Fire Emblem Gaiden

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Fire Emblem Gaiden box art

ConsoleNintendo Famicom
DeveloperIntelligent Systems
PublisherNintendo
GenreTactical RPG
Release Year1992
Game Number2
Purchase (Famicom)Click here to purchase from eBay.

So Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia comes out on 4/20 this year and we’re probably going to somehow make a reference to weed for this game. Cuz 420 and we’re immature morons. But before we get to that point, let’s talk about the “black sheep” entry of the series: Fire Emblem Gaiden.

Fire Emblem Gaiden, relative to the series as a whole, is pretty much The Legend of Zelda II: Link’s Adventure. The Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest. The Super Mario Bros. 2. The Final Fantasy II. The—you get the idea…

Just like those games, it experimented with new gameplay mechanics that either make the game more interesting or just plain didn’t work. Considering how well Fire Emblem remakes had been doing (Shadow Dragon sold poorly in the west and New Mystery of the Emblem was never officially localized outside of Japan), it’s time to ask ourselves: was there something in Fire Emblem Gaiden that would be worth a playthrough of Shadows of Valentia? Well, let’s find out!

Oh, and since this game was released only in Japan, I’m using an English translation patch by Artemis251 to understand the story and menus.

 

A War Between Two Gods

Much like its predecessor, Fire Emblem Gaiden is a simple tactical RPG where you move soldiers across a grid-based map. However, something is noticeably different this time around. Something really odd.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay
You can manually control the movement of your character with the d-pad!

Well, that is half-correct. You can manually control your hero while you’re in towns and landmarks. But in other maps, it’s classic Fire Emblem gameplay.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay
See?

Buuuuuut… there’s a bunch of stuff that makes Gaiden a different experience from its predecessor, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Like, some surreal changes that would boggle your mind. But we’ll get to those in the meantime. Let’s see what this crazy world’s problem is.

The story takes place on the continent of Valentia, during the same time period when Marth was fighting the forces of Medeus at the continent of Archanea. Yep. The Japanese word “gaiden” literally means “side story.” Our protagonists, Alm and Celica, are about as old as the Hero-King Marth himself.

The meta-story is about two gods in war with each other: the chaotic Duma and the pacifistic Mila. As a result of their quarrel, two kingdoms were born in Valentia. Duma ruled the northern kingdom of Rigel while Mila ruled the southern kingdom of Zofia. Eventually, both kingdoms had enough of each other’s shit and declared war on each other. And soon after, monsters pop up in the land of Valentia. But there were two young people determined to end the conflict: a fighter named Alm and a priestess named Celica.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

Fire Emblem Gaiden is the very first entry in the series to actually have a world map. There are many enemies on the map that you are required to defeat in order to progress through the story. But along the way, you can also find landmarks such as towns, castles and caves. It’s worth visiting every single one of these places in order to find treasure chests and shrines.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

In many areas, you will encounter groups of enemies that you must defeat in order to progress. In which case, you need to defeat every single enemy on the map. At first, this seems like an easy task. The enemy AI is ridiculously exploitable. As soon as the enemy’s HP is low, that enemy is going to flee for the nearest healing tile. They may not even attack you while they have low HP. Even if one of your soldiers is heavily injured, the enemy soldier is all, “Oh fuck no! I ain’t touchin’ that!” You can actually use this to your advantage by heavily injuring several enemy soldiers so that only a couple will actually fight back against you.

Every character possesses a weak default weapon, so there is no need to equip a character to allow him/her to attack. Unlike the item management in Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, Gaiden does not have a durability meter for weapons. This would mark the first game in the series to have this feature, which will be seen again in Fire Emblem Fates.

The recruitment system is pretty simple. For most allies, you just need to speak to them to recruit them to your army. But some allies like Delthea, Deen and Sonya have special requirements for them to join you.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

Item management is considerably easier in Gaiden than its predecessor. You can only find items in treasure chests and (very rare) enemy drops. However, the items are limited to only stronger weapons and other accessories. And each character can only equip ONE item at a time. You can easily trade items between characters, eliminating one of the biggest nightmares from the predecessor. Trust me, inventory management was absolute HELL in Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

Shrines are one of the most important features of the game. On the walls, you will see a pair of lion faces that you can interact with that will help boost your soldiers’ stats. Unfortunately, you can use most of them up to three times, so choose wisely.

