Fire Emblem: Back Catalogue

Hello my loves. It has been a little while.

Y’all surprised me by opting for Fire Emblem over Final Fantasy, and I shall oblige. I’ve been working through the older, never-localized FE games, which I’m going to shove into one post because no one can stop me.

Inside: Shadow Dragon, Shadows of Valencia, New Mystery of the Emblem, Genealogy of the Holy War, Thracia 776 (but not really), Binding Blade

Shadow Dragon (DS)

I played the remake of the first three games, largely for my own sanity. This was a very bland game. I honestly have been struggling to even know what to say about it. It’s plotting, characters, and gameplay are all solid but unremarkable. It was kind of boring, but also I played through it. Like all the early games, it was far too easy to have units fall behind and become irrepairably useless, and if you’re a dipshit like me you do it with Marth and make him too weak to beat the final boss, who only he can fight. And then you give up and watch the ending online because while you’re happy to play it once, no way it that a slog worth doing again.

It is easy to see why it was such a big deal when it came out. Like Pokemon, it was an early genre-definer, back when every time something new happened it defined a genre.

Yep.

Shadows of Valencia (3DS)

Poor Valencia. This is a game of a series trying so hard to find its footing. The weird, highly unfun dungeon-crawling, the bizarre quest system, the unbalanced plotlines.

Though perhaps nothing was worse about this game than the entire story relying on Celica being so fucking stupid that it was honestly hard at times to believe the game was playing it straight. To say this was an idiot plot is to understate how stupid she was. “I know I’m an evil demon priest who’s been trying to kill you your whole life and murdered your family but look if you just trust me, everything will be fine!” and she’s like “Oh, okay!” And then there’s Alm’s plotline about how the nobles need to follow him because he’s good and capable even though he’s a commoner but PSYCHE! He’s a prince! Turns out his plot was actually about how to tell who’s morally inferior, because bad people don’t recognize the Innate Betterness of the aristocratic. The story in this game was such a fucking mess.

There is a lot of complaining online about the map design in this game, but IMO the real problem is how absurdly overpowered ranged units are. Unlike in other FE games, they don’t have a +1 or 2 range, they have massive like 5++ ranges, and stupidly high attacks even with low-level bows, so you can just plant yourself in one spot and snipe everyone without ever having to meaningfully interact with the map. I did this on the final boss.

The cutscenes were pretty though, that’s something, depending on your interests.

New Mystery of the Emblem (DS)

Unlike all the rest of these, New Mystery is a game I’d actually give a general rec for, with the caveat that it does rely on you knowing some of the main characters from the previous games. But it was far and away the most polished, with the most clearly deliniated characters, most solidly written (though not nearly as ambitious as FE4) story, and best mechanics. It was just a clean, enjoyable game.

It also is the only one of this bunch to feature a player characrer, which was interesting, since from my nooby vantage point that was something I thought would be more of a feature throughout the whole series. It’s really well done here — I thought it did a good job of balancing ‘silent protagonist’ with giving you choices about who to interact with and how. I also found that I liked the idea that resolving the whole assassin plot was optional. The game did a good job of having it not tied in so tight that if you didn’t do it the story felt incomplete, but not so loose that it felt totally random and unrelated. I also really liked the party chat being in a separate post-battlefield menu; I’m not a fan of the version where you have to maneauver to characters next to each other over and over to build relationships and have conversations. They’re too missable that way, and learning about the charcaters is like 70% of the point  in these games. Objectively, that’s fact, you can check.

There was nothing really groundbreaking or even noteworthy in this game, it was just pleasant and well-constructed, which is something I can get behind and also possibly a testament to how low my standards are.

Genealogy of the Holy War (SNES)

For all its flaws, I think this is the best of the pre-localization games, if only just because of how ambitious it is. As its title implies, “Genealogy” follows a political crisis across two generations, starting with the young Prince Sigurd, who is the victim of a massive conspiracy that results in the entire continent falling to the hands of an oppressive empire. The second generation follows Sigurd’s son Seliph as he tries to free the continent from tyranny.

As I said, this is a hugely ambitious game. The maps are ridiculously huge, and you progress through entire nations via one map by slowly taking over territory. The result of this is a real sense of progression and accomplishment and a real emphasis on scale and scope that I thought was highly effective. The other, less great consequence is that it’s very easy to get trapped in an unwinnable situation late in a map and end up losing like 6 hours of gameplay when you have to restart. The size of this game pushed up against the limits of the SNES so mitigating this with autosaves likely wasn’t possible, but if there’s ever a remake it desperately needs a feature where you can return to the last castle you took and start from there. The other problem with the game, and this is true of all the early games, is that there’s no catchup mechanism for units who fall behing in EXP, meaning that it’s very easy to have lots of units end up useless with no way to save them.

