And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for- the finale of the Fire Emblem Overview! We’ll jump from system to system, saga to saga, and see the growth of the Fire Emblem series over the last ten years- and maybe even get a glimpse into the future of the series. Get ready for a good long teaching session as we blaze through the Tellius Saga, a pair of remakes for the Archanea Saga, and the beginning of a still unfinished story in Fire Emblem: Awakening!
Path of Radiance (Nintendo Gamecube, 2005)
Ironically, in the leap forward to the Gamecube, Path of Radiance, actually returns to the roots of the series in many ways. While the Gameboy Advance trilogy did well in polishing up some older formulas, the series needed to find some new things to do while retaining the feeling that Fire Emblem games have overall. Path of Radiance, while becoming a bit complicated, does just that.
Kicking off the Tellius Saga, Radiance opens in the small nation of Crimea, where a young man named Ike, a member of the Greil Mercenaries, trains alongside his companions. It isn’t long until they hear that the neighboring kingdom of Daein- one of seven kingdoms that the continents has been divided into due to past conflicts- is invading their land. In their process of defending their nation, they rescue Crimea’s princess, Elincia, and they travel to seek out help to stop Daein and their nefarious intentions.
The amount of features that are added to Radiance is mind-boggling on paper. Many sites refer back to Thracia 776, as the game has a Build stat (which governs if a character can ‘shove’ another player out of the way), and characters have Skills that they can learn or have inherently to have special moves, like stealing life from an enemy or guaranteeing a critical hit if they have low health. You also get a base to help manage your team, which has been somewhat featured in past entries but really comes to fruition here, including support conversations and weapon forging- which is a completely new feature to the series, among a few others.
A new feature called ‘Biorhythm’ also comes into play which, in essence, shows how the character is ‘feeling’ on a wavelength scale. This will affect stats in a minor way, but it is beneficial to bring characters into battle when they are in a good way regarding their Biorhythm, something you can read in their status screens. Between battles, you are also awarded Bonus Experience, which can be used to apply to any of your troops to bring up lagging characters or boost your favorites. On top of all of these gameplay changes, the game is also the first in the series to boast movie scenes throughout the story, which adds to the deep narration that the game presents.
Overall, the game is great and innovative, but the amount of features to consider in each battle is staggering and can be a little daunting.
One of the more up front changes are the addition of a race not seen in past Fire Emblem games called the Laguz. They are a race of animal people who appear more humanoid in their usual form, but after some time in battle, they can become a bestial warrior for your army. They are important to the story, as well, given that they are constantly persecuted by humans (known as Beorc) and the war in the original story is set between those two races. Where the Manakete were more of a rarity, having been presumed extinct, it is nice to see another race that is prominent in the story and part of your army. It adds a new dimension to the game.
The music and graphics in the game are, as might be obvious from the system change alone, a large step up from the previous entries. The music feels richer, the graphics are nice and resemble the past games while pushing into the 3D generation. Having listened to the music from this a few times independent of the game itself, it is easy to claim that this has one of the most aurally pleasing soundtracks in the series.
Path of Radiance brings a lot to the table, but in the end, aside from the now well-known protagonist (again, with much help from Smash Brothers) and a nice polish to the game’s now well-trodden pathos, the game offers a great and deep story to enjoy, though it is about on par with other RPGs of the time and tends to be overlooked by casual fans.
Radiant Dawn (Nintendo Wii, 2007)
Two years and another console later, the Fire Emblem series continued with the tail end of the Tellius Saga, Radiant Dawn. While the game made a few steps forward from Radiance, Dawn finds itself falling victim to a few pitfalls, as well. Largely, though, the game falls into the same quality wheelhouse as its sister.
Three years after the conflict in Radiance has subsided, the nation of Daein finds itself in oppression from Begnion, despite the previous threat being quelled. A young girl, Micaiah, and a group called the Dawn Brigade work to help ease the pain of Daein’s people and try to liberate their country by any means necessary. As they work to achieve their goals, they discover that many things are not as they seemed at first, and familiar faces and mysteries resurface to once again stop a threat that could jeopardize their world.
Dawn is split into four parts, the first of which focuses on Micaiah, her protector and fellow Brigade member, Sothe, and a number of other rebels who work their way toward freeing the nation from Begnion’s grasp. After a time, part two begins, and this is where the familiar faces begin to arise with Princess Elincia and her troops taking a seat in the spotlight for a while. As the game progresses, these two groups grow and eventually merge into one large army fighting toward the same ends. If that sounds large-scale, it’s because it is. The game clocks in as the meatiest of the Fire Emblem entries time-wise. Thankfully, the game does keep a good pace throughout and while it feels long, it could easily have felt longer if not handled well.
