The Fire Emblem series has had an interesting path of entry into the Western market. Using the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee as a springboard, Nintendo of America released the Japanese Fire Emblem 7– a game that features neither Marth nor Roy. The title was still a success, and by the release of Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Nintendo was able to include Ike, a character actually in a game the Western world could play.
But what about this Marth character? with his only appearances coming in the first three games in the series, those outside of Japan were left wondering about him. At least, until now.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a DS reworking of the series’ original Famicom title. Marth is a prince forced to flee his own country after an ally nation’s betrayal left it virtually defenseless. Over the course of the game, he and his ever-increasing army progress back via tactical battles to retake his homeland.
For a series that typically has hardcore gamers throwing their systems in frustration–in easy mode–Nintendo has taken many steps to let new players into the experience. A tutorial-like prologue has been added to the beginning of the game to ease players in, and six difficulty levels ensure that advanced players don’t suffer as a result. Extra units are made available to players who have seen too many of their fighters see an early end. One-time-use save points are scattered here and there on difficult maps. Players can loan better-trained units to friends to help them out. There’s also an online store with constantly-changing inventory to buy a few hard-to-find weapons and items. For the button-shy, stylus support is also now available.
Experienced players get something new here too. Usually, in the Fire Emblem series, emphasis is placed on getting through levels without losing a single unit. Shadow Dragon features characters that can only be attained through many deaths, and rather than just tacking on new units, these people are fan favorites from Fire Emblem Gaiden, the second game in the series that takes place in the same time and world. Also, an online multiplayer mode allows players to raise up a 5-unit team and take it out to challenge others locally or globally with voice chat. This mode is more like Advance Wars than Fire Emblem, but the team-building aspect is enjoyable and winning battles net players “cards” that each offer a distinctive combat boost for the next skirmish.
Visually, Shadow Dragon is about what you would expect. The game runs on the same engine as Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, so those who have played that game will notice many similarities. The top screen is used to great effect, putting all the statistics usually hidden in menus out for constant use. Characters no longer have individual sprites (likely due to the game’s class change feature), but the hair color changes appropriately and the animations are smooth and interesting.
With Shadow Dragon, Nintendo pulled off what few thought was possible: an easily accessible Fire Emblem game. Series veterans may not find it to be their favorite ever, but the higher difficulties, online options and different event options will still keep them busy for a while. If you haven’t played Fire Emblem before, now’s the time to give it a try.
ESRB: E10+– As tame as it is, no game about killing people with swords and axes is ever going to get a pure E rating.
Pros: More accessible, Marth (finally)
Cons: Story not quite as deep or complex as others in series
Rating: Purchase (5/5)