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Old 03-13-2015, 08:30 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Fire Emblem's Place in History

The Internet's consensus on Fire Emblem: Awakening, the latest strategy RPG from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, should be hitting the ether today. Our review won't be showing up until sometime next week, I'm afraid. I've been having a doozy of an experience with the game and don't want to review it until I've spent a little more time with it -- or rather, made a little more progress with the story for the time I've invested. Thanks to all the mid-battle resets I've had to do, my actual play time as indicated by the 3DS Activity Log is about three times that indicated on the in-game clock. Alas.

Don't take my silence as a criticism of the game, though. It's tough, but that's what Inteliigent Systems was aiming for. Fire Emblem has a certain reputation to uphold, and Awakening definitely doesn't pull its punches despite the inclusion of a "casual" mode that eliminates permanent character death. Don't read "casual" to mean "toothless," though. Casual mode on hard or insane difficulty will inspire a man to perform just as many mid-battle resets as Classic mode.

I feel like Americans have a tenuous relationship with Fire Emblem, as with many Nintendo franchises that began in the 8-bit era but didn't make their way west until later. EarthBound would be the major exception, with its vocal fanbase, but otherwise it seems the seeds of true Nintendo fanaticism were sown in the NES days... or not, as the case may be. Famicom Detective Club may as well not even exist; Advance Wars has a modest following at best; and let's not even mention The Mystery of Murasame Castle.


Even though the Fire Emblem series would take more than a decade to finally limp its way into English after its 1990 debut, the franchise has exerted considerable influence over the direction of role-playing games. Specifically, strategy RPGs. You could even make the case that Fire Emblem essentially invented the genre.

Of course, no game exists in a vacuum, and that holds true Fire Emblem as well. We've mentioned before that computer and console RPGs descended from Dungeons & Dragons, which evolved from a desire to bring granular rules and adventures to tabletop war games. Video game RPGs cover the gamut of those inspirations in an impressive spectrum, with super high-level strategy titles like Civilization or those inscrutable hex-based PC games at one end and action-RPGs like Zelda and Darksiders at the other.

I'd place Fire Emblem more or less dead center between the two extremes. At the strategy end of things, game action revolves around controlling things at an extremely high level. Units usually consist of squadrons of warriors or entire armies, dealing with the fate of entire territories and even nations. Commanding resources allows you to build structures, accumulate war machines, and recruit units to build long-term strength. At the other end of the spectrum, action RPGs put you in control of a single warrior, with resources generally taking the form of equipment and consumables that allow you to survive moment-to-moment challenges.

Fire Emblem stood astride these formats. It combined the need to manage space and distance on a large battlefield with a focus on individual warriors. Intelligent Systems had already dabbled in strategy gaming with Famicom Wars (yes, the original predecessor to Advance Wars), but that game strayed from the classic RPG form. The individual units the players controlled were expendable mechs or platoons of soldiers, offering no significant permanence or continuity between battles. More direct predecessors existed in 1988's Laser Squad (whose creators would go on to create X-Com: UFO Defense) and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons: Pool of Radiance (perhaps the finest digital interpretation of D&D until Baldur's Gate came along). But Pools hewed close to the old-school Ultima take on RPG combat -- positioning mattered in only the most general sense -- while Laser Squad lacked much in the way of RPG mechanics. Oh, also, they were both PC games.


Fire Emblem hit a sweet spot directly in between -- one perfectly suited for consoles, too. The role-playing elements made the game more intimate than a standard strategy game; you didn't want to protect your units for strategic value alone, but because they were characters with personalities. Plus, you'd been bringing them up from level one, so losing them would undermine all the work you'd invested in them.

At the same time, despite its RPG flavor, Fire Emblem's battles didn't unfold like typical role-playing fights. They weren't quick, meaningless battles with low difficulty and low impact. Each encounter unfolded like that of a strategy game, playing out over 10, 20, even 30 minutes apiece. It was unlike any other RPG on the market.

Fire Emblem's unique style inspired an entire genre. Everything from Shining Force to Tactics Ogre owes its existence to Intelligent Systems' work. Pity it took so long for the series to make its way to the U.S. -- by the time Nintendo finally worked up the nerve to bring the games into English, we'd already been enjoying its descendants for years and Fire Emblem came off as seeming perhaps a little staid.



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Old 03-13-2015, 09:03 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Re: Fire Emblem's Place in History

Fire Emblem is truly one of the best SRPGs i've played in my life time. Ike is by far my favorite GC/Wii era protagonist with Lethe and Lyre being my furry picks lol. All time favorite handheld era heroes are Chrom, Robin (My Unit) and Roy
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