Throughout the long and heralded history of Nintendo there have been many interesting and unique franchises that have been created by their hand. Each and every one of them was highly innovative in their genres with some even shaping their own. The Legend of Zelda created the adventure genre giving the masses a compelling story that they had never seen before. Metroid would further innovate on the platformer genre adding horror and exploration elements into the mix. On top of all of these sat Mario, everyone’s favorite plumber, the character and franchise that had revitalized the platformer genre and the industry as a whole. But these were just a few of their successes. Some franchises, for a time, just got left behind. Fire Emblem was one of them. A series that starkly contrasted with the cartoony and lighthearted characters Nintendo was known for, Fire Emblem would brave new ground with a darker setting and even more devious gameplay. A brutal franchise for only the most hardcore of gamers. For a time, no one outside of Japan even knew of its existence let alone how it was created. But with the series rising popularity and newly christened mainstream status maybe it’s time to shed some light on the matter? A story of swords, dragons, and one man backed by an entire company begins.
Fire Emblem On The Famicom
The story of Fire Emblem’s development takes us back all the way to 1973 in the early years of Nintendo’s development as a game maker. The company had decided to expand its ventures into a new frontier, electronics. To do so they split their newly founded electronics department into three branches, R&D1, R&D2, and R&D3. Out of all of these though R&D1 would prove to be the most prominent. Shigerui Miyamoto, the iconic Nintendo game visionary, got his start here where he worked under Gunpei Yokoi, the eventual creator of the Gameboy. Several years after Miyamoto left due to the success of Donkey Kong, a group of R&D1 programmers formed their own company, Intelligent Systems, and was almost bought on the spot by Nintendo. This new group under the tutelage of Yokoi would strive to create new games that were far different from any standard Nintendo affair. Their first effort was Famicom Wars. Releasing in 1988, Famicom Wars became the first in a long line of strategy games for the company. Taking control of two warring nations, Red Star and Blue Moon, players were tasked with fighting off the enemy faction and destroying their headquarters completely. It was a standard strategy game in all but name. Now with their feet wet in the genre the team was bent on creating a franchise worthy of their name.
After Famicom Wars’s release Intelligent systems had diverted its attention to more simulation based games. They wanted to do something like Famicom Wars but with a new spin on it that was wholly original. But who would craft this new masterpiece? One man would answer that call, a man by the name of Shozo Kaga. His idea was never meant to be a commercial project according to him, a dojin if you will. But he still had a vision and with it and a vast knowledge of game design to boot, Shozo quickly put the studio to work to develop his creation. Along with him his team would consist of game designer Tohru Narihiro, characters designed by Daisuke Izuka, and the iconic music provided by composer Yuka Tsujiyoko. Unlike Famicom Wars before it, Shozo’s game would add new mechanics in to differentiate itself from its predecessor and other strategy games on the market. Combining the strategy and role-playing genres inner-workings to mold its own unique hybrid there would be nothing quite like it for a time. Even though it wasn’t the most technically advanced game on the NES it was still groundbreaking in more ways than one. And on April 20th, 1990, after 2 years of hard work, Japan would be the first understand this. Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryuu To Hikari No Tsurugi, roughly translating as Fire Emblem Dark Dragon and Sword of Light, was the first mainstream strategy RPG on the market, beating out other titles such as Sega’s Shining Force and Super Robot Taisen for the claim.
Fire Emblem also ditched the military setting that Famicom Wars was known for and decided to go for an environment set in medieval times with swords, magic, and fantastical beasts throughout. Its story would follow this fantasy route too. Our lead protagonist was Marth, a prince of the nation Altea and a descendant of Anri, the warrior who slew the dark dragon Medeus. All is well in the kingdom until the neighboring kingdom of Doluna attacks, forcing Marth to become an exile in the nation of Talys. With his sister Elice taken hostage and his father killed by the evil priest Gharnef, Marth must gather an army to retake his homeland and find the sacred sword Falchion and mysterious Fire Emblem to vanquish a resurrected Medeus once and for all. Fire Emblem was a remarkable story for its time with few games being able to hold a candle to it. Games with stories were hard to come by but the unique battle system that Fire Emblem had was even scarcer.
It still held close to its roots in a few ways. Fire Emblems system was similar to Famicom Wars with battles being totally automatic and decided by offensive and defensive numbers alone on a grid based system but after that it started to branch of into its own beast. Battles took place against individual units instead of huge groups of troops attacking each other. It was also less about building troops and sending them off to their deaths like in Famicom Wars and had a deeper connection to its troops. Fire Emblem’s characters were unique in their own right with each and every one of them having their own purpose. There were your classic mages, knights, and spearman alike but there were also pegasus knights and dastardly thieves to wield at your leisure. Nearly all of them could be promoted to more powerful classes like the dragon knight and leveled up with standard RPG mechanics. It was an interesting system that Shozo and his team had created but these weren’t what Fire Emblem would be truly known; its difficulty was the reason.
This difficulty was the side effect of Fire Emblems creates creation, permadeath. Permanent death, or permadeath as it is so affectionately called, meant that when a character fell in battle he was dead for good. There was no way to bring him or her back from the brink. This is of course affected the story tremendously with cutscenes changing depending on who lived or died with some of them not appearing at all if someone was lost. Fire Emblem became a careful dance with death as you tried your very best to keep your favorite characters alive and kicking. Many Japanese fans even took the time on top of strategizing each and every battle to make sure every character makes it to the endgame. Death wasn’t the only form of difficulty. Enemies were ruthless in their tactics, the arena forced you to risk both life and limb for a reward, you couldn’t save in the middle of a chapter, and the victory condition of every chapter required you to have Marth in the lead. Fire Emblem was one of the most difficult games of its era and proved to be a great challenge for gamers.
After the games release sales remained flat for a time. A new IP had just released and no one had heard of the new kid on the block. Two months later, with word of mouth at a fever pitch, the game was a success, a success that Nintendo wanted to replicate. But this entry would behave like many of Nintendo’s other franchise. Super Mario Bros 2, Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link, and many more were all vastly polarizing compared to their predecessors. You either loved them or hated them. Fire Emblem Gaiden, or Fire Emblem Side Story, released in March of 1992 was more of the same with a bunch of added twists. Instead of being a truly direct sequel it took the side in its name to heart, paralleling the events of the first game on the completely original continent of Akanea. Fire Emblem Gaiden follows the story of two protagonists Celcia and Alm. Both hail from the kingdom of Sofia in the land of Valencia that is in constant war between neighboring kingdom Rigel. Dropped in between these two warring nations it’s up to the childhood friends to build their own army, save the peaceful nation of Mira, and invade Rigel to finally bring peace to Valencia. A complicated plot to be sure Fire Emblem Gaiden was still a proud successor of the series.
While many things changed, some decided to stay the same. Comparing battles between the first two games it wouldn’t be hard to mistake one for another. But a deluge of RPG elements would try to help it stand on its own. Instead of a whole slew of battles spread across a linear world map, Gaiden introduces a navigable one where each step represents a new location such as classic Fire Emblem battles as well as town exploration similar to other iterations of the genre. The battle system changed around too with characters now being able to attain different classes, allowing you to mix and match them to your own liking. You could turn a soldier into a spellcaster or an archer into a thief. Difficultly was ramped even more than ever before. Permadeath was as brutal as ever. If you lost enough units at a certain point you couldn’t even complete the game, something that many people found out the hard way. Fire Emblem Gaiden was even tougher to beat then the original Fire Emblem, and that was saying something
Somehow even amongst all of this Fire Emblem Gaiden had managed to outsell its predecessor, shaking the second game curse that had plagued many Nintendo games before it. Intelligent Systems had a winner on its hands. A company that had formed from just a group of close colleagues had grown into its own, competing on the level of many of the Nintendo greats. The creation, Fire Emblem was innovative for its time, molding the tactical RPG genre into what it is today. But its story and characters are what helped it to stand out in a crowd of knockoffs and copycats. There was nowhere to go but up for the company and its new proud vision. It was time to go Super.
Fire Emblem On The Super Famicom
After the success of Fire Emblem Gaiden, Intelligent Systems finally felt it was time to move on from the Famicom to Nintendo’s brand new Super Famicom. Having come out the same year as the original Fire Emblem it was a surprise that the franchise was as much of a hit as it was, a testament to its quality in more ways than one. Since many people could have possibly missed out on the first entry let alone the entire franchise itself, Intelligent Systems took the route that few developers take and decided to start from the ground up with a fresh take on their first outing. Fire Emblem Monshō no Nazo or Fire Emblem Mystery of the Emblem, releasing in 1994, was more of the same Fire Emblem fans had come to love but with its own innovations. Mystery of the Emblem was a remake and a sequel in one package. Splitting into Book’s 1 and 2, each was developed with complete independence from one another even featuring completely different soundtracks for each other. While the Super Famicom was, of course, a more powerful system it still didn’t have the power to feature basically two complete games on one cartridge so cuts were to be made. 5 complete chapters and 6 characters unfortunately had to be cut away to make room Book 2.
But that’s not to say that the game was lacking for content, no it was actual bursting from the seams with it. Book 1 followed Shadow Dragon’s story to a tee with some exceptions of course. Book 2, on the other hand, was a direct continuation of the story with character new and old reuniting to slay a dragon and save a kingdom once again. Even though this entry compromised on the original the story and everything else within it made up for that. Graphics were significantly upgraded from their 8-bit counterparts allowing units to differentiate themselves from each other more effectively. Gameplay in the end proved to be the most significant edition of them all. Taking many of the ideas Fire Emblem Gaiden had created, Mystery of the Emblem added those and its own ideas into the mix. Colored tiles helped the player understand where and how each unit would move in battle. Each weapon was crafted to look vastly different from each other adding even more personality to the story. Units that had a horse or Pegasus were even able to dismount from their mounts out in the open fields or interiors, negating their weaknesses while creating new ones. The first implementation of the support system also made its way to this entry, in which units perform better in combat when they’re near friends, family, or loved ones. Overall, battles were much faster and fancier then previous iterations and it would only be improved on over time. Mystery of the Emblem proved to be a fantastic leaping off point for the series, with its popularity growing faster by the day. After some time, it would actually become the most successful Fire Emblem game of all time in Japan, trouncing even modern entries by selling nearly $750,000 copies, a feat reserved for most mainstream Nintendo titles; a feat that Fire Emblem had earned.
Before we could move on to the next entry, however, the series did what many other series have done and create a few side projects. The first of these were manga adaptations of the series. Each told the full stories of the games with added in content for context on the matter at hand. There were even two separate series for Shadow Dragon at a time. But with the inclusion of manga, of course, came anime. Created in 1996 this OVA, coming with only two pilot episodes, would tell the story of the original Fire Emblem all over again but with added flashbacks to flesh out Marth’s3 origin story even more. Oddly enough with literally no word of mouth and an international release of Fire Emblem not even considered yet, these short few episodes made their way over to America; exposing an entirely untapped audience to the series. Something even stranger then this was Fire Emblem’s first, and most bizarre, spin off title BS Fire Emblem or Fire Emblem Akaneia Saga releasing in 1997 for the equally baffling Satellaview add-on on the Super Famicom. This complex little device allowed the Super Famicom to receive satellite signals from the WOWOW station in Tokyo and with a monthly subscription fee you would be allowed to download new games right to your console. Fire Emblem Akaneia Saga took advantage of these giving players four new maps to choose from. Taking in between events during Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon and fully voice acted to boot, players were given even more Fire Emblem content then they could ask for. This was only to satiate the crowd’s hunger for a new mainline Fire Emblem title however.
That would come soon enough but the creator of Fire Emblem, Shozo Kaga, wanted to try something different for the next entry. He wanted to break away from the Akaneian setting to something new with the series, similar yet contrasting with Gaiden. One of Kaga’s primary aims while crafting the scenario for the project was to produce a sweeping historical epic where the world undergoes great change over periods of time. In his own words, “the history is the protagonist”. As part of this, Kaga wished to convey how many historical events and behaviors are unpalatable by modern standards as a key theme and to a lesser extent how people’s mistakes ended up changing the world. In this, he was determined not to whitewash history and sought to present a medieval drama reflective of the true nature of the era, and to present both the heroes and the villains as fighting for their own justice to emphasize the dangers posed by branding a conflict a “holy war” on either side. This “holy war” turned out to be the name too. Fire Emblem Seisen no Keifu or Fire Emblem Genealogy of the Holy War, releasing in 1997, was by far the most innovative title in Fire Emblem history.
Taking the sweeping historical epic to heart the games story, while originally meant to be split into three parts, was made into two chapters. Genealogy of the Holy War is set on Jugdral, a land whose rulers bear the holy bloodlines of the Twelve Crusaders. The game is split up into two halves, separated by the time span of a generation. In the first generation, while most of his nation’s army is off to war in the eastern nation of Isaach, Lord Sigurd defends the duchies of Grannvale from a sudden invasion by the neighboring Kingdom of Verdane, but is rapidly embroiled in a conspiracy against his father, Vylon, in the events which ultimately lead to the birth of the Grannvale Empire, and in the machinations of the Loptyrians to create a human vessel for their dark god Loptyr – the same tyranny fought by his son, Seliph, seventeen years later in the second generation. This was the key to Genealogy’s story. In the first generation, each of the units, save a few, is able to pair off with each other to have children that would go on to be the protagonists of the second generation. Being able to pair off each unit also factors into the child’s abilities. Depending on the father, different combinations yield different results. Above all you had to make sure each character survived until the end otherwise substitute character would replace their offspring. This new love system contributed much to the gameplay but that itself was radically different now.
