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Thursday, May 4, 2023

True, the Advance Wars Trilogy's Story isn't Serious

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - Seems like some are just figuring that out, but it doesn't make it less true.

In a story that is probably related to KoopaTV's article yesterday about how Nintendo has blacklisted awful videogame outlet Kotaku, Kotaku writer Sisi Jiang, who according to people who actually read the website often writes about identity politics (they love to discuss Chinese and queer issues), wrote an article, “The Advance Wars Remake Is Tactically Satisfying But Narratively Toothless”. In this article, Sisi Jiang reveals itself to be unfamiliar with Advance Wars games up to this point. For example, Sisi believes that damage calculations are “gambling”, even though there is a fairly consistent (besides an occasional luck stat) set of damage calculations that all player versus player theory is founded upon.

Sisi doesn't believe that Advance Wars's gameplay mechanics are as “profound” as they ought to be because of a perceived dissonance between the tactical complexity and the game's excuse plot. It's a well-known fact among Advance Wars fans for the past two decades that the trilogy (Advance Wars, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, and Advance Wars: Dual Strike—note that Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp only offers the first two of those games, as the name suggests) has a very weak nonsense plot. Personally, I've never understood how the different countries work among the continents (Cosmo Land, Macro Land, Omega Land). Orange Star, Blue Moon, Ye–... Gold Comet, and Green Earth are all countries, and they seem to have presences on all of these continents (under the same name as whichever continent is where their home base continent is, which is never made clear), which suggests a lot of colonialism going on. Some COs are native or stationed to different continents. I dunno.

But Sisi's point is less about lore and more about the fact that the Commanding Officers (COs) don't care about the lives of their units. Neither the protagonists nor antagonists are all that concerned. That is also something that has long been observed among series fans, especially with missions like Rivals at the end of the first Advance Wars, which implies that COs Andy and Eagle are throwing away the lives of their units just for a personal rivalry to see who is better than the other, just for fun. That's lead fans to believe that units aren't actually real people but are basically robots, or maybe predeployed units are real people but units built from factories/airports (what's that?)/(sea)ports are robots. But the games don't go into those details.

Advance Wars Dual Strike Lash's Test don't be silly just a game playing
Lash (and other COs) see war as a game. ...On top of playing literal war games.
Lash's role in Advance Wars: Dual Strike is another compelling point on why the game's plot isn't coherent, or at least all of the characters are unrealistically written.

Sisi Jiang's mistake is to come in with a set of expectations of Advance Wars approaching its story like Fire Emblem does. Intelligent Systems may develop both series, but that doesn't mean they take the same approach with both. That'd be a bit boring for them, wouldn't it?

That said, occasionally the Advance Wars trilogy does go into narrative territory that isn't constantly happy-go-lucky. While the word “civilian” never appears in any of the trilogy's scripts, and the games never consult the opinions of anyone who isn't part of the military, at least Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising on a couple of occasions go into the responsibilities of leaders to their people and have something of a sombre attitude. See: The Toy Box mission in Blue Moon where Commander Olaf sees his hometown totally devastated and twisted by Black Hole, as well as the discussion between Sonja and Emperor Kanbei in the Duty & Honor mission on the role of a CO and leader with regards to saving a strategically unimportant set of cities. (Kanbei decides that, yes, it is his job.) Sisi Jiang likely only played a small portion of the first Advance Wars title and never saw those discussions in the Advance Wars 2 part, though the game doesn't dwell on it for too long or make it a big story theme. (Though repairing his homeland is the stated reason why Olaf doesn't appear in Advance Wars: Dual Strike.)

Advance Wars Days of Ruin Lin civilian do you value your lives? Hope Rising
By comparison, Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, which is not part of the trilogy and is its own story with its own setting,
extensively explores the horrors of war and has several noncombatant NPC characters. It also has a stronger gameplay-story integration.
The gameplay-story integration is so important that the game's story doesn't allow for the central CO mechanic to be introduced until over halfway through the campaign, at just the right moment!
(Related to these things, it's my favourite Advance Wars game.)

It would be quite hypocritical for me to wholesale dismiss the concerns of someone who is looking out for the nameless little guy soldier killed off in atrocities and war. After all, that narrative is precisely what KoopaTV was founded on, and we celebrate and look out for the nameless unindividualised Koopa Troopas that Mario has viciously and unceremoniously slaughtered by the millions. So I won't do that, and if Sisi feels like the cognitive dissonance in Advance Wars is too much to enjoy the game, then I won't say they are wrong for feeling that kind of empathy.

However, I do take issue with the headline stating the narrative is “toothless”, since it's not meant to have teeth to begin with. Sisi admits to quitting Advance Wars because of this. I think that Sisi probably had other issues with Advance Wars besides the lack of a cohesive and enjoyable plot. It's a personal problem to come into a game expecting things that it never promised having. That's just incompetence on Sisi's part, not Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp's part. But I would recommend playing Advance Wars: Days of Ruin if you want an Advance Wars title like that!

Oh, one more thing. It's inaccurate reporting on Sisi's part to state that there are “never any consequences for letting [units] die.” A whole one-third of your rank after every mission is based on keeping enough of your units alive. It's called the Technique score. I'm not sure how you can claim to play the game and miss that.

Ludwig ironically wrote this article about an article on Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, yet didn't include any screenshots from that. Maybe he feels like he'd be spoiling the new game? But the contents are 20 years old at this point. (Though, clearly, people like Sisi have never heard of them before up to this point and are playing these fresh in 2023.) Is it nonsensical to write an article saying how the games lack a cohesive plot but then not want to include screenshots from those games out of concern for spoiling the game's plot? Do you believe the units in Advance Wars are actual people that are just being killed off ruthlessly?


  1. " Do you believe the units in Advance Wars are actual people that are just being killed off ruthlessly?"

    Well, Re-Boot Camp makes them look like toys but the toys may be just figurines on a map for strategists to plan out the next move and there are actual units fighting elsewhere based on the moves of the toys.

    Maybe there is a chance the Rivals mission and the training missions by Rachel to Jake and Jess and Javier's test mission and Grimm and Sensei's test mission are only the toys on a map aspect if Wayforward ever makes a remake for Dual Strike.

    1. Well, if they WERE literal toys and the stakes were just toys, that would make the story even... more nonsensical than it already is. (What would Typhoon or Squall be? Drake dumping water on a toy map?)

      The thing with Rivals is that it goes out of its way to discuss the difference between a strategist and a Commanding Officer. A strategist could move toys around. But what would the CO do to command his troops in a toy situation?

    2. OG AW1 had an advisor character who is the player that told the COs what to do. Re-Boot Camp may implicitly imply there is an advisor for the COs to but does not get directly talked about after starting the game.

      So maybe the player is moving the figurines around telling the CO's what to do. The player is the one who dumped water on the toy map for Drake to understand what to do and then command his units.

    3. Oh, wtf, they changed the ending dialogue of Rivals to omit the strategic planner out of it. HMMMMMM...

    4. Maybe the units really are alive. Rachel said she got Blue Moon units on loan to train Jake. Those units are obviously from the gulag for daring to criticize Olaf. Hope Olga was not one of them.

    5. That's why we never see Olga again. :(

  2. You'd think people would be happy that there's one franchise that hasn't yet devolved into depressing and dark territory. Don't get me wrong I do like that stuff and there are many franchises that do it well, but it doesn't have to be all of them! Just like the annoyingly opportunistic protagonist, you must remember those fateful words, "Don't overdo it".

    1. I believe it's a case of "all franchises that deal with war must be dark and depressing. Save light-hearted stuff for non-war games."


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