Nostalgia Video Gaming – ‘Fire Emblem’ Series

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I have already made two references to this turn-based strategy series, so I guess now I have to actually discuss the game itself. Fire Emblem, though, is going to be tough; Fire Emblem 1 in America is Fire Emblem 7 in Japan, and there has been one release between then — the latest Fire Emblem: Awakening has also not been released outside of Japan. Plus, I haven’t played all of these games to completion. I’m still working on Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones and I’ve seen someone play one level of Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword (or just Fire Emblem in America.) So, I’ve decided I’ll only touch on the Fire Emblem games I’ve played.

That leaves me with five titles and plenty to talk about.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (Nintendo DS 2009)

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Why do I have Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon first? Because it was a remake of the original Fire Emblem game that kicked off the series. It follows the story of Marth, a young prince thrust into a war against evil sorcerers and dragons, as his kingdom is betrayed by its assumed allies. What made Fire Emblem unique is that it rejects the precedents of being a JRPG (Japanese role-playing game) and a TBS (turn-based strategy).

The typical JRPG/TBS focuses on a small cast of characters who usually fight Final Fantasy style (line up opposite each other and take turns smacking one another). This game delves further into the strategy side of things by marking movement on a grid and having a wide cast of characters with varying classes and stats. We learn less about each specific character (especially non-essential characters, since losing a character in Fire Emblem means they’re gone for the rest of the game) but the characters still drive the action. The story is about Marth, Caeda, and all the others they have to fight and who fight alongside them.

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Fire Emblem also does some interesting things with their classes and weapon options. First, they have what they call the “Weapon Triangle,” a form of rock-paper-scissors advantages between their weapons: swords have an edge against axes, axes beat lances (polearms, spears, whatever you want to call it, Fire Emblem  calls them lances) and lances beat swords.

But then there are also bows, magic, and staves. Bows can only attack foes two spaces away (not one space like melee weapons can) but aren’t included in any form of triangle. Magic and staves use a different set of stats than weapons: weapons are empowered by the strength stat and blocked by the opponent’s defense. Magic spells and staves are enhanced by the magic stat, and blocked by resistance. But, staves are not offensive, they are used for healing.

Now, with all this weapon set up we get what makes the classes really mold-breaking. The standard class set up for fantasy role-playing games is wizard, fighter and thief; the wizard wielding magic, the fighter wielding big weapons, and the thief being being the sneaky guy who uses small weapons. Since each classification of weapon has its own distinction, Fire Emblem’s classes have to be more distinct too. There is a class called ‘fighter’ but it is an axe user, not just a standard weapon user. Thieves and myrmidons use swords, but the thief is sneaky and a lock-picker, where the myrmidon is light on his feet and accurate. Mages cast magic, and priests use staves, archers use bows, and things like that.

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But here’s where more of the fantasy RPG kicks in. Not only does Fire Emblem have units riding horses, but also pegasi and wyverns! Then, each class is able to upgrade (class change is the official term) to a stronger class. Archers become Snipers, Fighters become Warriors, and Mages become Sages (which pick up staves, making them pretty much the same as the bishop class, which picks up magic when it upgrades from a priest). The last thing I want to mention on this: Manaketes. Remember when I mentioned dragons? Well, Fire Emblem’s dragons are a race of people who use magic stones to change into dragon form — they are the Manaketes.

So what is added in the remake? Online play, and the first Fire Emblem title for the Nintendo DS. It received 8/10 from most reviews, and I never completed it. I just got really tired of it early on. Since this was the first title, and they were still experimenting with the permanent death thing, most characters are around to be expendable. Oh, you lost Bord? Well good thing we’ve also given you Cord and Barst! With that comes the least involvement from these non-essential characters, since they are designed to be expended if necessary.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is not the worst of the series. My brother was able to complete it just fine, so my lack of investment might just be my own bias. Anyways, this one’s been off the market for a while, so try Gamestop, Amazon, or Ebay if you really want to find it.

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GCN 2005)

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This was my first Fire Emblem game. The first game of the series for the GameCube, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is probably my favorite.