The idea of lineages and offspring changed how you played Fire Emblem ever so slightly. One of the core tenants of Genealogy was the legacy of the Twelve Crusaders, famous fighters from a time gone by. These people, of course, have their own descendants with the ability to wield a holy weapon associated with them. Coming in two forms, minor and major blood, both offered significant stat boosts to a character. Gameplay was at the forefront of all of this, and Shozo Kaga did much to relate this with the scenario he had planned. Genealogy’s maps were made into huge, sprawling affairs in and attempt to change the impression delivered by prior games that the conflict was being fought on a small scale. Instead it emphasized the game’s events as a massive, world changing conflict. While the maps became bigger and better, the combat system improved along the way.
Genealogy introduced skills into the mix, abilities possessed by units that could change the course of a battle. Each was thrown into two groups, personal skills, ones unique to each unit, and class skills, ones unique to each class. You could even pass them down to the children adding further customizability. Weapons had a general durability of 50 uses. After this they break, however, while in other Fire Emblem games you would never be able to use them again this time around you can repair them for a fee. This fee and well money general is unique to each unit. In a bid to force players to balance out their characters, everyone earned their own keep. You couldn’t even directly trade between units and had to buy them all over again from pawnshops if you wanted to. Weapons were also a rarity and without maintaining and trading them around like this you could run out of them. Last but not least the weapon triangle system completely revolutionized and changed how you played. A rock-paper-scissors mechanic, it consisted of two triangles, one for physical attacks and one for magical attacks. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords and so on and so forth, adding another layer of tactility to the series. You always had to pair up the right weapon with the right opponent otherwise you could suffer disastrous results.
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War was, and still is according to many, the greatest Fire Emblem title ever made. Its gameplay innovations with the weapon triangle system, skills, and much more along with the sweeping historical drama scenario that Kaga had made formed together quite a formidable entry. To improve on this, seemed like an impossibility to say the least, but Kaga and his team would try their very best. Their answer would come not two years after Genealogy’s release. Fire Emblem Thracia 776, releasing originally in 1999 through Nintendo Power and later in 2000 as a formal cartridge, would take advice from Gaiden and tell its own side story. Featuring Leif, one of the many possible children, Thracia 776 takes place between Chapters 5 and 6 of Genealogy, and we won’t say anything else because otherwise it would spoil the story of Genealogy, but we do recommend playing it. Anyway, back to the topic at hand, where Thracia innovated the most was, like Genealogy, its gameplay.
Skills and the weapon triangle remained the same as ever although Thracia added weapon ranks. Previously introduced in Genealogy as static and based on a class, Thracia implemented the version that would become the main stay of the series, one that increases through the ongoing weapons and gaining their own separate experience. The game also introduced a couple other systems, rescue, capture, and fog of war. Thracia allowed higher ranked units to rescue others from harm or have them leave the battle entirely at the cost of some penalties to their stats. Exclusive to Thracia and a more recent Fire Emblem venture, is the capture mechanic, an offensive version of rescuing in which units can overpower and seize enemies rather than killing them outright. You could then steal their weapons, let them go, or simply hold onto them as this necessary to recruit some units. Another mainstay mechanic became the fog of war, a weather state that hinders your visibility of the battlefield. When it’s in full effect, allied units have a limited range of vision and can’t see anything outside of it, creating a sense of uncertainty and caution, as enemies are invisible until they walk right into your path. Fatigue also contributed to this sense of caution you required; every time a unit performs an action they gain fatigue. Use them too much and they won’t be available for the next chapter. Speaking of chapters there were concepts for those too. Gaiden chapters were side stories that you could only get after fulfilling certain conditions and escape chapters forced you to flee while fighting for your lives.
These helped along what Thracia 776 would be famous for, its difficulty. Hailed by many as the most difficult Fire Emblem ever created, the game would show you no mercy whatsoever. Enemies and their tactics were brutal in execution, forcing you to carefully plan out each of your moves and have your tactics at near perfection. Others include some of the most intricately crafted maps in franchise history, dismounting proving to be a hindrance rather than being helpful, and the game flat out not telling you anything. In the end, it was a game meant for the fans. This combined with a release far exceeding the lifetime of the console, eluded to the fact that this would not sell well at all. In fact, it may just be the worst selling entry in the franchise period. It may have even lead to the departure of Shozo Kaga, who had guided the hand of the series from the very beginning.
It all started with the release of the Nintendo 64. Back when everyone was getting hyped up for the console and Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War had just released fans were clamoring for an entry on Nintendo’s shiny new console. Kaga would deny the claim, wishing to continue on with the Super Famicom system and return to Akaneia with a higher level of strategy in tow. But not a year later Shigeru Miyamoto would announce that a game would release on the console in 1998. The following year, Kaga revealed that his plans for a proper return to Akaneia had fallen through. If it had properly been released Fire Emblem 64 would have been renamed Fire Emblem Ankoku no Miko or Fire Emblem Maiden of Darkness for the now failed Nintendo 64DD. His plans falling through, among many unknown reasons, would force Kaga to leave his beloved franchise behind forever, form his own company Tirnanog, and create his own true successor to Fire Emblem, Emblem Saga. With its creator gone and triple A status at risk, the future looked grim for the Fire Emblem series. And Shozo Kaga wasn’t out of this mess yet.
Fire Emblem On The Game Boy Advance
After his departure from the Fire Emblem series, Shozo Kaga founded his own company Tirnanog to created his latest masterpiece the then titled Emblem Saga. It was his spiritual successor to the franchise one with similar turn based gameplay, graphical and music tones, and even an interface that seemed too similar to Fire Emblem. The story was also very similar to Kaga’s previous work on Gaiden, following two protagonists, Runan and Holmes, with two different armies of their own that intersect at a few points during the game. It was a return to old school Fire Emblem, a return that was too comparable to the original in the eyes of Nintendo. That was because Emblem Saga wasn’t due for a release on a Nintendo console but Sony’s shiny PlayStation. Being a direct competitor and market rival to the Nintendo 64, Nintendo didn’t want a series to go against Fire Emblem and possibly succeed in the long run. Prior to its 2001 release, Nintendo put legal pressure on Tirnanog as they were unhappy that Kaga was making an extremely similar game and name, stating they felt that it was used deliberately for promotional purposes and would bring false recognition to users. Not wanting to get into a legal battle Kaga agreed and changed its name to Tear Ring Saga while removing any and all Fire Emblem references a month before release. But Nintendo wouldn’t have any of that and in the end still sued Tirnanog and its publisher Enterbrain for copyright infringement to the tune of 2 million dollars at the time. Going through a legal battle that lasted for nearly 4 years, first ending in a win for Kaga then in a loss forcing the company to pay nearly 700,000 dollars by the end of it, the legal issues seemed to ruin Kaga and his dream at a new franchise. After releasing a sequel to Tear Ring Saga in 2005 called Berwick Saga, the franchise and Kaga himself seem to have disappeared from the public eye… for good. Unless his new project coming this year, Vestaria Saga, has anything to say about that.
But Fire Emblem wasn’t done yet, oh no it was on the rise from here. This rise was propelled by the series entrance into the ever-popular Super Smash Bros franchise. A fighting series that pits Nintendo’s greatest against each other, the iconic Marth had been considered a prime candidate ever since the original Smash. Masahiro Sakurai, the franchise’s creator, sought to add him from the beginning of development of their new game, Super Smash Bros Melee. In tandem with this as a clone character the team came up with Roy, the star of the recently cancelled Fire Emblem 64 and the next project that was forthcoming. Their inclusion in the series would shake the foundations of the entire Fire Emblem franchise but the aftershocks wouldn’t be felt for years to come.
Before we learned what would come of that the next entry in the series came around. Formed together from the recently cancelled Fire Emblem 64, it would take a new direction from the one that Kaga had led. First they needed to find a new director to lead the franchise and they found him in Tohru Narihiro, a veteran programmer who had been with the franchise from the very beginning. With their leader settled on, the team decided to choose a new platform for the next venture. No longer would Fire Emblem be stuck in the past and stay on consoles that have long since lost their luster and now its new home would be in the palm of your hand, the Gameboy Advance. Releasing in 2002 as the newly titled Fire Emblem: Fūin no Tsurugi or as it is officially called, Fire Emblem The Binding Blade, would be a continuation of the storytelling that the series had become famous for.
Following the exploits of the titular Roy, the game is set in a new and separate world from its predecessors, the continent of Elibe, a land once wracked by a fierce war between humans and dragons. One thousand years after that conflict, the misanthropic King Zephiel, of the militaristic nation of Bern, has freed the infamous Demon Dragon and engaged the rest of Elibe in a full-scale war with the intent of “freeing” the world from mankind and returning it to its “rightful” dragon owners. In response, Roy, the young heir of Pherae, leads the forces of Lycia in combatting Bern in lieu of his ill father, Marquess Eliwood. Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade was an interesting adventure to play through. While Fire Emblem was no longer helmed by the series visionary, Shozo Kaga, it and its subsequent iterations were still able to tell a story that resonated with the Fire Emblem faithful, in large part because of one it’s leading design ideas was to feel similar, yet distinct, from the original Archanea series of games. This can be seen in its map design, handful of characters, and even the motivation of the main villains. Kaga’s use of a relatively grey moral setting with no clear-cut visage of good versus evil was still at the forefront even though the series had changed hands. However, the differences are what really made Binding Blade stand out from its predecessors, rather than its similarities. Whether it was a step back or step forward in the franchise was ultimately up to the players and ultimately the fans opinions.
As a defining example, the franchises trademark strategy gameplay differed from its predecessor. While Thraica 776 had one of the greatest difficulty curbs in all of Fire Emblem, Binding Blade didn’t have as much complexity in comparison, whether it be in terms of storytelling or gameplay. While it is considered one of the more challenging games in the Fire Emblem series in the modern day, despite its simplicity, its latest predecessor left a huge chip on its shoulder for long time fans. But it did do some things right. Mostly a hidden mechanic until this entry, the support system was brought to center stage. Equivalent to the love system without the love, supports happen in a similar way when characters talk to each other on the battlefield. Each support grants certain bonuses to your units and as they grow up in support rank they can eventually get married like in Genealogy but without the children. This system allowed for a greater level of insight and depth into your army members of lesser importance and their connections and relationships, compared to prior installments where they were by and large left flat and un-fleshed out.
The flow of the battle also differed from previous entries. Certain stat changes and reworks were made and an affinity system gave each unit one of seven elemental affinities to dictate what support bonuses they would give to their partner. The weapon triangle was also tinkered with ever so slightly. Leaving the physical triangle alone, their focus was on the magical triangle where they combined fire, thunder, and wind magic into anima magic while keeping light and dark the same creating the Trinity of Magic that was used for many years. Fire Emblem The Binding Blade was also the first in the series to include a rudimentary form of multiplayer where you can fight against another player’s army. Incidentally this feature had been one that Shozo Kaga had wanted to include from the very beginning. This and much more is why The Binding Blade is considered today to be the game, which codified the general structure and gameplay flow of almost all subsequent Fire Emblem games. Many consider this to be the turning point in the down spiral of creativity in the franchise but no one can deny the influence this singular title had on the future of the entire franchise while bringing it back from the brink.
But the world had plans for Fire Emblem, big ones. When Super Smash Bros Melee was being localized in the West their team was faced with deciding whether or not Marth and Roy should come with the game. No one really knew about the franchise and since they spoke Japanese no one would even be able to understand them. But they saw no harm in the matter and let them stay in. This would unknowingly change the fate of Fire Emblem forever. Fans of Super Smash Bros flocked to these characters, wanting to know who they were and where they came from. The popularity of Marth and Roy was large enough that Nintendo felt it was high time to release the series globally. But Super Smash Bros wasn’t the only reason. Another came with the long forgotten title that started it all, Famicom Wars. Now releasing as the brand new Advanced Wars globally, Nintendo was excited by this and felt that strategy games truly had a place on their new handheld. Greenlit for release, and designed with an international audience in mind, a new Fire Emblem title was incoming and the whole world was going to play it.
Fire Emblem Rekka no Ken or Fire Emblem Blazing Sword releasing in 2003 and later that year as the aptly titled Fire Emblem, this time around the story told would be a prequel of sorts to Binding Blade. Set on the same continent of Elibe twenty years prior to its predecessor’s events. It stars three main characters: Eliwood and Hector, the fathers of The Binding Blade’s Roy and Lilina respectively, and a completely new character, Lyn. The game is divided into two segments: the first segment stars Lyn and revolves around her quest to save her grandfather from his treacherous brother, acting as a tutorial mode for the game. The longer second part stars Eliwood, Hector and Lyn as they oppose the schemes of the sorcerer Nergal, who seeks to summon the long-banished dragons back to Elibe for his own gain. As an introduction for an international audience to the world of Fire Emblem, Blazing Sword was on par with its predecessor, weaving a similar story but one that was all the more memorable. However, Blazing Sword had the shortest development cycle in series history, so it never had the time to truly set itself apart from Binding Blade in several regards.
As an introduction for an international audience to the world of Fire Emblem, Blazing Sword was on par with its predecessor, weaving a similar story but one that was all the more memorable. However, Blazing Sword had the shortest development cycle in series history, so it never had the time to truly set itself apart from Binding Blade in several regards. Much of its gameplay and assets in general were reused and remade, however, that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. And as many player’s in the West first vision into the series, it left a big impression onto what Fire Emblem should be. A strategy game that could develop strong side-characters while also giving an entertaining story that could grasp your attention, and always has a little something more tucked underneath. The player him or herself was given their own role in the story as tactician. While you yourself don’t participate in battle you instead are the one that helps guide the armies of Lyn along with Eliwood and Hector to victory. Another little tidbit for the game was with the Japanese release. For the first time in series history you were able to link Blazing Sword with Binding Blade, allowing for certain features to be unlocked in the new Fire Emblem. Two epilogue scenes were unlocked from the second you beat the game otherwise you would have to play through it 9 or 11 times. More important than either of those was the ability to skip Lyn’s story. Basically, a bonafide tutorial mode that you’re forced to go through it really had no bearing on the story at large and was definitely skippable. It was Nintendo’s old philosophy rearing its ugly head again, believing that international gamers couldn’t handle the difficulty at first. But players still plowed through to find the amazing hiding underneath and after selling nearly one million copies worldwide; the franchise was officially solidified globally. With that it was time to innovate once again.
