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Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon – EXCLUSIVE Online Review

Great
AT A GLANCE
  • Extremely deep strategy
  • Approachable difficulty curve
  • Hours and hours of fun
  • So irritating to lose a character
  • Hard difficulty for the insane only
  • Wafer-thin storytelling

Until about five years ago those outside Japan never got a chance to play the Fire Emblem series which began on Famicom in 1990, but with the one-two punch of success for Smash Bros. and Fire Emblem’s sister series Advance Wars, we’ve now seen two GBA entries (Fire Emblem and Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones) and another two console entries (Path of Radiance  and Radiant Dawn). But regardless of the platform the gameplay is the same: deep strategy built around a fantasy setting and a war-torn world. But this is where is all began, as Shadow Dragon remakes the Famicom original with a DS face-lift.


Above: That's the Famicom version on the left

FE’s battles all play out across grid based maps, with combat based on a rock-paper-scissor variation called spear-sword-axe. Understanding who to attack, where you want your unit placed with respect to your enemies’ range and how to predict what the enemy will do on the next turn sounds easy. And like all great strategy games it’s quite easy to understand, but difficult – and worthwhile – to master.

Each character is a unique person, which is great compared to the faceless drones of other strategy games. Not only do you have to work to fulfill certain conditions if you want some enemies to become members of your growing army, but when an ally dies in battle you feel real regret. Mostly because they’re gone. Forever. Dead, like Bambi’s mom dead.

That’s where the real difficulty comes in. If you’re a collector at heart and don’t want to lose even one of the characters, then get ready for a rough time. Even on the normal difficulty it isn’t an easy game, but if you refuse to lose someone in your party or let a prospective party member just fly away, you’ll be restarting often.

Perhaps a little less frustrating, items also employ a hardcore mechanic that centers on scarcity. Any item can break after all its uses go to zero, with some more fragile than others. On top of that you can have a weapon forged at the local Smithy to make it more powerful, but if you favor it, it will break faster. Just another thing built into Shadow Dragon that ultimately becomes intensely deep.

One shortcoming Fire Emblem’s got at its heart is the story. Every game has a simple collection of warring fantasy elements based on a plain story of a child becoming an adult. Plus the story is nearly always told by static images of two characters’ heads chatting about what’s going on. It only makes the story told between the expansive maps even more forgettable, though you should pay attention anyway, as important battle conditions are occasionally discussed in these tete-a-tetes.

Okay, so all Fire Emblem games are great and similar enough to make broad statements regarding the whole series. What sets Shadow Dragon apart? Well first of all it stars Marth, probably the only Fire Emblem character you could call well- known. And second, thanks to nearly two decades separating the original and the remake, many helpful fixes have been made to soften its harsh edges.

The best addition is save points on the maps. Previously, while you could always suspend a game and pick it up later, you could only save your progress between battles, which made prospects of playing a map over and over without losing a fighter even scarier. But the save points on the map are one use only, thus keeping some of the notorious difficulty without kicking you in the junk about it.

Aside from that, and the obvious graphical fixes, we feel safe in assuming this is fairly similar to the first Fire Emblem, mostly based on how all the others after it we played are the same too. FE feels like a new experience even if it isn't, and despite small compromises made in the interest of a friendlier experience for newbies, it still plays like the hardcore series Nintendo fans desperately need right now. But do you think it could be a new game next time?

Feb 9, 2009

More Info

Release date: Feb 16 2009 - DS (US)
Dec 05 2008 - DS (UK)
Available Platforms: DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Nintendo
Developed by: Intelligent Systems
Franchise: Fire Emblem
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Mild Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:
7+

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15 comments

  • secretsearcher - March 15, 2009 3:05 p.m.

    I used to be one of those won't lose a character people...but I gave up that after the first few BS hard levels in this game...
  • Geigan - February 10, 2009 3:12 a.m.

    @Spike_the Dogg I might not get it. But that has nothing to do with the graphics. I just haven't touched a new DS game in a while. Been trying to keep up with my 360's new games. I had mirror's edge for like 2-3 weeks before I actually played it.
  • Spike_the_Dogg - February 10, 2009 2:48 a.m.

    @Geigan I completely agree with you, when I first saw screens for this I thought, "not Fire Emblem too". I'm still excited about it though and am definately getting this one. Gameplay > Graphics
  • revrock - February 10, 2009 1:09 a.m.

    Fire Emblem are the only strat-RPG's I could ever get into. Hopefully Nintendo will really begin to incorporate new elements and gameplay into the series at some point... i.e. what they have done with Mario and Zelda rather than continue to take the Pokemon path with Fire Emblem. & I agree- a gritty overhaul doesn't count. Re=Captcha- I'm Hamlet
  • sl33pythyme - February 9, 2009 11:13 p.m.

    First
  • midknight8 - February 11, 2009 10:37 p.m.

    gotta get this, love the FE series oh and 14th!!!
  • secretsearcher - February 10, 2009 9:36 p.m.

    FINALLY! I am in love with the fire emblem series. I've been waiting for this game for a long time. I need to buy this...NOW!
  • musashi1596 - February 10, 2009 11:38 a.m.

    I absolutely love this game, but I was quite dissapointed that there was no world map where you could level up in between battles like in Sacred Stones. Because i'm a completist who can't let anyone die I ultimately had to drop the difficulty from 5 to 3 stars to do so...
  • RealTerry - February 10, 2009 6:14 a.m.

    Will definately get this as soon as I get a DSi don't think it can top Sacred Stones though. Also, I for one loved Days of Ruin's new look even if story wasn't all that deep.
  • Hydrohs - February 10, 2009 1:51 a.m.

    I always liked Fire emblem's stories, I thought at least PR/RD had pretty deep stories, Sacred Stones... not quite, and I never got to finish the first NA one...
  • Geigan - February 10, 2009 1:10 a.m.

    @Red Well it kind of worked because for Days of Ruin because it switched from charming story and charming graphics, to gritty story and gritty graphics (even though that was a serious slap in the face to fans). It was essentially a huge reboot and made the series into something completely different. On whether you like it or not, your mileage may vary. But the problem with Fire Emblem's change is that the story was already serious before and the charming graphics didn't detract from that. In my opinion, it now looks worse than in previous recent entries.
  • Red - February 10, 2009 12:51 a.m.

    @ Geigan I completely agree. I'd say the gritty look to Advance Wars: Days of Ruin was what inevitably ruined the experience for me. The cartoony characters and the bright colors were originally what drew me to the series in the first place. This Days of Ruin game just feels like a slap in the face, especially since they killed off all the main characters from the previous entries.
  • Red - February 10, 2009 12:48 a.m.

    I've been on the fence about this game for a while because I've heard time and again that Sacred Stones was the best. (I have Sacred Stones.) I think I'm just gonna cave in and give this one a shot anyway cause I'm getting bored of Civilization Revolution.
  • Peefree - February 9, 2009 11:41 p.m.

    Ya, it looks like all of them are covered in dense fog or something...still going to get it though, I love the hand held games of this series.
  • Geigan - February 9, 2009 11:21 p.m.

    Looking at the screens makes me depressed. Why are all the great strategy franchises going gritty? I've always loved fire emblem, But now the maps all look like the old ones with a new coat of crap paint. The games didn't need this in my opinion.

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