The History Behind Fire Emblem On The DS (2008-2010)

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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. Their 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 apart 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 toss up 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.

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