This innovation came with their next entry Fire Emblem Seima no Kōseki or Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones releasing in 2004 and 2005 globally. The game is the only completely isolated title in the series, set in a completely separate world from all the others: Magvel. It stars Eirika and Ephraim, twin heirs to the kingdom of Renais, as they combat the sudden aggression of their southern neighbor Grado and investigate the dark forces that have caused their former ally to so swiftly turn on them and the rest of the continent and save the Sacred Stones from destruction. Sacred Stones was a return to Gaiden like storytelling with separate characters working for their own goals until they meet in the end. But the hero’s connection to the villain is what really drives the story forward. While the villains in past games always had more depth to them than we realized, the villain of this story has two very contrasting personalities depending on which route you choose to take during the middle of the story. What makes this fascinating to many players is that his character still seems consistent even when you compare his identities side by side, making the dynamic between him and the heroes all the more stronger. This, and the close connections between the cast of characters at your side, leads to many pointing to the writing as its biggest strength, and for some, as some of the best Fire Emblem has to offer. This inspiration from the series past also influenced the gameplay.
Several units started as a trainee class, a stage even lower than normal units. In turn they gain experience quickly and after reaching level ten they can choose between two standard classes and become normal units during the subsequent chapter. This basically allowed those units to become a completely different class given sometime, giving you further customizability than ever before. Monsters had a bigger presence within Sacred Stones. All of them had their own classes and reclasses just like your own units but in general they usually had inferior stats to go along with that. Like Fire Emblem Gaiden there was a world map that the player could manually traverse through. There were random skirmishes with monsters and towns aplenty for you to use at your leisure for shopping and extra experience. That too was completely changed. Every unit has an infinite amount of experience they can gain from, drastically decreasing the difficulty of the game. In fact, because of this and much more, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones may just be the easiest Fire Emblem game ever made. With this change in attitude could the franchise continue stand the test of time or was this path just not in the cards?
Fire Emblem On The GameCube and Wii
After the release of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, many fans and critics began to complain about the series lack of innovation. Every entry in the series Game Boy Advance era felt remarkable similar to each other for better or worse and because of this it seemed that interest in the franchise was waning once again. Luckily enough for fans of the series and newcomers alike when Sacred Stones was announced a second Fire Emblem game was revealed along with it. Intelligent Systems decided that they should bring the series to home consoles once again, to the GameCube to be specific. They felt that this would be the shot in the arm that the series needed while also giving them room to try things the series never had before. They would call it Fire Emblem: Souen no Kiseki or Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance worldwide. Releasing in 2005, Path of Radiance changed many aspects of the Fire Emblem series. For one, the power of the console allowed the franchise to fully enter the third dimension, with 3D character models and environments spread throughout.
Transitioning from 2D graphics to 3D graphics was one of the biggest challenges during development, especially since the classic tilted overhead view was to be replaced with a unit-to-unit battle in third-person. The team even used motion capture to help smooth over the proves while still making the character’s motions feel a little over the top to keep the fantasy feel intact. Path of Radiance also had the series’ first real cutscenes, fully animated by Japanese animation house Digital Foundry. But these never would have worked without introducing voice acting into the foray. For the past 8 Fire Emblem titles dialogue, had always been text based, and while characters still had fantastic personality’s and the writing was always top notch there was something missing. Voice acting was it. Path of Radiance even featured the franchises first vocal song, Life Returns, which was of course provided by the series iconic composer, Yuka Tsujiyoko. All of this combined helped to create a fantastic Fire Emblem game but there was still much more to it than that.
Path of Radiance’s story takes place on the continent of Tellius, yet another land that is separated from the whole of Fire Emblem lore. Unlike previous entries however, Path of Radiance doesn’t follow a lord as its main character but a mercenary, a change that had born out of the new direction for this title. Ike is his name, and what Roy of The Binding Blade was originally called. His adventure begins with his entrance into the Greil Mercenaries, a company of mercenaries led by his father Greil. For a time they operated normally within the borders of Crimea, a nation of humans, which just rests north of Gallia, a state comprised of a new race to the Fire Emblem series called the Laguz, humanoids capable of transforming into animals. All seems well for a time until the neighboring kingdom of Daein invades. Soon after, Ike comes across an unconscious woman in a forest that turns out to be the princess of Crimea, Elincia. Escaping to Gallia and losing his father to Daein general, the Black Knight, in the process, Ike must now gather and army of his own to take back Crimea and defeat Ashnard, King of Daein. Interestingly enough, Path of Radiance had one overarching theme throughout, racism. Before all of the squabbles in the Fire Emblem series were against nations of the same race but this time there were the Laguz and the nation of Daein’s Beroc who were always at each other’s throats. It was up to Ike to break these long held grievances and pull the world together to fight their true enemy, Ashnard.
But as with everything up until this point, Path of Radiance tried its best to tweak the gameplay to its own liking. The new races were the first ideas to take center stage. In battle, the Laguz changelings had the ability to transform into various animals from Tigers to Hawks. After their transformation gauge was filled up they’d turn into their animal selves, losing the ability to use the standard swords, axes, and armaments while switching to their more animalistic ones like claws and beaks. Your unit’s biorhythm also became another important mechanic for you to maintain. A stat that affects a character’s hit and avoid statistics, biorhythm would fluctuate between chapters either hindering or refining a unit even further. Other slight additions to how you changed classes and leveled up were also made letting characters automatically change classes at level 21 and awarding bonus experience depending on how well you did in a chapter. The skill system along with this was created anew with each character having a capacity gauge that allows for mastery of skills. The space of the capacity gauge varies between classes and characters and any unit could learn any skill, although with some exceptions. Path of Radiance introduced weapon forging to the series, letting you improve weapons, change their colors, and even give them a unique name.
The support system also made a comeback but not in the way it had been previously portrayed. Support level used to be raised by putting units next to each other; however, Path of Radiance changed this by having it determined by how many number of battles two units had been in together. Conversations now took place at Ike’s home base, a feature that had been added at the behest of the development team, as they wanted a place where characters could interact separately from the battlefield. To go along with this, conversations now had a secondary version instead of just the standard support based ones. These new info conversations provided crucial hints on the story ahead and were marked by three stars. One star denotes conversations that provide story background, two stars mark conversations that provide hints on how to proceed in the coming battle, and three stars indicate that the conversation may yield a special ability, item, or new playable character. With all this combined you’d think that Path of Radiance would have sold like hot cakes back in its home country of Japan, but you’d be wrong on that front. In fact to this day Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is one of the three worst selling games in the entire franchise even beating out the infamous Thracia 776. Even series producer Tohru Narihiro thought the game was 70% complete, the product of a somewhat rushed developmental cycle. With incredibly positive reviews and the series still selling well overseas there must have been something wrong that just didn’t click with Intelligent System’s original audience. Starting off their return to consoles on one of Nintendo’s least successful efforts probably wasn’t helping either, so the team thought that returning to it would be futile in the long run.
Returning to the GameCube wasn’t an option but Nintendo already had a new console in development, codenamed Revolution. Seeing this as their first opportunity to actually boost the sales of a fledgling console instead of riding on the coattails of its success, Intelligent Systems went right to work on their next entry. Nintendo was even in support of this, increasing their staff from 100 to 200 members, with many of them coming from Path of Radiance. With all of this support behind their backs there was no telling what would await them on release. Their combined efforts resulted in Fire Emblem: Akatsuki no Megami or Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, releasing in 2007 and 2008 worldwide for the Nintendo Wii, a continuation of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance in more ways then one. The 3D environments and cell-shaded full motion video were back once again with an upgraded engine and an even grander scale with hundreds of characters on screen at a time, and over 100 unique animations per character. Taking place on Tellius once again, Radiant Dawn was divided into four parts. Each part is structured similarly, beginning, with a prologue chapter that introduces the situation, followed by a series of chapters that is resolved with the classic Endgame. Part 1 deals with Daein, a nation in shambles due to its war with the world with many of its people being oppressed by the occupying forces of the Begnion Empire. This is where the games new protagonist, Micaiah, comes in who, along with her Dawn Brigade, set out to liberate the country from tyranny. Subsequent parts involve Elincia and the state of Crimea, the return of Ike and the Griel Mercenaries, and of course a finale that brings a close to the Tellius series as a whole. With a deep story just like its predecessor, there was much to love about this new entry. However, what truly helped it to further stand out from the Fire Emblem crowd was its exploration of the aftermath of a war and how the winners don’t always come out always on top even when they’ve won. There was no true victor in this conflict, only causalities, which made for a thought provoking journey that truly fit in with the Fire Emblem ethos that had been held up throughout the years.
The story was a compelling one that expanded on what Path of Radiance had laid the foundation for and the battle system too was further refined to its sharpest edge. Human characters could now promote twice, resulting in three tiers of character classes with the third being incredibly powerful. Each has access to their classes Occult or ultimate skill, which further increases their usefulness. The Laguz from Path of Radiance also made a return. When untransformed now they can use a new weapon called Strike to counterattack their foes although they would be relatively weak in this state. A new Laguz tribe in turn was also created called the Hatari, adding wolves into the mix. The weapon system was modified as well. Knifes became classified as full weapons, matching swords, axes, bows, and lances. New lower-tier bronze level weapons were introduced as well, and while they did the least amount of damage in the game and couldn’t perform critical hits, they were less expensive and allowed the most uses and bowmen were given more tools to play with like crossbows and bowguns. Elevation and terrain became crucial aspects of the battlefield. Characters can climb to higher levels, with higher levels increasing accuracy and damage and lower levels decreasing it conversely for marksmen like classes.
Changing the support system had been a crucial part of each entry and Radiant Dawn was no different. It features two types, Buddy supports and Bond supports. Buddy supports increase their characters’ battle stats dependent on the elemental affinity and support level of both Buddies. Unlike in previous games, characters can be Buddies with any other character, but can only have one Buddy at a time. Bond supports, which also appeared in Path of Radiance, are between two specific characters and are always present. Because any character can form a support relationship with any other character, the conversations themselves have been simplified and are based on templates, in which the initiating character makes a stock statement while inserting the recipient’s name, and the recipient will respond with a general acknowledgment. The more colorful dialogue that typified the support conversations in previous installments has been for the most part transferred to the Info conversations that take place between battles.
Dealing with Path of Radiance, you could transfer over save data from that entry. This would help to boost the stats of any reoccurring characters to their old counterparts making them all the more useful. Any you needed it to even hop of surviving, as Radiant Dawn is possibly one of the most difficult Fire Emblem titles, but not of the likes of Thracia 776. This difficulty, stems from multiple things from map design to AI brutality but many point to the various modes you could play through as the culprits. You see generally Fire Emblem games have three-difficulty setting, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. Generally those who weren’t the most hardcore of fans would choose the normal difficulty and go through the game easily enough, however due to a translation error in English speaking countries these were changed to Easy, Normal, and Hard. Unless you knew what was going on, most would choose to go for the Normal difficulty and up frustrated by playing the actual Hard mode, artificially making Radiant Dawn out to be more difficult then it was. This translated into poor reviews for the first time in series history, with many not knowing of the changes. It was still a very challenging game mind you, and most decided to ignore it because of that, resulting in Radiant Dawn becoming the franchises worst seller in Japan. But the legacy that this title left behind would still continue to help shape the series as it went along, even if no one was playing it. Something was wrong with the Fire Emblem series, and Intelligent Systems just couldn’t pin it down. Was it the gameplay? The story? The characters? The series itself?
At first they saw only one way to solve their problems, to try something more radical and change the very foundation of the franchise to a new and original venture. Only known as “The Illusive Wii Title”, Intelligent Systems had tried to prototype a new entry in the months after Radiant Dawn’s release. Intelligent Systems had thought Fire Emblem was too niche of a franchise and they needed something that would bring in a wider audience. To stand out from the crowd they going to rip out the strategy RPG roots that had been at the very core of the Fire Emblem series for age and replace it with a combination of traditional RPG and real time strategy elements. You could even roam around in fields, towns, and dungeons, unencumbered by the grid-based system of old, with enemy encounters happening in real time. The Illusive Wii Title might have been the most ambitious Fire Emblem entry since Genealogy of the Holy War but that wasn’t meant to be its fate. It was an experimental project through and through and was only killed off because of their loss of motivation after finding that they had no true aim or objective. Once it was shelved, Intelligent Systems was told to forgo console based Fire Emblem titles for good and try something a little different. For them, looking back to their very origin was the answer.
Fire Emblem On The DS
With their efforts on consoles deemed a failure in the eyes of Nintendo, Intelligent Systems had to prove themselves once again. If the Fire Emblem series kept failing financially time and time again, it was possible the plug would be pulled for good, so since the Game Advance titles had sold so well, the team thought it would be best to return to handhelds, and turn their heads to the brand new Nintendo DS. But what direction should take they series in? Should they try to innovate and change their very nature like they thought to do with The Illusive Wii Title? Or was a reboot in order? Before anyone could answer that, however, Fire Emblem once again made its triumphant return to the Super Smash Bros series with Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Marth came back as the series titular character of course but Roy was nowhere to be seen. Instead, the more recent Ike was added in and given his very own moveset that made him less of a simple clone to Marth. Even though the rest of the worlds love of Fire Emblem was waning, Director of the Super Smash Bros. series Masahiro Sakurai, still had great admiration for the franchise after all these years. Fire Emblem was now a mainstay of the series but it was still unknown if this would at all help the franchises diminishing returns.
