Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade

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Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (Fuin no Tsurugi) game cover art

ConsoleGame Boy Advance
DeveloperIntelligent Systems
PublisherNintendo
GenreTactical RPG
Release Year2002
Game Number6
Purchase (GBA)Click here to purchase from eBay.

So it’s been a while since I’ve last talked about Fire Emblem (my previous review was posted on April this year). And at this point, I have yet to discuss Fire Emblem Fates and Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia.

Well! I’ll save conversation for those another day, again!

But I will finish discussion of the Game Boy Advance trilogy. Previously, I had reviewed The Blazing Blade and The Sacred Stones, both of which were nostalgic games for older fans of the series. But there is one more that we’ll cover right now: The Binding Blade, the first of these GBA entries. For some fan translations, this game is also known as The Sword of Seals.

The Binding Blade is interesting in a lot of ways. It is the sixth overall game of the series and it was the last Japanese-only release at the time (before New Mystery of the Emblem happened). This was the first Fire Emblem to be worked on after the original creator Shouzou Kaga left Intelligent Systems and the first game in the series to make its leap onto handheld systems. The Blazing Blade was its prequel, meaning the story of that game continues here. Furthermore… this is the game that stars our boy Roy.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy

Yeah, remember this kid from Super Smash Bros. Melee? We’re finally going to talk about his game. A game that never got an official localization outside of Japan.

So in order for me to discuss the story and characters, I had to play The Binding Blade with a translation patch from gringe. To apply it, you must get NUPS and a ROM of The Binding Blade.  You can figure out the rest on your own. Apparently, Nintendo won’t pursue legal action against fan translators as long as they are not profiting from them, so that’s pretty cool.

So without further ado, let’s talk about The Binding Blade!

 

The Lycian League’s Last Stand

The game begins with a prologue that is reminiscent of the one in The Blazing Blade.

The story continues with King Zephiel of Bern invading the entire continent of Elibe. His three Dragon Generals have succeeded in infiltrating the kingdom of Etruria, as well as getting smaller nations into their cause. Furthermore, Eliwood (one of the protagonists from The Blazing Blade) had fallen ill and Hector (another protagonist) died in a battle against Zephiel himself.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Hector's death
Yes, HECTOR dies almost immediately into this game!

Okay, let me pause here. Even though this game did technically come out before The Blazing Blade, playing this after that game is… pretty damn depressing, to say the very least.

Allow me to explain. When you get yourself attached to the characters of the prequel, it’s pretty sad when you learn that some of them go missing or die in the followup story.

Lyn never makes an appearance or even gets a mere mention in this game, so it’s possible that she’s dead or has left the continent of Elibe. Considering she was close friends with Eliwood and Hector, she would’ve come to their aid if she could. But that’s the thing. She didn’t come to their aid, because… she’s probably already gone.

The Binding Blade seems to follow this same pattern for some of the other characters too, as we learn about the fates of the characters of The Blazing Blade and their families.

Holy hell. When you put the stories of The Blazing Blade and The Binding Blade together, you get some of the darkest moments in the whole Fire Emblem series. Every time I learned that someone had died or had gone missing, I just kept on saying, “Damn it all!”

So yeah, playing through this game is more taxing on me in more ways than one. It really does help enrich the overall experience when you played both. But The Binding Blade by itself is another matter entirely…

So after Hector’s death, Eliwood’s son Roy takes command of the entire Lycian army in an effort to liberate the war-torn countries of Sacae, Ilia and Etruria. Then, eventually take the fight back to Bern.

Right off the bat, this is a pretty strong start for the game. It really gets you invested into the plot and you really want to know what happens next.

Alas, we all can’t have nice things. It took me three tries to get through this game from beginning to end, and we’re going to see why.

 

The RNG God of ‘Fuck You’

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade gameplay

For those who haven’t played a Fire Emblem game, here’s a quick overview. You control an army (blue units) while fighting against another army (red units) on a grid-based map. In your current phase, you can move each soldier to attack enemy soldiers, use items, etc.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade gameplay

Whenever you attack an enemy soldier, a simulation pops up and both soldiers trade blows. If a soldier dies, he/she is gone forever. There is no way you can bring them back to life.

But if you think about your moves carefully, you can keep all of your soldiers alive by the end of the chapter. To finish a chapter in this game, you must defeat the map’s boss and have Roy seize the throne.

Overall, the specifics of the gameplay are easy to pick up once you get used to it. In a way, it’s like an elaborate battle of chess where every soldier has strengths and weaknesses, and you must decide which of your soldiers are the best people for the job.

Being the first entry of the GBA trilogy, it’s going to be obvious that the gameplay of The Binding Blade is going to be rougher around the edges than that of The Blazing Blade and The Sacred Stones. But for me personally, this is where the game dropped the ball.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy dies

First, let’s discuss our boy Roy here. In most Fire Emblem games, the Lord character is the heart of the army. The Lords are usually going to be one of your best soldiers and/or one of the best support units.

As a support unit, Roy is fine. Because of his Fire affinity, his supports with other units will grant them extra points in the Attack, Hit, Evasion and Critical stats. He can potentially make his allies into speedy, dodgy powerhouses.

