Fire Emblem’s Demographic Catastrophe

Hector takes Lyn away. Lyn is a gifted swordfighter, and Hector is great with an axe.

I’ve been a fan of the Fire Emblem series of video games by Nintendo ever since my high school days, when I saw Marth and Roy kick ass in Super Smash Bros. Melee. Set in medieval-style worlds beset by evil conquerors and terrible dragons, the Fire Emblem series provides immense amounts of escapist fun for all who play it. It is a strategic game where you move your swordfighters, cavaliers, mages, and other fighters around on a grid like an elaborate game of chess and try to defeat the enemy force.

Right away, I noticed two things about it — a strong tendency to use human enemies as opposed to monsters, and a large prevalence of female fighters right from the very first game in the series.

Then I thought about it for a bit — and realized that if we looked at FE’s setting (doesn’t matter which game) realistically, it would suffer a serious demographic collapse due to lack of women.

Consider that most combat in FE is done with melee weapons and bows as opposed to firearms, tanks, and drones. These weapons require significant physical strength to wield, and men are, on average, stronger than women. To make matters worse, military forces are incentivized to have pegasus cavalry for air power — and in most of the games, pegasi can only be flown by women (Wyverns can be flown by either sex, but they are too heavy and likely require too much maintenance compared to pegasi, so only major powers can afford to field them.)

Such a large regiment of women is likely to get utterly decimated by any halfway competent armed force. Compounding the problem is the fact that most of these women will be in prime reproductive age. Also, noble houses have a habit of putting their women on the front lines, so noblemen would be short on women of acceptable station.

Since the female casualty rate would be so disproportionately high, this would result in a major dearth of women in any country that fielded so many females at once. Since the ratio would be so skewed, the population would go into a horrific downward spiral that would take at least two generations of peace to sort out. Unattached young men would cause a lot of trouble, since they would have literally zero chance of finding a wife to settle down with — this would stymie recovery efforts. Ultimately, there would be a situation where foreign women are kidnapped by unscrupulous men to provide brides for desperate bachelors just like in real-life China, only on a vastly larger scale since the country has to survive and the proportion of women is far lower. This would cause another war.

Seen from that point of view, massive ranks of badass pegasus knights don’t look so awesome anymore.

But of course, FE is a fantasy game. It does not need to abandon action girls at all because the game makes no pretenses at realism, and a surfeit of butt-kicking babes never stopped me from enjoying a game before and won’t stop me now. I just thought this would be a nice thought experiment; sometimes, it’s fun to peel back the layers of a franchise you like.

My novella Sword & Flower doesn’t have huge armies of women, but it does have a Japanese pop star teaming up with a Puritan swordsman to fight a demon who seeks godhood.

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