To even the most diehard Nintendo fans, the name Fire Emblem means nothing to them outside of Marth, Roy and Ike, who all appeared in various versions of Super Smash Bros. They may not be household names like Mario or Link, but little do they know that those three guys come from one of Nintendo’s oldest and longest-running franchises, which dates back to 1990. Most people also don’t know that the Fire Emblem series of games are awesome. I don’t think I could do my love for this franchise justice in a blog post, but I’m going to try anyway.
Let’s start with the basics. Fire Emblem is a series of turn-based strategy games made by Intelligent Systems, who also makes the Advance Wars games. There are a number of parallels between Advance Wars and Fire Emblem, but we’ll get to that in a second. From 1990 to 2003, six Fire Emblem games were released, none of which were released outside of Japan. Every Fire Emblem game since then (with the exception of the latest one) have received international releases. For those keeping score, the games available outside of Japan are:
My first experience with the series was with Fire Emblem on the Gameboy Advance. Two years before its release, Intelligent Systems wowed me with the original Advance Wars. When I heard that the makers of Advance Wars were putting out Fire Emblem, I was sold the moment I found out that it played like Advance Wars.
While both games are turn-based strategy titles, I was surprised to find that they approach the genre in very different ways. In Advance Wars, you manage faceless military units that can be bought with your funds and are routinely destroyed by your enemies. Though units may be destroyed, you can always rebuild, as long as you have the money to do so. In Fire Emblem, you manage people who have their own unique skill-sets and stories, which are actually quite deep. You’ll start off with a handful of characters on your team, but others will join along the way, some people will leave, many on your team will improve over time, and depending on how you play it, some people will die. Unlike in Advance Wars, death is permanent in Fire Emblem. When a character dies in this series, you’ll lose access to them for the rest of the game, their story arcs are cut short and they will be listed as ‘killed in action’ within your ending.
As much as I love Advance Wars, it’s this human element in Fire Emblem that makes me prefer it over Advance Wars. It makes me feel like there’s more on the line every step of the way. Before a level, the game shows you elaborate story sequences that get you invested in all of the characters in the game. As you prepare for battle, you want to make sure that you choose the right team members to fight, equip them with the right gear and arrange them in the right formation. From there, every single move you make counts, as you want to ensure that nobody dies when it’s the computer’s turn, and you want to ensure that the right people are killing the right units.
Why would you want to do that? Well, one of the unique elements of Fire Emblem is how it manages the distribution of experience points, or XP. If a weaker character kills a very strong character, they will receive a lot more XP than if it were the other way around. In every Fire Emblem game, they always start you off with at least one character who is way stronger than the rest of your team, which makes it very easy for you to rely on them to kill everyone. However, by doing so, you limit the total amount of XP you could receive, you stunt the growth of your other team members and you’re most likely investing a lot of points in a character with limited growth potential. It’s nuances to the already awesome turn-based combat that makes Fire Emblem a cut above for me.
Taking a step away from the series’ mechanical elements, most of the games also feature great stories, which makes it easier to feel invested in your team and the action from level-to-level.My favourite story arc has to be the story that starts with the Gamecube game and ends with the Wii game, but the Gameboy Advance games also have great stories in their own right.
The only international release of Fire Emblem that I did not like was Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. While it’s by no means a bad game, it’s a remake of an older game in the franchise. This means that it’s missing a lot of the more intricate gameplay and story elements featured in later games in the series. Having played the others first, this one felt like a step backwards for me.
I know that this series will only appeal to a niche audience, and that odds are, the mainstream will only know of the franchise as the series where those Smash Bros. characters came from, but I’ll continue to champion it anyway. I’ve played through almost every international release of Fire Emblem multiple times, because they’re truly fantastic for what they are. None of these games were ever printed in mass quantities, so finding any of them may be tricky. However, should you decide to see what the hype is for yourself, it’s well worth the effort to track a Fire Emblem game down on the console of your choice.