Fire Emblem 101.
Fire Emblem is a series of epic tactical role-playing games that debuted back in 1990. The franchise is widely considered the originator of the tactical RPG genre as we know it today.
Fire Emblem‘s rise to fame in the West is one of gaming’s great underdog stories. Despite being a Nintendo-published property, Fire Emblem was deemed too complicated for the West for over a decade. However, after series protagonists Marth and Roy appeared in Super Smash Brothers Melee in 2001, Western fans became deeply curious about Fire Emblem. This led to the English localization of the Game Boy Advance game Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade in 2003, simply called “Fire Emblem” outside of Japan.
Fire Emblem was kept aloft by a devoted, yet niche fanbase until 2012’s Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS. From there, Fire Emblem‘s worldwide popularity exploded, and the franchise became one of Nintendo’s most lucrative properties. This is exemplified by the massive success of the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes, which has made more money than all of Nintendo’s other mobile titles combined. And now, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is anticipated to be one of the Nintendo Switch’s biggest releases of 2019.
Could Fire Emblem become your next gaming obsession? Let’s dive into the series’ appeal to find out if you should play Fire Emblem.
Why Fire Emblem is great.
Battles in Fire Emblem involve moving your team around a grid-based battlefield to attack and outmaneuver your enemies. Every unit uses a specific weapon type, and each weapon has an advantage over certain enemies. Sword units are effective against axe enemies, axe units are effective against spear enemies, and spear units are effective against sword enemies. Much like Pokémon, combat gets more complicated as you discover unique new weapons and different unit types, like horse riders and armored soldiers. But even casual gamers can grasp Fire Emblem‘s gameplay with ease.
Of course, Fire Emblem games would be incomplete without a wide cast of characters to build your team with. Every character in Fire Emblem games have unique backstories and personalities, which makes it easy to pick favorites. Use certain characters in battle consistently together, and you’ll unlock “support” conversations between them. These conversations give you insight into each unit’s history as well as stat boosts for each set of budding friendships you forge. Pair certain characters enough times, and they can even fall in love with each other.
It’s a great touch for gamers who love character-driven stories, and number-driven gamers will love replaying the games to find which character combinations work best.
Do you need to play Fire Emblem games in order?
Not at all! Every Fire Emblem games tells its own self contained story, so it’s easy to jump in at any point in the series. Some games are connected to each other, but these are exceptions and not the norm. The only game with a recommended prerequisite is Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Nintendo Wii, but even this game works fine on its own merits.
Like the Final Fantasy series, Fire Emblem games carry over certain features and character archetypes that longtime fans will recognize. For example, many Fire Emblem games feature red and green cavaliers allies near the start of the game, similar to how Pokémon games feature normal type units early on like Rattata and Bidoof. There are a lot of fun references that reward longtime players, so it’s a series that only gets better the deeper you get into it.
What is the best game to start with?
On one hand, the new Fire Emblem: Three Houses is looking to be a great place for new players to start based on early reviews. However, if you’d like to look at older games with arguably more simple gameplay, I’d highly recommend starting with these titles.
- Fire Emblem: Awakening: The game that made Fire Emblem explode in popularity. Fire Emblem: Awakening retains everything that makes the series great while introducing a ton of quality of life features for new players. The biggest addition is the Casual mode, which makes it impossible to permanently lose characters if they die in battle. Past Fire Emblem games were infamous for their “permadeath,” which meant you’d lose characters forever if their HP reaches 0 (unless you restart the battle completely). Though this option is still in Awakening as “Classic,” new players can appreciate the story and gameplay without the tension of losing their favorite characters.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance: The game that introduced fan-favorite Smash Bros. fighter Ike. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is a fantastic example of the “classic” style Fire Emblem games. With a great cast of characters, tricky maps, and a good mix of quality of life features, new and old fans alike will find a lot to love here. You can even import your save file into the follow-up title Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn and get bonus stats for your favorite units!
- Fire Emblem: Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance is a great starting point if you’d like to experience the series’ localized titles chronologically. This game features a meaty tutorial campaign that does a great job of easing new players into the series’ mechanics. You’ll also get to meet Hector, Eliwood, and Lyndis, three of the most beloved main characters in the series among dedicated fans. For a Game Boy Advance title, there’s a lot of content to dig your teeth into.
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War: If you’re a hardcore retro gamer who doesn’t need no hand-holding tutorial, pick up a fan translation of Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War for the Super Nintendo. Hardcore Fire Emblem fans love Genealogy of the Holy War for the ridiculously epic scale of its battles. These aren’t just occasional skirmishes; each chapter is an outright war that you’re overseeing. Even if you might want a strategy guide for this one, you’ll see why elite Fire Emblem fans consider this one the best in the series.
There’s no wrong way to play.
Whether you like to mix-max the best possible army or enjoy fun stories with lovable characters, there’s a lot to love about Fire Emblem. And if your only experience with Fire Emblem is with Fire Emblem Heroes, you’ve only scratched the surface of what the series has to offer. This primer should let you know what to expect of Fire Emblem, but there’s a ton of surprises I’ve left out about these games for you to discover. No matter your skill level or your experience with tactical RPGs, you’ll have a ton of fun diving into these games for yourself.
If Fire Emblem: Three Houses winds up being your first Fire Emblem game, know that you have a franchise with a ton of history to appreciate afterwords. If you choose to dive into these games, then you too can, indeed, know who Marth and Ike are outside the context of Super Smash Bros.