Fire Emblem has been in the news a lot over the last few months. With Fire Emblem Heroes getting constantly updated, a modern remake of the second title Gaiden coming to the 3DS, Fire Emblem Warriors (a Fire Emblem and Dynasty Warriors crossover) coming later this year, and a brand new title for Switch coming next year, it’s a good time to be a Fire Emblem fan.
Yet, some may not understand why the series matters. Sure, it’s been around a long time, but only with the rise of popularity via Awakening and Fates did it finally achieve AAA status in the eyes of Nintendo. Therefore, you may not get why it matters in the grand scheme of all things Nintendo. I love Fire Emblem, and it’s my favorite Nintendo franchise (and I’ve played a LOT of Nintendo franchises, so I know what the Big N offers), and there’s a good reason it matters to me, and why it should matter to you. Allow me to list some reasons.
WRITERS NOTE: First off, there are a LOT of spoilers in this post, you’ve been warned. Second, a LOT of people have asked me why I don’t reference Genealogy of the Holy War or Thracia 776 or Binding Blade in this piece. It’s because though I know of them and the basic stories, I haven’t played them, and thus I don’t fell comfortable talking about it as I might misinterpret something, and that would be more unforgivable to me. Finally, this article could’ve been TWICE AS LONG as I have it. I barely touched on Sacred Stones, which I love, or some of my favorite characters like Ike and Ellincia, who could’ve been an entire feature onto themselves. I wanted to be fair and talk about as many of the games as I could while also doing some good points from each if I felt I could fit it in. I have not played a Fire Emblem game that I hated, that’s why I wanted to do this piece, because it’s a great franchise start to finish in my opinion, and that’s part of the reason it matters.
1. Story Above All Else
Despite what people may say, Nintendo games do have story. Yes, a lot of them are simplistic: Mario saves the princess, Donkey Kong retrieves his bananas, Olimar needs to repair his ship to get off world, etc. But then some have deeper stories, like Metroid, Zelda, Pokemon, etc. But above all of them, lies Fire Emblem, and for a good reason.
As a strategy RPG, you might think it’s “standard” for it to have a deep narrative, and to an extent, you may be right, however, how far it’s taken is entirely up to the development team, and they take it quite far. And Fire Emblem benefits because of it.
Take, for example, the original game. The story follows Marth, a young prince living in exile after dark forces betrayed and murdered his father before conquering his nation. To bring peace back to the land, Marth learns to control his anger and instead lead his people with compassion. As his skills grow, he begins applying that same compassion to his opponents, many of whom ultimately defect to his liberation army. It’s a classic tale of heroism and bravery that would set the stage for the many sequels to come.
Right off the bat, you’re getting a pretty deep story, one that is both familiar yet immediately compelling. Fast forward through the games and you’ll find very different stories, like the one found in Sacred Stones. It’s about two very different siblings who have to take a different journey (a first for the series in many ways) to go and not only save their home, but try and save a friend who has fallen into darkness.
Or how about Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn? A thrilling two-part tale about rising and falling kingdoms, how unknown groups of mercenaries and freedom fighters rise up to overthrow corrupt empires, and even gods.
In Awakening you’re trying to save the future by preventing calamity in the present. Fates forces you to choose between your birth family, your adopted family, or neither in order to truly save your world. This is powerful storytelling, and it’s what Fire Emblem excels at. But, it wouldn’t excel without…
2. Strong Characters From Top To Bottom
This is something that I truly believe that Fire Emblem does better than just about any series out there. Every single character in the game has a personality, from the good guys, the bad guys, and everything in between, and it’s a true joy to dive into those character personalities and see which ones are your favorites.
Now sure, the Lords are the favorites, but for good reason. Marth, Ike, Eirika, Chrom, Lyn, Corrin, they’re the focus of the games, but their supporting characters are just as great, and every game has their fan-favorites.
Take for example Tharja. Yes, she may be popular because of her looks, but personality is very funny. The way she stalks Robin (regardless of whether he’s married or not) is hilarious. Or even her interactions with other characters prove she’s more than just eye candy. Which of course brings me to Cordelia, who is arguably one of the deepest characters in the entire game. She feels horrible that she survived while her fellow pegasus knights died. Oh, and the fact that she can’t be with Chrom really makes her sad, and that resonated with us as fans! We hated that they couldn’t be together, and for some of us (me included), we paired her with someone so that she could be happy. To this day, my favorite marriage in the FE games is Robin and Cordelia, because of her response to his proposal:
“Thank you. I thought nothing could warm my heart again. I shall love you above all others, for the rest of my days.”
That’s beautiful, and that’s just one character in one game. Times that by all the games that Fire Emblem has had and you get a menagerie of wonderful characters that you can learn about and connect with. I look forward to Shadows of Valentia because I can’t wait to see who I’m going to meet outside of Alm and Celica.
