During the last years of my Undergrad, I bought two used games (and no, this is not the beginnings of a creepypasta): Final Fantasy I and II and Fire Emblem. I got through the first part of Final Fantasy pretty easily and then the until part held no more interest for me. It was too simplified and hadn’t yet reached that point of complex plots, captivating character development, and entertaining gameplay. So then I started playing Fire Emblem Blazing Sword.
I have to say: I was astounded. Up until that point I’d never found a strategy RPG more captivating, more fun, more incredibly frustrating to the point of me throwing it across the room than Fire Emblem. Up until this point I’d thought that there were no other games aside from Final Fantasy that had that combination of complex characters and fun gameplay. But it was the characters and the extra content that intrigued me the most.
And so today, I am going to talk about a character that doesn’t get mentioned a lot in the game or anywhere outside of the Fire Emblem Wiki site. I am going to talk about Kishuna.
Who is Kishuna? And this where we get into a bit of spoiler territory. When you first run into Kishuna in Fire Emblem, he comes unannounced and unexpected. He is a red-robed being whose very thin and pale face is covered by a hood. Kishuna is accompanied by a group of very immensely powerful Morphs–mystically artificial beings that you encounter more and more as the game progresses–and they are hard to kill. Another thing you need to know about Kishuna himself is that he doesn’t attack you. No. But his mere presence–his aura–is powerful enough to neutralize all of your offensive and healing magic. So as long as you are in the blocks affected by his red aura, you can’t use your magic at all. He is called a “Magic Seal” for that reason.
So Kishuna–who is an enemy–arrives to mess up another enemy’s plans: the enemy you have to defeat. I can only conjecture that he is there out of pure spite: because he pretty much hates everyone for what happened to him. So, you can kill him with conventional weapons: however, he is very hard to hit and your speed and accuracy has to be exceptional to do so. If you do manage to kill him after some considerable effort in the protagonist Eliwood’s Chapter, he dies and that is the end of him. But if you are playing Hector’s Chapter, that is a whole other story: a whole other story indeed.
I won’t go into any more particulars about game-play requirements to do all of this. You can find all of this stuff pretty much here. As you come to the Nabata Desert, you see Kishuna again in an underground complex. The screen transitions into a flashback of a blurred naked spindly pale being in a magic circle standing in front of Nergal: the main antagonist of this game. Nergal created Kishuna as an experiment to see if he could make an alchemical being with emotions. The screen transitions back to Kishuna–surrounded by an army of his elite Morphs–and his only dialogue just as it was in the previous time you met him is, “…”
When you come to him here, you sense a lot of hostility and anger. But then if you beat him he seems to die again. If you are doing things properly, towards the end of the game you will encounter Kishuna one more time. He is in another set of underground ruins and he is having a flashback of Nergal coldly and callously rejecting him: telling him he was a mistake and that he should go and rot somewhere for all he cares. All Kishuna ever says as the flashback transitions away is, “…”
As you go towards him, you have a character in your group–the same one who sensed him earlier–who detects him again but also feels from him loneliness and intense sadness. After you kill his Morphs–and I always wondered where he got those Morphs from since he was a reject: I assume he either made them himself or they were more rejected Morphs from Nergal that he just gathered together in silent, resentful company beneath the bowels of the world–you have to kill him.
Your characters never learn Kishuna’s name or even know what he is. He never speaks. And at the end, when you finally kill him, it’s almost like he has just given up. It’s as though the failed Morph wants to die.
I don’t think I ever felt so … sorry for a fictional non-player character until this point. Imagine a being who was made as an experiment–with feelings–who is abandoned and then meditates on his creator’s abandonment of him for what seems to be centuries. Each flashback and transition shows this sprite meditating on the futility and loneliness of his existence. But that is only one aspect of the tragedy of Kishuna.
You see, assuming you did everything right game mechanics-wise, by encountering Kishuna in these ways you also unlock Nergal’s back story. You find out more about the Dark Druid: that he really had been a good man once and the road to hell for him had been paved with good intentions. In that first flashback with him and Kishuna, Nergal seems less hostile towards his creation–having just made him then–and seems more intrigued by his existence. He says something to the effect of, “It is said that man was sculpted by the hands of the gods. If so, then you, who was sculpted by these, my hands …And I, whose labours gave you breath and life… What are we then? What does that make us? In your fabricated heart, which I gave unto you, what is it you believe Kishuna?”
It is almost as though Nergal made him to appeal and examine feelings he cannot–or will not–examine in himself anymore. But I think what is even more telling than his creation of Kishuna is his violent renunciation of him. When he calls Kishuna–one of his earliest experiments–weak, a pale imitation, and worthless he isn’t so much calling Kishuna that as he is referring to the last of his lost humanity. And I think that is the saddest thing of all: that the tragedy of Kishuna isn’t just his existence, but how he represents Nergal’s double: as the dregs of humanity that the Dark Druid ultimately rejects. When Nergal talks to Kishuna–like any artist or creator–he is really talking to himself.
Some people might say to me that I’m reading too much into this: that this is just a video game and has no more value beyond simple entertainment. But a video game is a medium for storytelling. In many ways, video games–such as role-playing games–are a lot like interactive silent movies with dialogue and mimed movements of characters. The fact that with these sprites and words the creators of this game managed to convey such nuance and depth of emotion and character is a tremendous feat of creativity.
I’ll also tell you something a little more personal. I started playing–and continued to play–Fire Emblem in my last years of Undergrad because I’d had a really difficult breakup: my first one. So I engrossed myself into this game. I immersed myself into that world that wasn’t my own. I got attached to characters and situations there. In some ways I felt like I was doing more in that world than in mine. I know how that sounds, but that is also how–to some extent–it was.
What I really liked about this game is that it makes you into a character. You are a tactician and you can name yourself. Your characters refer to you and ask you for advice. When I first met Lyn, the Sacae plains-woman and master swordswoman, she–to an extent–began to feel like the friends I felt I didn’t have in reality anymore. But when I ran into Nergal, he reminded me of all the mistakes I made and just how far from my goal I became. And with Kishuna, I emphasized with what it felt like to feel abandoned and left filled with rage and sorrow.
If a game can do that, it is a good game and–as far as I am concerned–an excellent art-form. So here is my tribute to Fire Emblem and Kishuna: perhaps an under-appreciated but an ultimately very important and human character.