While playing through the recently released Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, I got the urge to go back and play my favorite entry in Nintendo's long-running series, known in the States simply as Fire Emblem. The game was released in 2003 for the Game Boy Advance, and it was the first time North Americans got to experience the series without emulation or hints from Super Smash Bros. Melee.
In Japan, it is subtitled "The Blazing Blade," so I like to refer to it as such to avoid confusion with the other games in the series.
Now, there is nothing wrong with Shadows of Valentia. It is a solid remake of a very old video game and a nice introduction to how the series worked before North Americans got to play along. However, I'm just about to wrap up my playthrough of The Blazing Blade, and all of the problems I had with Shadows of Valentia and the 3DS games are now magnified thanks to how perfectly this Game Boy Advance handles itself.
The Blazing Blade is superior in absolutely every way, adding interesting mechanics into the battles without seeming superfluous, finding ways for battles to surprise players and not become repetitive, and forcing a balancing act on the player to make sure he has plenty of capable units and not just one or two that can power through everything. Spread those experience points, or you are done for.
Without question, it has the best supporting characters as well. One problem I had with Shadows of Valentia is that not many of its characters are particularly memorable. Alm, Celica… I can barely remember anyone else from the story, and I just wrapped it up a few weeks ago.
However, I rarely forget my favorite units from The Blazing Blade, and I often fall into the trap of making the same teams each time I decide to play. The Blazing Blade's three main lords are all fantastic characters who can hold their own in battle, but aside from Hector, who is ridiculously overpowered, some of these supporting characters are actually stronger.
These are the characters I always wind up using because they are both interesting and the absolutely dominate the battlefield every time I select them. One of the best facts about The Blazing Blade is that there are plenty of great characters, allowing gamers of all tastes to make their dream teams. Someone else could have a totally different list… and that's okay.
Canas is the game's sole Shaman and Druid character, meaning he is the optimal choice for dark magic. Nobody else in the game can wreck elemental magic users the way he can, and that becomes important as some boss enemies begin blasting your army from afar with ranged attacks.
Stat growth for Canas is average, but he packs a punch in the magic department. He won't be as nimble as some of his magic user teammates, and he'll often take brutal hits from sword and spear users. Thanks to his Nosferatu spell though, he becomes indomitable by the end of the game with the ability to drain his enemies' hit points and replenish his own. Canas is unique as a magic caster since he is a very defensive unit. Allowing the enemy to go first will give him a retaliatory strike, which lets him heal most, if not all, of the damage he just took.
The only way for Canas to get killed is for an enemy to strike him down him in a single hit or pray that the Nosferatu spell misses. Critical hits are also a weak point against Canas, but enemies rarely score those until the end of the game.
In addition to his unique uses on the battlefield, I'm also a fan of his design. The whole monocle and purple hair thing is just awesome. Canas is a right and proper nerd, and that clashes with his job class' usual image.
Florina is the first really useful mainstay character in The Blazing Blade as she flies into the game during the tutorial missions to teach players about airborne units. For those not familiar with the series, airborne units can ignore terrain and move far distances, but they are really weak to arrow attacks and will be destroyed without hesitation by enemy archers if they stray behind enemy lines.
After the tutorial missions, Florina becomes a character that only patient players will be able to tap the full potential of. Early on, she is weak and often can't survive encounters with enemy units. Leveling her up takes quite a while, and only with the help of a rare item called the Angelic Robe, which permanently boosts a character's hit points, will she be able to stand her ground.
However, as soon as she advances in job classes and equips a rare Delphi Shield, which removes her weakness to arrows, she becomes unstoppable on the battlefield. Her stats are all around better than other aerial units, and the distances she travels will allow her to drop into any emergency and turn the tide in your favor.
The Blazing Blade rewards players for sticking to "home grown" units, the ones that players use throughout the game, and none come with a better payoff than Florina. Don't let her weak appearance fool you. She's one of the game's best.