This time we follow Ike, the son of a mercenary, Greil, as he tries to restore Elincia, the Princess of Crimea, to her throne. There are a few things that make this (the Radiance Series, as I call it) unique.

First is skills. This is the first Fire Emblem game to fully incorporate special powers for characters in the form of skills. Some are simple, like allowing a character a chance to strike twice or prevent an enemy’s attack, and some are massive (such as Ike’s Aether skill which allows him to drain an opponent’s health, and ignore their half their defense).

The second major change comes in the form of the Manaketes, namely, there are none. Instead we have the Laguz, an oppressed race of beast people. Instead of using stones, the Laguz have a meter which fills with power and allows them to transform into various giant animals. Some are tigers, some are cats, there’s one lion, a couple of hawks, red and white dragons, and plenty of ravens. Laguz do a few interesting things for this game; they allow for themes or racial relations, slavery, oppression, those kind of things, to be included in the plot — they also add new combat possibilities the Manaketes never could.

The last change for this one is being able to select weapon proficiency. Normally a cavalier or a mage can’t choose what weapon they gain for class changing, but in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance cavaliers can choose from axes, swords, lances or bows — mages can choose staves or knives. Which I guess is another change, knives have been added so that the thieves can be more “thief-like.”

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This one is my favorites because I see very few flaws in it, and almost all of the advances it tries to make succeed very well. The change from Manakete to Laguz mixes up both plot and gameplay, the story is tighter and allows you to be more invested in every character. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance also plays very well, taking full advantage of what the GameCube provides. Most critics placed it closer to a 9/10 and it sold 156,000 units in Japan. If you go looking for this one, make sure to check all the places where old games are found — this one’s even older than Shadow Dragon.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Nintendo Wii 2007)

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This is were things get a little complicated. I really like playing Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and its story does draw me in and get me invested, but there are things about both that frustrate me to no end. When looking for a Fire Emblem game to sit down and play, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is one of the first I’ll jump to. Its gameplay is top-notch, having the hit/avoid rates right where I like them for a Fire Emblem game, and adding the feature I call ‘triple upgrade.’

An already upgraded class, such as a warrior or paladin can class change once again, and upon reaching that third class they automatically pick up their ultimate skill — remember Aether? Well, Ike could only learn that through a special item. Now he just gets it for class changing. That’s really nice, or it would be if he ever activated the skill… grumble, grumble. Plus you jump between multiple groups, sometimes fighting your own characters (without the permanent death in that instance, so you don’t have to hold back) and the ultimate final focus of the game is preparing an elite team of eleven.

All those draw me to Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn over its predecessors, but then there are also some problems. With all the group switching, some characters do not get enough experience. For example, there are three characters who show up for a few levels in Part 1 of the game, then are never seen again until two chapters before you have to have that elite team ready. Plus, Part 1 is always a struggle because that’s when you’re building the baby team of the game, and there’s just not enough time given them for proper growth before they’re put on the back burner and later thrust into direct combat with lethal units.

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But what really gets me is the plot. The entirety of it can be surmised in two statements: “Everything you know is wrong,” and “We’re better off without gods.” Both of those really hit me hard, because I like believing there’s one God we’d be worse off without, and that everything I did in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance wasn’t completely pointless. But even besides that, there are other narrative flaws to this story that really bring it down.

First, this game has a habit of repeating the important details you learned in a cut scene… through incredibly slow and monotone narration. It’ll be Ike and Elincia saying “We have to move here and attack!” Then suddenly the map comes up and an old man begins saying: “Ike and Elincia meet to plan their advance — stated laboriously slow, then followed by a long pause. They decide to move into said regions (at least this time a red arrow shows up to give us something to look at). There they will attack the enemy head on — I already knew that, thank you for wasting five minutes of my precious game time.

And all this is in addition to some twists which the game tries to throw in, and ultimately aren’t surprising, exciting, or really worth anything. The only one that comes out of left field is the arrival of the dark god, which isn’t really a dark god, but she still did cause a massive flood and we’re better off without her — except when we need her to un-petrify people and stop the actual dark god, who also isn’t a dark god — but she turned everybody to stone and we’re better off without her, except she does somewhat cause peace, and… goodness is this annoying!