Keeping most of the features introduced in Radiance, this entry does make a few missteps that are minute but feel as though they detract from the game as a whole. One of these dual-edged swords is that any character can gain Support with any other character. While this means the played can concoct their perfect army of best friends, the Supports are shallow, using the same two or three lines each time that the characters gain a deeper level of support with one another. It feels impersonal and while the personalities of the original Radiance cast doesn’t suffer any, the supporting new characters feel a bit one-dimensional comparatively as a result. There is also an option to Data Transfer from Radiance to Dawn, and while this can result in higher stats for some of your returning characters, that is about all that results from it. There are parts of the rich tapestry in this formula that feels slightly threadbare.
There are some neat new features, though, including the return of three-tier promotions a la Fire Emblem Gaiden. This mostly effects the fresh characters to the Fire Emblem universe, and it makes them stand toe-to-toe with their more experienced counterparts. There is also an interesting strategy in Height, now, which effects how much or little your character can do to the enemy based on whether they are higher or lower than the enemy- a feature that has been used in other tactical games before and is a welcome garnish to the standard battles of the series that takes advantage of the now three-dimensional graphics.
The music and visuals take as much advantage as they can of the Wii’s capabilities without becoming too cluttered on either front. The graphics are a step up from Radiance, which was already sharp and clean. Environments look nice, character models are as shiny as ever, and the movies are gorgeous additions, many of the cutscenes having voice acting (which your mileage might vary on quality-wise). Presentation-wise, Dawn can be considered the top of the heap in this series to date.
While the Tellius Saga did not leave much of an impression to those outside of the know regarding the core Fire Emblem series, it created enough of a splash to get fans interested in pursuing more of the series, partially due to the popularity of Ike, the returning protagonist from Radiance, and partially due to the quality of the game, though many have mentioned the difficulty above all else.
Shadow Dragon / Heroes of Light and Darkness (Nintendo DS, 2009 / 2010)
While it may seem like I’m downplaying the importance of these games by placing them together, there is a very good reason for it. Both Shadow Dragon and Heroes of Light and Darkness are remakes of the original Fire Emblem and Mystery of the Emblem‘s second ‘book’. As such, there is not a lot to cover that is new with these entries. They are not completely without their merit, though.
Both follow the original stories with some variation. Shadow Dragon includes a tutorial that shows the field training of Marth’s troops, introducing them with a bit more personality and more of a lead in to the conflict of the game. There are a few new characters that are interesting but don’t particularly add to the story, as well. The game continues the base concept that was added to Radiance and Dawn, however, which is obviously different from the original game. Many of the basic features- the weapon triangle, breakable weapons, etc.- are added to the game to give it the modern trappings the audience has gotten used to.
Heroes is also not that far from the source material, and it bridges some of the new additions to Shadow Dragon over, such as the aforementioned new characters. The biggest- and probably most interesting addition, is that the main character is a player generated character, which includes appearance, class, upbringing, present self, and aspirations (each of which affect stat growths and starting stats). The character, much like the Tactician in Blazing Sword, acts as the audience surrogate and is much more active, taking part in battles and forming supports with characters. The framework of the story changes a bit due to this and a few other characters that have been added. Of the two, Heroes, even just with the fan translation, feels like a more entertaining and interesting game than Shadow Dragon.
The graphical style takes a turn for the realistic, and while it takes some getting used to looking at these games, they are beautiful in their own right. The portraits are interesting, even though they get a bit of the dead-eyed stare in some of them, and the battle animations are stylistic and engaging to watch. The music, while fuller, is not memorable, save for the main theme and a few sparse moments. At the very least, it is not offensive to the ear.
If there is one difference that may seem unwelcoming, and this even stands with the epic translation done by a very dedicated group of fans, is the dry feeling to the story and text. In no way does this mean that the game is not interesting to play and experience. The tone played mostly straight, though, and the attempts at humor, while smirk worthy, are coated in this tone as well. It makes these two feel very different from the rest of the series, and between the difficulty and this, the games feel less approachable.
If one would want to play the original game, playing through Shadow Dragon should not be overlooked. While it may be dry, it has a lot more character than the Famicom entry for many reasons, and it has many more features due to having released nearly two decades later. Looking into Heroes of Light and Shadow, however, is a must for any fan of the series with even a basic concept of the original (only due to the game being Shadow Dragon’s direct sequel). Both are quality games, but one feels more engaging than the other and will definitely keep the player’s attention longer.
Awakening (2013, Nintendo 3DS)
The most recent addition to the Fire Emblem series brings a lot of innovation and a genuinely engaging mix of old conventions to the table. Somehow, Awakening ended up with a lot of hype in its build up to release, and it did not fail to deliver on nearly every front.