To prove that, Intelligent Systems had to make the next entry a great one but what would it be? In actuality it turned out to be a return to what made the series what it is today. Franchise producer Tohru Narihiro thought it was best that they should remake the original Fire Emblem from the ground up and introduce a new audience to this old tale. His team sought to draw from the NES version as much as possible. According to Narihiro, the volume of content and the length of the scripts had increased vastly since the beginning, especially with the epic scope the Tellius series portrayed, and a simpler story could prove to be a boon for the series. Even Marth, the titular character of the series, was slightly redesigned to fit their new approach but only so much as not to make the character unrecognizable. Either way it was time for them to try and regain the success they once had.
Their final vision was Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, releasing in 2009 for the Nintendo DS. In all aspects, it was the same story as before but with some slight additions. Just like the original, it told the story of Marth and his quest to reclaim his homeland of Altea from the evil priest Gharnef and to slay the dragon Medeus with Falchion and Fire Emblem in hand. But unlike the old Mystery of the Emblem from the Super Famicom era, Shadow Dragon had every single chapter and character from the original along for the ride; and to further flesh out the plot, Marth was given a four-chapter prologue to put his adventure into perspective. Gaiden chapters returned as well, adding never before seen side content to the adventure. But because of the Nintendo DS’s dual screen capability’s, Intelligent Systems was also finally able to implement another one of Shozo Kaga’s ideas for the first. This came with the introduction of custom artwork for each cutscene, giving them more emotion then the standard conversations could hope to achieve. However, there were still more changes to the original to be had.
A new graphical style was present, fusing 2D and 3D into one “intriguing” mesh. The weapon triangle system that had become a staple of the franchise was of course put into play, changing the course of how many older battles were won. A class swap feature was created as well which allowed characters to change classes from say a Knight to a Mercenary, with several special classes such as Lord’s and Thief’s exempted. Nearly all the innovations from the titles succeeding the original Fire Emblem made into this entry, all culminating in a series first, Wi-Fi battles. Via Nintendo Wi-Fi connection players could challenge their friends and random players from around the world to 5 on 5 matches. Victory was determined by either defeating the opposing army or capturing their flag so players had to plan out their strategies even more so, as now they had real, live, and unpredictable human beings to contend with. The impact of this implementation wouldn’t be felt for some time.
When looking at all of this, it seems that Shadow Dragon was a near perfect remake of the original with all the new bells and whistles the series had come up over the years, although it was missing something that had become crucial to many of the Fire Emblem faithful; support conversations. Fans had come to love the little tidbits and insight that they learned from these over the years, making characters that they never would have given a second thought to care about all the more memorable. With the exception of Marth and a few key players, you wouldn’t understand who these characters are let alone their motivations. This absolutely destroyed the game in the eyes of some fans, with many proclaiming it to be the worst Fire Emblem ever created, even when it was a nearly by the books remake of the original. This was not the reception that the team at Intelligent Systems had hoped to gain with their simpler storytelling style. There had to be something, anything, that they could do to earn the trust back from their fans, and so they decided to remake, or rather, retell a story that was always an extension rather than its own beast.
That beast was Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem – Heroes of Light and Shadow, a remake of Book 2 of Fire Emblem Mystery of the Emblem. Releasing in 2010 in Japan alone, the first title to do so in years, New Mystery of the Emblem attempted to flesh out the forgotten sequel of the original while also adding in sought after features, such as support conversations, that were missing from Shadow Dragon. This brand new yet familiar tale follows Marth, one year after the War of Shadows in the current War of Heroes against a newly resurrected Medeus and the Dolhr Empire. However, he is not alone in this effort. While of course there is his own army of heroes, both new and old, a new secondary protagonist who had been lost to annals history takes center stage, you referred only as “The Hero of Shadow”. This new character, or “My Unit” as the game lovingly titles it, is a fully customizable avatar for the player to inhabit; with the ability to choose to be a male or female. You even had your own prologue and Gaiden chapters dedicated to your own story and mission with previously unobtainable units, from titles such as BS Fire Emblem, becoming available. In total, nearly 81 characters were recruitable, making it the largest roster of Fire Emblem characters ever created; a fact that remains true till this very day. But there were still several other additions that changed the Fire Emblem formula.
For instance, DLC was introduced, a first for the series and many mainline Nintendo titles. With the Assassin’s expansion players had even more reasons to continue with New Mystery of the Emblem weeks after release. However, in a decision that changed Fire Emblem forever, Casual Mode was made a part of the series. This mode took away one of Fire Emblem’s main selling points and for some crucial gameplay mechanics, permadeath; a feature that had been boasted about ever since the very first Fire Emblem. Now players had the ability to turn it off and regain their lost units after each battle, drastically changing the flow of battle and possibly the point of it all. Since the characters of Fire Emblem had always been so personable and well written, the games had always forced you to think wisely about your actions; whether it was a fight or simply moving your units one space.
This tore apart the Fire Emblem community on the issue. The faithful found it to be a blasphemous feature, destroying any and all semblance of difficulty, while others were finally able to play the franchise they had so desperately wanted to after all these years. It was definitely a tossup and one that not only wracked the community but the developer’s themselves with guilt. Many on the developmental staff worried that it “destroyed everything that characterized Fire Emblem”. It created a type of “security” where your characters were prevented from dying, so you didn’t have to redo anything while still retaining the same essential game. While this polarized fans, the reception wasn’t that great either. Sales had only slightly increased over these two entries and it just showed no sign of improving. Nintendo saw this as well and was looking over the shoulder of Intelligent Systems wondering if the franchise was worth it anymore. Before pulling the plug forever they decided to give them one chance, one last chance to save the franchise they love. If they didn’t pour their hearts and souls into the project and make the ultimate culmination of the series efforts, they would surely meet their own fate.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Seeing as their next venture could prove to be their very last one, Intelligent Systems decided bring out all the stops to create the best Fire Emblem title they could possibly make. To do so they attempted to bring together as many Fire Emblem veterans they could to make the game a success. Tohru Narihiro, who had taken over the position that series creator Shozo Kaga led for so many years, continued to lead the team as producer of the series, guiding them with the knowledge he had been collecting from the very beginning of the entire franchise. By his side was Masahiro Higuchi, a fellow veteran from the days of Genealogy of the Holy War, who had decided to take the lead as project manager, Kouhei Maeda, a writer for the series since the Binding Blade and director since New Mystery of the Emblem, and Hitoshi Yamagami, another franchise staple producer who had been with the series ever since Blazing Sword, the first Fire Emblem in the West. However, the creators of this new entry weren’t just old timers. Some new blood was injected into the series as well to update its look to a more modern sensibility. The creative duo to pull it off would be comprised of Toshiyuki Kusakihara as art director, charged with bringing the world and its many characteristics to life, along with Kozaki Yusuke, who had previously worked on the Fire Emblem Trading Card Game, as the character designer, tasked with bringing nearly 60 characters to life with their own personalities and quirks. Together all of these developers and the many people who worked under them were set to make the best Fire Emblem title possible, internally called Fire Emblem Fin: Children From The Brink, but how would they do it?
At the outset of the project they tried throwing a number of ideas at the wall and seeing what stuck. They made proposals that were a complete departure from the series. Yamagami suggested that they take it into a wildly different direction, the modern world with a bit of a fantasy edge, in a bid that he called Fire Emblem 2011. Other ideas that popped into their heads ranged from this to even setting the story on Mars. But the team knew what experimentation had nearly done to the franchise before with The Illusive Wii Title so in the end they decided on something that made practical sense, a culmination of the entire series as a whole. If they were going to go down why not make it a celebration of everything that they had created? To do so they would put in nearly all of the concepts and innovations from Fire Emblem’s past. No idea was too big or difficult for them to implement and even as the work began to pile up everyone was still smiling and having fun. As this admiration or even love grew for this entry in the hearts and minds of the creators, it too became a major theme along with the bonds that they shared.
Various systems from the series past were put into play along with new ones that followed this philosophy. The support system that had played apart in the series ever since the Binding Blade was combined with the love system all the way back from Genealogy of the Holy War to make their own unique system that would also further along the story. Bonds as well become an important aspect of gameplay with a new dual system, otherwise known as the Pair Up mechanic, which allowed two units to work in unison with each other. This caused many fears within the development team wondering if it broke the gameplay flow but after some time it was felt that the system encouraged multiple play styles for different players. But both of these systems concerned the love and bonds that their characters, and in turn the players, would develop so to make them all the more relatable voice acting made its return to the series. The developers thought it would make the characters easier to imagine although it was thought if they voiced their lines in full it might conflict with the pace of it all so this time we went for rapid-fire lines that would evoke an atmosphere of sorts.
Among other things that they sought to bring back was Casual Mode, the controversial mode from New Mystery of the Emblem which shuts off the franchise’s staple; permadeath. It was still a hotly debated issue that still affected some but many had grown to see it as a device that encouraged newcomers to enjoy a series that they never would have before, seeing it, the classic mode, and three difficulties as a sort of volume slider where you could pick and choose the way you wanted to play. Cutscenes would also play a larger role then ever before. They would have their own unique styling compared to their predecessors and were made to create a sense of grandeur and spectacle inspired by the openings of the Taiga Drama historical series, a famous television event in Japan. Animated by the brand new Studio Anima with full blown motion capture technology these cut scenes helped make the world and its characters come alive in crucial moments of the plot.
But with all these components in mind how were they going to change and better what Fire Emblem fans had always come to the series for, gameplay? At first the development team started by recreating the very first map in the franchises history. They toyed with the idea of switching between 16×16 and 24×24 pixel characters depending on the camera’s overhead distance. However, as time went on they sought to use the Nintendo 3DS’s ability to render 3D models effectively to change between an overhead classic 8-bit style and a newer one akin to the Radiant series for combat. While designing the levels, the team created both maps with a plot-driven structure and maps that allowed for player freedom in an attempt to add variety to the series and make their design essential to their tale. Another aspect of the battle system, new to the series, was the inclusion of multiple camera options. There was one that appealed to a more classic Fire Emblem style, another that was provided a cinematic viewpoint, and a third that added a first person perspective to the battlefield. Much of this was done with Western Players in mind, as developers wanted to both give players an option on their perspective in battle and demonstrate the platform’s 3D effects.
Other gameplay elements from series past entered into the fray as well. Branching promotions from the Sacred Stones made a return, allowing nearly any unit to change their class to something new and unique making your units all your own. To go along with that, the class swap feature from Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon came back in this new iteration, serving as a way for you to try out different classes and obtain skills you never would have before. Skills too were still an important part of gameplay, however, since nearly any unit could attain any skill you were limited to only choosing between five of them to keep the game balanced. A world map just like in Fire Emblem Gaiden was also implemented allowing the player to traverse the world and return to old maps for battles, experience, and gold. You could also level up your units pretty much infinitely too, giving the player another way to set their own difficulty level. There were just so many ways to play that it wasn’t Fire Emblem that told you how to play, it was your own decision.
It was a team effort through and through with any idea being taken into serious consideration. Fire Emblem Fin was a serious labor of love from true fans of the series from the very beginning who just so happened to be creating it. But this ultimate culmination of a project still needed a name. Something that was fitting to their situation yet still contained the hope of a success that they yearned for the series to have. It needed to impact anyone who came across it so Yamagami came up with the idea of Awakening. At the same time Intelligent Systems knew that this could be the end, the rest of the world didn’t, so calling it that meant that fans wouldn’t see it as the same old game they’ve been playing for years, they would see it as something new. But players still had to play it for that matter and after 2 years in Japan and a year later in the rest of the world, everyone would get to see Intelligent System’s culmination of the entire Fire Emblem franchise.
Fire Emblem Awakening, releasing in 2012 and 2013 globally, was a love letter to the Fire Emblem franchise in more ways than one. Its story was a return to a setting that the series and its creator had failed to return to before, Akaneia and Valencia. 2,000 years in the future after the events of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, we find ourselves in the halidom of Ylisse, the newly renamed Akaneia, following the journey of Chrom, Marth’s descendant. But his adventure starts not by his own accord but by you the player. As an amnesiac tactician that he finds on the side of the road, you play as the Avatar or Robin for short. Unlike previous attempts at making a customizable unit, this time the Avatar could be tailored to your own tastes. From male to female to hair color and even voice there were plenty of possibilities for you to choose from to insert yourself into the Fire Emblem lore. But getting back on track as you join Chrom’s army and become his tactician, the group travels throughout Ylisse attempting to thwart the advances of the Plegian army, find out the source of the monstrous Risen, confront the origin of your Avatar, and save the world from destruction by yet another dark dragon, Grima.
In many ways, Awakening was a return to the storytelling of the originals with an evil wizard and dragon to fight against but it was oh so much more then that. As a culmination to the series as whole other elements were mashed in such as the series trademark morally gray storytelling and less stereotypical character types that it has developed over time. Majorly, much was brought over from what many consider to be the greatest Fire Emblem title, Genealogy of the Holy War. As the team sought to bring back the love system in turn they also wished to put something akin to the child storyline into play while integrated it into the main story. They achieved this by adding in a future storyline dealing with a mysterious character named Marth who’s later revealed to be Lucina, Chrom’s daughter from a future destroyed by Grima. These new characters, aside from Lucina, are all completely optional units to obtain. Now whenever two characters reach an S support rank they will marry and have children. In turn, their child from the future will appear and become recruitable. Based on your various pairings they also have the potential to look very different from another players run through of the game, as whatever child is born is dependent on the mother and the hair color the father along with differing stats and skills from each.
