Alright, my Crash Bandicoot diversion is over with. Back to Fire Emblem.
Video games are, without a doubt in my mind, the most expendable medium of all time. A game could come out and blow everyone away, quickly becoming the most popular game of all time. Then, not five fucking years later, it will be an unbearable piece of shit that hurts to play! Say what you will, but there are very few games that still hold up to this day! Time is not kind to video games!
This is why remakes are so successful! With a remake, you have the chance to revive a classic with all the advantages of modern tech! Plus, you have the chance to improve upon the original, crafting the most fun and satisfying version of the game to play! A good remake will make the original product completely obsolete!
And then there are remakes like Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.
As the first game in the whole franchise, OG Fire Emblem has a lot of problems. Unfortunately for me, the Shadow Dragon remake on the DS does absolutely fucking NOTHING to address these issues! This shit ain’t a remake! It may as well be a straight-up port! And in that respect, it’s a good product!
Unfortunately, I can’t say that it’s a good game. Because playing it was the opposite of fun!
Plot: Gimme Back My House!!
This is the simplest fantasy story you could possibly go with. Updating it would not have been hard. A hobo could do that shit in a day while drunk and dying and it would still be better than the original! And you still managed to fuck it up. How?!
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon stars Marth, a handsome, goody-two-shoes prince of a fallen kingdom. After many years of training, he and his friends are ready to take their home back! But it will be far from easy, as the titular Shadow Dragon and his armies of darkness stand in your way, eager to take your life and those of your units.
Note how I said units and not friends. That’s where my main problem with the story is found.
Part of the charm of Fire Emblem is the characters. Not all of them are deep or interesting, but they have enough personality to at least make them likable. They either reveal themselves to be deep, interesting, and lovable characters or simple but lovable gags through the support conversations. When you aim for a deathless run, it isn’t because you’re a perfectionist. It’s because you like the characters!
Shadow Dragon has no such charm. There are no support conversations to deepen the characters or your connection to them. Worse yet, characters are introduced in large groups at a time, from four to seven or more characters all at once! Some of them don’t even get any dialogue!
I know why this is the case, of course. The Famicom couldn’t possibly provide those support conversations, given the hardware. They were only being true to the original. Unfortunately, as I mentioned earlier, that’s my main problem with the game!
By the end of the game, I didn’t care if my units died or not. I just wanted the game to be over! So, given the huge difficulty level that only rises higher and higher, I just said “Fuck it! Let ’em die!” When I finally killed the last boss, I only had about four units left, excluding the ones that I never bothered using at all.
Clearly, the game wanted me to care about them! The traditional ‘where are they now’ segment in the credits is still here! But I didn’t even bother reading any of them! I just let it play in the background while I worked on something else.
The story itself isn’t bad. It isn’t memorable, mind you. But as a generic fantasy story for the Famicom, it is fine. The problem is that there is not one interesting or memorable character in the entire game! The only one I can remember is Marth and… well, I think we all know why that is.
Visuals: Don’t Do 3D on a DS
Holy shit, this game looks bad! You’re telling me this came out on the same hardware as Gen 4/5 of Pokemon, The World Ends With You, and Phoenix Wright?!
The lovable sprites of old are gone, replaced by janky 3D models. On the field, these models aren’t so bad. They have their clear identity, making it easy to tell which unit is which. Their thick black outlines make them stick out like a sore thumb, but it helps keep them from blending into the environments. They aren’t great, but they’re fine.
The battle models, on the other hand, aren’t very good at all. They’re just upscaled versions of the field models, which really brings out their imperfections. They’re blurry and undetailed, with stiff, low-energy and lifeless animations. In previous Fire Emblems, the combat animations were an absolute treat! But in this game, they’re about as lifeless as you can get without the units involved already being corpses!
To be fair though: the music is as fantastic as ever. This game features some of the best Fire Emblem music in the series, a lot of which would return in future entries (and Smash Bros., of course). It makes the game a real treat to listen to!
Because God knows it ain’t a real treat to play!
Gameplay: ah fuck, my best dude just died again…
I’m going to try very hard to get through this without pulling what little hair I have left out of my skull. Which is going to be a very challenging endeavor. But I’ll try to be fair.
Gameplay-wise, this game is exactly what you’d expect. You’re set on a linear course of levels in which your chosen team needs to fight through an opposing army. Each unit is armed with a weapon or some sort of magic. Swords beat axes, axes beat spears, spears beat swords, archers beat pegasus knights, certain types of magic beat others, so on and so forth. If your unit is killed, they’re gone for good unless you reset the level and try again from the beginning.
If you’ve played any other Fire Emblem, you’ve played this one. However, this one does set itself apart in one simple way.
It’s hard as fucking shit!
This game has some massive difficulty spikes littered throughout. Even if you try to power grind as much as you can, you’ll still be under-leveled by the end of the game! In order to kill one enemy, you’ll need to carefully maneuver a large number of your own units into advantageous positions.
Which is far from easy, given the sheer number of enemies! In certain levels, your army will be completely dwarfed by the enemies! For everyone one man on your team, the enemy will have five! And given how hard it gets to kill even one of them towards the end of the game, you are in for a bad time!
Hope you weren’t eager for a no-death run. Because this game is not having it.
Normally, I’m always down for a challenge. Having my abilities put to the test is a lot of fun! However, there is a delicate balance that needs to be walked in terms of difficulty. Make the game too hard, and it becomes too infuriating to be fun to play!
Famicom games don’t walk that balance. They were made to last as long as possible in order to justify their price tag. Games weren’t cheap, even when they only had about thirty minutes of stuff in them! The design solution? Just make them so bullshit hard that it would take forever to beat them! And the original Fire Emblem was no different.
They had the chance to address that in this remake. But, much like the characters, they didn’t. This isn’t a remake. It’s a port. A port of a game that, given its age, is hardly playable.
When I first played this game back in high school, I had high expectations! I’d played three other Fire Emblem games at that point and they were all excellent! Surely this one was gonna be great!
Why am I so wrong so consistently?!
I can’t recommend playing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. Not even to experience the series’ roots! It’s unfairly difficult, horribly forgettable, completely infuriating, visually messy, and unfun to play from beginning to end! It is easily my least favorite game in the entire franchise!
Luckily, avoiding it shouldn’t be too hard. Not unless you are really eager to spend upwards of forty US dollars for a game from ten years ago.