Nintendo has made a lot of announcements in the last seven days. Some of them we can even understand!
It’s been so intense that you’d be forgiven for missing the three new Fire Emblem games just announced yesterday. Along with Fire Emblem Warriors which was revealed during the Switch presentation, that makes four new Fire Emblem games coming out in the next two years. For a series almost cancelled a few years ago, I’d say it’s doing pretty well!
For all of us in the US, though, the series can be really hard to figure out. I don’t know about you all but when I start a series, I have an irrational need to start it from the beginning but with Fire Emblem, it can be difficult to tell where the beginning even is.
So in honor of the return to form for this lesser known Nintendo franchise, I’m going to try and sort out the order of games for Americans new to the series and try and figure out a way for us to catch up.
The reason that the Fire Emblem series can be difficult for us to figure out is because we came in late to the series. Late by about 13 years, in fact. Actually, it wasn’t until Super Smash Bros. Melee introduced us to Roy and Marth that Americans even started noticing this series existed. This fact combined with the success of the Advance Wars series (another franchise that we’d been missing out on for years) gave Nintendo the idea that maybe Americans aren’t too stupid for tactics RPGs.
Fire Emblem actually started back on the NES in 1990 with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (a translated title, obviously). This was the game that introduced Marth as well as several of Fire Emblem’s staple mechanics. In fact, for most of Fire Emblem’s life, the series has seen surprisingly little change in core mechanics. In the first game, you can recruit up to 25 characters who cover 21 available character classes. Characters gain experience through actions in battle, 100 exp means a level up. Death is permanent and if your main character, Marth, dies in battle, you lose. Towns and merchants can be visited during battle but not outside of it. You can buy new weapons which have durability stats of their own. When a weapon runs out of durability, it breaks. It’s all surprisingly familiar. Too bad it looks like this:
After Fire Emblem 1, we had a direct sequel called Fire Emblem Gaiden. Gaiden takes place in the same world as the first game but on a different continent. Gaiden is a lot like Castlevania 2 or Zelda 2 in that it doesn’t really fit with the rest of the franchise. Seriously, what is it with Japanese games and second entries? Final Fantasy 2 was also a disaster… Anyway, unlike most Fire Emblem games, Gaiden has a fully explorable overworld. It also has multiple difficulty options and characters can be promoted to different classes. The game wasn’t as well received as the first though so many elements were rolled back. The series kept the class promotions though! Good job, developers! It’s worth noting that one of the new games just announced yesterday, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, is a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden.
Ever onward to Fire Emblem 3 which is called Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, the first game on the Super Famicom (Super Nintendo in the west). Here’s where things start getting weird. See, Mystery of the Emblem is both a sequel and a remake of the first game. It has a remake of the first game in it but then also contains a second half that’s original story following Marth two years after the events of the first game. What makes it confusing for the series is that many fans count it as two separate games, the remake and the sequel being separate titles. For simplicity’s sake, I’m counting it as one game but realize that some people think of this as Fire Emblem 3 AND 4 as we keep going.
For now though, let’s move on to Fire Emblem 4 or Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War. For fans of the series, this is regarded as one of the best entries and many of its new mechanics became mainstays of the series. This was the first game to use the famous weapon triangle of Sword beats Axe, Axe beats Lance, Lance beats Sword. To my knowledge, every game in the series from here on out will use this system. 4 also introduced support conversations between characters and allowed players to use shops and towns between missions, instead of just during battles. Finally, and this is a spoiler for a 21 year old game that has never been officially released in English, this is the first game to use the generation system that Awakening famously re-used. Basically, the characters you start with can have children if they fall in love. Those children will then be used later in the game as your new soldiers and will inherit the traits of their parents. Don’t worry if you haven’t played Awakening yet, the system works differently so NOT A SPOILER! (don’t hate me…)
Remember that GBA game we got in the west just called Fire Emblem? Yeah, we still aren’t there yet…
Fire Emblem 5 is called Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Catchy title, I know. This actually takes place in the middle of Fire Emblem 4. While the game was well received, it sold terribly because it was a Super Famicom game released in 2000. Not sure what Nintendo expected here. It’s also known for being one of, if not the, hardest Fire Emblem games. Masochists, here’s your place to start.
So, we’re into the year 2002, we have to be at the US release now, right? Nope, but we have hit a different milestone! Fire Emblem 6 or Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is the game that starred Roy from Super Smash Bros! This game was originally planned for the Nintendo 64 under a different title but after a lot of development drama that has, unfortunately, been mostly lost to time, it wound up on the GBA as Binding Blade.
With that, we have finally made it to Fire Emblem 7, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade which was the first game in the series to be released in the US simply as Fire Emblem for the GBA. That’s right, six games were released in this franchise before we ever got to see even one title. Oddly enough, too, this game is actually a prequel to Fire Emblem 6. A prequel to a game we never got in the US. Cool. Thanks Nintendo. This game is notable for having Lyn who shows up as an Assist Trophy is Smash Bros Brawl. It also has a secret ending referencing Fire Emblem 6. THE GAME WE NEVER GOT!
