It’s a story as old as time itself, or at least as old as the GameCube. Two mystery fighters appeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee named Prince Marth and Roy, and many Americans were left scratching their heads over who these pretty-boy swordfighters were. This was many of our introductions to the Fire Emblem franchise, which Nintendo kept untranslated on Japanese shores for over a decade.
This guest appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee paved the way to the first American release in 2004 for the Game Boy Advance, simply titled Fire Emblem. Now, we are getting that release all over again today thanks to the Wii U Virtual Console.
Fire Emblem has seen its ups and downs over the years since this debut. Poor performances on the consoles left Nintendo unconvinced of the franchise’s lasting power, but last year’s Fire Emblem: Awakening shattered all expectations and broke sales records across the board for the series and RPGs in general on the Nintendo 3DS. Plus, we still have plenty of games from the Super Nintendo-era that remain untranslated for all to enjoy.
Despite all that, this 2004 Fire Emblem game is still my favorite of the bunch. I love its characters, storyline, and graceful sprite animation, but its best quality comes from how it doesn’t open the map to allow for random battles. Grinding through random fights in its sequel, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, alleviated the tension of having to spread experience points among a crowd, and it kind of ruined this strict and linear approach, which was unique to RPGs at the time.
No backtracking, no fixing mistakes, no deviating from the path, no grinding to become overly powerful early in the game. Fire Emblem is pure strategy where RPG elements merely complement the gameplay, and yet, every experience point still counts! Once you beat the game, even your save file becomes useless, telling you to start over from point zero if you want to play again!
This approach was kind of refreshing at the time, and it made this Fire Emblem work so well. I also think that the need for something so direct especially carries into today, where open-world design dominates the gaming scene.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a bigger, flashier game with more to do, like sidequests and relationship building, but I still hold this original release in a bit higher regard because of its directness and its far more unforgiving difficulty. Victory is so much sweeter when it is earned through adversity.
Check out the game when the download goes live with the Nintendo eShop update later today.