Interestingly enough, Fire Emblem Awakening was also Nintendo’s first attempt at paid DLC or downloadable content. Since this could potentially be the last entry in the entire franchise, experimentation had always been apart of the production and this was no exception. Even after their adventure was over, players could still play for hours on end, further extending Awakenings lifetime past many of its predecessors. There were many different types of maps created for this. Some were made for the purpose of giving players an easy source of experience and money while others brought back characters from series past such as Leif and Alm as Einherjar, essentially beings that took the form of cards that allowed you to bring classic Fire Emblem characters onto the battlefield. Along with future downloadable adventures that expanded on the story, Fire Emblem Awakening was truly a celebration of all things Fire Emblem in more ways than one, and it seems that the whole world took note of this. To save the Fire Emblem franchise, Awakening had to at least sell 250,000 in Japan alone… and it achieved that in only one week. As the year went on it doubled that, assuring the series success.
But that wasn’t all, on no the world still hasn’t gotten their hands in the masterpiece. Its release was so incredibly anticipated that the number of pre-orders placed far outstripped the supply that Nintendo thought was acceptable. This was unprecedented for a Fire Emblem title, and especially after its previous lackluster releases you’d think no one would be look forward to the next game. However, because of Nintendo’s largest marketing push in Fire Emblem history, Fire Emblem Awakening was plastered all around the world with more coverage than it could ask for. Because of this Awakening became even more successful outside of Japan selling nearly 1.5 million copies, a feat reserved for most mainline Nintendo titles. It was also one of the most critically praised titles in all of Fire Emblem, with near perfect scores and reviews about.
All the hard work and determination of the team at Intelligent Systems had paid off in droves. What had once been a franchise declining in popularity with only its fanbase to hold it aloft had now become one of the most successful entry in the entire franchise and on the console, that it now called home. An amalgamation of everything they had made up until that point, from their complex yet easy to understand battle system, intriguing support conversations, and hardcore difficulties, Fire Emblem Awakening was a game for both the fans and newcomers alike. A demanding series that was near impossible for the majority of people to get into for a time, this brand-new entry had a truly global appeal. There was nothing stopping anyone enjoying the franchise for what it is, a franchise filled with a rich assortment of characters, gripping narratives, and fascinating medieval worlds. But now there was just one problem, the eyes of the world were now watching. Intelligent System’s next effort had to be a knockout hit that rose above the lofty heights of Awakening and more. The pressure was on and the true fate of the Fire Emblem series was about to come to light.
Fire Emblem Fates
After Fire Emblem Awakening’s unprecedented victory, Intelligent Systems was shocked to find out that Nintendo wanted a sequel. They had thought that Awakening was to be the final game in the series, with or without commercial success. But Nintendo didn’t just want any ordinary sequel, oh no, they wanted it to succeed its predecessor in every shape and form. Quickly, Intelligent Systems came forward with a proposal that fits those specifications. Given the obvious codename of Fire Emblem 3DS 2, the story they pitched was a winding narrative that stemmed from one pivotal choice that branched out into three very different stories. In this tale, there were two kingdoms, one of Light and one of Darkness. The player would play as a prince of that darkness who had been kidnapped by the wicked King of the Dark at a tender young age. After learning of their fate the player was given three choices, side with the Light, side with the Dark, or walk a different path then either. The choice would be their own. There were many reasons why Intelligent Systems chose this type of story but the main reason behind it all was that they wished to rectify the mistakes they had made in Awakening. Fans had criticized them less for the gameplay and graphics and more for the story in comparison to past Fire Emblem titles, and they earnestly wanted to improve on that front. They not only wanted to create a narrative that appealed to newcomers but one that veterans would come to like. Still, with their next entry they wanted to do something original for once and their hook would be that fateful decision the player would make.
They wanted to weave a tale that would have players seeing both sides of a conflict and allow them to understand both of the warring forces ideologies and where they’re exactly coming from. But to do this would require a massive amount of effort on Intelligent Systems behalf. While the majority of the Fire Emblem Awakening, team was coming back for this next project their old workforce just wouldn’t be enough. The amount of writing, characters, and world building needed would require three times the man power they had on hand. Kohei Maeda and his team just weren’t enough. The most important area they needed help in was the writing department. After shuffling through nearly all of the video game writers they knew, they found the right man for the job in Shin Kibayahsi, a prolific manga and anime writer. Yusuke Kozaki had known him through their shared editor and soon introduced him to the project. At first he refused due to his tight schedule but soon after playing Fire Emblem Awakening with his daughter he excitedly agreeded. Submitting an initial ten-page outline for each storyline, he quickly grew fond of the characters and ended up writing a 1500-page outline for the whole game, driven by a need to create a high-quality story and partially to surpass his daughter’s pressuring expectations. His writing ended up creating enough script to fill two complete books worth of material. Combing through the aftermath of his work would be Nami Komuro, a writer who had previously worked on Fire Emblem Awakening and Yukinori Kitajima, a writer for the Senran Kagura series. Him and his script writing company, Synthese, would come together to write the third, neutral path and the many support conversations for this next entry, a choice that had dire consequences down the line.
But what of the sound and art department you might ask? For such a task many talented team members would need to be on hand to make it a reality. The lead character designer, in particular, was a tough one to wrangle in. The dynamic duo of Toshiyuki Kusakihara, and character designer Yūsuke Kozaki, had truly defined the look of the Fire Emblem franchise. Every entry had different character designers and art directors and all looked wildly different from each other with a small pinch of that trademark Fire Emblem style that unified them as a whole. But they lacked the uniformity that the two had implemented in Awakening and the team wanted the both of them back, especially Kozaki. The sheer amount of characters they would be asking for him to design made them wary as to whether he would be coming back or not. But they didn’t need to worry. He was just ecstatic to get the chance to work on yet another Fire Emblem title.
Designing such an exorbitant amount of characters would certainly prove to be a challenge, however, the sound department had even more work to content with. Not only would they have to compose as much music as they had for Fire Emblem Awakening but they would have to do it three times in a row and maintain the same level of quality throughout. Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh, the previous composers, wouldn’t be enough. Three others would have to be called in. Takeru Kanazaki, Yasuhisa Baba, and Masato Kouda would all have to come together to create the next Fire Emblem masterpiece. Their centerpiece to this, would be the games main theme. Opposed to the traditional Fire Emblem theme, their new project would separate itself from the norm. Lost In Thoughts, All Alone would be their creation, written by Morishita, with lyrics by Kohei Maeda, and sung by popular Japanese pop singer Renka. The role of the singer was a crucial one both for the story and the song itself. The developers were looking for a singer who could do justice to their vision for the character, and when they heard Renka’s audition, they instantly decided that she was right for the role, with several of them being brought to tears by her performance.
Tears of a kind were common among the developers at Intelligent Systems as many of the seeds that they had sowed in Awakening and several of the choices they had made along the way had begun to chip away at the mindsets of many of their developers. It all began with the simple act of splitting duties among different teams. The core development staff worked on the games shared assets while additional teams handled the level design. This split the team apart but they were still working as one cohesive unit. However, as time went on things began to change. Many of the developers ended up in two different groups, Team A and Team B, formed because of their conflicting opinions. Team A wanted to return to a simpler time, when fanservice wasn’t at the forefront of the series and they were solely on crafting better stories, characters, gameplay. Team B, on the other hand, wanted to push the boundaries far beyond Fire Emblem Awakening and increase said fanservice tenfold to incredibly lewd degrees. Their argument was that some of their precious resources that needed to be focused on actual development of the game should instead be focused on the more intimate aspects of the experience. They didn’t advance the plot, they didn’t make the characters more memorable, they weren’t essential to the gameplay… but they did help bring in many players before, so having more of that should be a good thing. One group saw success in a tactful approach while another took a pandering route. These two opposing forces would fight back against each other for the entire development process, pushing back and forth on what the project came to be. Thankfully, the majority of the elements that made up the experience were left unaffected.
The most critical concept they had to get right was of course you, the player. My Unit, as it was so affectionately called had become a crucial part of the experience since New Mystery of the Emblem and Intelligent Systems had taken note. Players were always a side character, crucial to the plot yes but not the main character of the story per se. They sought to make the story surround your avatar and make him or her the main focus. There were no if ands or buts, you would be the main character of the story and of course along with this you could customize them to your own liking, making them look as wacky or serious as your wanted them to be. There was also a new feature added to further help customize this aspect of the game. Titled “My Castle” it was similar to the barracks that had existed in previous Fire Emblem titles although it was very much more of a home base that players could change and rework to their own liking. There were, of course, the Fire Emblem staples such as the Weapon Shops where you could rearm yourself along with the Arena that let you fight and bet on resources. These resources became an important of My Castle as well as if you grew some food you could use it in a dish to beef up your army for the next battle or forge even better weapons with some gemstones. On the lighter side of things the Hot Springs allowed the player to have various “interactions” with the cast and you also had your own private quarters which served as a way to invite characters over to improve your support rank with them and partake in the controversial “skinship” feature. In a mini-game unlike anything Fire Emblem had seen before, players could use the stylus to rub a character’s face, or body, on the touch screen to increase their relationship with the Avatar. It was really… odd. But your castle wasn’t only used for buying weapons, eating food, and rubbing people’s faces, there was still the much-lauded Streetpass feature to contend with. Wi-Fi battles had existed in the series ever since New Mystery of the Emblem but with My Castle things became more personal. You weren’t fighting on just some ordinary map but on your own turf, your own customized and deadly turf. You see your castle wasn’t just for looks, various traps and items were all there to help your cause. Ballistas, calltrops, healing dragons, living golems and the oh so classic fort were just some of the many ways you could try to stop the enemy along with your selected units of course. All of this could be played in person, however, it was also possible to leave your fort open to the public, allowing anyone to come in and trade while trying to best your favorite warriors. These Wi-Fi battles offered endless replay ability, even when you’ve finished the story.
With all of this it seemed like things were getting interesting with Fire Emblems second shot on the 3DS, but the dividing factor between fans of old was still to come. The Weapon Triangle, the single greatest edition to all of Fire Emblem, was the first to see such a change. It was still a triangle but no longer did swords, axes, and lances define it, bows, magic, and the newly reclassed shuriken took center stage. All six weapon types had two weapons they were superior to, two they’re weak to, and one that doesn’t effect them in the slightest so of course this irrevocably affected the gameplay, forcing many to change tactics that would previously have worked. But that wasn’t all. Personal skills made a comeback, units had only one fixed reclassing option unless they used the new Friendship and Partner Seals, nearly all weapons have bonuses and penalties to using them now, all classes were unisex save a few, and there were new weapons and classes to go with this such as Wolf’s and Katana’s. The biggest change of them all though, came with the weapons which were now completely unbreakable.
The support system was, as always, an important part of the adventure with many of the ideas introduced in Awakening translating into the new 3DS title. Like Awakening, two characters can build support points with each other, giving them bonuses in battle. Also like Awakening, there was virtually no limit to how many Supports you can be build for a character, allowing them to support with all applicable units if the player puts in time to do so. Unlike Awakening there were also A+ rank supports that were between two best friends instead of two lovers. You can also once again have children when you reach S rank between two units, although unlike Awakening where they impacted the story in a major way, this time they seemed to have no effect and were less of a crucial gameplay element and more of an afterthought. But the Pair Up Mechanic that had become a crucial part of the series wasn’t like that. Yes it still acted the same way as before but now the enemy had the ability to wield it to, making it less of detriment and more of another tool in your toolbox.
Out of all of these Casual Mode of course made its return, turning off the permadeath that the series use to flaunt. However, the developers felt something was missing from this optional edition. Due to Casual Mode, nearly everyone who played Fire Emblem Awakening had the ability to beat it. This seemed fine and dandy until they realized that some people still were unable to complete their adventure. This is where Phoenix Mode came into play. When using this now whenever a unit fell in battle they wouldn’t just be out until the next chapter, they’d revive in the next turn. Now with this newcomer mode nearly 100% of the people who would playthrough the game would beat it. But at what cost would this pandering have on the Fire Emblem veterans who’ve been around for years? As with many things, only time would tell.
With all of these features and iterations and past innovations there was still something missing, something crucial, a name. Looking back to the projects initial concept, it’s easy to find it. Their story was all about ifs. What if you sided with the Kingdom of Light? What if you sided with the Kingdom of Darkness? What if you rejected both? Fire Emblem If was the answer. Releasing in 2015 and later 2016 worldwide as the retitled, and appropriately named, Fire Emblem Fates, the release of this title was most intriguing. It wasn’t released as just one game, not two either, but separate three journeys for you to take. Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations were their names and each equally told a thought provoking story. At its core Fates starts out in the land stricken with a war between two sides Hoshido and Nohr. These two warring nations were very different from one another. Hoshido, a land not too dissimilar from ancient Japan, was a peace loving and prosperous country that was only protecting themselves from the conniving hands of Nohr, a nation torn right from the pages of classic Fire Emblem medieval fare. They seek not peace but war and wish to conquer Hoshido and its neighboring countries while its own citizens suffer in poverty. Caught in the middle is you the Avatar, otherwise known as Corrin. As a prince of Nohr, Corrin has been locked away in a remote castle for nearly all of his life, wishing to only see the outside world. He is eventually given the chance to do so when his father, King Garon, sends him to an outpost near the neighboring Hoshido. But before he knows it he’s been betrayed by a fellow Nohrian and caught by Hoshidan forces; but he isn’t killed immediately for some reason. That reason is that Corrin is actually a prince of Hoshido, kidnapped and raised by Garon to fight against his family. After a fateful meeting with Azura, a princess who shared the same fate, and learning of his dragon heritage, Corrin is thrown onto the battlefield and forced to choose. Will he stay with the family that is bound to him by blood or the one that raised him to be what he is? The choice is yours
Now the game begins to split into those three paths, Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. Each of their stories is not only unique but have their own classes, weapons, and unique gameplay style to them. Fire Emblem Birthright is the easiest of the bunch, following Corrin and his army as they seek to rid Nohr of their king Garo. Since Hoshido was based off of Japan the weaponry and classes had to reflect this. Bow’s became Yumi and Swords became Katana’s with new classes such as Diviners and Oni Savages taking the places of Mages and Warriors. The game itself was also significantly easier too, with the ability to level up characters outside of the storyline by paying a small amount of gold. The only objective, generally, was to rout the enemy and take over their castle. This was Fire Emblem for beginners and was the recommended starting point between these three titles. While each of the three titles were standalone adventures, little hints and tidbits spread throughout were crucial in understanding the story.