From here on out, things should start sounding more and more familiar to English speaking fans. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was the eighth title and is completely stand-alone from any other game in the series. This marked the first time that Nintendo tried revisiting ideas from Fire Emblem Gaiden way back on the NES. The Sacred Stones again tried to use an overworld map. They also broke the linearity of the franchise and offered training grounds for players to level up their characters and grind for money. This wouldn’t come back to the franchise until Fire Emblem: Awakening and the overworld hasn’t been used since. The game was well received in the US but Japanese fans found the game too easy in comparison to the older titles.
Fire Emblem Path of Radiance came out on the Gamecube only a year later and was the game that starred Ike, a playable character in later Smash Bros games. It was the first game to contain 3D graphics and while the game was praised, some rejected the new look. This continued on to Fire Emblem 10, Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn. Radiant Dawn was a direct sequel to Path of Radiance released on the Wii but it was not nearly as well received as its predecessor. Many in the US criticized its difficulty while hardcore fans still criticized the look of the 3D graphics and Wii controls.
In 2008, we got Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the Nintendo DS which is yet another remake of Fire Emblem 1. It’s notable though since this was the first time the US market got to see Marth. Oddly enough, this is just a remake of the first game and does not include the new content added in Fire Emblem 3.
As if that weren’t confusing enough, the next entry is Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem, a remake of Fire Emblem 3 containing only the new content and not the remake content from either Shadow Dragon or the original. Maybe this would make sense as a sequel to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the US market but no, this game never came over to the West. Apparently, Japan has decided this storyline must really suck in English.
Finally, we make it to the 3DS era of Fire Emblem. Many people know the story of Fire Emblem: Awakening but in case you missed out, Nintendo had told the team that Awakening would be the last Fire Emblem game if sales didn’t improve. This made them revisit literally everything that made Fire Emblem, Fire Emblem and they came up with Awakening which, thankfully, sold extremely well and is one of the most acclaimed games in the series by critics. In fact, many would list the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening as one of the turnaround points for the previously struggling 3DS console.
Despite the strong sales, it was radio silence from Nintendo until 2015 when Fire Emblem Fates was released as three different versions: Birthright, Conquest and Revelation. And that ends our timeline of Fire Emblem games.
So, did you get all that? It all make sense to you now? No? Didn’t think so. Where does any of this leave American fans today who want to revisit the series’ past? Well, really quickly, let’s just go over the series again for jumping on points in the series.
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Released in the US as Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. ALSO, a remake is included in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem.)
- Fire Emblem Gaiden (Getting a remake this year, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia)
- Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (Part of this is a remake of Fire Emblem 1 and the other part was later remade as Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem.
- Fire Emblem: Awakening
These games all take place in the same canon although Fire Emblem: Awakening can very easily be played without any knowledge of the previous three games. It takes place 2000 years after those events but do reference them.
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
- Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
These games take place in the same world as the previous four, according to developers, but there is no interaction between them. These games actually take place several hundred years before Fire Emblem 1. Thracia 776 then takes place during the middle of Genealogy of the Holy War, during a gap in time when GotHW jumps ahead several years.
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade
- Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade (Released in the US as simply Fire Emblem)
Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade is a prequel to The Binding Blade and both games are unrelated to any other in the series.
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
This game is entirely stand-alone.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
These games are chronologically in order (a rarity in this franchise) and are not at all related to any other Fire Emblem titles.
- Fire Emblem Fates
This game is, so far, entirely stand-alone although it does have three versions. You can buy one though and get the other two as DLC.
With all of that information, I have made my own list of games to play for newbies trying to get everything out of Fire Emblem canon without replaying different versions of the same game. I’m also going for the newest version available. Be aware that not every game has had an official English release. In fact, several of them have never been released outside of Japan. Fortunately, Fire Emblem fans are hardcore and almost every game, if not every game, has fan translations available online. I can’t provide links as these are technically pirated games but with a little Googling, they won’t be hard to find. With that, here is my playlist for new Fire Emblem fans:
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS or Wii U eShop)
- Fire Emblem Gaiden – Needs to be emulated now but in a few months, it’ll be available as Fire Emblem Echoes for the 3DS
- Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem (not released in English)
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (not released in English)
- Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (not released in English)
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (not released in English)
- Fire Emblem (GBA or Wii U eShop)
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA or Wii U eShop)
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GC)
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (Wii)
- Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
- Fire Emblem Fates (3DS)
As if this article weren’t already long enough, it’s worth noting one more thing. Fire Emblem games are notoriously expensive. Thankfully, the eShop releases have made this a lot better but for Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, you’d easily drop over $150 for both of them and neither has been ported to any other console yet. It can be tough. On a completely unrelated note having nothing at all to do with this article, Gamecube and Wii emulation actually works impressively well even on relatively low end computers. Crazy, huh?
Thanks for sticking around everyone. I know that was a crazy long article but Fire Emblem is kind of a crazy series. Look forward to that getting even crazier in 2017 and beyond!