Pop quiz: What’s the best game on the market today that combines tactical strategy, relationship building, and tea parties? The answer is of course Fire Emblem: Three Houses, a game I really really liked when it came out. The sum total of everything that came before it, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a fantastic combination of tactics and character development, where your choices genuinely do matter.
And it’s amazing to think that at one point Fire Emblem had a foot in the grave before the sublime Fire Emblem: Awakening rocked up to save the day. That’s a story for another day, but what is fascinating is to see just how far the series has come over the years. What is currently a tight and focused experience that tests both your mind and heart, has roots that stretch all the way back across three decades of games, spin-offs, and consoles.
Thirty years ago, Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light kickstarted the franchise on the Famicom, handing players a fantasy world in which they sought to guide Prince Marth to recover an ancient sword that had the power to defeat a wizard who was up to eeeeeeeeevil. And by the dragons, ye olde Fire Emblem does show its age.
It’s a time capsule when you look at it, a crude prototype for what would come in the later years but a game that’s not without some charm and improvements. A few quality of life fixes increase the game’s speed, add mid-battle bookmarks, and allow you to replay turns, but it’s fascinating to see just how different the original Fire Emblem experience is when compared to the core setup that was introduced in the 2010s with Awakening, Conquest, and Three Houses.
There’s no reliance on the rock-paper-scissors weapon wheel, character development is minimal at best, and the pixels barely resemble an army of knights and soldiers. But even without those modern touches, the true core of Fire Emblem is still there: A dangerous odyssey across hostile territory that will claim the lives of beloved units and the only path to victory is a chess-like approach to outmaneuver the enemy and crush them with sheer force of numbers.
But it’s still an absolute grind to develop that army, and slow going due to the menu pop-ups being excruciatingly slow. And here’s the thing: The first Fire Emblem game may have been released as a celebration of its longevity, but it was already honoured back in 1994 with a SNES 16-bit upgrade and in 2009 it got a complete remake on the Nintendo DS. That latter game is the original at its best, and while the 1990 game is still a blast from the past, its age slows it down and doesn’t do it justice.
Just because it’s a Nintendo classic, it doesn’t mean that it’s automatically great. This port feels more like a quick cash-in, a slap of emulation with barely any tangible extras to make it feel special. If you need an example of classic Fire Emblem done right, just look at Shadows of Valentia on the 3DS from a couple of years ago. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light is fascinating from a nostalgic point of view, but it’s arguably more valuable as a reminder of just how good current Fire Emblem currently is.
Last Updated: December 8, 2020