But many skipped this version after seeing how much it strayed from the standard Fire Emblem formula. Instead, many preferred to go with the next version, Conquest. This version was more at home for the Fire Emblem faithful, with classic weapons and classes at their side. Instead of siding with his true family, Corrin chooses the family that raised him and seeks to expel the darkness hidden withing his country. This wouldn’t be your standard; kill everyone in sight journey however, as each mission in Conquest is structured differently. New and unique victory conditions became a part of the everyday experience. Now you could be forced to defend a base from an enemy attack, break through the ranks of your opponents to escape, or even have certain turn restrictions depending on the map. On top of this you had to worry about where and when you killed your opponents and who their experience was being sent to. This time around you couldn’t just grind to success like in Birthright, you had to careful plan out your moves and units on and off the battlefield. It was the true Fire Emblem experience that any fan could ask for and while certain aspects of the game still bothered some, Conquest more than made up for that.
But between the simplicity of Birthright and the difficulty of Conquest lied Revelations. The midpoint of the two, Revelations took the best of both worlds and molded them into one. Corrin, in this version, decides to choose neither side and instead opts to find a peaceful resolution between the warring states and learn the inner workings of the world. To do this he follows Azura into the secret kingdom of Valla, a land hidden beneath the world, to discover both their pasts and save the world from utter destruction at the hands of yet another dark dragon. The story wass all about bringing the world together so of course every single unit from every other version is playable, allowing for even more possible combinations and pairings. Even though Revelations does increase the difficulty like Conquest, many of Birthrights ideas such as unlimited experience and the only objectives usual being to route the enemy remain the same. However, something seemed to be missing from this most crucial quest. The heart and soul that beat in the quest for newcomers, Fire Emblem Birthright, and the quest for Veterans, Fire Emblem Conquest, seemed to be missing from this final storyline. It just felt out of place compared to the other adventures and while it provided a good midpoint for the three the overall experience was sort of lackluster in its conclusion.
Fire Emblem Fates had faced development hell up until this point but, somehow, it succeeded in many ways. Offering many stellar additions to the franchise and two equally compelling storylines, walking away with just one uninspired narrative and a few… odd mechanics was nothing to snuff at. But they weren’t out of the fire just yet as their international release was plagued by controversy. Several features and additions had to be removed entirely to make way for the Fire Emblem Fates release in other countries. Skinship was stripped down to remove many of its lewd and perverse elements and a support conversation that resembled gay conversion therapy to some was changed outright. These localization issues and more made many feel like they should boycott the game in protest of these changes. But, as with many of these protests, nothing ever came of it. Instead it was released as it was, localization problems and “censorship included. Fire Emblem Fates was another smash hit for the series selling a whooping 1.84 million copies worldwide during its run. Fates had succeeded its predecessor by a small margin showing just how much of a fanbase the series had now. It was a benchmark title for the series in many ways and showed just how valuable the franchise had become to the world. The days of being an obscure and niche set of video games were finally over.
A franchise that proved time and time again that it could hold its own with the rest of Nintendo’s icons, Fire Emblem was now one of the greats. This respect, in turn, lead to the franchise being declared as a major IP by Nintendo, a move that was unexpected but appreciated nonetheless. Fire Emblem had become one of the greatest success stories of the generation. From its humble beginnings as the first major tactical rpg, to its many successful years with its creator, the franchise struggled to find its footing for nearly a decade. A plethora of stellar titles came out during the intervening years yet the public never took notice as the series slowly began to fade away. Only when they were given a final ultimatum and forced to work the hardest they had in their lives did they truly find success. And now they knew that success wasn’t a mistake. Fire Emblem wasn’t planning on going away anytime soon.
Fire Emblem Heroes
After 20 long years of hard times, nearly ending with their franchise’s demise, Intelligent Systems and Fire Emblem were on a roll. Merchandising, spinoffs, cameo appearances, and the full backing of Nintendo as a new major IP; Fire Emblem was now the gaming industry’s latest hottest commodity. Everyone wanted to work with this critically acclaimed franchise now more than ever; and Nintendo was looking for the series latest prospects. This came with the news of a partnership between the publisher and Japanese mobile gaming provider DeNA. Nintendo wanted to enter the mobile phenomenon faster than any of its competitors at Sony and Microsoft and felt that DeNA, owners of the uber successful Mobage platform, were the right partners in this effort. At the time, they announced two titles, an Animal Crossing mobile game and a brand-new Fire Emblem title courtesy of Intelligent Systems themselves. They wouldn’t let just anyone take hold of their brand, they would be responsible for this. Incidentally they had been thinking about making a mobile Fire Emblem game for years so this new opportunity from Nintendo was one that they had been waiting for. Co-directed by now franchise director Kouhei Maeda and Shingo Matsushita of Nintendo SPD, this fresh take on the Fire Emblem formula seemed like a simple thing to make. They could have just thrown a bunch of their older characters, the series famous battle system, and a simple story together and call it a day. And yes, they would do that, but in the best way they possible could.
Unlike many Fire Emblem titles that had veterans like Tohru Narihiro and Yuka Tsujiyoko, the majority of the team would be comprised of people who’d worked on Fire Emblem Fates and Awakening. Hiroki Morishita was the main composer of the title, bringing much of the style that the series had developer over the past 4 years to the forefront. Kouta Nakamura, Satoko Kurihara, Yuu Ohshima, and Kouhei Maeda himself would decide on how to make a Fire Emblem story work on the go. And lastly, Yusuke Kozaki returned as lead character designer, a key position needed for one of the most important features of the game, the entire franchise’s lineup of heroes. There were new characters for this adventure, for sure, but the crux of the whole project was bringing many of the classic heroes back to life to introduce them to modern audiences, an idea they had been tinkering with in Awakening and Fates. The best part of this, though, is that they would all be voiced, many for the first time in countries outside of Japan, with new and exciting designs created by the very best artists in the Japanese industry. Wada Sachiko, Ueda Yumehito, Himukai Yuji, Fujisaka Kimihiko, Hako, and so many, many more lent their talents to make each and every character look visually distinct from one another with Kozaki, especially, drawing the main characters to go along with Fire Emblem’s established style. As this would be Fire Emblem’s first consecutive global release, the art wasn’t even half of it. The voice acting, now that was the difficult part. They needed to gather hundreds of actors together for the 39 countries they were releasing in combined, with each voicing the little quips that gives each character a personality. Intelligent Systems wanted this to be a celebration of all things Fire Emblem. If the characters didn’t feel like their original selves, then it would all be for nothing. But mobile development isn’t as taxing as other mediums so they were able to get the game out right on time.
Fire Emblem Heroes, releasing on February 2nd, 2017 worldwide, was the Fire Emblem you knew and loved, simplified for mobile convenience. The story is different from your standard Fire Emblem fare. You play as the summoner, a hero who has been summoned from another world to save the Kingdom of Askr from the evil Emblian Empire and their leader, Princess Veronica. The world you enter is very unique from other Fire Emblem realms as the two warring kingdoms possess the ability to open and close portals to classic Fire Emblem worlds and either recruit or steal the heroes that live there to fight by their side. Joining the Order of Heroes alongside Prince Alfonse, Princess Sharena, and their leader Anna, it’s your job to free the heroes of these worlds and defeat the Emblian Empire… and that’s about it. Other than a few cutscenes here or there there’s relatively no story at all. You just go through the various worlds, fight and free the heroes held captive there, and rinse and repeat. While it’s said that there will be more chapters added down the line, at the moment, Fire Emblem Heroes is the most simplistic and dull story that Fire Emblem has ever told. But this game was never really meant for that. The gameplay and heroes were what were most intriguing.
Unlike the plot, the gameplay was essentially the same. Using the weapon triangle system that they’ve had for the past decade and a half, it was only tweaked in the sense that all of the weapon types were now color coded, making it easier to understand what each of them was weak too. Fighting was made even easier too as all you have to do is simply move an ally over to the enemy using athetouch screen and, depending on their stats and weapon of choice, you either win or lose; just like any other Fire Emblem title. Permadeath, unfortunately, was completely thrown out to prevent frustration from new Fire Emblem fans, with Hard and Lunatic level difficulties being unlockable over time. When you aren’t in the mood for playing through the main story there are other modes like the Training Tower where you can gain more EXP, shards, and crystal to level up, Arena Duels that let you fight against other player’s teams, Special Maps that let you recruit a new character each day alongside other events, and lastly Paralogues which will eventually play out as side stories like any other Fire Emblem game.
Heroes also only uses four units on the battlefield, as the maps were made to be 8×6 grids so they could easily fit onto the screen of a smartphone. But this team of four is a customizable as any other Fire Emblem game. With over 100 heroes to choose from that either consist of the classic games, like The Binding Blade, or more recent ones, like Fates, the ability to pick your favorite characters from across the decades was something to behold; each with a bio that told you exactly who they were and where they came from. Yet you couldn’t just choose your favorites from the start, oh no you had to pray that the summoning ritual would bring forth the one that you desired with a good star level to match. Stamina was another feature, or hindrance, that came into play that stopped you from playing for a time unless you either waited or coughed up some cash. You see just like any other mobile title; Fire Emblem Heroes was laden with microtransactions and the orbs were Fire Emblem’s method of choice. While you could earn one a pop by playing through each of the story’s nine chapters, along with several challenges and events, there was always the option to take the easy route and pay for more orbs to gain more heroes. Thankfully Intelligent Systems built the summoning ritual as a completely randomized mechanic. If someone decided to pay say a thousand dollars they might not even see all of the characters in the game; leveling the playing field between players. Kouhei Maeda and his team wanted anyone to have a chance to play a Fire Emblem title, which is why they made it free to play. However, they didn’t want anyone to steam roll through the game just because they were rich. That’s why everything else, the shards and crystals that help level you up and the hero feathers and badges that increase your character’s star level, the features essential to the gameplay, are free and have to be earned through your own hard work and determination.
Fire Emblem Heroes was definitely a Fire Emblem game, for sure, but its mobile inner workings might have hindered it a bit. This was a necessary evil, however, as how could a free game ever make money without them? Even if some people may play it for free, forever, the other fans are certainly content to spend their hard-earned cash since, as of this moment, Fire Emblem Heroes has raked in 2.9 million dollars globally on the first day no less. This little app is definitely an enigma in the long line of Fire Emblem titles. Its story is nearly non-existent, its gameplay is forgiving at times, and its characters take forever to obtain. Still, Heroes stands as a celebration of all things Fire Emblem. People who had never played any other games outside of Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates and others who never even guessed there were Japanese only Fire Emblem titles out there could catch a glimpse of history. Fire Emblem Heroes is a vehicle for the entire series to be introduced to the world and for everyone to find out what they’ve been missing. If anything, we must at least be thankful that they all will find out what a glorious franchise Fire Emblem truly is.
Fire Emblem Echoes
With the success of Fire Emblem Fates riding on their backs, even if many were left unsatisfied by the experience, Intelligent Systems went forward determined to continue this trend. The Fire Emblem renaissance had only just begun and they were determined not to disappoint yet again. With a surprise announcement at the beginning of the year it seemed the Year of Fire Emblem was about to commence. But as with any story, or video game for that matter, the starting point of their latest creations began right after their latest release. Post Fire Emblem Fates, Hitoshi Yamagami, now the series producer, was throwing around ideas for the next great entry for the franchise. At first, he thought that Nintendo’s secretive console, the Nintendo Switch, should be their next conquest. Fire Emblem felt right at home on handhelds and the added power of the console would allow the team to do new and exciting things that just weren’t possible on the 3DS. However, he needed a title to come out much sooner than the consoles release date, a title meant to act as a buffer until the Switch was ready for release. And Yamagami wanted it to release in the final quarter of 2016. Releasing a brand-new Fire Emblem title with the same polished gameplay and story in that amount of time was just… absurd. Thankfully a couple of passionate team members convinced him of a project that just might work. A remake of a long-forgotten title that had been labeled the black sheep of the entire franchise, a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden. These developers wanted to combine many of the ideas that they had never gotten a chance to implement in Fates into Gaidens vastly different gameplay concepts. Gaiden had been lost to the public eye and the majority of titles from the series past had all but been forgotten by the millions of new fans brought in with their latest entries so a history lesson seemed appropriate to Yamagami. And, conveniently, it would be ready in time for the games 25th anniversary. But they needed to get started on development immediately if they were to ever hope to release the remake on time.
