelling for players who can’t stand to let any of their fighters fall.

First, Kirk and I talk about games we’re playing. In my case, it’s tabletop games like Skull, as well as more Outer Wilds and the perfect anxiety antidote, House Flipper. Kirk’s playing Betrayal Legacy with his tabletop group, and he’s also back on Dishonored: Death of the Outsider.

Next, we bring Gita on (34:28) to discuss Fire Emblem: Three Houses, which she’s playing for a review next week. We also discussed her article “The Video Games That Made People Question Their Beliefs.” Finally, we get into off-topic discussion (1:10:37) about the podcast Criminal, Veronica Mars, and Kirk’s music pick of the week.

Get the MP3 here, or read an excerpt below.

Kirk: There’s been permadeath in [Fire Emblem] games in the past. Is there permadeath? There’s like a rewind button? Tell me about this.

Gita: I’m playing on normal difficulty, and I’m actually finding it a little bit too easy. I’m playing on classic mode, because in my first go-round, I just wanted to make sure that I met all of the characters—

Kirk: So, normal difficulty is just how hard enemies hit and how hard you hit them? Classic versus casual is whether there’s permadeath?

Gita: Yeah, exactly... If you are afraid of permadeath, this might be the game to try permadeath, because the Divine Pulse — which is the rewind thing — gives you a lot of leeway. So when you trigger the Divine Pulse, you can go as far backwards in time as you want to. You can go all the way back to the beginning of the battle if you wanted to. And while you only start out with two uses, there is a way to earn more uses later in the game. I now have four Divine Pulse uses.

Maddy: Per battle?

Gita: Per battle, yeah. That usually is enough for me to get out of a battle without losing a unit and not having to save scum. Basically, it’s made with enough depth for people who love Fire Emblem and who have played every game to still be entertained by it, but it also is really good for weenie little babies who are afraid of their children dying.

Kirk: Which is all of us, right? It’s a realist game design thing to do. I wonder if there are people out there — I’ve never met them — people who actually just go with permadeath and just let their characters die. I’m a relentless save scummer. In XCOM 2, I can’t handle it, even though I’m playing with permadeath on, and I could just turn it off. I don’t turn it off. I leave it on, and then I basically play as though it’s turned off, because I don’t let anybody die. So this is just for me. And for everybody. I feel like this is everybody. I don’t really feel like there are that many people out there. Maybe I’m wrong, maybe we’ll hear from listeners.

Gita: Most people that I talk to that have played permadeath say that they also are relentless save scummers. But I feel like the Divine Pulse was made for those people in mind, those people that can’t let anybody die. Because it does just give you carte blanche to go and have an entire do-over if you want. Sometimes the random number generation gods will bless you, and you’ll get a critical when you didn’t on a previous turn, and it’ll really change things for you in the battle. I also feel like it’s a really good tool for you to immediately learn from your mistakes.

I had an experience recently where I put a Pegasus Knight out in front because I thought she had enough HP to defend herself, but then she got attacked on both sides, and she completely ate shit. I was like, ok, Divine Pulse time. I want to figure out how to get through that little encounter without that Pegasus Knight dying, because I knew that she would be useful to defeat other enemies in another part of the map. So then, I actually did it four times. I used all of my Divine Pulses on just this one thing.

Kirk: Just to experiment?

Gita: To see what happens when I put my Fortress Knight out in front of her. What happens when I try to just leave her in the background and try to defeat these other characters that were coming for her. I’ve been trying a lot of Divine Pulse stuff with just taking riskier moves, just to see if I can pull them off. It teaches you — it’s learning by failure, but without the crushing confidence blow that actually failing can sometimes give you.


    I really don't understand the psychology of people who actively choose permadeath modes and then do everything they can to not actually have any permadeath. Just, not have permadeath mode on then you can experiment and learn from failure without fear of losing time as much as you want.

      Think about the XCOM example - with permadeath off you can just keep plowing through despite your mistake. With permadeath on but save scumming you are forced to find a solution but never at risk of actually losing a unit.

        Whether you have permadeath on or off has exactly the same impact within a mission, you are forced to complete it with one less unit if they die/become incapacitated and have to adjust your strategy accordingly. You can still save scum and get them back and try to finish with everyone if you want too. In fact a mission may become impossible if you lose certain units.

        The difference between choosing to play with permadeath on or off though is the global impact of having less units, or less powerful units available in future. It's about the long term strategy and by choosing permadeath mode you're saying you want to accept the consequences of mistakes. If you're just going to save scum everything away then there's no difference to playing with permadeath off.

    If you can't deal with the permadeath, go play advance wars instead?

    The next Watchdogs permadeath might be interesting cause they used a checkpoint system and not a save system in previous versions. So assuming the playable character dies is an auto-save checkpoint then thats going to be fun.

    The trick is to name all of your characters after historical figures, that's what I do with Xcom ironman.

    If either one of my snipers (Socrates and Napoleon) gets taken out it's shrugs all around.

    I admit that I save scum but it's not something I always do and in fact i probably do so more now than ever before.

    Back in ye early days in Diablo 2 I played Hardcore Ladder where my character was stored by Blizz. I had a lv 97 Necromancer that eventually died in a shitty mistake. Also when playing Baldurs Gate I never save scummed a gibbed character (death to a critical hit).

    I don't know why I really started doing it but I think it's to do with ultimately saving time or resources (don't have to retrain units or level up from scratch while potentially brute forcing an encounter). I should play games as intended more... you play smarter and feel better when things go right even if it's a little slower

    I played the last Fire Emblem with permadeath and not save scumming.

    Man, that is some emotional shit. Definitely gave me a new gaming experience and made the game a lot more weight. Highly recommend it.

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