FIRE EMBLEM GAIDEN
Genre: Strategy RPG
With the bridge being shortened more and more between Japan and America gaming-wise, a lot of long running series have been finding ways to become exposed to American audiences. The translation communities that have been popping up from all corners of the Internet have helped with these efforts. One such series that has been making ripples (and one recent larger splash) is Fire Emblem. Fun fact: of the thirteen entries in the series, only six have received official translation treatments. Nearly all of the other entries have received attention from the efforts of various groups to bring these well regarded tactical RPGs into a new light. Plenty of people know about the original Fire Emblem thanks to Marth, the original hero of the series, showing up in various cameos over the past few years of Nintendo’s offerings. Fire Emblem Gaiden, the lesser known sequel to the original game, has not received quite as much attention as it’s siblings- and that may be an unfortunate oversight.
The story of the game takes place at the same time as the original Fire Emblem (“Gaiden” meaning “side story”, for sake of reference). On the continent of Valentia, there are dark forces gathering. In the small village of Ram, a young man named Alm is approached by a member of the Liberation working against the oppression of Dozeh, a general of the nation of Zofia. Meanwhile, in the nation of Novis, a priestess by the name of Celica begins a journey under her mentor’s tutelage to find the reason that the goddess, Mila, has disappeared with no trace. As their intentions lead them across the nations of Zofia and Rigel, they will encounter many allies- including one another- and uncover more sinister forces behind the strange occurrences than they could have imagined facing.
If you have played any of the other Fire Emblem games, you basically know how this game plays out. Much like any other tactical RPG, you gather troops of various classes- fighter, mage, cavalry- and proceed through the story, leveling up your characters and fighting on a battlefield grid. Unlike more recognizable stateside strategy games like Shining Force and Final Fantasy Tactics, when a character falls in battle, they are gone for good. This adds a certain weight to the battles, as if you lose someone, you must make the decision to lose that soldier or go back and restart that particular battle. It’s a tougher choice than you might think most of the time.
As you level your characters up through battles, you will also be able to promote them to high classes. Wizards become Sages, Cavaliers (Social Knights, in the early days) become Paladins; the list goes on. This brings about a boost in stats and makes the already rough terrain of the game somewhat easier to traverse.
Fire Emblem Gaiden has a few differences between itself and many others in the series. This game lets you travel across the world map from place to place, unlike others in the series that, for the most part, just plop you from battle to battle with preparations in between. This was borrowed by The Sacred Stones and Awakening, two of the later entries, and adds a feeling of openness to the game, even if it truly is one linear path.
This was also before the time of ‘weapon endurance’. In future entries, Fire Emblem allows you to use nearly every weapon a certain amount of time before it breaks and has to be replaced. In this game, you can equip special weapons, but you will never find yourself without armaments. Considering the difficulty of the game itself, this is a welcome breath of fresh air.
The allure of the Fire Emblem games comes from two things: collecting all of the allies you can and the stories involving politics, back stabbings, and the storylines that tread the line between military drama and dealing with gods and monsters beyond imagination. Story wise, this is where the game shows it has aged poorly. The story starts off interesting, coming from the very different viewpoints and tones of Alm fighting through the soldiers under Dozeh to free his nation and Celica fighting through the dark unnatural beings arising due to the lack of the Goddess’ influence, it feels as through the game drags on with very few pertinent plot points being revealed often enough to keep feeling like there is some driving force to continue. It’s a shame considering that the plot points that are revealed are, if not cliché now, interesting enough in the Fire Emblem mythos.
On the plus side, the characters and their ‘side stories’, while not fleshed out, are interesting enough as they come up. They wrap up nicely in the ending and, depending on who is alive or isn’t, character endings change to reflect their losses or victories. Defending characters, rescuing them, or just meeting them on a dock to convince them to join your slowly growing army keeps things dynamic. While only a few characters from the first game bridge into this game (four in total, if memory serves correctly), it does not feel as though they were shoehorned in for the sake of popularity or looking for sales. The characters are given a role in the story and can become vital members of your army, if given the chance.
Music in strategy games is rarely anything more than ‘getting the job done’ in older games, and this game doesn’t stray far from that. Driving 8-bit revelries accompany your battles and some of them are put together well enough. Much like the story, however, the music never feels fresh enough to incite the player needing to turn the sound up any higher than necessary. The one track most people know, if they know any from Gaiden, is ‘With Mila’s Divine Protection’, which was remixed into Super Smash Bros. Brawl for the Wii. Even that track, in its synthesized glory, isn’t incredibly memorable.
Graphically, the game is about as interesting as its predecessor. You’ll see a lot of the same colors across the maps, broken up by the occasional blue water or gray fortress, but embellishment is not the name of the game on most of these maps. On top of that, a lot of the maps are large enough for them to feel noticeably barren. The character icons and figures are about on par with only a few being interesting enough for a second glance.
While the game is mediocre in the grand scheme of games and possible one of the weaker entries in the Fire Emblem series, it holds a special place in my heart. It presented advancements that I, as a player, really connected with and enjoyed. Already having an established love for the series helped to bear through some of the more tedious parts of the game, but if you are looking to start an interest in the Fire Emblem games, you’d be well advised to look elsewhere and return here once you develop a taste for the games. The translation is fantastic with credit to Artemis251 and, by extension, Shimizu Hitomi for the hard work put into the game. It may not offer as much as the next games in the series would, but what it does offer can be intriguing if you can make your way through the game to find it.