FE7x: Immortal Sword's Introduction; or, How to Write a Narrative Hook for a Video Game

Jan 2022

Narrative hooks play a crucial role in keeping players new to a game interested and engaged. When you’re putting as much love and effort into a project as the developers of FE7x: Immortal Sword are with their work, you want to be sure that people stick around to enjoy what you’ve created. Let’s take a look at how Immortal Sword’s introduction does exactly this.

Immortal Sword is a fan production intended to serve as a prequel to Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, the seventh title in the games' main series. The introduction depicts the forging of the divine weapons by the heroes of the Scouring, a great war fought between humans and dragons about a thousand years before the main events of the game take place. These heroes are often alluded to in the main series titles that take place on the continent of Elibe, and returning players will likely recognize their names. However, the introduction (to its credit) chooses not to rely on this mere invocation of the familiar to propel itself forward. Dialogue does most of the work of providing context but always comes off as natural. Exposition is kept to a minimum: the characters do not awkwardly explain the world's lore to each other simply for the benefit of the player's understanding. Characterization and narrative tension are established and major philosophical questions concerning war and genocide are brought up for the player to consider. In terms of gameplay, the introduction-as-tutorial is brief and allows the player to discover intuitive controls on their own, though players are likely to have experience with Fire Emblem’s basic mechanics if they are booting up Immortal Sword. Since the introduction is brief, we can dive in a bit further.

Hartmut Yea, this is the place. It is here that we shall do the unspeakable, and gods have mercy on our souls.

Roland Is it truly unspeakable to thee, Hartmut? After the fields of fire, after the hollowings, after we had been driven from the lands of our birth with a stream of corpses in our wake…?

Hartmut I hear thee, Roland. Yet to do this? To use their hated magic to forge the tools of genocide?

Elimine To be used at our discretion, brother dearest. In the wielding of them we can mete out justice and mercy on either hand, but it is the threat of them that will serve our purpose. All we need do is demand, and the darastrix will cede back our lands and free our peoples. There will be much greater suffering if we never make them, and let this war end on their terms.

In these first few lines of dialogue, the player is faced with moral and ethical questions of considerable significance. Is anyone qualified to handle the responsibility of wielding weapons of mass destruction? Where is the line between self-defense and unjustified violence? Are the lives and the suffering of “our people” worth more than those of others?

Hartmut ...

Roland Walk the perimeter, gather thy thoughts. We will be behind thee, whatever thou decide.

The game gives the player control of Hartmut. Though the developers benefit from being able to make the reasonable assumption that a player is familiar with the controls due to past exposure to Fire Emblem titles, everything is straightforward—no one is going to get stuck here, and hand-holding beyond simply suggesting that you ought to move Hartmut around the map is not necessary.

Melios Hartmut! Do not forget thee thy sword! It is sure that they will hunt us even here. Thou should not be so foolish.

Hartmut I give thanks, Melios. I did not realize that I was so preoccupied.

The game indicates a point of interest, a forest in the map’s northwest corner. A dragon appears and the player navigates Hartmut to engage it in combat.

Hartmut I am no match for the beast on mine own… Melios! Assist me!

Melios I shall deal the beast a mighty blow!

<Melios attacks and Hartmut defeats the dragon>

Melios And may thy soul burn forever in the void between worlds!

Hartmut Well struck, brother.

Melios I am no brother of thine. Thou art wounded fierce, Hartmut. Take thee this remedy.

Some tension is established between Hartmut and Melios, which curious players would have caught by reading the description the game provides of Melios in the menus: A bandit lord who swore to the cause in return for his life. Having been pressed into service under threat of death, Melios does not see his relationship with Hartmut as one of brotherhood, but he does care for his well-being in the context of the grave danger they have both just faced.

Elimine Bramimond says the ritual is complete.

Roland And more darastrix will follow. Thou have no time to think this over, after all. A choice must be made, and now.

Hartmut has almost just died fighting off a fire-breathing dragon’s surprise attack. Full of adrenaline and without space to contemplate what he is about to do, Roland asks him to make the decision to “forge the tools of genocide,” in Hartmut’s own words.

Hartmut What we do, we do so that our children shall be born free and unafraid in a world that is theirs for the walking. Had we not been pushed to this…

Roland We were, Hartmut. Our hand was forced.

Hartmut Then let it be done. I shall not have it said that I watched idly by while I forced my companions to debase themselves. I will forge the first of the weapons. It shall be the vanguard, the avenger, the first to strike and the summoner of the storm. It shall be a blinding beacon of power, alive with the spirit and will of humanity. If it should come, I would use it to bury them all.

Great atrocities are often justified through the invocation of past harms that were not redressed. By claiming they had no choice, Hartmut abdicates himself and his allies of any responsibility for the genocide they are about to commit. In fact, he now wholeheartedly embraces it.

Roland Aye! With such a power at our command…

Elimine Do not be so eager, little champion. Athos warns that such would be difficult to control. If used carelessly, it would surely bring devastation upon our own people.

Roland’s excitement at the prospect of “such a power” doesn’t inspire much confidence in his capacity for restraint. From history and experience, it’s also hard to believe that this power won’t be used carelessly—what happens after this Pandora’s box is opened?

Elimine We must devise a safeguard, I think.

Hartmut Surely the gods will not allow us to be undone so, do thou not agree? After all, what are these Divine Weapons if not tools of the gods?

Hartmut fails to understand the concept of irony.

Elimine The gods are beings of passion. They are often seduced by our struggles, and lay for us fates that are compelling and poetic, but ultimately tragic. In the chaos and rage of war… their powers would surely wreak only destruction. It is upon us to act in a way that would not bestir them into a furor. We must be noble in intent and in action, and take what cautions we can.

Hartmut Perhaps you are right, Elimine. I will speak with the wizards, and prepare a plan for if the worst happens.

Elimine Good. Then the time is now. Commune with the Immortal Forge and let our destinies be writ.

Hartmut Gods judge me kindly.

Hartmut forges Eckesachs, the sword wielded by Zephiel in Binding Blade and presumably this game's titular immortal sword. Beyond the introduction's compelling dialogue, the inclusion of old characters and weapons in a new adventure do make it exciting to play. We have often heard these names before, but something is off here: these aren’t the righteous heroes we were told about. In the main series, we are presented with a sanitized version of this history, one that assumes that the heroes knew that they were doing the right thing when they did it.

What Immortal Sword depicts instead is a group of people who are unsure of what their path forward should be. To resolve the conflict they find themselves in, they choose gruesome violence. Just what sort of people are these “heroes,” revered by their descendants for their off-the-cuff decision to wipe an entire race off the face of the continent? What historical processes take place between the Scouring and the game’s present time that make the veneration of these people possible?

Ultimately, Immortal Sword's introduction asks us to consider how a group of people, under conditions of duress, might come to contemplate and justify the act of genocide; it questions the uncritical portrayal and understanding of such people as “heroes” by the main series and perhaps even by ourselves; and, of course, it sets up the rest of the game, in which our protagonists must grapple with the consequences of the genocidal violence foundational to their society.

The best part is, the rest of the game is just as well written.

You can download FE7x: Immortal Sword over at the developer’s website.