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Retro Corner: 'Fire Emblem'

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First released: Game Boy Advance (2004)
Now available on: N/A

'Fire Emblem' screenshot
In the early 2000s, Super Smash Bros. Melee launched on the newly-released Nintendo GameCube. Among the roster, Marth and Roy were two of the surprise breakout hits, supposedly influencing Nintendo to bring Fire Emblem to a worldwide audience.

The fantasy tactical-RPG series actually began on the NES in 1990 exclusive to Japan, but everyone else had to wait until the seventh game - on the Game Boy Advance - to experience it.

At first glance, Intelligent Systems' title shared many similarities with the developer's other strategy franchise Advance Wars. Units moved around on a grid map in a turn-based fashion and engaged in enemy confrontations.

'Fire Emblem' screenshot
Where it differed from Advance Wars, though, was its extra depth. Units equipped weapons, which could only be used a limited number of times before they broke. Characters gained experience from fights, levelled up and could even promote to a new class. And alongside primary objectives, the game mixed in distractions like recruiting new characters and pilfering chests.

On top of that, players had to be aware of the weapon and magic trinities that significantly altered units' accuracy and damage output. With the knowledge that swords beat axes, axes beat lances and lances beat swords, taking the time to plan your units' next move was essential.

Fire Emblem was already a deeply rewarding title, but the feature that helped make it really stand out, at the time, was permanent deaths.

'Fire Emblem' screenshot
Should a character be taken out in action by an enemy, they died (or were incapacitated) for good. All that hard work levelling up that archer or myrmidon - gone. It was the harsh reality of battle, and it encouraged you to not be careless and to really think ahead.

It became easy to grow attached to these characters too, not just from a stat perspective but also thanks to an engaging and rich story.

In a neat extra touch, the player was represented in the game as the party's tactician. People would address you like you're one of them. You weren't just hitting a few buttons - you were invested in leading the party. They trusted you, and you were responsible for their lives.

'Fire Emblem' screenshot
Support conversations also added to the sense that these people were more than just sprites. By having two certain characters fight alongside each other, additional dialogue and stat bonuses between them could be unlocked. Their bond would become stronger to the point where their endings might be altered - for instance, two friends could fall in love and get married in the epilogue.

With an engrossing and lengthy campaign, plenty of replay value and the immense satisfaction earned from completing each chapter, it was all the more impressive that Fire Emblem was a handheld release.

Nintendo continued to localise Fire Emblem titles for the rest of the world to appreciate, including releases on the GameCube and Wii. Next up in the series is Fire Emblem: Awakening for the 3DS. Already out in Japan, Awakening will launch in North America and Europe sometime in 2013.

Do you have any fond memories of Fire Emblem? Post a comment below!

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