Fire Emblem (video game)
North American cover art featuring the main protagonists
Fire Emblem, known in Japan as Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken,[a] is a tactical role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance handheld video game console. It is the seventh entry in the Fire Emblem series,[b] the second to be released for the platform after Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, and the first to be localized for Western audiences. It was released in Japan and North America in 2003, and in Europe and Australia in 2004.
The game is a prequel to The Binding Blade, set on the continent of Elibe. It tells the story of Lyn, Eliwood, and Hector, three young lords of the Lycian lineage who journey to find Eliwood's father and later thwart a larger conspiracy threatening the stability of Elibe. The gameplay, which draws from earlier Fire Emblem entries, features tactical combat between armies on a grid-based map. Characters are assigned different character classes that affect abilities and are subjected to permanent death if defeated in battle.
Development began in 2002 as a companion title to The Binding Blade, but development was prolonged from its initial seven-month window as new features were added. While the Fire Emblem series had remained exclusive to Japan due to concerns about its difficulty, the success of Advance Wars and popular demand following the inclusion of Fire Emblem characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee prompted the game's localization. The game was released to positive sales and international critical acclaim, establishing the Fire Emblem series in the West. Its overseas success fueled the development of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for the GameCube home console.
Fire Emblem is a tactical role-playing game where players take the role of story protagonists Lyn, Eliwood, and Hector as they navigate story-driven missions across the fictional continent of Elibe. The player takes the role of an unseen tactician directing the player army. The single-player campaign is divided into chapters which generally begin with story elements presented through the use of scenes animated with still images of the main characters, then followed by a battle with an enemy; after each battle, the player is given the opportunity to save their progress. In-game currency is gained either through battles in the game's Link Arena or through other means, rather than from defeating units. Currency can be used to buy new items and weapons at merchants in between battles and at specific locations within maps. Items can also be exchanged between units during battles.
Battles in the story take place on maps divided into a square-based grid. Battle actions are governed by a turn-based system where each unit on both sides is given their chance to move and act. During gameplay, weather and terrain effects appear such as fog of war or elements of the environment that can be manipulated to one side's advantage, affecting the progress of battle. Units are split between player, enemy and allied non-player character (NPC) units. Each unit's movement range and attack range is displayed when selected. The player must clear a map to advance the story: the objectives for clearing a level can vary from defeating all enemies to capturing strongholds or rescuing NPCs. When engaging a unit, the scene transitions into a battle between the player and enemy unit, with battle animation playing out. When hit with an attack, a character loses health points (HP). For player characters, HP can be restored with items or by units with healing magic; it can also be regained by standing on forts, gates or castles, or using a special spell that replenishes health based on damage dealt to an enemy.
Each unit is governed by a character class system, with their class affecting what weapons they can use. After each action in battle gains experience points (EXP). Upon reaching 100 EXP, a unit levels up and its statistics such as attack power and defense are randomly raised, while weapon ranks increase naturally when using their respective weapons. Upon reaching Level 10, and using a special item, a unit's class can be upgraded to a more powerful version with access to new items and weapons. If a unit is defeated in battle, they are subject to permanent death, being removed from all future encounters and the overall storyline with a few exceptions for story-related characters. If characters crucial to the storyline like Lyn, Eliwood or Hector fall, the game ends and the player must restart the level.
Weapon strengths and weaknesses are governed by the series' Weapons Triangle system; axes are strong against lances, lances strong against swords, and swords strong against axes. Bows are independent of the system, being effective against airborne units. A similar system, dubbed the Magic Trinity in-game, governs how different types of spells react; elemental magic is strong against light, light against dark and dark against elemental. The strength of weapon types assigned to a particular unit is raised through usage, with its "Support" rank ranging from E to S, with S being the highest possible affinity with a promoted character. Characters also have a Support system, where talking both in battle and outside during rest periods strengthens two characters' relationship, and consequently provides stat boosts. The higher the Support rank, which ranges from "C" to "A", the better the boons.
Outside the main campaign, players can battle against the game's artificial intelligence (AI) in the Link Arena: after building a team and placing a wager, the player fights a battle against their own units controlled by the game AI. Fire Emblem also features a Link Arena multiplayer option in which up to four players can link up and do battle with teams of characters from the single-player save file. Players choose up to five characters and equip them like in the main story. During battle, each player takes turns to attack with one character. Weapons selected automatically for each battle Victory is determined either by surviving a period of time or aggregating the highest number of points.