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Still, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is still worth your time if you are a Fire Emblem connoisseur, as it has its really, really fun moments, and great music and animation like its predecessor. Look for it in the same places as the other two Fire Emblem game’s I’ve mentioned so far.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA 2005)

I don’t own this one, and I’ve only gotten so far in it, so I’m only able to speak about what I know and what I can find online. But I have to mention this one because people loved it. Most scores land favorably for the title, and it even won GameSpot’s ‘Best Role-Playing Game’ and ‘Best GBA Game’ in 2005. I don’t think I’ve made it far enough to see all the things people love about this title, but I can she shimmers of hope in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones.

This time the story follows Eirika, and eventually her twin brother Ephraim, who are royalty of a kingdom surprised by the sudden attack of their assumed allies. The special features of this game are branching class trees for their characters, ‘trainee’ level classes (a trainee class starts out one class below everyone else, but can therefore triple upgrade) and the beginnings of support (which grow in the Radiance series, and are brought to stunning heights in Fire Emblem: Awakening).

Also, when you complete the story, with other achievements, you unlock a new gameplay mode, where you battle monsters. Aside from those things I don’t see much difference from a standard Fire Emblem game, but maybe this one just put all these elements together in the right way, and with a great story.

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This one is really hard to find even in retro gaming stores because people loved it so much. I was once told by a store owner, “If I had Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, I’d have it out front and center.” So, if you see it, and you want it, grab it.

 Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS 2013)

This one has a funny story to go with it. I was expecting the game which never got an released outside of Japan to show up on our shores. Suddenly there was this different one, Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I didn’t know what to think of it. “Where was that other one?” I thought, “What about… wait, is that Marth in the trailer?” And like that, I can segue into what I want to talk about.

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Remember how I said that unless it’s a sequel, a Fire Emblem game exists within it’s own world? Well Fire Emblem: Awakening tries to break that norm by existing in all worlds. You will randomly find weapons belonging to characters from previous games (such as Eirika’s Sword,) one of the characters is a descendant of Ike (although he is only available via bonus content, it still messes with my understanding of the Fire Emblem universe) and one of the characters has taken on the visage of Marth, ancient hero of legend.

The problem is you can’t combine all the Fire Emblem games into one world — maybe one universe, yes, but not one world. The whole god trouble of the Radiance series doesn’t fit with the shadow dragon of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the religions and mythos set up in the other games. But that’s just nitpicking, what’s good about Fire Emblem: Awakening?

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Well, the major thing is the support. Usually support was just a means to give two characters a stat bonus for fighting near each other. While Fire Emblem: Awakening drops the distance down to ‘adjacent’ it boosts the effectiveness, now not only allowing a stat boost, but the supporter can throw in an extra attack or block attacks from enemies. That really changes things up.

But it isn’t just that, as when a two units achieve ‘S’ level support, they marry — and when a “mommy character” and a “daddy character” love each other very much, you get a child character. Children are some of the best units in the game because they gain the stat boosts of both their parents, and inherit a skill from each as well.

It takes Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn‘s draw of the elite team, and amps it up, turning it into a match-making game. Also, if you don’t like the permanent death of the Fire Emblem series, you can turn that off via ‘Casual Mode.’  However, the game itself sees fit to make up for those advantages and really plays up the difficulty. I would say this is the most difficult Fire Emblem game. So much so, that I haven’t even made it to the final third yet.

There are a few more nitpicks I could make about Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I think you’ve had to read enough already. This one is still on the market, I think I saw it at Target just the other day. It is really worth your time, and has been scoring really high with the critics.

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All in all, Fire Emblem is a massive mess of an epic series, and I’ve covered all that I could. It’s like a Kandinsky painting, only I actually care about it. There are thirteen games so far, six with American releases, and probably more to come as they are gaining in popularity. Look into this if strategy and storytelling are your things. No really, please do.

 

Photos via: Google

 



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