For the past few days I have been playing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a DS remake of the first installment in the series that made its appearance on the Famicon back in 1990, Fire Emblem: Shin Ankoku Ryuu to Hikari no Tsurugi (ファイアーエムブレム 暗黒竜と光の剣, Fire Emblem: The Dark Dragon and Sword of Light). The game follows the story of Marth, Prince of Altea and the direct descendant of Anri, the warrior who slew the titular Shadow Dragon Medeus. Hundreds of years later after being resurrected, Medeus leads the Dolhr Empire in a campaign that includes the conquest of Marth’s homeland, death of his father and the kidnapping of his older sister.
Included in the Shadow Dragon remake are four new prologue chapters that take place before the events of the original story and during the capture of the Altean capital. Marth and a band of knights flee the castle while his sister Elice stays behind. Marth wants to go back and rescue her but has no choice but to seek refuge in the kingdom of Talys. After several years at Talys, Marth makes his leave to liberate Altea in the main bulk of the game. In addition to these prologue chapters, there are also several new gaiden chapters where original characters can be recruited. However these chapters act to help new players that may have lost several units during the course of the game so to actually unlock these campaigns, the player must do badly in the main game. Thus I can’t actually say anything else about these missions because I don’t like losing any units so have never played them.
Even with several new narrative additions, Shadow Dragon’s story shows its age. Compared to the Game Boy Advance titles and Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn, Shadow Dragon has a much simpler plot and lacks characterization found in more modern iterations of the series. For one thing, there are no support conversations so unlike newer games where players can become attached to the personalities of even the most minor characters, in Shadow Dragon new characters serve merely as new recruits. As for the story sequences, even the most lengthy conversations span a tiny fraction of the game and little time is spent unfolding the plot in between battle sequences. After beating the game once, Event Recap is unlocked from which all unlocked story sequences can be reread. Like mentioned before to actually unlock all the events consciously, the player needs to intentionally do badly and kill off several units.
Visually Shadow Dragon marks a significant leap from the original. Masamune Shirow of Ghost in the Shell fame was brought in to update the old character designs in line with modern looks and as a whole look quite nice. In particular I love Princess of Talys Caeda, Macedonian cleric Lena, Macedonian Princess Minerva, Aura-wielder Linde and Manakete Tiki. However I don’t particularly like Marth’s redesign and much prefer the Super Smash Brothers’ version that is more true to the sleek look of the original.
The graphics have also undergone a huge overhaul. The maps are much more detailed than past games as to be expected but retain the same feel as older games. The attack animations and the accompanying sprites are reminiscent of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn and I suspect that the 3D models were used to create the DS sprites. The result is fluid movement and nice minor touches such as attacking twice in a row with different animations instead of just repeating the same sequence twice. All in all the DS engine looks like it will serve as a nice base for future iterations of Fire Emblem.
In terms of gameplay, several elements have been added to the game such as the iconic weapon triangle and weapon levels stats. New to Fire Emblem are one-time save spots located on the field that can be reloaded multiple times so in effect are like more useful suspend points. More significantly some units can swap classes before battles and in theory makes units more flexible. However since certain units like Manaketes and Marth himself cannot change classes, the class a character is at level up effects stat growth and the limit on how many of each class you can have greatly reduces its functionality. Because of the on the fly class swap, there is only one type of item to promote units the Master Seal which alleviates the headache of finding the various upgrade items in previous games.
In addition Caeda has a new exclusive weapon called the Wing Spear that she has at the beginning which is highly effective against armored and cavalry units. Unlike past games however, certain shops carry extra Wing Spears (which become sold-out after being bought) so there is essentially no reason to not use it. Thanks to this Caeda, one of my favorite characters, scored the highest victory count at nearly 200 kills by the end of the game. Other specialty weapons such as dragon stones and rapiers are much easier to acquire making certain missions much easier and give an incentive to use certain characters such as Tiki who when properly trained destroys everything.
Shadow Dragon features numerous updates including gameplay elements indicative of the series that were not even present in the first game. Even with these additions the game does feel a little old and not quite as complex as more modern installments of the series. However Shadow Dragon is still a solid title that fans of the series will buy regardless if only to fangirl over the sexiness that is Marth. Hopefully Nintendo and Intelligent Systems will decide to make a DS remake Monshou no Nazo, a direct sequel to Shin Ankoku Ryuu to Hikari no Tsurugi, that concludes Marth’s story. Until then I still have Radiant Dawn which I haven’t even bought or played yet.
PS My favorite Fire Emblem Character ever is Nephenee from Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn: