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June 5, 2017 / Jett

What Happened to Advance Wars?

Years before I knew what Fire Emblem was, I was a die-hard Advance Wars fan. Upon its original release on the Gameboy Advance in 2001, it opened my eyes to the wonderful world of turn-based strategy. Beyond being my first foray, it’s still one of my favourites.

The series would get three more sequels before Nintendo quietly stopped supporting the series in 2008. Meanwhile, its sibling game Fire Emblem has taken off to become a marquee Nintendo franchise. What happened to Advance Wars? And what can be done to bring it back?

Having been made by the same developers in roughly the same engine, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars have a ton in common. Both are turn-based strategy games that require careful planning and execution over twitch action. The point in which these franchises diverge I think is the key to how one franchise has blossomed while the other has collected dust.

Fire Emblem is a game about people. Your units are individual characters with real names and back stories. As you progress through the campaign, they are impacted by the events of the story on a level beyond the mechanics of the game. That said, they also improve in terms of their fighting ability, but they can also die permanent deaths. As gamers, it’s easy to get wrapped up in the lives of these heroes.

Advance Wars is a game about military units. Instead of Marth the knight, you’re managing nameless and faceless infantry, weapons and vehicles. They don’t improve or evolve over time. When they are destroyed, you simply pump more out from a factory. Yes, the main characters of the games have names and faces, but their presence is largely inconsequential to the action.

As gamers, it’s much easier to get invested into human characters that grow with you versus disposable military units. Trying to put myself into the shoes of developers at Intelligent Systems, it seems to be much easier to iterate on the former than the latter. So while Fire Emblem can go a million different ways with some tweaks to the story or the gameplay like Dungeons & Dragons, Advance Wars is boxed into a format that’s more similar to Chess, where the enjoyment relies entirely on one’s enjoyment of the mechanics.

How do you iterate on Chess? Many have tried, but nothing can really beat the original. Nintendo tried to iterate on Advance Wars mechanically, but it didn’t really do anything to move the needle in terms of success. When they finally decided to adopt a more serious tone with Days of Ruin, they ended up just alienating existing players while failing to grab a new audience.

Since then, Fire Emblem has excelled while Advance Wars lay dormant. Yes, having your characters make an appearance in Smash Bros. certainly helps the franchise gain exposure, but I think the series ultimately took off because it was much easier for players to invest in the stories of heroes overcoming adversity.

On the other hand, I think Advance Wars ultimately flopped because it was the complete opposite of that. There wasn’t anything to get emotionally invested into, other than one’s ability to have complete mastery of the mechanics. Without being able to make that emotional connection, Advance Wars didn’t really have any room to grow.

I want to see Advance Wars make a triumphant return, but trying to bring it back successfully seems like a very difficult task. In theory, you could simply roll out a new game that sticks to the essence of what made the original great. It might sell okay the first time around, but once again you have nowhere else for the series to grow other than more Chess pieces. Changing the story or tone of the series didn’t work, as proven by Days of Ruin.

Adding RPG elements like Fire Emblem would probably take away from what makes the nuances of Advance Wars special. Off the top of my head, I was thinking Hero units, but would that be enough to care about the rest of the disposable troops that will blow up along the way to victory?

Intelligent Systems, the developers of Advance Wars, essentially confirmed my thinking in a recent interview with Eurogamer.

“Personally, I’d love to do Advance Wars, but since it’s harder to create relationships between its characters compared to Fire Emblem, I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of setting it could have,” Yamagami told Eurogamer.

Nintendo doesn’t appear to be in a rush to make a new Advance Wars, but that hasn’t stopped others from trying. Scheduled for release in 2017, Wargroove by Chucklefish is essentially Advance Wars in a Fire Emblem like medieval setting. While I’m excited to play this one, I struggle to see how this game wouldn’t suffer the same fate that Advance Wars did. Then again, coming from an indie developer, that eventual fate may be more than enough to meet their expectations.

Despite having hypothesized a myriad of reasons for why Advance Wars wasn’t long for this world, I still want to see it make a triumphant return someday. I don’t know how you do it, but I want to see it happen. Please make it so, Intelligent Systems and Nintendo!

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Leave a Comment
  1. godirectlytogaming / Jun 5 2017 9:41 AM

    I couldn’t agree more with this analysis- I am a huge Fire Emblem fan, and while I enjoyed the Advanced Wars games they didn’t pull me in nearly as much as any Fire Emblem game. Ultimately I think that the demographic that likes Advanced Wars over Fire Emblem are the people who like strategy-heavy games and don’t care much about a game’s story. I remember some of my friends loving the multiplayer feature for Advanced Wars- Dual Strike, to the extent that they barely played the story mode and only played against each other. Perhaps that’s the best way to revitalize the series? Instead of trying to make the game something it’s not, they can focus on the tactics and strategies that come from unit generation and add a number of features to multiplayer to make it less of a story driven game series.

    • Jett / Jun 5 2017 11:19 PM

      Thanks for the comment!

      You bring up an interesting point. Most of my time with Advance Wars was spent playing local multiplayer with my friends during our high school days. It would be a unique selling point compared to Fire Emblem, which has never been good at multiplayer.

      The challenge Nintendo may face with that route is that Advance Wars multiplayer can take a long time to complete, especially when you get locked into a stalemate with your opponent. Is there a way to make those matches go quicker?

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