When your soldiers reach certain levels, you can speak to the statue of Mila in order to promote them to stronger job classes. Right off the bat, the game gives you three Villagers (Gray, Tobin and Kliff). When they reach level 3, you can promote them to random classes—but if you don’t like the current choice of job, you can choose to decline it and speak to the statue again.

Now, here’s the weird thing about promotions in Gaiden. Usually in the Fire Emblem series, you would want to max our your soldier’s levels before promoting him to a stronger class. That way, your soldier will start off with better stats after promotion. But in Gaiden, it doesn’t matter. When you promote a soldier, you will receive stats gains that will compensate for whatever the soldier didn’t get before. In other words, you would want to promote your soldiers as soon as possible.

And since each class has a different requirement on when it’s possible to promote, you should take a look at this chart to find out which levels you need to reach.

Keep in mind that Alm and Celica are special cases. They are the very first “Lord” characters in the series to be able to promote, unlike prince Marth from Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. If you want to find out how, check this out for spoilers.

 

The Game’s Nuances

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

As you play more of the game, you will realize more of the weird changes that makes it stand out in the Fire Emblem series. For example, Archers can attack up to five tiles away. They can even counterattack at close range. While these traits make them extremely useful, their attack accuracy is strangely terrible compared to other classes.

Pegasus Knights have no weakness to Archers in this game. And oddly enough, Wyvern Riders are not present in this game. I guess there are no tame wyverns in Valentia.

Clerics/Sisters have support spells and some fighting capability, making them more comparable to the Monk class than the classic Priest/Cleric class in the series. They can use the Nosferatu spell to drain HP from enemies, but the spell has horrible accuracy. After leveling up some, the Clerics/Sisters will eventually learn new spells, including the powerful Angel spell.

Magic has a strange double-edged sword effect. Among Mages and Clerics, they have spells that take a chunk of their HP when using them. As such, you need to take care to heal your magic soldiers periodically and make sure your Clerics have good support from allies.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

On many maps, you will find pink tiles. These are healing tiles that you and your enemy can stand on to regain some HP in the next turn, so be sure to seize them before the enemy could.

Gaiden makes several references to Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, clearly establishing that it does indeed take place around the same time. The Whitewings of Macedon (Palla, Catria and Est) make a playable appearance as a part of Celica’s army, due to some mishap that brings them to Valentia.

And spoilers…

Somehow, Alm ends up possessing a Falchion later on, just like Marth. And Alm possesses some sort of marking on his arm that connects him to a royal family. Does that mean Marth and Alm are distant cousins?

And lastly, there is a character named Ganeph, which sounds very similar to Gharnef. Gharnef was one of the main villains of the Archanea series and a servant to the earth dragon Medeus. Why there is a similarly named character is unknown, as Ganeph only featured in one map in the entire game with no dialogue.

The graphics are pretty good for the time, but I think the best part of it is the character animations during battle scenes. They are smoother this time around and some of the critical hit animations look awesome. Alm even has an animation where he throws down his shield and does a jumping swing attack like he’s Crono from Chrono Trigger. It’s pretty fucking badass.

Gaiden’s soundtrack is one of the coolest in the series. There are plenty of both epic and catchy tunes. Needless to say, it gives a lot of charm to this game.

Overall, some game mechanics are quite different from what you expected but the Fire Emblem charm is definitely there. If I may be so frank, I actually don’t mind these changes too much. They help make the gameplay more balanced in a different manner from Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Because you don’t need to buy items in this game and you never have to worry about weapon durability, this actually cuts down on a lot of time. The predecessor’s unpredictability due to numerous reinforcements were also a major nuisance, though Gaiden has a replacement for it. And we will get to that in a sec.

Unfortunately, Gaiden is far from perfect. Oh boy…

 

The Game’s Annoyances

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

Despite what the game appears to be on the surface, it has its own handful of problems that make it much less enjoyable. For example, the average attack accuracy is absolutely TERRIBLE in this game. Even when your character has a high Hit percentage, the RNG can screw you over at random. Oddly enough, classes like Archers and Knights seem to get the worst of this. Not only they don’t tend to be speedy enough to perform a followup attack, they may miss quite often. And just like Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, there is no weapon triangle to balance things out. Once again, battling is just a matter of  who has the highest stats and the better weapon.

Also, Experience gain sucks. Even when the enemies are around your character’s level, the EXP gain is very slow and leveling takes forever. So, TIME TO USE A CHEAT CODE!

