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A Tribute to Donnel, a Sweet Boy Capable of Terrible Violence in 'Fire Emblem'

Plus, the translators behind 'Fire Emblem: Awakening' explain how they developed the character.

by Patrick Klepek
Feb 9 2017, 4:00pm

When I started playing Fire Emblem: Awakening, a friend gave me an early tip: make sure to stick with Donnel, the goofy farm boy you encounter early in the game. At the outset, he's pathetically weak and incapable of destroying anything but the nearly-dead, but given time, love, and exposure to a thousand acts of violence, Donnel transforms from a "aw shucks" raiser of pigs into a walking nightmare. By the end of the game, Donnel was the tip of my army's spear, a tin pot-wearing, smile-flashing wielder of death. In my personal fan fiction, he is also my son.

You can imagine what kind of distress this brought me when Nintendo dropped Fire Emblem: Heroes last week, in which players recruit soldiers via slot machine, aka gacha. Donnel is one of those characters, but one of hundreds, meaning you're likely to be waiting a while to recruit him into the fold. In what I can only presume was a direct response to my stress, on Monday, Nintendo made Donnel a reward for a special map that changes daily. I was reunited with my special boy.

(He's only a one-star, though, which means he's not as special as I'd like him to be.)

It's not uncommon for atypically weak characters to become stronger over time, but Donnel stuck out for a few reasons. One, as he learns to fulfill his prophecy as the harbinger of doom, he doesn't change in appearance. When you encounter him as an aloof but well-meaning kid, he's sporting barely-fitting clothes and, again, a tin pot on his head. That doesn't change by the end of the game, when he's spilling the blood of men and women who mistake his appearance for frailty. His in-game art still shows him wielding what amounts to a stick he found in the backyard.

This aesthetic dissonance was, of course, thoroughly embraced by the fan community, though, as his fan fiction father, the depictions were troubling.

But the naive killer routine wouldn't be nearly as hilarious without the right dialogue to back it up. Check out this exchange with Donnel during one of the game's "relationship" moments.

Donnel: Gosh, Robin. That was one heckuva to-do the other day!

Robin: Indeed, that burned-fish odor lingered for days. Chrom was NOT happy about us stinking up the camp! ...Or the bears that followed the scent.

Donnel: Aw, crab apples. I sure am sorry. Reckon I shoulda been more careful.

Robin: No, it was my fault for burning my hand and making you fetch water. If anything, you kept a bad situation from getting any worse.

Donnel: Maybe. But I can't help thinkin' that if I was older and wiser and smarter... Well, maybe these kinds'a mishaps wouldn't keep happenin' to me.

This how you end up with people, like yours truly, looking at Donnel like this:

"In Fire Emblem, there are times when you encounter a character and instantly know he or she is going to be a blast to write, and that's exactly how Donnel played out," said localization firm 8-4, who wrote the dialogue for Donnel as part of their translation work on Fire Emblem: Awakening, when I pinged them this week. "He lives on a pig farm and wears a pot on his head—so subtlety wasn't exactly high on the list of characterization traits."

There were elements of absurdist Donnel in the original Japanese text, but in localizing the game, 8-4 decided to crank up the character to 11.

"One of the things we tried to do was country-up his speech: so dropping 'g's on the end of words and running words together (i.e. "one of" becomes one'a")," said the company. "We also really focused in on farm-related jokes and metaphors—so anytime he told a story or was just talking in general, we tried to tie it into pigs or vegetables or something along those lines. Basically, we just took his characterization and cranked the dial 20% or so—right to the edge of eye-rolling absurdity, but hopefully not over it."

Though my love for the bloodthirsty but honorable Donnel ran deep, it did go over the edge sometimes, like the times when Donnel would echo Larry the Cable Guy's infamous "get 'r done" catchphrase. But for the most part, the goofs were charming, and encouraged me to make Donnel one of my main characters the whole adventure. Until the end, we were equally committed to the bit.

So was 8-4, apparently.

"One of our writers would actually go online and listen to videos of cattle auctions just to try and set the voice in his head and to pick up little regional bits of diction," they said.

Not all heroes wear capes. Some of them wear pots.

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