The History Behind Fire Emblem On The Game Boy Advance (2002-2004)

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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 army’s 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 it 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. 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. Whether it was a step back or step forward in the franchise was up to the players and ultimately the fans opinions.

But even though this remained the same, the franchises trademark strategy gameplay differed from its predeccesor. While Thraica 776 had one of the greatest difficulty curbs in all of Fire Emblem, in comparison Binding Blade was a shadow of its former self. But it did do something’s 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 there 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.

Much of its gameplay and assets in general were reused and remade, however, that doesn’t mean they didn’t try. 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 then 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 barring 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. This inspiration from the series past also influenced the gameplay.

A branching class system was implemented. Several units started as a trainee class, a stage even lower then 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 any unit to become a completely different class given sometime, giving you further customizability then 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 to 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. Going from one of the hardest games ever created to a cakewalk in a sea of difficulty, the Fire Emblem series was in a precarious place. With this change in attitude could they stand the test of time or would they have to return to their roots once again?

Special Thanks To Golden Maple Leaf For Helping To Make This Episode Even Better Than It Was Before!:

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