Here we are, avid readers- part two of four of the overview on the extensive Fire Emblem series. While the first post discussed the original games on the Famicom and answered some basic questions about the series as a whole, this will explore the Fire Emblem titles that came out during the time that is widely considered a golden time in the role-playing game history books, and it will explain where many of the existing conventions of the series originated from. Get a look into three of the most influential games in the series after the jump!
Mystery of the Emblem (1994, Super Famicom)
In the leap to the newest console, Fire Emblem made a huge leap with Mystery of the Emblem. Another entry that did not make its way to the US until translation groups took the initiative, the third entry of the series acts more like a add-on to the original game with some major upgrades. Split into two ‘books’, you can choose to play through Book One, which is the original game with some tweaks and a graphical upgrade, or you can play Book Two, which is an entirely new story that continues the saga of Marth. This serves not only to nearly double the amount of content, but to introduce people to the original entry that they may have missed a few years before.
In a quick summation, Book One, while it acts to tell the story of Fire Emblem once again, it does cut some of the chapters and characters from the original. Nothing that affects the story in any significant way, but people who have played the original will notice a gap here and there. Book Two picks up two years after the events of the original. The land is peaceful, and General Hardin, a prominent character from the original war, has married Princess Nyna, returning the land to it’s once empirical state. Marth and his romantic interest, Caeda, are poised to marry as well, but before that can happen, finds himself being thrust into battle again against the force of the Grunian army. He, along with his new troops, find themselves in a vicious war once again.
Throughout the game, players will see just about every character from the original and bring them back into the fold to help fend off their enemies. Among them, you’ll meet some new faces, some important to the plot and some that have their moment and fade into the barracks. The mix is refreshing and keeps things from getting stagnant, as some of the recruitment methods are just rehashes of the original game. The upgrade to the mechanics certainly outshines the new additions to the cast who are spotty at best interest-wise.
First and foremost, you can finally tell how far your character can move in the battlefield, something that is an often overlooked luxury in current day strategy games. The game also boasts a ‘Dismount’ feature where, if your character rides a horse, Pegasus, or anything else that could make them vulnerable or hindered in terrain, they can go by foot, which can be an advantage in numerous ways but sacrifices their movement speed and unique features. This also makes it so that characters can go ‘indoors’ for fights in castles, houses, and other locales.
The other feature, and one that pervades more of the entries as they were developed, is the Support feature. If two characters are related somehow- take the engaged Marth and Caeda, for instance- when they are next to each other, they will receive a bonus to their stats, making them more effective in combat. People may recognize this feature as one that has been used in many games outside of the series, as well, and it is one of the more fun additions to the game’s structure to arise.
Though it’s obvious due to advancing technology, the graphics and music are superior in many ways to the first two entries, excellent even for the games of the time. The characters take a distinctly ‘anime’ feel in this game and this is another trait that continues on throughout the series, acting as the foothold to many of the visual choices made in future games. The game is more colorful indicative of the system and its style at the time, and overall, it’s a beautiful reminder of how games looked in the Super Nintendo’s heyday.
Mystery of the Emblem clocks in as one of the longest games in the series, if it isn’t officially the lengthiest, due to technically having two games in one. While this isn’t the last time we’ll hear from Marth and his friends in the article, they do get to take a break, and this game does round out the official ‘Akaneia Saga’, setting the stage for the next entries in the series to take over and tell another story.
Genealogy of the Holy War, 1996, Super Famicom
After three games following the goings on with Marth, Caeda, and the rest of the army from Altea, a change of scenery was due. A new saga with new characters and untouched mythos was something that would be welcome after five years with the series- and so came the Jugdral Saga. Genealogy of the Holy War marked the beginning (and technically end) of the chronicles of Jugdral and a brand new bedlam of intrigue, political turmoil, and rebellion. As the game is heralded by many fans of the series as the most remarkable entry, it should come as no surprise that the game has a lot going for it.
Taking place on the continent of Jugdral, a land built on the legacy of the Twelve Holy Crusaders, an invasion pushes the story at the beginning, as the lands of Grannvale are under invasion by the Verdane Army. Sigurd, our hero and retainer to the land, begins in a simple defense of his soil with his fellow knights. Shortly after, his childhood friend from the neighboring castle, Adean, is captured by Verdane, and this leads him to embark on a journey to find her and help rid the land of the evil that is spreading across the continent.
