A Blast From The Past: A Review Of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Everything that was once old is new again. It seems that everywhere we look old games are getting a face lift and modernized with new gameplay mechanics. Bionic Commando, Wolfenstein, Punch-Out and now Fire Emblem. Shadow Dragon is in fact a remake of the first game in the series titled, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Ken, which only saw the light of day in Japan for the Famicom. Has it stood up to the test of time? 360blog.org is here to give you the answer.
The story is your traditional, epic, save the world quest. Early on you are introduced to Marth, (yep the blue haired guy from Smash Bros. finally gets a game of his own released in North America), the prince of Altea and main hero throughout the game, who is forced from his kingdom when an allied nation betrays Altea and joins their sworn-enemies, the kingdom of Dolhr. In the confusion of the surprise attack Marth is separated from his sister, although he does manage to escape with a small band of loyal troops and advisers. The story then picks up several years later, as Marth who is now an adult decides he is ready to lead his small army to retake Altea, stop the conquest of the world by Dolhr and its allies and learn of the fate of his sister. As the story advances, more troops will join Marth’s Altean League bolstering their numbers and strength.
One of the most remarkable things about Shadow Dragon’s storytelling is that every character in your army, from the highest general to the loneliest trooper all have detailed back stories and reasons to be fighting alongside Marth and company. This attention to detail makes the player actually care about his troops and try harder to keep them alive at all costs.
Gameplay wise, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon plays like your traditional strategy R.P.G., before every chapter you are sent to a menu where you can outfit your troops with different weapons to better suit their abilities (lances for generals, bows for snipers, etc…) and items that do everything from healing HP to boosting attributes like strength, speed and magic. You can also take a quick look at the battlefield, learn enemy positions, switch your units around and plan a winning strategy. Once all your preparations are complete you are thrust into the heart of battle, where you and your opponent take turns moving troops around in a sort of game of medieval chess. Once two units of opposing factions meet, the game switches to the battle screen, where the two units engage in combat, but beware, some unit classes are very effective against others and will almost always win an altercation, so never send your Pegasus Knights against someone with archers, I learned that the hard way… And when one of your units is killed in action (with the exception of Marth, that’s a game over), that’s it, their gone. This staple of the franchise will force gamers to carefully plan every step and make sure they are not walking right into a trap that could cost them their top general for the remainder of the game. After every battle in which your forces survive they earn XP and eventually level up, once a unit reaches a certain level, they can be promoted to a higher class and wield more powerful items and weapons.
The controls are pretty standard fare, you get to choose between D-pad or touch screen controls but the only thing that will change is menu navigation and where to send your troops on the map. Their are several options as far as saving is concerned. As with previous entries in the series you can save in between chapters, you can also now save at pre-designtated save points on the map screen, these are often located at the beginning of a level or before a boss battle. There’s also a suspend save feature that allows players to interrupt their game session and pick up later exactly as they left off, a feature that I would like to be made mandatory in every handheld game, because we’ve all been there, several hours into an epic quest and, the battery dies or you are called away, with no hope to save the game except to try to speed through to get to a save point.
A first for the series, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon now features online multiplayer, as well as a local multiplayer mode. In the online mode, players choose a small group of units, outfit them however they want and send them into battle against their foe. A few bells and whistles like item trading, unit trading and exclusive items make the online mode a nice addition, but it’s still on the slim side compared to more robust online games in the genre. Still it’s a step in the right direction, and one we hope to see improved upon in the next entry in the Fire Emblem story.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon may not do anything to push the DS to it’s limits in the graphics department, but that’s exactly what makes it look good. The game uses a very well done and crisp 2-D art design for the map screen, which really does work in making the game seem like a chess game. The cut scenes feature static images of the characters and the dialogue is all in text. Now I know this is the Nintendo DS, but after the beautiful pre-rendered cut scenes and voice acting from the Gamecube and Wii entries in the series, it would have been nice if a bit more effort was put into the story presentation, we’ve seen DS games featuring full voice acting, so there’s no reason to not include it here. One graphical element that does seem out of place is during the battle scenes, the 2D sprites are replaced with 3D models, and while they do look nice and sharp they seem to break the flow of the games art style. The music for the most part is very good. Longtime fans of the series will instantly recognize the classic Fire Emblem theme as well as remixes of other classic tunes from the past games. However some of the newer songs seem to get lost in the background and are easily forgotten.
Fire Emblem has one of the longest single player campaigns we’ve seen on Nintendo’s portable system. With the 25 main chapters from the original are all present, the game also adds a new prologue that consists of several chapters that will let players get accustomed to the game’s controls and gameplay, also several new side-chapters are added to include some new story elements and fill in some gaps in the original storyline. All in all the single player mode should last you a good 20 – 25 hours on the first playthrough, their is also a hard mode which should add even more hours to Marth’s quest. Then there’s the addition of online multiplayer which will keep you playing this one for quite some time.
Fire Emblem has become quite popular in North America, mostly thanks to the success of the Super Smash Bros. series, but the games easily stand up on their own as some of the best that Nintendo and Intelligent Systems can produce. Sure their hard, stuck in their old school roots and not very accessible to new gamers, but we wouldn’t have it any other way.