The events of Fire Emblem take place on the fictional continent of Elibe, twenty years before the events of Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade: in ancient times, humans and dragons coexisted, but humans turned against and banished the dragons in a conflict called "The Scouring". The player adopts the perspective of a tactician who is found by a girl named Lyn. Lyn discovers that she is the granddaughter of the marquess of Caelin, Hausen. She recruits companions in a quest to prevent Lundgren, her great uncle, from ascending the Caelin throne. Lundgren had wanted to gain power by poisoning the current marquess; he also sent soldiers out to destroy Lyn and any knowledge of her as she is higher in the line of succession. Lyn eventually defeats Lundgren and reunites with her grandfather.
The following chapters revolve around Eliwood, Hector and their party, which Lyn eventually joins. The group are hunting down an antagonistic faction known as the Black Fang, which have prospered due to the creation of monsters called morphs by their leader Nergal. Using the morphs, Nergal is draining people of their lifeforce, called "quintessence", to gain magical power. The Black Fang engage Eliwood's interest by capturing his father Lord Elbert. The protagonists' ultimate goal is to prevent Nergal from using their companions Ninian's and Nils' quintessence to open the Dragons' Gate, a portal where dragons reside, and thus ignite Elibe in conflict. As Eliwood and the party hunt the Black Fang down, they eliminate crucial figures of the Black Fang, as well as gaining allies and protecting Bern's royal prince Zephiel (a younger version of the main antagonist from The Binding Blade). The game ends when Eliwood and the party slay Nergal and the dragon that had been summoned via Nergal's quintessence. Eliwood becomes marquess of Pherae, and Hector inherits his brother's title as marquess of Ostia. A secret ending shows an older Eliwood and Hector introducing their respective children Roy and Lilina to each other, while a grown-up Zephiel, now the king of Bern, is being confronted by a robed man who accuses him of awakening the Demon Dragon.
Fire Emblem, known in Japan as Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, was created by series developer Intelligent Systems. Toru Narihiro and Takehiro Izushi from Intelligent Systems acted as producers, and Hitoshi Yamagami from Nintendo supervised, and Taeko Kaneda and Kentarou Nishimura directed. The script was written by Ken Yokoyama and Kouhei Maeda. Character designs were done by Sachiko Wada, who would reprise her role for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. A second artist on the project was Ryo Hirata, who had previously done illustration work for Production I.G and would go on to work on The Sacred Stones. Eiji Kaneda, who worked on The Binding Blade, did uncredited illustration work. Background graphics, particularly those for the Fire Dragons, were done by Daisuke Izuka. The music was composed by Yuka Tsujiyoko, who had worked on every game since the series' inception, although Fire Emblem would be her last work on the series as a composer. She was helped by Saki Haruyama.
Development of Fire Emblem began in 2002 after the release of The Binding Blade. Intended as a companion title built upon the foundation of The Binding Blade, development time was initially estimated at seven months. The storyline was built around three main characters and their strengths in battle; the central character Eliwood was made fairly weak to fit the concept of an "easy" mode for new players, while the other two characters provided both a steeper gameplay challenge and altered story segments. As with The Binding Blade, the titular "Fire Emblem" is represented as a family crest. The gameplay, initially identical to The Binding Blade, underwent multiple changes including expansions on the role of the player in the storyline through the unseen strategist character, and the added tutorial stages that helped introduced the mechanics to new players. It was also the first entry in the Fire Emblem series to introduce multiplayer functionality. Due to the multiple extra features, development overran substantially, ultimately lasting over a year. The tutorial was included because the game's steep difficulty was proving off-putting to new players; this inclusion was part of a move to make Fire Emblem a major series for Nintendo.
Fire Emblem was first announced in early 2003. It was the second title in the Fire Emblem series to have been developed for the Game Boy Advance (GBA). The game was released on April 25, 2003. It was also compatible with the newly released Game Boy Advance SP, an upgraded version of the GBA. Prior to 2017, the game's Japanese subtitle was translated as The Sword of Flame. In 2017, the subtitle was officially translated by Nintendo as The Blazing Blade. The game was later released on the Virtual Console for Wii U on May 14, 2014.