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom Easy mode

On the main menu, hold Start and Select when selecting a New Game. This will give you an option to play the game in Easy difficulty. While this sounds like a sissy thing to do, Fire Emblem Gaiden relies so much on fake difficulty that it hurts—the kind where your enemies start with a greater advantage over you, but you can grind levels to fix that. Easy difficulty is basically the mode that lets your soldiers gain more EXP. That’s it. There is no decrease in enemy levels or stats.

Yeah, don’t be fooled. Fire Emblem Gaiden isn’t easier with “Easy” difficulty. Just much less time-consuming in the long run. I should also mention that a single level-up isn’t effective because you mostly get stat increases in one or two stats, some of the lowest gains in the series. That is because the characters have low gain percentages in general, making most Gaiden characters mediocre at best. Alm himself is probably the best character in the game, despite him getting his promotion quite late.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

In Chapter 1, you play as Alm’s group. In Chapter 2, you play as Celica’s group. But starting in Chapter 3, you can control both groups independently on the world map. For the most part, this is an interesting feature that makes the world feel like it has quite a bit of depth.

Sadly, Chapter 3 is where the game’s flaws REALLY show. The previous two chapters are more like warmup sections so they’re not bad, but Chapter 3 begins sending in tougher enemies at you in massive numbers—the necromancer enemies being a major culprit. The problem here isn’t the strategy portion or even the strong enemies. It’s more to do with how the leveling system is designed. Not only is it REALLY slow to level up, but the actual stat gains are very little. As a result, so many of your soldiers are ill-equipped to deal with the stronger enemies and the greater numbers that turn into spam attacks.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

I’m not going to hold back on this. Fire Emblem Gaiden’s map designs are TERRIBLE. They are some of the most uninspired, bland designs that the series has to offer. Most of them are these giant, empty fields with little variety in obstacles. So for the most part, you’re just going to be butting heads against the enemy forces like it’s an American football game. Your best chance in surviving these maps without losing your soldiers is to weaken as many of the enemy soldiers as possible. When their HP is low enough, they will attempt to retreat. THIS WILL SAVE YOUR ASS A LOT.

Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryuu to Hikari no Tsurugi reinforcements

Let’s compare to the maps of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Those maps have more thought and care put into them, forcing you to think about how to use the terrain to your advantage and which hazards you need to prioritize before accomplishing your main task. In the example above, you have to navigate through some small areas while anticipating enemy Pirates spawning from the forts across the water. However, you can utilize some chokepoints on the map to ensure that the Pirates don’t overwhelm with their great numbers. While I did complain a lot about this game, I can at least say that the map designs are pretty good and appealing to the eye. In Gaiden though, I never got the sense that the maps were thought out. They seem very lazy and hastily put together.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay

As I mentioned, Chapter 3 is where Gaiden truly begins to feel like a difficult game. One of the main reasons for this is that enemy-controlled forts will begin to spawn enemy groups that will follow you on the world map. And this will occur infinitely until you conquer the fort. And the enemies are no joke. They’re even more challenging than some of story-based maps you had to complete. And if they succeed in ambushing you, they get the first move in battles, which can potentially put you at a massive disadvantage.

This is another instance where RNG can screw you over. Enemy spawns occur at random and will constantly harass you. And sometimes, the forts you have to conquer are tough to get through. In which case, you need to make sure both groups you control are up to defeating these enemies. Or else, you’re screwed.

Fire Emblem Gaiden Famicom gameplay
Behold! One of the most bullshit scenarios in the game!

There are also moments when the game just pulls the rug underneath you. And after you make your fall, the game body-slams you in an attempt to break your limbs. This is precisely what happened in this particular map, where the boss is a wizard called Nuibaba. Nuibaba possesses a powerful spell that reduces your soldier’s HP to 1 and also carries an item that allows the attack to hit far away, giving trouble to even Archers. To make things worse, there is a necromancer that constantly summons gargoyles close by. If you don’t kill these two enemies off, this map is going to drag for a LONG time.

This is one instance in Fire Emblem Gaiden where trial and error is necessary. Because of Nuibaba’s overpowered spell, you will have a difficult time killing him. To make things worse, all of the enemies are next to healing tiles and the wizards will spam the Fortify spell, which heals everyone in the area. So if you fail in killing them off, they will just shrug off any damage you did against them.