This only comes to life even more with the characters supports, where you learn even more about the characters, and build up relationships. Relationships that can help you on the battlefield. This is why people remember Fire Emblem characters, because we KNOW them, not just see them. Plus, because of Permadeath, if a unit dies, they’re gone, and that can be soul crushing for some players. To the extent that they will restart levels in a heartbeat just so that they don’t lose that unit. And yes, I’ve done that, many, many times.
Cain, Abel, Nino, Jaffar, Seth, Vanessa, Titania, Soren, Sumia, Miriel, Gunter, Scarlet, these are just some of the names that fans of the series know and love, and there’s a lot more. None of them are paper characters, and that’s awesome to me. Which is great, because that’s the other amazing thing about Fire Emblem.
3. Infinite Replayability
You might think I’m lying on this one, but I’m not. While it’s true that the game itself won’t change in regards to story (barring a branching story like Sacred Stones or Fates) you’d be hard pressed to try and play the game the same way twice. And frankly, why should you? There are so many characters in the game that you can mix and match your team and build the ultimate fighting force.
My personal favorite FE game is Path of Radiance, I’ve done a dozen runs of that game and every time I always try and put new units into my fighting squads. This is how I found out about great units like Mia, Nephenee, Jill, Muarim, and more. And through experimentation, I was able to make my fighting squad even stronger, more strategic. That’s the beauty of Fire Emblem, you’re given characters to battle alongside, and yeah, some of them are duds, but you don’t have to worry about that for too long because there’s almost always another great character around the corner waiting to join the fray.
So if anything, go through the campaign once, see who you think is the best. Then, go back to it after a while, play it again, but with different characters that you are determined to level up. See how their strengths improve your party, you might just be surprised by who becomes your MVP by the end of your next playthrough. And while the combat is fun, don’t miss the message that lies underneath…
4. Mature Stories
Confused? Don’t be, I mean this in a simple way. When I say “mature stories” I speak to the level of which the story dives into themes. There is no “glad-handing” here in Fire Emblem. There are a lot of dark themes and instances that happen through the series. While I spoke about the narrative before, that was a more broad stroke, this is more about the nuance that you will find.
The best examples of this in my mind come from Path of Radiance/Radiant Dawn, Awakening, and Fates. The Tellius saga is filled with very mature themes. Not the least of which is slavery, racism, the darkness of politics (when it gets out of hand that is), constant death, betrayal, and more. The Laguz are one of my favorite units in all of Fire Emblem because of their very deep backstory. They were created by the goddess to walk the world with humans (also known as Beorc), and then they were believed to be nothing more than animals.
So the humans put them into slavery, they were beaten, and killed for not following the “orders” of their “masters”, and to the day we enter that world, there’s a lot of hatred between the Laguz and the Beorc, and that hatred is shown in the support conversations as well. The best of which in my opinion (and Tyler from the Nintendo Entertainment Podcast as well) is Jill and Lethe. Jill was raced as a soldier of Daein, who was told that Laguz were half-breeds, sub-human, and didn’t deserve kindness. Lethe was a bitter Laguz who saw the horrors of what humans had done to her kind. She HATED humans just as much as Jill hated Laguz, and as they would talk (reluctantly at first) we would hear about each side had to go through in their lives. Eventually, they became friends, and that was no small feat.
Moving on to Awakening, we got to see how future events affected the present, and how Robin (the character Avatar) had to deal with the knowledge that he would kill his best friend in Chrom at some point in time. This weighed on him for much of the game, and you are actually given a choice to let Lucina (Chrom’s daughter who time traveled to save him) kill you in order to save Chrom. Yes, it was obvious it wouldn’t take, but that’s basically suicide, and the game lets it happen, and that’s deep.
Or how about Fates? Where no matter what you do, you basically betray a family who loves you in order to live with the other. While this sounds very basic, it gets dark pretty quick. In both Birthright and Conquest, you have to witness as several of your siblings die in front of you, often times by their own volition, all in the hope of you saving the day. Plus, in Conquest, you have to condone murder and slaughter of innocent people in the hope of you overthrowing your father and putting someone more worthy on the throne. No matter what way you look at it, that’s pretty dark for a Nintendo game. But that’s why Fire Emblem matters, because it takes things to places other Nintendo games wouldn’t dare to go.
And of course, I haven’t mentioned parts from the other games, like Eliwood killing Ninian on accident, Marth realizing the truth about his journey, Ellincia’s struggle to be a queen, Lyon’s resurrecting of his father and decent into madness, and much more. There’s so much going on in these games, it’s a beautiful, and mature, thing.
Look, in the end, you either enjoy Fire Emblem, or you don’t, and that’s ok. But there’s a reason it’s being recognized as a AAA franchise now. There’s a reason why there are six Fire Emblem characters in Super Smash Bros. There’s a reason that Heroes is a very popular and profitable mobile game. There’s a reason that there are two FE games coming to the Nintendo Switch, and one to the 3DS. That’s a lot of Fire Emblem, and if you need me to say it again to prove it, it’s because it’s a franchise that matters.