One odd effect of he huge scope of the plot was that I had a weirdly hard time keeping track of the characters. It’s weird, because in all the other games, even the ones with like 70 characters, I knew who everyone was, but this had a reletively smaller cast for an FE game and I felt like I never had any idea who anyone was or how they were related to each other. I was talking to my brother about this game and he agreed that this was an issue, so it’s not just me, but at the same time I’m not sure why I struggled with this, because everyone is well-drawn with lots of relationships and the background lore of the game was obviously very well thought out, and as a result I’m not sure how it could be fixed.

Overall though, this was a solid game. It was an interesting game. I don’t know that I’d rec it in general — too SNESy — but I’d be very curious to see what a remake would look like.

Thracia 776

I skipped Thracia, for which I offer the following justifications: 1) my brother said he thought all the translations were crappy 2) it’s supposed to be stupidly hard, to the point of being unfun, and I just do not have the brainpower for that right now 3) I had no interest in the side story about these characters; I don’t see why it needed to be told.

Anyway, feel free to throw tomatoes.

Binding Blade (GBA)

I did not like Binding Blade. Part of that may not be the game’s fault, entirely. Like many non-Japanese-speakers, I was introduced to Roy, the protagonist, by way of Super Smash Bros., and I suppose I took him to be a more… engaging chaarcter than he actually is. I mean, for a character to make the cut for SSB they theoretically had to have some sort of cultural cache, and for that to be true there must be something interesting about them. So I had some expectations for the protagonist, and thus the game, going in that I might not have had otherwise.

But Binding Blade was actually meant to be a kind of series reset. It was purposely designed to be easier in gameplay than 4 and 5 — which were very difficult — and the developers purposely wanted to give the game clearer, less complex heroes and villains. This means that Roy is, by design, an utterly boring Shonen 101 protagonist. It means all the characters are flat, really. I get that in the GCN/GBA generation was when Nintendo really started to make its push toward games all being friendly to the entry-level, but it was just so jarring after Geneology, which was so richly complex and ambitious. It was just so disappointing. Roy is so boring. The villains are all in it for the evilulz, the good guys are all saints, and all theives have a heart of gold. Blah blah blah.

This presented a real story-gameplay problem for me. It was so hard to trudge through maps when I couldn’t care about anyone, or about their goals, or the stakes. tRPGs are all about micromanagement, but microing is a really tough thing to base gameplay around, because you have to make a conscious, sustained effort to keep it interesting, and by making a conscious effort to make this game basic, the microing lapses back into a chore.

I will say I did like the shift in art style. The bright neons worked, which is a huge testament to the art director, because it could easily have been garish and unappealling. Instead it looks like they were excited to have this new platform and new capabilities and really had a good time with it. It’s also an interesting commentary on the use of non-diegetic elements in visual media, because suddenly I could clearly tell who was who again, but at the cost of what FE4 had, which was a really natural use of phenotype to indicate nationality (which likely contributed to my inability to tell some people apart). On one hand I really like the idea of natural-looking ethnicities in theory, on the other it was nice to have clearly delineated people again. It’s obviously possible to strike a balance (in theory, anyway) but I do respect the art director saying, no, we’re committing to going the other way here. This game had solid art direction.

In basically every other aspect, though, it was a huge disappointment. It just never was able to make a case for itself as worthwhile. And then it was made even worse by its sequel, but that’s another story.

11 Comments

  1. Roarke's Phone says:
    Hopefully FE7 makes FE6 look worse by being good. Even if it doesn’t, it’s tucked safely away in my childhood-favorites-I-won’t-criticize-as-an-adult collection.

    I had heard Geneaology was the best early FE (if not the best period). It’s a little awkward they hit the brakes so hard and scaled back their ambition. I always thought it had something to do with the switch to handhelds. Of course, now they’re back on consoles/bigger handhelds, but everyone and their mother is ambitious now.

    1. Act says:

      Spoiler: I loved 7, and it’s getting its own post eventually, so be excited.

      I was reading a bit about FE6/7 today and found out that the head dev for 1 – 5 left after 5 to start a rival dev (which Nintendo ended up suing, but that’s another story), so I suspect at least part of the hard series reset was trying to compensate for losing him.