And aside from the wizards and the single necromancer, there are two Dread Fighters, the strongest class of the Mercenary line. Yes, Fire Emblem Gaiden is the birthplace for the Dread Fighter class. And man, is it overpowered. Dread Fighters have superior dodging ability, have good defenses, can travel almost as far as cavalry/flying units, and have a high enough Resistance stat to kill off mages quickly. Hell, you can send your own Dread Fighters against the enemy and they can function as independent one-man armies. They are like the Ninjas from Fates, only they fight at close range and have better defensive capabilities.

No amount of level grinding can save you in this map. The only reason I managed to beat this map is by pure luck. Let me give you guys a question: what do you think would be the most frustrating aspect of this map?

Fire Emblem Gaiden is an interesting game. But just like Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, its lack of real strategies and overall clunkiness hurt it. It’s a game with potential brought down by flawed execution.

In Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, you would have to spend a ton of time into preparations and acquire a lot of luck to clear the game (not to mention only a few soldiers will actually pull you all the way to the endgame). Furthermore, you need to be careful in promoting your soldiers because some are ineffective in dealing with the endgame’s unfair challenges.

In Gaiden, you need to put in a LOT of grinding and a LOT of time to get the most out of the game. Because of this, Gaiden’s different mechanics are hardly beneficial or even fun in the long run. It’s riddled with bad design choices that only serve to eat up a lot of your time for little gain. I can’t describe enough to you on how much I hate it when old-fashioned RPGs pull this shit on you. You shouldn’t sit through over a hundred hours just to be able to beat a boss.

But if I were to pick between the two games, I would pick Gaiden. The main reason is because the faults of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light made the game extremely tedious and far too difficult, plus it really taxes on your patience more than anything. In Gaiden, a ton of level grinding will help you survive better in the long run, so there is a more tangible solution to beating this game.

Does that make Fire Emblem Gaiden a good game? No. I think it falls short on being called a “classic,” because its gameplay mechanics had aged more poorly compared to other NES/Famicom classics. Does that make it terrible? No. It was simply a product of its time, during an era when tactical RPGs were infrequent and NES games were trying to be experimental. But if you’re someone who doesn’t like slow tactical RPGs, then you will absolutely HATE this game. I only recommend Gaiden for the most diehard fans of the series.

Despite that, Fire Emblem Gaiden is certainly the most unique entry of the series for its different gameplay mechanics. It has an iconic soundtrack that will later have remixed songs in future games, such as The Sacred Stones and even the Super Smash Bros. series. Even though I’m not a big fan of The Sacred Stones, it clearly derives some features and traits from Gaiden:

  • A world map you can navigate in, including random monster encounters. There is even a part in The Sacred Stones where the story can branch off, depending on who you select as your main protagonist: Eirika or Ephraim. This is somewhat synonymous to how you control Alm and Celica independently.
  • A hidden romantic subplot between the protagonists. It was implied that Alm and Celica (childhood friends, they may be) are in love with each other. This is somewhat synonymous to the sibling love between Eirika and Ephraim (though if taken the wrong way, this may imply that their love may devolve into incestuous due to their badly written dialogue).
  • The arena theme in The Sacred Stones is a (crappier) remix of the battle theme of Gaiden.
  • The standard good vs. evil plot, ending with a final boss fight against a powerful demon.
  • The presence of monsters, including Revenants, Bonewalkers, Draco Zombies, and Mogalls.
  • A kingdom that isn’t necessarily evil, but is being controlled by evil military officers.
  • A final villain who isn’t necessarily evil, but an unfortunate victim of circumstance.

The resemblance isn’t uncanny, though I guess you could say that The Sacred Stones is a spiritual successor to Gaiden in some ways, though they are still very different games. Gaiden is also an inspiration to Awakening (for its world map feature and monsters) and Fates (for its manual control segments and no weapon durability). So in the end, Gaiden definitely has a place in the series despite its unusual traits and it can be a decent game if you look past its faults. Take that as you will, but hopefully the remake of this game will turn out much better.

This might be a weird last-minute question, but… where the hell is the Fire Emblem in this game? Is it Alm’s version of the Falchion or something we’ve missed? Did it even appear at all?

 

Future Prospects

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia 3DS cover art

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia seems more intent in following in the footsteps of Shadow Dragon for the Nintendo DS rather than Awakening and Fates for the 3DS. Whether this is a good or a bad thing is anyone’s guess.