The months of pre-planning and decision making would have to be rushed if they ever hoped to meet the September deadline they set for themselves, a ludicrous date that they quickly retracted and revised. But this rush job came with several caveats as many of their co-workers were hard at work on Fire Emblem Heroes and the eventual Switch title that would catapult the series forward into the next generation. They couldn’t necessarily be picky with whomever worked on the project. Some were a given like series producers Masahiro Higuchi and Hitoshi Yamagami along with composers such as Takeru Kanazaki and Yasuhisa Baba. Others sought to take the project as a chance to try something new. Take the character designer. Instead of using the tried and true works of Yūsuke Kozaki, Toshiyuki Kusakihara, one of the games directors, insisted that they hire Hidari, a popular Japanese character designer. Hidari’s artwork exuded a certain charm that made characters even more endearing and he wanted to apply this to the Fire Emblem formula. Starting with Alm’s design, and going through four redesigns of it, Hidari meticulously crafted him to feel like less of a royal character then previous Fire Emblem heroes. After designing Alm he used that as a bouncing board to bring to life the rest of the cast. Kusakihara was so impressed by the artwork that he just had to add it to the game and he did so by having each character’s portrait fill up the bottom screen so Hidari’s timless designs would always be on display. His artwork gave each character a personality that they were sorely lacking in, a fact that the rest of Gaiden itself was suffering from as well. A symptom of the time, many of the key plot points and realizations were locked away in the manual and not in the game proper due to the Famicoms many limitations. A great story was hidden underneath and only needed to be unearthed for all to see. They needed someone to help lead the team. Someone with an intricate knowledge of the source material. Someone who would dedicate themselves to unveiling this hidden gem to the world.
That someone was Kenta Nakanishi. A relatively unknown member of Nintendo, Nakanishi had been working in the background ever since his start in 2009 first as a simple debugger then later on with Xenoblade Chronicles, helping one of the most important video games in history to get a western localization. After helping on some of the series main titles and becoming a subdirector on Fates, Nakanishi finally had the connections to speak with the driving forces behind Fire Emblem, a franchise that was near and dear to him. As a young boy, he was introduced to the series by his father, a major fan in his own right. Teaching him how to play and getting him hooked on the series, the two would play the original Shadow Dragon and Gaiden for hours on end. This time he spent with his father didn’t last unfortunately. Just around the release of Mystery of the Emblem his father passed away leaving him only with the memories of the fun times they had. Laying his father to rest with a copy of Mystery of the Emblem he continued playing the series for years to come. Later on, while sorting through his personal effects he found the two cartridges of Shadow Dragon and Gaiden that he played with his father long ago. Still containing his save data, Nakanashi reminisced about the times the two spent together, strengthening his bond with the games. He told his story to Yamagami and Higuchi and they hired him on the spot. It just felt right to them. With his vast knowledge of the series and his emotional attachment to Gaiden, Nakanishi seemed like a perfect match. He would be just one of the many interesting directors for this project as Echoes would also have multiple directors, just like Fates. Genki Yokota would return as one of the minor directors late into the development cycle, as he was busy with other projects at the time. Kusakihara, more importantly, would step up to the plate as the games general director, leading the team through their latest endeavor. He had always been intrigued by Gaiden’s unconventional gameplay, and wanted to see how a modern audience would react to such a drastic shift in mechanics, so starting out as a director on Echoes was a perfect fit for him. With directors in tow the production was a go, though, they already had a strong idea of what they wanted to do at the beginning.
From the outset of the project the directors and producers alike had several goals they wanted to reach by the tail end of production. The most pressing, matter at hand was Gaiden itself and specifically, its difficulty. Fire Emblem Gaiden was renowned as one of the most difficult titles in the series but it wasn’t only because of your opponents on the battlefield. Character growth rates were stingy at best, offering one or two stat boosts each level and if you lose enough units you won’t even be able to finish the game. It was brutal to say the least, brutal enough that it could alienate their current fanbase if they went down that route. To alleviate these concerns, they upped the growth rates to modern standards, tweaked some things with weapon accuracy, and added in other iconic innovations like the support and skill systems. The volume-like difficulty options and the option to enable Casual Mode didn’t hurt either. The team at Intelligent Systems wanted to introduce classic Fire Emblem to a new audience and this was just the tip of the iceberg.
The story was a hard sell as it was. It had no clear theme, its characters either dominated the narrative or said only one or two lines and were instantly forgotten afterwards, and when the game switched between Celica and Alm it could be jarring to say the least. Everything just needed some clarification. Characters needed to have personalities instead of cookie cutter archetypes. A clear narrative through-line had to be developed. And everything in the manual had to be shoved into the final project. No one was going to look through that in this day in age. But what was Gaiden’s theme throughout it all? What was Shozo Kaga trying to get at back in the day? A confrontation of opposites, of differing ideologies and values between the main characters and their enemies. This dichotomy is also what made Celica and Alm’s journey’s, and in turn their respective armies, conflict with one another. Alm’s path is one of power, seeking to end the war by force. Celica, on the other hand, stands on the side of love and compassion and seeks to end the war in her own way. Everything in the story is defined by these opposing values providing a thrilling narrative in theory. With the advancements of today, though, it was all but a reality. There were just a couple things out of place though, namely a group of compelling characters to follow. Giving them more personality and a larger role in the story was one thing they could do, however, the team wanted to take it one step further and add full on voice acting to the series for the first time. This added a layer of depth that just wasn’t possible with lines of text. To truly convey tense moments, happy moments, or those that can fluctuate in emotion at a moment’s notice, voice acting was absolutely necessary.
Gaiden also had sort of an image problem ever since its release. Meaning side story in Japanese, many were confused as to what side story it was for so keeping the name as is just wasn’t going to cut it. At first, they thought about calling it New Gaiden, like New Mystery of the Emblem, however the presence of gaiden or paralogue chapters further complicated things so the idea was scraped on the spot. Still, they wanted to keep the feeling of the game being a remake. For this reason, they looked into popular Japanese naming conventions at the time such as “RE:” for remake, saido meaning once again or second time, and even just a simple G at the end of the Fire Emblem moniker. These were great concepts in their own right but they just weren’t clicking with the team’s vision for the project. Somewhere amidst their ramblings, though, they found their answer, echoes. A simple yet fitting name, it befitted the mission of their game, to have their classic titles echo back to their modern audience and let them see just how much the series has changed and how much it has remained the same over all these years. Echoes was all about honoring the Fire Emblem franchises storied past and keeping it alive for future generations, a noble goal to say the least. While the majority of people involved in the original title either left the company or pursued other interests within it, the brilliant group of individuals who inherited the franchises legacy, and this one little game in particular, were more then up to the task.
But an echo is just that, an echo. While it would help the game to standout it wouldn’t help it to be seen as its own unique experience. And having the Echoes label for any future Fire Emblem remakes couldn’t hurt either. Hence Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was born. Releasing on April 20th, 2017 and later in May for the rest of the world, the story of Fire Emblem Echoes was a much more grounded and simpler tale. Using Gaiden’s narrative as a basis, writer Sakoto Kurihara weaved a more compelling version of events, adding context and new characters in to make it all flow more fluidly. Taking place on the continent of Valentia, a land torn asunder between two gods, Milla and Duma, and two kingdoms, the harsh Rigel and lavish Zofia, the game begins with a prologue to it all, telling the fateful meeting of dual protagonists Alm and Celica years before the game proper. Various circumstances force them to part ways during their youth with only their destinies to tie them together. Years later, Alm’s homeland of Zofia has fallen to the hands of the traitorous Desaix and the Rigelian armada with only the rebel Deliverance to stop them. One of their soldiers, Lukas, visits Alm’s village begging for Alm’s grandfather Sir Mycen’s aid. Rejecting his offer outright, Alm decides to take his grandfather’s place and fight in the war himself, hoping to end the country’s strife. On a small island, east of Zofia, Celica sets out on her own mission to discover what has happened to Milla as the nation has started to wither and die a slow death. This sets the stage for the war to save Valentia with each of our protagonists trying to accomplish their own similar goals with their own convictions.
Unlike Awakening and Fates, Echoes has a much simpler plot structure with a clear distinction between good and evil. Sometimes the lines between each blur on the side of our heroes but, for the most part, their opponents are evil to a cartoonish degree, save a few. One of those few is a new character named Lord Berkut, who’s narrative arc proves to be one of the most compelling in Fire Emblem history. No villain in this new age of Fire Emblem has even come close. But if the villains were getting an upgrade surely the supporting cast was getting one too, right? Well, for starters, Echoes actually had a supporting cast. Characters that in the original Fire Emblem Gaiden had only one or two lines now had fully embellished personalities and roles to play alongside Alm and Celica. Take the humble villagers, Gray, Tobin, and Kliff. In Gaiden, nearly all of them looked virtually identical to one another and never said a word after the first level. In Echoes, all of them have very different looks, personalities, and aspirations with even a fourth villager named Faye being added in whose personality was “interesting” to say the least. These, and more, rounded out the cast on both sides making for some of the most intriguing characters in all of Fire Emblem, with some of the best voice acting in all of gaming, thanks to the localization work done by Team 8-4 in the western release, which made each sound real and believable… for fantasy characters at least.
Speaking of realism, that was one of the main goals of the designers from the very beginning of the project. You see Gaiden wasn’t the supposed “black sheep” of the franchise for nothing; many of its mechanics were unique to itself. While maintaining many of the tactical elements introduced in the Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, it introduced many elements that were more akin to an ordinary RPG than anything else. Explorable towns and dungeons, a world map, and many other elements differentiated Gaiden from the rest of its kin for years to come, and Kusakihara and Nakanishi wanted to honor this in any way they could. So out went the weapon triangle that the franchise had clung to for over a decade, in came a fully fleshed out support system which was actually introduced in Gaiden in a very small way, and what stayed lent a more realistic atmosphere to the battlefield. Instead of relying on weapon advantages you instead rely on terrain and what would make sense in a medieval setting. Heavily armored knights block arrows left and right yet have a fatal weakness to magic which blows right through them. Hiding an archer or a swordsman in the forest makes them harder to hit while moving through it is a more arduous affair then running across the plains. Each class, ally, or opponent has their own obvious advantages and disadvantages that can be deduced through simple observation with terrain being the focal point of it all. Every decision was a choice that has some type of downside to it. For example, instead of being able to hold multiple items at a time, each unit can only hold one. These items can range from a healing item to a unique sword or bow. The weaponry you wield determines the strength of a unit’s attack, usually coming with a downside or two to balance things out. Using them enough draws out their potential and enables powerful arts to be unleashed upon your foes or, if wielding a magic ring or mighty shield, several tactical and defense options. But these, and more, also come with their own price to pay as all, including spells, drain a unit’s health; inviting a sort of risk/reward system to the game. Even though many of these mechanics had been designed decades ago, their additions made combat feel fresh for a change, a welcome difference from the rock-paper-scissors battles of old and one that invited a stronger strategic element that the series lacked at times.
Still, these weren’t the only important reinventions of Gaidens tried and true mechanics. Milla’s Turnwheel was thrown in as a sort of stopgap between turning on Casual Mode and going full on Classic Fire Emblem with the permeant death that it entails. If you made a simple error in your tactics or became completely overwhelmed before you even knew it, Milla’s Turnwheel would fix that letting you tweak whatever you needed to achieve victory without the agony of restarting it all over again. Towns became an essential stopping point on your adventure, allowing you to recruit new allies, take on side quests, and even forge your weaponry into adept implementations of death. There was even a light bit of exploration strewn throughout these locales with hidden and essential items hiding in plain sight. Exploration was also the key to another one of Gaiden’s, and now Echoes’, gameplay, dungeons. Ranging from intricate to simple and easy going, dungeons were the most immaculate additions to the Fire Emblem formula. Based on what the free roaming in Fire Emblem Fates was originally intended to be, these labyrinthine efforts are the most technically impressive of all of Echoes’ feats. Controlling fully three dimensional representations of Celica and Alm, players delve deep into these dungeons, searching for hidden treasure and enemies within. With a simple swing of a sword players are thrown into a classic Fire Emblem battle with all the bells and whistles contain within. The dungeons themselves were just the icing on top of the cake. However, Echoes wasn’t one to just honor the past of its original creator. It was a celebration of all of Fire Emblem after all so, of course, other features from past titles made it in. A surprising addition from Thracia 776, fatigue makes a comeback in a big way, forcing units to take a breather within dungeons and every so often during a chapter. Supports also resembled past Fire Emblem games with less supports being available between each character, the child system being thrown out entirely, and everything being a lot less lovey dovey. Instead, supports focused on further emphasizing each character’s uniqueness from one another with everything coming as less manufactured compared to past games.
Above all else, what truly helps Echoes to go one step beyond its predecessors is its lovingly craft score. Just like everything else, many of the tracks were present in Gaiden decades ago and have since become iconic in their own right, leaving a lasting impression on the gaming sphere more so than the game itself. Yuka Tsujiyoko’s work on the title had been known to people who had never even heard of Gaiden so taking up such a monumental task was difficult to say the least. However, veteran composers Takeru Kanazaki and Yasuhisa Baba were more than up to the challenge. Kanazaki would compose the majority of the game, with Baba and fellow Intelligent Systems sound designer Shoh Murakami picking up the slack. Also on hand was Takafumi Wada, an anime composer famous for composing the soundtracks to The Seven Deadly Sins, Seraph of the End, and others, who’d lend his own “unique” style to the editing and mixing process. Together they’d compose an excellent homage to Gaiden, turning simple 8-bit tracks into fully featured epics rivaling many themes from the series past and more.