Unlike previous games, this entry is made up of immense battles that are broken up by castle reclamation. Altogether, the game has eleven chapters, but the way that they are segmented makes it feel like it is nearly triple. It can be a little daunting, especially when you figure how much terrain you have to travel to get from place to place, and if you miss a secret that you suddenly notice across the map, it can be an arduous task to backtrack- and there are a lot of secrets.
Before much discussion happens regarding the quality of the game, it is worth mentioning that much like Mystery of the Emblem, Genealogy can feel like it is two games in one. Halfway through the game, Sigurd and his company’s story ends, and the journey picks up years later with the children of those soldiers and the continuing struggle for peace. Of course, this is dependent on some other features to be expanded upon shortly. After the initial tale ends, Sigurd’s son, Seliph, and his companions take the reins, continuing the story and fleshing out the world even further, which is one of the best features about the game in general.
Thanks to the smaller amount of characters- across both generations, there are about 25 to handle at a time- and the interactions that they can have with one another, this game excels at creating characters that have a few dimensions and dynamics to be learned about. While Sigurd and Seliph are definitively the main characters, the other characters get plenty of time to shine, as well, should they be alive throughout the journey. Recruiting characters is also nearly automatic in most instances, so it is hard to miss important characters unless they are killed before they can reach your main character.
A few of the mainstay features in games that were officially released in the states started here. The ‘Weapon Triangle’ is probably the biggest one, wherein depending on which weapon your character uses- axe, sword, or spear- you will deal more damage to an opposing weapon and receive less, but if you have a weaker weapon, it could be deadly. This makes battles a bit more strategic. If a sword beats an axe but is weak to spears, you know which enemies to send those characters after and to stay away from. While at this point, magic and bows have their own weaknesses and strengths, the Weapon Triangle stays pretty much the same throughout the rest of the series.
Another feature that has only returned in the most recent game, Awakening, is the Generation angle. Much like the Support system in the previous game, Genealogy has certain units that work better together. In this game, though, if a male and female unit spend time next to each other in combat, their affinity rises and they can eventually fall in love. Should a pairing’s affinity be high enough by the final chapter, you’ll see them giving each other statistical bonuses and talking about their children as the battle wages. These children are characters that you will see in the next part of the game, should they come into existence. Should a potential mother not be paired with anyone, the player does not have to fear losing out on a character, as the game supplements an unrelated but similar character in their place. The benefit to having children comes down to better stats that veer toward certain growths, mostly based on the parents and their classes and abilities, and inherited weapons and Crusader lineage, which can affect using some legendary weapons that arise as the story unfolds. It is an intricate system to figure out which characters would benefit their children most or finding which personalities can work together to make fun couples.
There are other features that began here as well. Characters on horse or Pegasus back can now move, attack, and move again, which makes for even more ways to utilize them. Troops can also game special skills that will do things like negate their enemies defense, let them critically hit more often, allow them to attack a number of times, and a number of other benefits that can also be passed to their children. This also marks the first appearances of the Arena for training (and one special recruitment) and a pawn shop for selling weapons or items that you no longer need. The last prominent feature is that in some battles, other forces may join you or work to defend a castle, so in addition to the usual player and enemy phases, you also get NPC phases. There are a multitude of new features that could be explained for hours, but that is just a surface level scratch about what this game includes.
Presentation wise, this game works some wonders. The graphics retain the feel from Mystery, but the presentation feels fantastical and bold, so it feels more medieval than the art style lent to the previous title. From the fields of Grannvale to the snow covered land of Silesia, the graphics are spot on. The soundtrack is extensive and lush, as well, which is not to be said for many of the games in the series. If you were to turn up the music on any one game in the Fire Emblem series, this would have to be the one.
The game’s glaring low note- the shear size of the battle maps- is one that becomes easily overlooked, though it may be easier to say that playing from an emulator rather than straight from the cart. The translation can also be slightly inane, though it is on a ‘few and far between’ basis and doesn’t affect the real meat and drama that the game presents. Genealogy is still as difficult as ever, but with so much space between objectives, it almost becomes easier to regroup, heal at a fortress, and press onward then in past games with drawn out chapters. As this is a personal favorite in the series, it is easy to explain why the game receives as much praise as it gets, and if anyone really wants to get the true Fire Emblem experience, this would be the game to seek out.