So far, the game has strong potential, though I must say that graphics aren’t that big of an improvement over Awakening and Fates. Maybe that’s the best that Intelligent Systems can do with the 3DS, but we’ll take a closer look at some point.

Thus far, these were the mentioned features of Shadows of Valentia.

  • 3D dungeon-crawling segments that will replace the brief landmark areas in Gaiden.
  • Anime cutscenes by Studio Khara instead of the CG cutscenes used in Awakening and Fates.
  • Full dialogue voice-acting during text segments.
  • A backstory related to the events of Awakening, further establishing that Valentia will eventually become the continent known as Valm.
  • Amiibo compatibility with Alm and Celica figures.
  • Casual Mode.
  • New playable characters.
  • A limited item called Mila’s Turnwheel, which will rewind time to undo a previous action (such as a character dying from an unlucky situation).
  • Healing gives experience points.
  • The return of the Fatigue system, which was used in Thracia 776. However, it will result in stat reductions instead of temporary incapacity.
  • Support conversations, done in a similar manner to the Fire Emblem GBA trilogy.
  • A post-game chapter.

So far, things are looking up for this upcoming 15th title. However, the marketing for Shadows of Valentia seems understated somehow. It doesn’t come close to that of Fates, which used to be one of the most anticipated RPGs of 2015. Maybe it’s because this game in particular is a shift in the newer Fire Emblem titles and doesn’t follow the last two games, but we’ll see how it goes. If Shadows of Valentia eliminates the original game’s grindey nature of the gameplay and terrible map designs, I’d say we got a seller.

What I’m excited for in Shadows of Valentia are the expanded storyline, greater character depth through the support conversations, orchestrated remixes of the iconic songs, and fine-tuned gameplay. While the original game was tedious to play through, there is absolutely no excuse for this game to be bad or even mediocre. At least, I hope so. After all, it’s been 25 years since Gaiden was released on the Famicom. With the introduction of features like the weapon triangle and the support conversations, this game HAS TO be good. If it does well, it could very well be the best Fire Emblem remake. Which will mean MORE possible remakes in the future.

I have no doubts that Shadows of Valentia will be superior to the original game, but what I’m most worried about is that if it will be a decent game in the later entries in the series as well as being a decent game relative to the current generation of game consoles. Part of the reason why Shadow Dragon on the Nintendo DS didn’t succeed was because it didn’t improve that much over the original game and it was definitely inferior to some of the games that came before it. But because Shadows of Valentia will include the well-loved support conversations and eased difficulty, it might turn out good. Only time will tell, and that time will come soon.

I cannot stress this enough, everyone. If Shadows of Valentia does well, we could possibly see a remake of one of the best Fire Emblem games in the series, Genealogy of the Holy War.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War Super Famicom cover art

Like, holy shit, everyone. Fire Emblem fans. Including the new ones. We NEED this remake! Huge maps. Badass protagonists. Multi-segmented chapters. Beautiful animations. This must come to pass!

And this concludes my thoughts for Fire Emblem Gaiden. I may write up a review of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia and draw comparisons to see if it’s worth the time and effort to remake the older entries of the series. Until then, mark your calendars: 4/20. Fire Emblem and weed, everyone!

Oh, and for those who were wondering why I didn’t review Fates even though it came out almost a couple years ago…

*sighs*

All in due time, my children. Because I have a LOT to say about that game…

 

Update – 04/20

Well, I’m a dumbshit, people. 04/20 was the release date for the JAPANESE version of Shadows of Valentia. The North American version comes out on 05/19.

Fire Emblem Gaiden

Price Varies
Fire Emblem Gaiden
7.1

GAMEPLAY

7/10

STORY

7/10

GRAPHICS

8/10

SOUNDTRACK

8/10

Pros

  • Easily the most unique Fire Emblem game due to its vastly different gameplay mechanics.
  • Unlimited weapon durability means you never have to worry much about inventory management.
  • Class promotions have little to no restrictions, making you guilt-free in promoting characters earlier.
  • Character animations are an improvement over the previous game's.
  • One of the best soundtracks of the series.

Cons

  • Terrible map designs.
  • Bad weapon hit rates.
  • Low EXP gain and little stat gains.
  • Constant enemy spawns on the world map.
  • Some enemies are overpowered. like certain mages, necromancers and zombie dragons.
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