Fire Emblem has been one of Nintendo’s more popular franchises ever since it was first introduced to the rest of the gaming world back in 2003 on the Game Boy Advance. Previously, the series had been Japan-only, but the seventh entry in the series, known simply as Fire Emblem, introduced western gamers to Nintendo’s longest-running RPG franchise.
Since North America and Europe responded well to the series, the next few sequels all made it to those parts as well, and then Ike, one of the main heroes from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and its sequel, Radiant Dawn, was one of the new (and popular) characters introduced in Super Smash Bros. Brawl. All of this showed Nintendo that Fire Emblem was a hit outside of Japan, and with that, they decided to remake the original entry in the series for the Nintendo DS.
Feb. 17, 2009
The main protagonist in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is Marth, of Super Smash Bros. Melee and Brawl fame. Players now get to see what started this long-running series, and also what transpired in the story of one of its most well-known heroes, but how does the game hold up nearly 20 years after its original release?
The story is normally one of the stronger points of Fire Emblem games, and though Shadow Dragon is not quite up to par with the Fire Emblem titles we have seen released in North America, it’s still a well-told tale that keeps you interested outside of the gameplay. ‚ You begin play as a younger version of Marth, and you need to escape your castle and homeland while former allies of your father and his kingdom lay waste to the countryside. Marth’s sister stays behind in order to draw the enemies and give him time to escape, as he is the last in the line of men capable of wielding Falchion against Medeus, the revived evil that started this conflict. You spend the rest of the game attempting to locate your lost sister and recover Falchion in order to put a stop to Medeus and his partner in crime, the sorcerer Gharnef.
There are nowhere near as many twists and turns in this storyline, but regardless, the localization is well done and it’s more than interesting enough to keep you going. Gameplay is where it’s at in the Fire Emblem series anyways, and in this area, Shadow Dragon more than delivers by taking the best of the old and new and mixing them together.
First, let’s take a look at the basic gameplay structure, for those who are not familiar with this series. Fire Emblem is a strategy RPG, which is a lot like a board game; you pick a unit, move him/her a certain number of spaces on a grid, and then you can attack, use an item, heal, or just wait to end your turn. Once all of your units have completed their turns, the enemy gets to move, attack, etc. As for weapons, there is a rock-paper-scissors style in play, as sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. It’s more complex than that when you get into bows, aerial units, magic and the like, but it boils down to that basic rock-paper-scissors gameplay, which is new to this particular entry in the series.
Watch this video of the Japan-only Fire Emblem to see just how far this game has come along since its original release.
That itself is standard strategy RPG fare, but what makes Fire Emblem different is that when a unit is killed in battle, that’s the end of that character. You can’t revive them with a spell, or by throwing a Phoenix Down or life potion on them, as they are dead. This increases the strategy for each move significantly, as you can’t leave units out to dry where they can be overwhelmed by opposing forces. That’s a good way to lose your characters, which can be a pain if you’re hours into the game and leave either a defensively weak mage wide open to attack, or accidentally bite off more than you can chew with one of your more powerful units.
In order to combat this problem though, you can see what the enemy’s movement and attack ranges are. Developer Intelligent Systems took that ability one step further in this entry and gave you the option to view all enemy movement and attack range at once, simply by pressing the X button. This helps you move along at an appropriate pace to setup attacks and avoid needlessly losing your front line, and is a welcome addition for both veterans and newcomers to the series.
In addition, there are now midpoint save stations that can be used once per battle; after a particularly dangerous portion of the map, or right before one, use one of the save points incase you do lose a character that you are not ready to part with just yet. Unlike the “suspend” saving option, you can reload these saves more than one time. If you’re one of those people who takes their character’s death in stride and soldiers on, then these save points won’t mean much to you, but if you’re one of those people who needs every unit they have cared for and used to survive, then this is just what you need to keep from restarting each level repeatedly.