As a warrior… he’s surprisingly awful for a Lord. While he has decent growths in most stats aside from Defense and Resistance, he cannot move past Level 20 unless he’s promoted to Great Lord. For some reason, his Luck stat is going to be high, but it rarely becomes useful. Even when he’s the only Rapier-user in the game, most armored knights will simply overpower him. Because of his mediocre stats and frail defenses, he dies way too easily. He’s pretty much going to be dead weight for most of the game while your other soldiers do most of the work.

While story-based promotions are standard for Fire Emblem games, someone had the bright idea to make Roy into a late-game promotion, putting him into almost Marth status of bad. He will automatically promote by the end of Chapter 21 or 21x, in a game with 25+ chapters (the last ones unlocking only after meeting certain requirements). As a Great Lord, Roy is quite powerful, especially when he’s at level 20. But because you had to babysit him a lot and he’s worse than most of your soldiers for most of the game, he’s debatedly THE worst Lord of the series. Other contenders included Lyn, Micaiah and Marth.

It wouldn’t be so bad if you didn’t have to use him so much. But because he’s automatically deployed in every map and you need him to finish chapters, you’re stuck with him.

But that’s not the worst of it.

This game’s RNG is royally screwed up. To begin with, many of your units have mediocre to terrible hit rates. In this regard, your armored Knights and axe-wielders get the worst of this, rendering them almost completely useless. Even when they get the weapon triangle advantages, their boosts are not enough to compensate for the bad hit percentages. It’s so biased that you find your soldiers dying to some really dumb luck from your opponent.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade gameplay

Furthermore, The Binding Blade is obsessed with long hallways. The maps themselves are pretty big, but it’s made worse when you had to traverse a lot of hallways with little to no surprises. So you had to constantly drag all of your troops through these maps, in hopes that you don’t get ambushed by enemy reinforcements.

Furthermore, the enemy level scaling can get ridiculous at times. You’re often faced against higher-leveled enemies in earlier maps, making it significantly harder to level up or stay alive for that matter. It’s like the game WANTS us to rely on Arena Abuse to finish it.

Because of all of these factors, The Binding Blade is one of the most tedious Fire Emblem games I ever played. It’s not nearly as bad as Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light or Gaiden, but it can still be pretty tiresome to play through at times.

So comparing to the other GBA entries, The Binding Blade has the weakest gameplay out of all three of them. I may have been harsh towards The Sacred Stones in the past, but at least the maps in that game were competently made and the gameplay mechanics were mostly balanced.

Probably the worst offender in this game is Chapter 14: Arcadia, where you must cross a desert. Not only is it a big map, most of your units move much less on sand. Also add in that it’s a Fog of War map, meaning it’s easy to get ambushed by enemies. You also receive one of the worst units in the game (Sophia), who is ridiculously difficult to level up if you considered using her. There is also some useful treasure on the map, which Thieves have the best chance in retrieving—even though they move poorly across sand. And lastly, this is a map with special requirements that let you access a hidden chapter, which you MUST complete to get the best ending of the game.

………………….Oh my god. Who on the development team expected people to have this level of patience? It’s almost maddening to think someone wanted to make this game even slower than it already is.

If anything, your most reliable units will be your cavalry and your flying units. You absolutely need them in most chapters. Otherwise, these maps will take a while to complete and you will miss out on a lot of nice rewards.

 

Bern It All

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Eliwood and Roy

While The Binding Blade can be one hell of a slog to go through, it makes up for it with its nice graphics, soundtrack, a fairly likable cast of characters and a decent story.

The GBA games all have a distinct look from the rest of the series, and it’s established in this game. From the character portraits to the individual sprites, there is no mistaking the look and feel of this game. For the whole trilogy, you can expect well animated battle scenes and expressive character portraits.

The game also has some of my favorite map themes in the series, including “Beyond the Sky.”

The characters are alright for the most part. None of them truly stood out as bad or awful. Though if you examine very closely, you will realize that many of these characters resembled Shadow Dragon characters in both appearance and personality.

Don’t believe me? Compare these characters now and tell me I’m wrong.

  1. Roy = Marth
  2. Lilina = Caeda
  3. Marcus = Jagen
  4. Alen = Cain
  5. Lance = Abel
  6. Wolt = Gordin
  7. Bors = Draug
  8. Dieck = Ogma
  9. Shanna, Thea and Juno = Est, Catria and Palla
  10. Lugh = Merric
  11. Rutger = Navarre
  12. Melady = Minerva
  13. Perceval = Camus

And truth be told, I like a lot of these support conversations.

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By the way, The Binding Blade is the first game in the series to include that Support system that we all know and love. More character backstories and moments outside of the main story. Of course, you can only have up to 5 support conversations with one A-level support max, but it’s the beginning of a beautiful and beloved game mechanic.

Roy himself is an alright character, though he does suffer a similar problem from his father Eliwood. He’s pretty average as far as Fire Emblem Lords go; kind, charismatic, and thoughtful. His one strength is that he’s a well-informed and educated tactician, making him a reasonably smart kid. Unfortunately, the story never gives him an opportunity to shed light on his flaws or even moments to relax. He also doesn’t go through some trauma like Eliwood did, so I’m pretty disappointed that the story treated this famous character as more of a plot device to move the story forward than an actual person. You’ll learn more about him through support conversations than the actual story, so it’s easy to miss his better character traits.