The concept of localizing a Fire Emblem game in the West had been around for some time, but the combined elements of extensive use of text and a view that tactical RPGs would meet with low sales overseas had kept the series exclusive to Japan since its inception. Another major factor was the appearance of Roy from The Binding Blade and Marth from the first Fire Emblem in the 2001 fighting game Super Smash Bros. Melee. The director of Melee, Masahiro Sakurai, had wanted to include Marth since the original Super Smash Bros., and included him as part of a push for more sword-wielding characters. Gameplay-wise, Roy was included to act as a clone of Marth. There were difficulties including both Marth and Roy as the Fire Emblem series had not seen an overseas release at that point. Sakurai, with support from Nintendo of America, managed to keep both Marth and Roy in the game. The growing base of tactical role-playing games including Advance Wars, in addition to the interest garnered by the appearance of Roy and Marth in Melee, meant that Nintendo were more willing to bring Fire Emblem overseas. Speaking in a later interview, localization producer Tim O'Leary said that localizing the title was more difficult than its successor The Sacred Stones, but was smaller in scale than Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.
A Western release was first hinted at in mid 2003, when it was listed on a leaked release list from Nintendo of America. It was first shown at the 2003 Electronic Entertainment Expo, along with a playable demo. For its Western release, the subtitle was removed, with it simply being dubbed "Fire Emblem". The game released in North America on November 3, 2003; in Australia on February 20, 2004; and in Europe on July 16. It was later re-released on Virtual Console for Wii U on August 21, 2014 in Europe; and in North America on December 4 of that year.
Fire Emblem met with generally positive reviews from critics. On aggregate site Metacritic, Fire Emblem garnered a score of 88/100 based on 31 reviews. It was the 6th best-reviewed GBA title of 2003.
Japanese magazine Famitsu praised the characters and felt it was a suitable addition to the Fire Emblem series, while Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell cited the storyline as being similar to better examples within the Japanese role-playing genre and its near-seamless integration with gameplay mechanics. GamePro reviewer Star Dingo called the narrative "a complex (but not convoluted) classic fantasy yarn", while GameSpot's Bethany Massimilla called the story standard while praising the writing and character development. Christian Nutt of GameSpy praised the writing as highly enjoyable for both the Japanese and Western releases, and IGN's Craig Harris believed that the game was superior to Advance Wars through its portrayal of characters despite some minor complaints about characters that remained alive for story reasons despite falling in battle. PALGN reviewer Andrew Burns commented that the story gained a serious edge once Lyn's opening story arc was completed.
Speaking about the gameplay, Famitsu was slightly mixed about some aspects; one critic praised the added tutorial for allowing new players to be eased in the series gameplay, while another compared the tutorial to a nagging mother and said it and the unseen Tactician representing the player might grate with series fans. Bramwell praised the integration of RPG elements and tactical gameplay, in addition to finding the permanent death of characters a suitable fit for the game's world. Dingo was positive about the level design and controls, but warned that it was quite short and lacking in depth when compared to Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Massimilla found the gameplay both accessible and challenging as she made her way through the game, while Nutt was skeptical about the permanent death system and critical of the in-game economy despite generally enjoying the experience. Harris again compared it to Advance Wars, but said that Fire Emblem had enough unique elements to make it its own product, and generally praised the title's accomplishments. Burns, who had experience of earlier Fire Emblem titles, praised the game as a worthy entry in the series and a good entry for the West to experience.
In its debut week, Rekka no Ken entered Japanese gaming charts at #2 with sales of 93,880 units. The following week it had dropped to #4, selling a further 47,550 and bringing total sales to 141,430 units. The following week it had reached #3 with further sales of 23,296 units. The game continued to steadily into July, reaching #21 in the top 100 best-selling games for that half of 2003 with total sales of 223,575 units. As of 2012, Rekka no Ken has sold 272,000 units in Japan. While no exact sales figure are available for Western territories, developers later stated that Fire Emblem was a commercial success overseas, and prompted the development of Path of Radiance for the GameCube home console.
Fire Emblem was named "Editor's Choice" by both IGN and GameSpy as part of their reviews. During its 2004 awards, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences named Fire Emblem "Handheld Game of the Year". In the same year, the International Game Developers Association awarded the game for "Excellence in Writing" alongside titles including Beyond Good & Evil and Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. In lists compiled by IGN, GamesRadar and Game Informer, Fire Emblem was ranked among the best games for the GBA.
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