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Welcome to my possibly unnerving study of Nosferatu through the ages.
Firstly, a definition of the spell book is in order. It’s a tome, as most offensive magic is in Fire Emblem, and it always drains health from the target and restores that amount of health to the caster.
But what has changed for Nosferatu over the years?
Yes, it used to be called Resire, but there are more compelling changes for the spell. For example, consider spell type where games in the series include it. In five of the games, Nosferatu is considered a light spell. In six of them, it’s considered a black or dark spell. (For the remainder, it’s simply referred to as a tome or other title.)
But these are two very different schools of magic. Light magic in Fire Emblem is mostly associated with characters from the church or godly descent. Dark magic as a contrast is often construed as evil. Some good people use dark magic and evil people use light magic, but these are their reputations.
So what about this spell in particular makes it walk the moral line of light and dark? To grasp this, we need to understand what the use is for Nosferatu in the context of both kinds of magic.
For light magic, note that Nosferatu is an offensive form of healing. If a healer is to be used most effectively and able to protect themselves in a pinch, Nosferatu was their best option. And it would be more accessible for them to learn than anima magic since it is based in the manipulation of health.
As for dark magic, it’s simply a way to heal oneself. Most dark mages are with other dark mages in combative situations. Whether this is because of stigma (in the case of Knoll in Sacred Stones) or through having no other options (as with Henry from Awakening), they likely don’t have a healer nearby for them.
And to reference Knoll again, he says that knowledge is the source of dark magic’s power, not the desire to harm others. So a typically religious class like a cleric or priest would be able to manage a spell like Nosferatu.
There have been restrictions on this spell in other games in Fire Emblem. In Mystery of the Emblem, Nosferatu could only be used by female units. And in many Fire Emblem games, only dark mages can use this spell.
So why these restrictions? Most likely, the reasons are cultural or religious.
The women only restriction is more difficult to explain, but I believe it’s rooted in taboo rather than the idea of “purity”. While the real world Western history often considered women incapable of harsh acts like murder , I don’t think this belief applies in Fire Emblem culture as a whole.
Consider instead people like Witches from Echoes, who are women who offered their souls to the god, Duma, in exchange for their powers. There does seem to be a gradual process for becoming a full witch, soulless and only existing to serve, and death is their only redemption.
In being killed, their souls return in their final moments and then they can rest . My theory is that this restoration of the soul is only magically extended to women for as of yet unconfirmed reasons.
It seems likely to me that the soul of a woman is at least believed to be more easily adjusted and therefore more easily saved when a Witch is finally killed – and so, in matters of dark spells, it would make sense to restrict their use to women in the case of corruption (whether you were an evil or benign caster of dark magic).
As for restricting the use of Nosferatu to dark mages or sorcerers, I believe this is due to lack of access (such as in Sacred Stones, where dark magic is exceedingly rare and only a few Nosferatu tomes exist in the game) and moral grounds. Dark magic has an enduring negative reputation, and religious figures would naturally avoid an affiliation with it.
It’s not that they can’t use dark magic, it’s that they refuse to. After all, this spell can also be used to murder a god in the original game, Gaiden, and that would be heretical on its own.
Then why do some light mages use it?
Using Echoes as an example, all spells cost health for the caster. Even healers. So if you want your healer to not consume all your supplies while keeping your soldiers alive, they need an efficient way to restore health for themselves.
And so, all healers have Nosferatu in their repertoire in Echoes from the beginning.
Now dark mages do exist in worlds where Nosferatu is useable by light mages, and they have a similar skill set as light mages (warping, summoning fighters, etc.) but they seem less powerful.
A dark mage can only summon terrors, which are basically magic zombies, but a light mage such as Genny needs only a high HP expense to cast Invoke and get the same soldiers out of what seems to be light made real (and far less offensive to the senses than a rotted corpse).
So while a dark mage cannot heal you, only themselves, and Witches can only warp themselves, and both can only summon terrors or other Witches, the light mages of Echoes have learned to:
- Warp others only
- Heal themselves with Nosferatu
- Heal other adjacent units or from afar
- Summon units to fight
In conclusion on this point, a light mage can learn dark magic through a light method, but a dark mage cannot reverse this process. Is it any wonder that the evil units using light magic chose to learn the “purer” of these two schools of magic, then?
Knowledge is the power of dark magic, and knowing light magic first opens more avenues to a dark mage or sorcerer than light alone could. Although due to cultural and religious tensions, as well as differing worlds, this knowledge seems to appear and vanish from Fire Emblem games.
Otherwise Henry in Awakening would have a very different backstory indeed–