Among Fire Emblem: Awakening fans in the west, there has been some dissent concerning the character Sumia. While some remain relatively neutral toward her personality and role, other members of the fanbase criticize her for being a boring, sexist character and forcing herself upon the player as the canon love interest for Chrom, one of the game’s protagonists.
With a video game this popular, there are obviously going to be some extremely vocal fans who will overlook any context and blow a disliked character’s flaws out of proportion. However, can all of the criticisms directed toward Sumia be chalked up to this?
Let’s take a look at this wing-adorned lancer and see.
A Pie for a Pie
Before I get too far into this post, there is one elephant in the room that needs to be confronted: Chrom and Sumia’s support conversations.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fire Emblem: Awakening‘s support system, allow me to give a brief explanation. In FE:A, characters can fight alongside each other, granting bonuses in accuracy, evasion, and critical hits. When certain characters are consistently paired together, relationships can form, both platonic and romantic.
How close two characters are can be observed in between battles via unlockable conversations. The topics of these conversations can range from silly to insightful, sometimes providing character development and sometimes being incredibly funny or stupid.
For Sumia’s critics, her support conversations with Chrom fall under a category best defined as stupid and uncomfortable. Why, you ask?
The reason can best be summed up by a quirky Internet meme.
Now before I get any complaints from the misinformed few who still believe that all feminists are Nazis, there is nothing wrong with a girl baking pies for a guy she likes. Is it a generic and stereotypical way to write a budding romance? Yes. Is it a federal offense punishable by death by Furby? Absolutely not.
In the case of Sumia and Chrom, the problem lies more with how often Sumia talks about doing things for Chrom than her actually doing any baking. Their first conversation aside, all of Chrom and Sumia’s support conversations involve Sumia either baking pies for Chrom, talking about baking pies for Chrom, or doing chores for him.
While that doesn’t sound terribly bad on its own, Sumia is really overzealous about it. Want what is perhaps the most ridiculous example of this? When Chrom tries to propose to her, she initially misunderstands his question, offering to bake him pie every day until he dies.
I’m not even exaggerating. Sumia actually misinterprets Chrom’s proposal as his asking her to bake for him for the rest of his life, lovelives notwithstanding, and seriously considers it.
This attitude coupled with her saying, word-for-word, “I’ll do anything your heart desires,” makes Sumia seem more like Chrom’s maid than a fellow soldier, and I think it’s this that has fans hot and bothered, not just the pie baking. I can’t vouch for how much of the dialogue the translation team ended up changing, but in the English version, it sounds suspiciously like Chrom is marrying Sumia just to keep those pies coming.
Now to be fair, it is possible to have Chrom and Sumia’s engagement scene go a completely different way and entirely bypass these awkward support conversations. In fact, fans of this couple tend to prefer this approach, and the alternate scene is rather heartwarming.
Aside from conversations stuffed to the crust with pie talk, is there any justification for the gripes of critical fans?
Much Ado About Nothing
Let’s take Chrom out of the equation for now. When interacting with characters aside from the blue-haired prince, Sumia doesn’t obsess over chores and pies nearly as much, allowing more of her personality to shine through. With that in mind, what else can be said about Sumia?
Well, she is nice, cheerful, nice, ditzy, and…nice?
I know it sounds like I’m really oversimplifying things, but there honestly isn’t much to say about Sumia as a character. Despite digging around trying to find a hint of complexity in this character, I’ve only enforced my initial impression that there is none to be found.
Sumia is a character we’ve seen a thousand times before: the soft-spoken sweetheart who is kind to everybody and loved by all. Again, aside from the fact that this stereotype has been done to death, there’s nothing particularly wrong with it. However, without building up significant amounts of character development, characters like this tend to feel very one-dimensional and are rather boring to focus on, and unfortunately, Sumia falls into this camp.
Sure, Sumia has a few quirks to her. She loves to read and tells flower petal fortunes. However, that’s all they are: quirks. Knowing her hobbies is fun, but they don’t tell us much about her as a character. Claiming that listing her likes and dislikes tells us more about her personality is akin to looking at that kid sitting next to you in fourth grade and thinking, “Golly, s/he’s reading Spiderman too! We’re totally gonna be BFFs!”
The game tries to give Sumia a character flaw in the form of extreme clumsiness, but again, this attempt at characterization falls flat on its face (no pun intended). A female character who is really nice and can hold her own in a fight yet has clumsiness as her so-called fatal flaw? Self-Insert Characters Anonymous meets at fanfiction.net, honey.
To give the writers some credit, it is worth noting that they did try to do something with this. As an extreme clutz, Sumia is very self-deprecating, thinking that she can’t do anything right. In support conversations with the player’s stand-in character, she even starts emulating the personalities of her favorite book characters in order to improve herself. However, when she confesses her insecurity to the player’s character, the exchange basically goes as follows:
“I’m causing problems for everybody! I want to make myself a better person!”
“No you’re fine.”
At this point, Sumia fans reading this must be saying, “But Holly, Sumia conquers her fear of the battlefield and swoops in to save Chrom at the last minute! That must be worth something, right?”
Well, that opens up a new issue entirely.
While Sumia is far from being the most interesting character in the game, a lot more people would find her tolerable if the game’s creators had given Sumia the same treatment as every other minor character. The fact of the matter is, however, they didn’t.
To put things in perspective, every other recruitable minor character gets one introduction scene. That’s it.
Sumia, on the other hand, gets:
- an introduction scene;
- a scene centered around her calming a pegasus;
- a badass rescue that somehow merited one of the game’s few breathtakingly beautiful cutscenes; and
- a scene of her slugging Chrom in the face.
Heck, Sumia even gets special treatment in the alternate proposal scene mentioned earlier. If this scene is triggered for any of Chrom’s other potential love interests, all they get is a straightforward conversation with Chrom a la visual novel character portraits. Contrarily, Sumia is apparently important enough to get yet another short scene on top of that, showing her running up to Chrom and hugging him.
This makes it all the more jarring when she practically disappears for the last two-thirds of the game. You thought all that buildup was going to amount to something? Well, joke’s on you, because other than being one of Chrom’s possible love interests, Sumia has no importance plotwise.
When it comes down to it, one could cut out the majority of Sumia’s scenes and not miss a thing. All of these scenes exist for one purpose and one purpose alone: to give her a chance to wow the other characters and attempt to win over the player.
The creators of Fire Emblem: Awakening were really keen on building up this character to be something special, but shoehorning in all these extra scenes made this approach backfire. Forcibly bringing people’s attention to an uninteresting character and making her out to be more important than she actually is is not a smart thing to do. In fact in Sumia’s case, it comes dangerously close to Creator’s Pet territory.
With less time in the spotlight, Sumia would have been a passable character. Less people would have noticed her lack of depth, and thus, less people would have cared that she is a possible love interest for Chrom. All the extra attention given to Sumia tends to irk players more than endear them, and this, in my opinion, is the main reason many people dislike her.
As for me, I prefer to ignore Sumia and pair Chrom with Olivia. Blue-haired Inigo for the win!
Fire Emblem: Awakening © Nintendo/Intelligent Systems
Toy Story © Disney Pixar
JonTron © Jon Jafari
Doctor Who © BBC
A/N: Yech, two days to write this? Really? I knew I should have started this on Wednesday.