anyone who’s taken even a cursory look through this blog has probably picked up on the fact that fire emblem is one of my favorite video game series, as evidenced by, among other things, the fact that i played through the heretofore latest installment in the series, the epically long fire emblem: radiant dawn, twice in a row. i’ve been totally psyched to play the newest entry in the series fire emblem: shadow dragon ever since it was announced: at long last fire emblem fans the world over can rejoice that the original fire emblem has finally been released outside of japan. well, not the original since shadow dragon is actually a remake, but in many ways we’re better off with a remake than the original, even aside from the fact it’s been translated.
first off, yes, this game features the same marth made famous to western audiences through his appearance in super smash bros. melee and who also made a second appearance in the more recent super smash bros. brawl. my initial reaction, like many other hardcore FE fans, was disappointment that so many of the features, even relatively basic ones, that were present in the recent games weren’t carried over to this iteration. in particular i was really disappointed that support conversations hadn’t been included, which are easily one of my favorite things about the games. support convos are sections of dialogue between pairs of characters that occur when they fight close to each other in battle, and they really give the game’s storyline much more depth and also give the game more replayability.
it’s no secret that nintendo was looking to make a more accessible version of what is a hardcore series in order to attract newcomers, and in fact in an interview the creators said that they were afraid the support conversations would make the storyline more confusing (which i completely disagree with, a classic case of a developer and a fan not seeing eye to eye). in terms of making the game friendly to newcomers there’s no doubt that intelligent systems succeeded in their goal, though (helped in no small part by the fact that marth is such a popular character in the smash bros. series), and some of the changes they’ve made are: the number of actions and stats each unit has are much more limited than in the other recent games; there’s a slew of powerful characters to use and replacement characters available if you happen to lose too many of the story characters; there’s a method of borrowing more powerful characters from a friend to get through a tough spot; there’s an online shop you can connect to in order to buy powerful weapons; and for the first time save points are included on the maps. the additions to make the game easier can mostly be ignored if you choose, but the save points are a welcome change, even to me, a long-time vet, and a nice compromise between radiant dawn‘s ability to save anywhere at any time.
i don’t have a problem with nintendo making their games accessible so long as they satisfy the hardcore audience as well. so how does shadow dragon shape up? well, at first i was looking at the game from the point of view of the recent games, and in that respect there’s so much that wasn’t included that it’s impossible not to be disappointed. but when you look at the game from the point of view of the original famicom game and see what was added, it makes you feel like you’re getting a taste of what the original was like and makes you really appreciate for the first time the innovations that came later as the series progressed, particularly since entries #1-6 weren’t released outside of japan.
but aside from the historical context of the original game, the standard addictive FE core mechanics, and the chance to finally see marth in a starring role, there still were just enough new features that i was kept entertained. there were the DS-specific interface features which were great, wifi multiplayer for the first time (although not particularly well designed at all in terms of matching you with a player at a similar level), and two new classes that non-japanese audiences had never seen before that were fun to use (chameleon a.k.a. freelancer and the incredibly useful ballistician). but the main new feature is the brand new reclassing system. each unit has base stats and growths and class-specific stats and growths, and it’s quite a lot of geeky fun to study the stats and work out which units would benefit the most from being changed to a different class (e.g. changing an archer to a dark mage) in order to make up for their shortcomings or emphasize their strengths even more. the FE series has always had a strong component of nerdiness in determining which units are the best and the best way to maximize each character’s stats as efficiently as possible, and the reclassing feature definitely helps make up for some of the features that weren’t included. the reclassing system isn’t intended to be anything like the complex, central system of the final fantasy tactics games, though, and it fits into the aesthetic of the game in the sense that it doesn’t change the core gameplay at all and it can help make the game easier for a novice. the addition of six levels of difficulty isn’t much of a saving grace, although there’s no doubt that i’ll be playing through at least some of them in the future.
so all in all although i was a bit disappointed with the shallowness of the story and the simpler gameplay, it’s still a fire emblem game and i definitely enjoyed it. in this great interview for nintendo between sakurai of brawl fame and FE series producer narihiro, the latter mentions that the game was created to acknowledge the 25th year of fire emblem and the creation of the 10th game in the series (although shadow dragon is actually the 11th game). he also says the game was intended to be “an opportunity to once again introduce everyone to the fun and attractions that this series has to offer.” in that sense it’s much easier to forgive the game’s lack of more hardcore offerings. the handheld games have historically had less features than the console ones anyway, so as long as this is just a dip and the next game will be as jam-packed with content as before i won’t be complaining too much. in any case, i’m hoping the game sells well enough that the SNES sequel to the game (the original FE3) comes out before too long. like shadow dragon, it would be the next best thing to playing the original games in japanese.
oh, and if anyone’s wondering, my main team consisted of frey, abel, ogma, cord (dark mage), bord, beck, shiida (a.k.a. caeda), wrys, marth, darros, lena, merric, and gordin. the game has less balanced characters than other games, in that some characters are clearly superior to others. i happened to pick a lot of the uber units this time around, but in other playthroughs i’ll focus more on the less godly ones. and if anyone is wondering and doesn’t already know, cord makes a great dark mage: he’s one of the few non-magic units who has a relatively high base magic growth, so he’s clearly an ideal choice. yes, i know, i’m an FE geek. i gotta get a FE t-shirt or some figurines or something hahaha.
some fiery links!
– yet again serenesforest.net has the most awe-inspiringly complete shadow dragon site around, with all the essential info including characters’ base stats and growths, info on reclassing and the online shop, as well as the soundtrack and wallpapers.
– also worth mentioning is that serenesforest.net has loads of information on the original version of the game, including some entertaining in-game character artwork, official character artwork from the japanese-only trading card game, and scanlations (some in english) of the official manga of the original game.
– the reviews all seem to be basically in agreement. here are the reviews at 1up, IGN, and IGN UK.
– nice interview with the director of intelligent systems with the tantalizing comment, “As the basis of the series is supported by features of ‘Strategy RPGs’, we will continue to make new titles based upon them even in the future. But I think all of the Fire Emblem games do not have to be so…” yowza! i think i just wet my pants. 😉
– the official site doesn’t have that much information, but it may be interesting to newbies and it has a nice section on the various character classes.
– hardcore gaming 101 has a nice run-down of the entire 11-game series, including shadow dragon
– for the european release nintendo UK put out a video on the history of the series (youtube version here).
– presumably in order to make the game even more accessible to newbies nintendo sent out an official release offering up hints and tips for the game, hahaha.