Another character who players will have to be patient with. Rebecca starts as a common archer in Eliwood's campaign, and she doesn't stand out at all. Most players who blast through the tutorial will want to stick with Wil Knights since he's such a fun character and already has a few levels pumped into him by the time Rebecca shows up.
Don't give into this temptation! Wil Knights is a slick dude, but he caps out quickly. Rebecca has a much higher ceiling than Wil. By the end of the game, Rebecca will be able to devastate even the heaviest of armored units. Her arrows hit hard, her speed allows her to strike up to four times in a single match up, and her ability to dodge almost anything lets her take a frontline position against bombarding attacks.
And flying units? Forget about it! Anything coming from the air falls immediately to Rebecca.
Once Ballistas are introduced into battle, it's all over. Rebecca can jump into these and fire upon enemies from half the map away! Tag teamed with a dancer or a musician, she'll get two attacks per turn and severely handicap any army that comes charging in one unit at a time.
The only thing holding Rebecca back from being God-tier, unlike the top two picks, is that she doesn't counter well against melee users. She can dodge anything, but armed with a bow and arrow means she can't hit enemies one square away. If she could, she would be a God-tier character. Speaking of which…
Lucius is another character that you meet in the tutorial, but unlike Florina, his (yup, he's a guy) purpose on the battlefield will make an immediate impact. Light magic tears through heavily armored enemy units, and it allows players to hit cavaliers and other dangerous melee opponents from a safe distance without the worry of counter-attacks.
Counter-attacks don't really stack up against Lucius, though. Even at lower levels, his ability to dodge incoming blows rivals even the Lord characters. In Fire Emblem, placing a character in a forest greatly decreases the chances of an enemy landing an attack on that character, and with Lucius, I've seen 0 percent attacks made against him as early as the tutorial's closing mission.
In the upper levels, attacks will always breeze around him, and his blinding speed allows him to counter-attack with two blasts of powerful magic. I've sent Lucius all by himself to counter a flanking army of swordsmen, and he can emerge from the battle without a scratch on him! Dodge, counter, dodge, counter, dodge, counter. You wouldn't tell by looking at him, but Lucius is a dangerous dude.
After he advances in ranks, he also gains the ability to heal his comrades, making him invaluable as an ally. He's probably my favorite character in the game, but he's not the best. One more character often outshines him on the battlefield, and he is universally accepted as the game's most over-powered, game busting unit.
As you can tell, I like nimble characters who can dodge easily and blast enemies with heavy offensive attacks. Nowhere in my list have I mentioned a meaty character, one with the bulk or the ability to just take a lot of hits. This changes with Oswin.
Oswin is ridiculous. He's a wall of human flesh. A tank of impenetrable metal. All physical attacks deflect off of his steel armor as soon as he enters your squad, and he'll turn away even magic attacks by the end of the game. His ability to use spears even gives him a ranged advantaged over some enemies, not that it matters since their counter-attacks can't damage him.
This hulking mass of metal is best left at a bottleneck point on the battlefield, like a bridge or narrow valley, and enemies simply won't be able to get through. Those that don't die to his counter-attacks can be picked off by ranged fighters like Rebecca or Lucius, who can volley magic and arrows over his head.
Oswin also benefits from higher speed stats than most heavily armored units, meaning he can attack twice more often than most other characters in his class. His only weakness is that he can't travel very far distances, which is why securing a rare pair of Boots is so important. With an additional two squares of movement, Oswin can push back against any enemy advancement and walk away totally unharmed.
He's overpowered to Orlandeau levels from insanity, for all you Final Fantasy Tactics fans out there. He's easily one of the most domineering RPG characters ever created.
Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade is still my favorite game in the series, and I am drooling for the day that Nintendo makes it available on the Switch through Virtual Console. Until then, the GBA cart is a little expensive, but you can pick it up on the Wii U for just $8. Not a bad price for one of the best strategy RPGs ever made.
Newcomers to the series, check this game out. Just make sure you keep your tempers under control. This game is much harder than what you might be used to on the Nintendo 3DS. That just makes clearing it all the more rewarding.