The story itself is also somewhat reminiscent of Shadow Dragon. A son of a noble has to take command of a small army while fighting against an overwhelming force consisting of a large alliance. The enemy forces also happened to include dragons in their ranks.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade gameplay

Much of the story focuses on how the continent of Elibe collapsed, usually because of greedy or cowardly nobles of other nations being bought out by Bern. And of course, I liked that aspect of that story. It brings about more political intrigue and it further blurs the line between good and evil. The Lycian League, Sacae, Ilia and Etruria have their share of corrupt leaders willing to sell out their countries for prestige and power, which made it much easier for Bern to take control of all of these territories.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy and Lilina

Unfortunately, the story can also be meandering at times because of a subplot involving the Eight Legendary Weapons of Elibe. In order to achieve the true ending of The Binding Blade, you have to play through all of the gaiden chapters by collecting the Legendary Weapons and keeping them all intact until the end of Chapter 22. Otherwise, the game ends with Zephiel’s defeat. While the Legendary Weapons helped build some backstory to the event known as the Scouring, they are by far the least interesting aspect of the story to me.

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Most of the villains are forgettable, but the ones that stood out to me are Narcian and Zephiel. Narcian is one of Bern’s three Dragon Generals and is utterly full of himself, leading to some hilarious reactions when his ego was challenged. I might even call him the Valter of this game since he stands out as an egocentric, psychotic villain.

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Zephiel is a great villain in the series when you have played The Blazing Blade and The Binding Blade together. He is not a power-hungry monarch, greedy noble or a vengeance seeker. He was once a kind young prince who wanted his father’s love. But because his father was close to killing him off, Zephiel was driven to insanity and he turned into a nihilist. Zephiel would later assassinate his father for the throne. As the new king, Zephiel turned Bern into a militaristic powerhouse defined by manaketes and wyvern riders. And his goal is to obliterate all of mankind by conquering the world and handing it over to the dragons, which would also lead to the collapse of the Bern empire and the death of everyone including Zephiel himself. Because to Zephiel, a world ruled by emotionless war dragons is the only method to achieve true peace. Yes, it is a mad goal. But it is a goal of a madman truly exhausted with his own life.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy and Jahn

But the final chapters of The Binding Blade kinda dropped the ball with having two dull villains: Jahn and Idunn. Both characters have very few appearances and you don’t learn much about them throughout the story. But then come the final chapters, where Jahn reveals himself to Roy and drops some massive exposition dumps for no other reason than, “lol, why not? You’re all gonna die anyway.”

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy and Idunn

Then comes Idunn, the Demon Dragon and Dark Priestess. She exists as a mere plot device. Her role is to create War Dragons like a living factory, and that’s it. And Roy feels pity for her because she was turned into the Demon Dragon against her own will, and she lost her soul and will in the process.

And as bosses? They are both so ridiculous easy.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade Roy vs. Idunn
I’m a real boy, bitch!

Yeah, it looks like an intimidating boss fight. But once you promote Roy to Great Lord and level him up to 20, equip the Binding Blade. The Binding Blade is a ranged weapon and Idunn can’t counter if you attack from two squares away. And guess what? You can kill Idunn in two hits.

YES. You kill the final boss in just two hits, and that boss can’t hit you back as long as you stay out of range.

*facepalms*

So this is what I dropped hours upon hours on. My life, people.

But by the end of the day, the Elibe saga concludes and you reflect on the events of The Blazing Blade and The Binding Blade. So many noble lives lost in the course of just two games.

So that is Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade. Despite its major faults… I like it. It may not to be the best in terms of gameplay and story in the GBA trilogy—for me, that would be The Blazing Blade. I would really appreciate it if Intelligent Systems takes these two games and remake them, ironing out their flaws and expanding upon the wonderfully interesting Elibe setting. The Binding Blade is one of the most important entries of the series and a solid game by itself. I recommend it to anyone who is a big fan of Fire Emblem.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade

Price Varies
Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade
8.1

GAMEPLAY

7.0/10

STORY

8.0/10

GRAPHICS

9.0/10

SOUNDTRACK

8.5/10

Pros

  • Straightforward turn-based gameplay.
  • A distinct art style that will be used in later GBA Fire Emblem games.
  • A memorable and nostalgic musical score.
  • The first game to have the Support system we all know from the series, alongside solid character writing.
  • An interesting story with plenty of political intrigue and an excellent main villain.
  • For lore purposes, this game is much better after you played The Blazing Blade.

Cons

  • Roy is a terrible unit for a Lord character. He also promotes extremely late in the game, suppressing his usefulness for over 80% of the game.
  • Terrible weapon accuracy for axe users, armored Knights and some bow users. Mediocre weapon accuracy in general.
  • Large maps with a lot of empty space that take too long to go through.
  • The final chapters contained a lot of slow exposition and some dull boss fights.
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