      1
      1. Roarke says:

        That does go some way toward explaining the turn. I wonder if that dev’s solo work is any good.

        FE7 was… it’s hard to articulate how incredible that game was to me at the time, because I can take so much of it for granted now. The art and soundtrack were not just stellar for the GBA but just incredible, period. It had awesome characters and a moving story. Just, an incredibly polished and well-localized game.

      2. ? says:
        Was that Tear Ring Saga?
          1. Nerem says:
            It was. They sued him because he tried to literally make Fire Emblem. And by that I mean the original title pre-lawsuit was Fire Emblem Saga. And the plot is a sequel to 1-5’s plots to the point that you can see some similarity between Tear-RIng Saga and 6 even after both of them renaming everything because they were largely doing the same thing.

            Remakes aside, I really didn’t like any of these games. Shadow of Valencia was the best in my view, but Mystery of the Emblem was the second best.

             

            I actually feel Shadow of Valencia’s archers weren’t over-powered, it was more that just Archers in Fire Emblem were not good at all until the 3DS games. Like sure, they have 2 range normally, but the problem was they had 2 range, and not 1-2 range like all other range weapons. And they had awful stats as if they thought having only 2 range was a huge advantage. Which was a issue when every other class has good and fairly common weapons with 1-2 range and don’t have awful stats to ‘balance’ it.

             

            Also you didn’t miss out on 5. It’s a terrible game. It’s just suppose to fill in the plot between the two parts of 4, but those characters weren’t interesting to begin to begin with and pretty much the first character you’re suppose to recruit is a rapist and sex pest and his literal entire motivation for joining you is so he can rape a girl. He’s the worst.

             

            And of course Tear Ring Saga has stuff like that too, where in order to get a Dancer you have to get a specific girl kidnapped by human traffickers who teach her how to be a stripper.

  2. Roarke says:

    It’s a shame about FE: Echoes’s story, because I really had a lot of fun with it. I had only played the contemporary FEs, so the mechanics felt pretty fresh and interesting to me. The game looked and sounded very pretty, with a cast I liked for the most part.

    About the archery thing, I really only abused that for the Emperor, since he charges with his men and fuck that. Longbow-pinning him was a no-brainer.

    When it comes to strategy games (or any genre really) with broken mechanics, I feel there’s often a degree to which the resulting unfun is self-inflicted. Of course it’s the designers’ fault for including the mechanic, but the player is free to ignore that once they’ve recognized it.

    The worst cases are games with a strong incentive for 100% or speedruns, like the Valkyria Chronicles series. Even if you don’t want to use just Scouts, you’re almost forced to by the mission ranking. Fire Emblem is nowhere near that bad; 70% of the game (source verified) is about just picking the characters you like.

    Edit: FE3H partly fixes the range abuse by letting certain bosses counter at range. Unfortunately the game has a different problem, which is that endgame bosses and some enemies will one-round the majority of your units, so your options become fairly limited against them. 

    1. Act says:

      See, it just always feels stupid to not do the most sensible thing possible, especially in a game where clearing maps quickly with no unit loss is highly, highly incentivized. I don’t have a problem ignoring exploits and glitches, which are programming mistakes, but not using the best strategy because its OP just feels like a waste of time to me. Even if I try to handicap mysefl eventually I just go, “Fuck it, I’m clearing the map.”

      It didn’t help in 3 that I was super overlevelled (somehow) by the endgame, so none of the bosses could 1HKO me. Rotating ranged units in and out of boss range while AOE healing meant I could really quickly mow them down. The limitless ranged healing was super broken too.

      1
      1. Roarke says:

        I get where you’re coming from on the sensible strategy stuff. I’ve always been the kind of doof who tries to make things more challenging for fun, so ignoring the OP stuff for fun is second-nature. A fair chunk of FE characters are so statistically unreliable (though the luck-based level-ups are fun) that you’re often better off ignoring them, but they might have cool supports.

  3. Nerem says:
    [b]t is easy to see why it was such a big deal when it came out. Like Pokemon, it was an early genre-definer, back when every time something new happened it defined a genre.[/b]

     

    Also *Shakes fist* Super Robot Wars was the same wayyyyyyyyy.

  4. Roarke says:

    So it turns out Roy was in Melee to promote the upcoming FE6. He and Marth were only supposed to be in the Japanese version, but some wise or lazy American left them in.

    We should thank them. Roy and Marth stirred Western interest in the series, leading to FE7’s port. That also explains why FE7 had a forced, extended tutorial.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Skip to toolbar