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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 then 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 episode 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 timespan 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 then 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 their 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 difficult. 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 then 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.
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