Fire Emblem’s cinematic qualities were also drastically increased. The cinematic design team led by Kusakihara sought to add to and tweak the battle camera that had become a staple of the series since Fire Emblem Awakening. Gone were the obtuse first-person view and menagerie of other angles and its place was a more fluid and robust experience. The team implemented actual fight choreography for once with characters dynamically entering each battle in their own personable way and battling it out with their foes in an entertaining sort of manner. Battles could not only be sped up to quickly move through each turn but slowed down and zoomed in on to take in the action. When first introduced in Fire Emblem Awakening, this new fighting style was meant to be an elegant dance with death, and while it showed promise for many years it finally came into its own with Echoes. The in-game cinematics’ weren’t the only ones stepping up their game, however. Instead of using the exquisite and breathtaking works of Studio Anima to tell their tale, Intelligent Systems decided to work with Studio Khara, an animation house founded by Hideaki Anno, a famous for his seminal masterpiece Neon Genesis Evangelion. Known for their work on the revitalization of his classic series and in-between animation on several well-known anime, on the surface it was confusing why they would go with such a studio that uses a combination of 2D and slightly choppy 3D animation over the fluidity that Anima was renowned for. It is unknown why they decided to change studios, however, this choice allowed them to implement longer and more in-depth cutscenes then were possible with Anima. The results speak for themselves though.
But what were the results for the game itself? How did it compare to Fire Emblem’s past? Was it the title fans has been waiting for over half a decade for? Or, rather, was it too different from the Fire Emblem fans had come to expect. Selling only 131,668 copies in its opening week, under half the amount Fates ended up selling, financially Echoes wasn’t selling as much as the past two entries but this was to be expected as it was a remake. The missing dating sim esque elements may have hurt it a bit too. Critically too it also fell in the face of its past entries with many baffled by the changes to the series formula. But who cares about those people? Fire Emblem Echoes wasn’t truly meant for them. It was a game made by fans, for fans. Everything they had asked for from the removal of Phoenix Mode to the change in gameplay mechanics was done in part to celebrate the Fire Emblem faithful that had stayed with the franchise throughout the years. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia was a return to the franchise’s roots, to a simpler time when battles were simple yet complex and stories were straightforward yet intricate. However, the conveniences and reinventions of modern times propelled a story as elementary as Gaiden’s into something more thought provoking, captivating, and riveting, so much so that it might as well be its own original title. Fire Emblem Echoes was only meant to echo back to previous installments. Instead, it is reverberating into the future, with its impact yet unknown. Fire Emblem is at a precarious point in its lifetime where it has finally achieved what it set out to do with Awakening all those years ago yet has the chance of falling from grace and losing all that they have accomplished. But they’ve seen worse. And to think, the ones who would save the franchise and propel it to even greater heights were fans just like us decades ago whose echoes have now been heard.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions
Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. One was hailed for its strategic depth and equally compelling narrative while the other shared similar success with its own unique quirks for its many multi-faceted franchises. Comparing these two gaming goliaths on the surface, it would seem that they would be completely incompatible with one another. But on the contrary, one person inside of Nintendo thought differently then the rest, one Kaori Ando. Ando, a producer at Nintendo, had confided in Fire Emblem producer Hitoshi Yamagami that she wanted to create Fire Emblem’s first crossover title but with Pokémon being its collaborative partner. It was an incredibly intriguing idea at the time, as Fire Emblem’s popularity was waning around then, but Nintendo still rejected the project outright as Pokémon Conquest, a strategy RPG take on the Pokémon formula, was already too far into its own development cycle for anything to be changed.
This didn’t dismay Ando, however, as she had a backup plan waiting in the wings, a crossover between Fire Emblem and the Shin Megami Tensei mega-franchise. Nintendo had some history working with Atlus, the developer of the series, so it seemed like an easy enough fit at first. That all changed when Ando actually pitched her concept to the developers, as they seemed completely uninterested or even bored at the very idea of the concept she was presenting, declaring they were to busy to even undertake it. Thus the idea was shelved, seemingly for good, until one year later. Out of nowhere, Atlus began inquiring about the then long forgotten project, wondering if there was a chance that they might be part of such a collaboration. Their workload had been so immense and taxing for the past year that the mood had dampened so much that they couldn’t really get excited about anything new and interesting. But with all the busy work out of the way the team showed their true colors and was actually incredibly enthusiastic about the idea of working with the Fire Emblem developers, as they felt they were their equals in the gaming industry.
None thought this more than Shinjiro Takada, the new titles producer, who saw Fire Emblem not only as a rival but as a goal to strive towards in his work. The team he’d gather together would feel the same. Veteran directors from the Shin Megami Tensei series, Mitsuru Hirata and Eiji Ishida, were both brought on due to the sheer amount of work that the project would entail, a project that would take 5 years to complete. From conception to production, the overarching ideology of the project would change regularly. At first it was a toss up between Intelligent Systems or Atlus and who exactly would be taking on the production. Atlus, in the end, did most of the heavy lifting. Originally it was planned that the title would be similar to Fire Emblem but with an Atlus twist. The game was to be a simulation game with classic grid based tactical combat and reincarnated protagonists from the series past playing the lead roles. But Ando wanted Atlus to be bolder with its decision-making and not simply make a Fire Emblem clone. The fact that this was their first title in the genre wasn’t helping. However Takada had a simple solution to their problems, why not let the developer known for RPG’s make an RPG? And thus the true form of the project finally began to take shape as a more traditional Atlus RPG in vein of the many Shin Megami Tensei titles before it.
With full production came the introduction of the team who would attempt to combine the two radically different franchises into one cohesive unit. Yo Hadazuki and Makoto Miyauchi, with Hadzuki being in charge of the main narrative, would write the scenario for this creative effort. For a time Hadazuki struggled with how to incorporate the classic Fire Emblem characters into the Atlus mythos but then an idea struck him, Japanese Shamanism. More specifically he took the concept of “kami oroshi” to heart, a notion wherein a deity attempts to communicate by possessing a priest or ritual dancer. Elaborating on this further he borrowed from the kagura ritual dance which brought about the story’s central focus on the entertainment industry, yet another topic that Atlus had yet to tackle. And they would tackle it in many ways. From a narrative that followed one characters rise through the Japanese pop idol industry to side stories that depict the struggles of those trying to make it in the entertainment industry, each was made to help the player better understand and sympathize with the people they see on their screens daily. To round it out, each of the characters we would follow would be involved in a different sect of the industry from action heroes to pop idols, and even budding child stars. This was a delicate balance that Atlus had to maintain. Should they hone in on the story or the character drama? To combat this they introduced an Intermission between each chapter where players would be free to tackle as many side stories as they’d like. But as entertainment became an increasingly crucial part of their storytelling it required Atlus to do something they hadn’t done before. A break from Shin Megami Tensei’s traditionally dark storytelling was needed and in its place would be the more upbeat atmosphere that the J-pop industry tried to maintain.
To bring the J-pop industry to life Atlus brought in many professionals who had worked in and around the field. For the soundtrack they hired Yoshiaki Fujisawa, know for his work on the multimedia project Love Live. Even though he had never worked on a video game previously he tackled the problem head on, designing a track that gave each area its own unique feeling to it with plenty of groovy tracks on the side. For the pop idols themselves George Aburai, an in-house composer, brought in many famed singers and actors from around the industry to sing the songs themselves and make the experience more authentic in the long run. After forming his team, Aburai worked to analyze the personalities and traits of the main cast, determining how their performances would play out in addition to other factors such as their professions’ impact on their portrayal. These performances weren’t limited to vocal ones as Fire Emblem’s Studio Anima and Studio 4°C came together to animate them all in either traditional 2D animation or full motion captured 3D animation.
The animation set a certain tone that would resonate throughout the project with its setting directly related to this. Helmed by the game’s art director Fumitaka Yano, it would take place in modern day Tokyo, a familiar backdrop for any Atlus title, although the team’s center of attention was aimed squarely at Tokyo’s entertainment districts such as Shibuya and Harajuku. At first they tried to mimic these real-world settings to a tee, going on many scouting trips to get their exact realistic proportions. However, as development continued they soon realized that their expectations had to be trimmed back considerably, as travel times between locations were ludicrous at their ambitious levels. Overtime they incrementally reduced the size of the environments to make them more enjoyable for players while still keeping the aesthetic that they had yearned for, juxtaposed by their choice of color. The real world locations revolved around bright colors, emulating their focus on the entertainment industry. Each main character designed by famous Japanese artist toi8 also reflected this with each character given a feeling of both friendliness and splendor.
The reverse of this came with the games dungeons, the Idolaspheres. Dropping characters in medieval armor into a modern day setting just felt strange to the design team, making an area just for them a necessity. And the Idolasphere’s weren’t without their own quirks. All of them were designed with their real world counterparts in mind with Illusionary Shibuya 109, for instance, being themed around fashion. Color too was an important factor with its much darker tones fitting of a dungeon. The Mirages themselves were the reason why these even existed and that was mostly due to their design. As Hideo Manaba, the Mirages character designer, wanted to remain true to the original characters while emulating the sharp and dark character style of Atlus games, he gave them a more battle hardened appearance. Their armor was meant to reflect the dark events they had faced, with any part unneeded for survival being degenerated.
Two contrasting worlds were colliding, however, their impact had yet to be given a name. Over the 5 years of production the title had changed rapidly and was very different from what they had originally intended. No longer a Shin Megami Tensei game and no longer a Fire Emblem one, it was something else completely. And so Tokyo Mirage Sessions was born but with one caveat, its subtitle: #FE. A standard musical notation, it was meant to denote that Tokyo Mirage Sessions was a unique hybrid and something all its own at the same time. Even the inclination of the logo was meant to represent the game’s altered perspective on the two series. But would this new perspective even find audience? The only way to find out was after release.
Releasing on December 26th, 2015, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, seemed like any other Shin Megami Tensei title on the surface. You play as Itsuki Aoi, your everyday average high schooler, who’s his normal life is quickly turned upside down after the game begins. His friend Tsubasa is kidnapped during an open audition for pop idols by monsters called Mirages forcing him to give chase into their own dimension, the Idolasphere. Carefully exploring the new and twisted world he finds Tsubasa being drained of her life force or Performa. His friend in trouble, Itsuki awakens his own Performa, cleansing two of the Mirages revealing classic Fire Emblem characters Chrom and Caeda. With their newly obtained power and allies the two become fully-fledged Mirage Masters and finally fight back against their new foes. As the story goes on, the two enter into the entertainment industry and in turn Fortuna Entertainment, a ragtag group of actors and Mirage Masters, and attempt to discover the truth behind the Mirages existence while solving their fellow actors problems along the way. Tokyo Mirage Sessions was all about the side of showbiz that made Japan, Japan. This was all meant to build a picture of the entertainment industry for the player, both the good and the bad. Atlus wanted to show how difficult it is to work in a field where millions of people watch your work daily and how rewarding it can end up feeling. There was nothing but sheer admiration for the industry, and it even showed up in the combat system.
A hybrid in more ways then one, Tokyo Mirage Session’s combat was eminently familiar to anyone who had played one of Atlus’s past titles and even Fire Emblem in some cases. After triggering a battle with a Mirage in the Idolasphere Itsuki, and whomever you have in front of the party at the time, are transported to a stage for battle. From here on the system begins to play out like any other Shin Megami Tensei title. Each character has their own distinct fighting styles and magic spells like Zio and Bufu whereas enemies have similar strengths. Determining the exact weakness of your enemies, whether it be magic or weaponry, is critical to victory along with the various buffs, debuffs, and healing that is standard for any RPG. Hitting one of these weaknesses triggers a session attack, a move borrowed and slightly altered from Persona, where all the party members attack a given enemy. Sessions quickly become crucial to success, making most enemies undefeatable without it. On top of this, Fire Emblems weapon triangle was added in, enhancing the battle system with the rock-paper-scissors like gameplay fans of that particular franchise had grown to love. And even still, more Fire Emblem mechanics were layered on. Traveling to the Bloom Palace where Tiki, a character from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, resides characters can perform unity with their Mirages after collecting enough Performa. Unity allows you to upgrade your Mirages ranging from new skills via the skill system from Fire Emblem to class changes such as generals and sorcerers. Weaponry played a crucial part in the process with each character gaining a variety of upgradeable weapons overtime with distinct advantages and disadvantages. All in all, Tokyo Mirage Sessions battle system was the perfect blend of the two franchises, not overshadowing one or the other but instead complimented their weaknesses and strengths.
But battling wasn’t all there was to do in Tokyo Mirage Sessions, there was an entire world to explore that the team at Atlus had painstakingly created. From Shibuya to Harajuku there was much to explore with a plethora of side quests and shops to visit and complete. In addition to these side stories were another part of the experience, offering further insight into many of the characters that you just wouldn’t get from the main game. Conversations during these little story bits throughout the game are usually done with a system similar to visual novels with characters speaking to Itsuki alone with a variety of expressions.
Considering this and the overall experience you’d think both Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem fans would be clamoring for the new release. You’d be thinking wrongly, however, as Tokyo Mirage Sessions sales were barely scrapping the bottom of the barrel. In Japan it’s critical success was average at best, only earning slightly above average scores, while financially it could only break 50,000 copies, an amount that paled in comparison to either of its inspirations. However, Nintendo and Atlus still believed in the property and decided to release it globally albeit with some minor alterations to characters ages and outfits. This didn’t go over well with the few fans who would by such a heavily Japanese influenced title and with a less then stellar localization by Nintendo Treehouse many simply refused to buy the game based on that premise. Even with all this controversy sales in North America ended up being double that of Japan’s and Europe’s. And the majority of critics on all sides seemed to agree that Tokyo Mirage Sessions was a fantastic celebration of the two franchises, just not something that exceeded either one. But wasn’t that it’s true purpose? At first it was more Fire Emblem then Shin Megami Tensei. Then, for a time, it flip flopped praising one franchise more so then the next. But as time went on the two found a commonality, a sort of kinship between the two, and began building on that newfound friendship to build something more. Something that glorified the two for their many storied years in the industry while being its own unique creation. Even though the series may never continue on again from this point the talented team at Atlus can rest assured that they at least accomplished that one small feat.