“We’ll see who’s delicate! I may not be able to attack like Chrom, but when you get injured? I’LL be the one stitching your bones back together, care of my trusty staff.”
-Lissa, Fire Emblem: Awakening
I have what I guess you could call “little sister syndrome.” As the youngest of two older siblings growing up, I felt a lot of desire to prove myself-both as worthy of their respect, but also as different from them. For a long time, I thought the only way I could be deemed as valuable was to be unique and unlike anybody else around me. But growing up with a big family has also taught me that it’s sometimes harmful to think of ourselves as only being valuable through being “special.”
This is probably why I love Lissa from Fire Emblem: Awakening so much.
Lissa is one of the first characters you meet in FE:A, as the youngest sister of Chrom and as the primary healer of the Shepherds, a volunteer group of people dedicated to protecting the people of Ylisse. Lissa is an adorable, petulant prankster, one who immediately delineates her role in the group. In the first scene, you see her rally against Chrom when he calls her delicate: “I am NOT delicate!” she scolds Chrom.
As this initial conversation establishes, Lissa is defined by who others think she is (a delicate princess) versus what she thinks she wants to be (a beautiful and powerful ruler). Lissa struggles with accepting her value throughout most of Fire Emblem: Awakening. As the youngest sister of Chrom, the Chosen One/Hero Prince, and Emmeryn, the Beautiful And Graceful Queen, Lissa feels-and gets-a bit lost. It’s easy to forget Lissa exists, especially if you don’t invest in her as your team’s main healer.
Out of a family of royal rockstars, it’s easy to see why Lissa might feel a little petulant-and why she would rally so fiercely against this feeling.
It’s no surprise, then, that Lissa’s nuance and path to self-acceptance shines the most through her support conversations with Donnel, the young villager that can be acquired, and who, despite becoming one of the strongest units in the entire game, is slow to bloom, quick to die, but earnest and endearing the whole way through.
In her first support conversation with Donnel, Lissa’s need to be respected and feel powerful comes immediately to light. To the younger Donnel, Lissa extends an open-ended offer for help: “You’re one of a precious few allies younger than me, you know I have to milk this! Anyway, feel free to come ask for my help aaaaaaaaanytime!” Lissa acts on a desire to be respected, but also to be seen as somebody who is a place of support and wisdom.
In the same vein, much of Lissa’s support conversations revolve around her trying to figure who she is and why she matters-especially with Donnel. With Donnel, she bemoans the fact that she doesn’t act like a lady. And, according to her own internalized doubt, if she doesn’t act like a lady, what business does she have being a princess? Realizing her personality is different from Emmeryn’s leaves Lissa feeling unfulfilled, unworthy, and conflicted.
Lissa wants to be like Emmeryn, because Emmeryn is beautiful, benevolent, and intelligent. Lissa doesn’t want to be delicate. She doesn’t want to be seen as the young one. She wants to be seen as a force to reckon with and rue the day if you cross her. Who wouldn’t want that?
And this is what makes her support conversations with Donnel so endearing. Through talking with Donnel, a young man similarly struggling to become something greater than he perceives himself to be, Lissa opens up, acknowledges her strengths (and her flaws), and accepts herself for what she is: a compassionate, open-minded princess, who maybe likes to pull pranks more than a stereotypical princess should.
When Donnel and Lissa first begin their conversations, Lissa admits to admiring Donnel and him inspiring her to follow her dream. She admits that her dream is become a true lady like her sister, and Donnel asserts his belief in her. What Lissa finds in Donnel is a friend who admires her and supports her, giving her the breathing room to learn to accept herself as she is, and not as to what she thinks she should be.
Even without any external pressure telling you who to be, it’s easy to get caught up in what we think is the right path for ourselves, based purely on ideas, goals, or thoughts we haven’t examined in a long time. Being able to take a look at yourself, and decide what you want and what you can let go of is hugely important to actually being happy.
When Donnel finally proposes to Lissa after achieving S-Rank, Lissa has grown immensely. No longer stuck on chasing after dreams that left her feeling unfulfilled and unworthy, Lissa is able to take stock of who she is and see the value in that:
Donnel: So if ya get hitched to me, you’ll be givin’ up on being a high-class society lady. No more big dresses or fancy balls or them masks what make ya look like a cat… It’d just about kill me to take your dreams away from ya.
Lissa: Hee hee! This isn’t the most convincing proposal, Donny. Besides, none of that stopped you from getting that ring for me, did it?
Donnel: Well, no, but…
Lissa: You’re not taking anything away from me. You’re just giving me a new dream.
Lissa: Yes. A dream of starting a happy family with you.
Donnel: Golly, Lissa…
Lissa: And I can be a true lady anywhere! …Even on a pig farm. It isn’t about clothes or dances. It’s a matter of character, integrity, and grace. I intend to have all of that. A true lady, a happy wife, and a good mother … And I couldn’t be any of those things without you. So will you help me?
What started off as a potentially horrible conversation in which a man asks a woman to abandon everything she has worked toward in order to marry him (yikes) becomes a loving and powerful testament to Lissa’s character, strength of will, wisdom, and understanding of herself that she worked to gain throughout the whole game.
Lissa understands who she is now better than she did before. Dresses don’t make her a princess and manners won’t make her more like Emmeryn: she already is who she wants to be because of her compassion, her love, and her personal strength. She turns Donnel’s proposal around on him by asking “will you help me?”, proving that their marriage isn’t about her giving up her dreams to marry him, but rather her needing his support to keep growing and trusting herself.
And this is what makes Lissa wonderful to play. She’s dynamic. She grows, and how you choose to use her as a character assists in this growth. If you never pursue support conversations with her, Lissa remains a shallow, petulant princess, rife with little sister syndrome. But through letting her hold her own on the battlefield and develop relationships with other characters, Lissa learns more about herself and grows stronger, both physically and emotionally.
Lissa’s arc is about self-acceptance, based on what she admires in and learns from her siblings and partner, but also from what she gathers from her own experiences. It’s okay to want to be better than you are, as long as that is driven from a place of love and determination, and not just insecurity. Her worthiness doesn’t come from her succeeding Emmeryn and being an idolized, revered queen. Instead, her worthiness comes from her own strength of character and love of herself.
She doesn’t have to prove herself to her siblings by being just like them or by being better than them or different than them. Instead she proves herself by just knowing and being herself. She doesn’t have to be the Chosen One to be special, nor does she have to be Emmeryn’s successor to be worthwhile.
She’s special because of her character, her warmth, and her compassion, and that’s a hard lesson to learn. And I think that’s something we can all appreciate and learn in our own lives. Especially in nerd culture, where the stereotype of the One Girl still exists, it’s important to have characters that show us value and worthiness doesn’t come from being “special” or better or different than everyone else. It’s just from being yourself.