Thracia 776 (1999, Super Famicom)
After coming off of such a stellar showing with Genealogy, the Fire Emblem series had a lot to live up to. In a sense, it stood to reason that sticking with the Jugdral setting for the next game would be a safe bet. As a result, Thracia 776, named for a nation in the previous game and the year of the game’s events taking place, came to be. Set between the generational ‘gap’ in Genealogy, the game works as a plug to fill in information about what happened to lead up to Seliph’s journey.
As the game picks up, the player is given the small force of young Leif, his guardian and trainer, Eyvale, and a few others who make up the Fiana Braves, a group trying to stop the oppression beginning to spread across their continent. As they travel, as in past entries, they find that the trouble runs deeper than they first thought and they travel the continent of Thracia to try to put an end to it.
Thracia finds its legs a step back from the formula that Genealogy had graduated to. The game has much shorter chapters, and there is no Generation feature. The Support feature is more like Mystery, with related characters receiving boosts to their stats when they are near said characters. There are a host of new features in this entry, however most of them do not stick, which may not be a detriment in the long run.
The ideas and features that were introduced to this chapter of the Fire Emblem series were inventive, but the ones that fell to the wayside were tedious. A “fatigue” system, for instance, judged that after a certain amount of actions or turns, a character would need a chapter to ‘relax’ and therefore would not be able to be used in the next battle without expending an item to relieve their fatigue. This was a mixed blessing, as the system forced you to rotate characters, but between losing characters to inevitable death and wanting to level characters up as best you can, this makes selections slim as chapters go on, forcing the player to use under leveled or unbalanced parties. Another dual-edged system was including a ‘Build’ stat. The higher a characters build, the heavier a weapon the character can carry and wield. When characters with low build are carrying multiple weapons (or happens to open a chest that may burden them with one), they cannot move as far. Thankfully, things that are integral to ‘lighter’ characters- magic tomes, healing items, and staves- don’t affect that weight, but the strategies around balancing build are distracting and unnecessary. Build does, however, seem to affect another more inventive system that was introduced.
Any soldier can ‘Capture’ another unit, which involves attacking their target at half of their statistics and, if they succeed, they remove the character from the battlefield and, in the next turn, can remove their weapons and items and send them on their way. This becomes the primary way that your army continues being able to supply themselves, as weapons break after a certain amount of uses and need to be replaced (a feature not introduced in this entry, but mentioned now as it is not easily mitigated here). This can be irritating if not utilized, and your healers, being that they can’t defend themselves, can be captured from the battlefield if they are not protected. This feature is the most inventive of the ones that did not last, but given that in future entries the player is given more access to shops for weapons and items, it easy to understand why the feature did not last.
Within these temporary features are some that continue to show up in entries to date. Thracia introduces ‘Gaiden Chapters’, wherein if the player has achieved some criteria- allowing a number of civilians to escape, not killing a boss but capturing them instead, for instance- they will receive an extra chapter to go to where they may be able to get new characters or items. One Gaiden Chapter even allows you to try to rescue any characters that may have been captured in previous chapters. Troops can also rescue one another. Should your mage be trapped in a bad situation, a cavalier can swoop in and rescue them, lowering the rescuer’s stats a bit until they release the character but keeping the rescued member safe.
Partway through the game, you must make a choice that will send you on one branching path or another for a bit. While both paths connect back to the same main plot, the plot branch means that you will get one set of character or another, so depending on your choice, your army will end up being a bit more unique then in past games.
As is the usual with the Super Famicom entries, Thracia is wrapped in a beautiful package. The graphics are the best they’ve ever been, still giving the tone and motif from Genealogy, and the music takes a step back but it is still impressive. The game is more of a feast for the eyes than the ears, but nothing can be deemed offensive or unpleasant.
Thracia 776 is a rich game, and the story and characters are robust and well conceptualized. The difficulty is infamous, and getting through the game is a huge feat in and of itself. Should you choose to venture into the depths of this game, however, you’ll be in for an experience. It cannot be recommended enough, however, that this ‘mid-chapter’ entry of the Jugdral games should be checked out once you have a game or two from the series under your belt.
Enjoy reading about the entries that you may not have known much about? Just wait until the next entry, when we start to explore the entries that made it over here on the Game Boy Advance- and one that didn’t quite make it over but people still most likely know plenty about. The Elibe and Magvel Sagas are up next on the docket for the Fire Emblem overview!