In the kingdom of Ylisse, a young man named Chrom, leader of a group called the Shepherds and prince of Ylisse, acts with his comrades to keep the peace between his nation and the nation of Plegia. While Ylisse worships the Divine Dragon of legend, Plegia worships the Fell Dragon, which had to be sealed away long ago before it destroyed the world. After meeting a mysterious stranger with no recollection of who they are, Chrom and his countrymen begin to unravel a plot that could lead to the revival of the Fell Dragon.
As with mysterious strangers that have been found in the past games, the one mentioned above is a character surrogate and, as in Heroes, a character that you use in battle under the new Tactician class. You can customize the character’s appearance, gender, birth date, and their asset and flaw- which will affect their growth stats in things like HP, Luck, or Strength, to name a few. It is a little more direct than Heroes in that regard. You can even choose from a childlike, young adult, or older frame, as well.
So far as returning features, as well, the Supports are back in full swing, mirroring Genealogy’s marriage system. As character’s gain Support with one another, they can get married, which will result in children (so long as they are male and female). Later in the game, these children become characters that join your troops, as well. It sounds strange, but it makes sense in the plot of the game. Like in Shadow Dragon and Heroes, your characters can also reclass multiple times, so long as you have the materials to do so. Given that each class has various unique skills to learn, this can turn your characters into a roving gang of powerhouses with the correct configurations. The node-laden world map makes a return, as well.
Using the 3DS’ Streetpass function, you can also welcome other Tacticians into your army. While they will not affect your story, they can contribute to your forces and, if they are reclassed, can fill in gaps where you may have deceased members that you could have used otherwise. In the same ways, you can also go into extra maps with downloadable content to gain more gold, experience, or weapons and even possibly contract the ‘spirits’ of past characters from other games to help out in your army. There is a bevy of extra content that throws back to other games, some of which does bleed into the story, as well.
The biggest new feature is the Pair Up system, which means that your units can bring two together as one, giving the ‘lead’ character stat bonuses and allowing the ‘support’ member to occasionally join in on an attack or guard the character. This also guarantees that the characters in this pairing will grow Support with each other, making it easier to gain stat bonuses for them in the future. The higher the Support, the more the characters will work with each other and enact Dual Attacks.
The story and game itself are great, and with the Casual mode (not a rarity in the American entries, at this point), this game is about as accessible as it can get in Fire Emblem. The tone of the main story is right in line with the rest of the series, but the side stories can get a little silly comparatively. The characters, while very memorable and interesting, are much more caricature than characters in past iterations. To repeat, however, they are not uninteresting. Some of them just feel, ironically, a little more cartoonish.
As for the front end of the game, the music is great and the voice acting in the cutscenes employs some top notch actors this time around, so it has a much higher quality to enjoy. While some of the graphics feel a little ‘off’ (mostly regarding the character models in battle), the art is back to the animated feel that was missing from the DS entries. The game is pleasant to look at, but aside from the cutscenes, does not bring much spectacle forward compared to other games of the system.
Awakening, for what little it misses the mark on, is an incredible game. It is rightfully acting as a ramp for more excitement about entries to be released in America. With the addition of downloadable content, the ability to reclass as many times as you feel, and paralogues- chapters that are somewhat like gaiden chapters in past games- there is enough to explore and keep you busy for hours beyond the main story- which will help pass the time until the next entry, Fire Emblem Fates, to see what more happens and what other innovations will be added to the Fire Emblem formula.
In conclusion, the Fire Emblem series, having over 25 years, thirteen main entries and a number of offshoots including a series called Tear Ring Saga with more than just a passing similarity, the games are still gaining speed, technically releasing three entries in the near future. Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation all tell the same story split from three choices on a decision the main character is given. Fire Emblem x Shin Megami Tensei is also on its way, a crossover between the two popular series involving idols and warrior spirits. Fire Emblem has left a larger mark on the video game world than many know, being the first mainstream tactical role playing game, thus paving the way for many others that have become popular in the modern age. With so many ways to experience the entire series, if there is any interest sparked by reading about it, there is no reason not to seek out an entry that interests you and try it out. There is something for every RPG enthusiast in this series, and if there isn’t now, it doesn’t seem like the series is going to have a lack of new entries in the future to consider.
There you have it. An overview of the entire main spread of the Fire Emblem series. Special thanks to Gamefaqs.com and Videogamer.com, as I had to borrow a few screenshots to round out this last entry, and the impressive http://www.serenesforest.net which reminded me of everything I had forgotten regarding the series (there’s a lot to remember!). If you have any questions about the series beyond this, feel free to ask or comment! Clearly, I enjoy speaking about the series and while I needed a few gaps in memory filled here and there, most of this was off of the top of my head and is in no way completely explanatory of any single entry.
Whatever you choose to play next, happy gaming!