Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is the game that started it all. After 19 years, we finally get to play the progenitor of the series on the DS. Not willing to settle for a simple remake, they’ve also upgraded the game to match up to modern standards while incorporating some of the unique features of the DS. Prepare yourself for endlessly addictive gameplay, and maybe some hair pulling.
The story is simple, and didn’t receive too big of an update. Prince Marth is out to reclaim his kingdom and liberate the rest of the continent from the Shadow Dragon and his minions. Along the way, Marth will meet up with new allies, old friends, and unwilling adversaries who’ll join your cause. The story won’t win any awards, but keep in mind this was written 19 years ago, when cartridge space limited the size and scope of a game. You get a simple and straight forward plot wrapped around some very deep gameplay.
Some might say the series hasn’t changed much over the years, but it’s more like the gameplay in Shadow Dragon has been modernized. The original game is far too archaic by today’s standards. Things like different stat caps, the weapon triangle, and seeing how far you can walk (there is a numeric value, but you have to count the squares yourself) weren’t in the original. This remake however, feels like a bunch of features were blindly crammed in. They implemented the weapon triangle, but the magic triangle was left out. Support has been upgraded, but support conversations are missing. Side chapters are added, but accessing them requires killing off your own allies — something that goes against most Fire Emblem players’ values. As any Fire Emblem player knows, death is permanent.
Permanent death is what makes Fire Emblem so exiting and frustrating. Perfectionists will find themselves hitting reset even if the most useless unit falls in battle. Luckily, the game is designed so people of all skill level can enjoy the game. Newcomers can enjoy the normal mode packed with a brand new tutorial, or veterans can jump in and go for the highest difficulty setting. For this review, I’ve only played through the 2 extremes; the easiest and hardest difficulty. The easiest difficulty will ease you in with a tutorial, mid-level saves, and weaker enemies. The hardest difficulty will start you off with strong enemies, no mid-level saves, and more aggressive reinforcements. In fact, the hardest mode easily trounces the original and Super Famicom remake. I’m sure the difficulties in-between will test your skills accordingly. All you have to do is pick what you want to play. No matter which mode you play, it is always your choice whether you want to continue after a character’s been killed.
If you think about it, outside of resetting after a character’s death, the only way to really lose is if Marth gets killed. Of course, keeping anyone alive is easier said than done. The gameplay is focused more on strategy than role-playing. You take a turn moving all your units. The computer then moves all its units. When two units are in range, they can attack each other. Combat is played out based on a very strict formula with minimal guess work. This will allow you to think a few moves ahead. A little bit of luck is thrown in to make things exciting. Say you made a bad move; exposing a badly wounded unit to danger. You know the next enemy has enough strength to kill your character, but this enemy has low accuracy. All you can do is watch and prey the attack misses. This is the kind of nail biting edge-of-your-seat excitement that makes Fire Emblem so great. One wrong move could be your last!
People say the combat is like a game of rock, scissors, paper, but I think they’re putting too much emphasis on that aspect. Certain weapons will have an advantage against others, but that isn’t the only way to win. Making great maneuvers to route your enemies, using the terrain, and knowing how to deal with reinforcements is just as important. Axe might beat lance, but if you can positioned a lance unit on a defensive terrain, you can hold back a swarm of axe wielders just as easily. The level of depth means that there’s no right way to play the game.
Reclassing has been added to the game. This is a refinement over branching promotion from Fire Emblem: The Scared Stones. Characters now have the option to change into various classes to suit your needs. Also unlike Sacred Stones, character growth rates have been adjusted, so a well balanced class can grow into a slow and defensive class. Still, it’s not foolproof. It could have something to do with being out of character. You can change a gentle loving Cleric into a Myrmidon, but can you really imagine that character becoming a killing machine? Just because you can doesn’t mean you should.
Thanks to the DS, you can battle against a friend, and voice chat online. You can even borrow units to use for the single player game to help you out. Since the game is still very new, I haven’t been able to test out all these features against people online. I just know that the online play is very tacked on. Fire Emblem really isn’t well suited for online play compared to the Advance Wars series.
The usage of the two screens is pretty obvious. It ranges from displaying useful information, to touch screen movement. It’s not as revolutionary as Wi-Fi battles, but the dual screens work well for a game like Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem is very simple on the surface, but very strategic as well. This is the foundation on which the series was built is alive and well to this day. Newcomers and veterans alike will find the difficulty suited for them. This is what it means to make a game for the masses, and Nintendo and Intelligent Systems succeeded brilliantly. Even the haphazard implementation of features doesn’t put a damper on the game. It’s fast paced and addictive combat added to a lengthy quest easily makes Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon the cream of the Strategy RPG crop. Let’s hope we get the direct sequel Mystery of the Emblem remade as well.