A lot of things go into a satisfying antagonist. Knowing their motivations for becoming a terrible person responsible for horrible actions is one. Good character designs is another. Ensuring it feels satisfying when you beat them is also important. With Marni in Fire Emblem Engage, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems presented us with an enemy who ticks those boxes. It takes a while for everything to develop, as well it should, but when it does it works out perfectly.
Editor’s Note: There will be Fire Emblem Engage spoilers regarding Marni and the other villains below.
To start, Marni’s whole design in Fire Emblem Engage is quite eye-catching. This is true for every member of the Four Hounds. These characters stand out. As the youngest character, she’s got her blonde hair in ringlets and a frilly gothic Lolita outfit. She doesn’t look exceptionally menacing. Really, before she opens her mouth and starts assaulting the party, she looks more like a porcelain doll. It’s that dichotomy that makes her intriguing at a glance. You know she’s out to destroy everything Alear and their friends hold dear. However, at a glance, she’s classically “cute.” You could easily see her being someone who also wouldn’t be entirely out of place as an ally, perhaps having tea with Celine or Ivy.
Once Marni does start talking though, we start to see another element that makes her a satisfying foe. That is, she is a brat. She’s an annoying child who seems to feel she is due things. She pesters Zephia for praise. She becomes a thorn in our sides. Especially since if you go to face her with anyone who isn’t attacking with tomes, since her defense always tends to be quite high. Not only is her entitlement infuriating, but so is her tendency to absorb attacks! This means when you do finally take her down in maps, it’s so satisfying. You earned it!
We also really earn her origin story. Throughout Fire Emblem Engage, Zephia often asserts that her and her fellow villains like Marni are a “family.” Ahead of Chapter 21, we finally see the Four Hounds split up. It’s then that we learn more about Veyle’s backstory, which prompts reveals of Marni’s own. We learn that she came from a large family and was both abandoned and unloved. Her mother only cared for her brothers, and not her. The Hounds took her in and were the first group that did ever show any level of acceptance or affection.
This backstory also clears up her constant seeking of attention and approval from Zephia. Suddenly, her previous bratty behavior doesn’t feel like a contrived effort to make her “annoying.” It’s a tragic example of a broken young woman seeking approval from any possible source. Though granted, we see that there isn’t some overnight change to suddenly angelic behavior. After hearing what Veyle went through, she did of course try to bring some attention back to herself. However, given everything she went through, it’s hard to blame her.
But what I feel makes Marni really work well as a villain in Fire Emblem Engage has to do with her final acts. Upon knowing what Veyle went through in the past and what Zephia and Sombron intended to do to her in the future with the new helmet, Marni takes action. Even though it means taking a tremendous risk, she attempts to break it. It gets her killed, but she willingly accepts this chance to be selfless at the end. She seizes the opportunity to help someone who, while not a member of the Four Hounds, is also essentially a part of that “family.” And, when its over, she is still expressing that last bit of selflessness by asking Mauvier to pass on to Veyle the sort of praise she always wanted. She asks him to tell Veyle “she’s done so well.”
With Marni, we get a Fire Emblem Engage villain cast in shades of grey. She’s done terrible things. She’s sometimes been a self-centered person. She’s definitely a challenge to face and fight sometimes. But as the game goes on, we get to better understand who she is as an individual and understand what led her down this path. Likewise, we see an arc appear for her with a satisfying ending that makes a difference.
Fire Emblem Engage is available for the Nintendo Switch.