Swords, Dragons, and That Guy From Smash Brothers
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is coming out soon so I thought I’d take a look at another Fire Emblem remake game that came out many years ago. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon was released for the Nintendo DS 8 years ago and retells the events of the first Fire Emblem game. The remake included a few additions, including a new prologue, some new characters and the implementation of classes such as the myrmidon, which were not in the original game but have been a Fire Emblem staple for several games.
The story of Shadow Dragon follows Prince Marth, better known as “that guy from Smash Bros”. Marth flees his homeland after the death of his father at the hands of a once trusted ally. From there Marth rallies a military force and sets out to reclaim his throne and stop an evil dragon from doing what all evil dragons do in fantasy settings: destroy the world. The story wasn’t anything to write home about but it wasn’t bad. The exiled heir returning to claim their throne story has been done many times before. It’s not so much that Shadow Dragon has a bad story, it’s just one that we’ve seen several times before.
The characters were also a bit weak. Marth was your run-of-the-mill young prince, pushing the story forwards. However, he seemed to be missing something. He needed that one trait or ideal to make him stand out. Most of the units in game don’t have much of a chance to showcase their personalities. Once you recruit them into your army they’ll cease being relevant to the story unless they are required to recruit another character. Unlike newer titles in the series, there are virtually no support conversations to develop the characters. A few characters like Merric (Marth’s best friend) and Navarre (the character that inspired the later game’s myrmidon class) stood out, but others were forgettable and failed to distinguish themselves amongst the sea of other units the game gives you.
Shadow Dragon featured new playable characters that weren’t in the original Fire Emblem. These characters only appear under specific circumstances. Usually the circumstance is reaching a point in the game and having a specific number of units in your army. They’re very easy to miss and I honestly never had a reason to go after them. The game gives you plenty of characters anyways. There was, however, one new character you can acquire at the game’s start. Still, it requires that you sacrifice one of the other characters to obtain him. He doesn’t contribute to the game’s plot past the prologue anyways.
Preparing for battle
Perma-death has always been a part of Fire Emblem, but the introduction of casual mode in Awakening and Fates has given players a more approachable and less stressful way to play the game without worrying about losing their favorite units. Shadow Dragon does not have any sort of casual mode, so permanent death is mandatory. It’s best not to get attached to your units because they could die at any time – unless you restart from a previous save file, at least. I lost a number of good men and women in the field of battle. Thankfully, the game is generous with the number of units you recruit. This means that losing a unit isn’t too much of a setback. It also forces the player to think more strategically to ensure that they are more careful with the units they have.
The levels became a bit repetitive after awhile, following the same basic formula for several chapters. The player starts by surveying the map to see what to expect in the battle and selects units best suited to the fight. Does the enemy have a lot of flying units? Bring a few archers or a balistatician to deal with them. Does the map have a lot of chests? Bring a thief to open them up. Enemy knights look like a problem? Give your swordsmen some armorslayers.
From there combat takes the usual Fire Emblem strategy gameplay. For those who haven’t played a Fire Emblem game before; you and the enemy take turns moving your units across a map and attacking one another until you either complete the requirement for victory or the enemy kills Marth. There’s a weapon triangle that determines what units are effective against and you level up characters by killing or healing other units. It’s a pretty simple system that’s easy to pick up.
The maps follow the same flow for the most part. You move across the battlefield towards an objective, usually a castle and fight off any enemies in your way. As you do this additional enemies may spawn from forts but you can’t stop them from spawning by putting a unit into the space occupied by a fort. Other times you’ll be able to visit villages to get information, items, and sometimes a new unit to join the party. Some enemy units can be recruited by talking to them. Then at the end of each level you beat a general that’s guarding the castle and have a Marth seize it. After that a cutscene plays that will lead you into the next level.
Rinse, lather, repeat. But despite the repetition I still found myself enjoying the levels. The individual maps are often quite large and it gives the battlefields a sense of scale. This combined with the game’s way of making you to think strategically made each level feel like a grand battle.
The Little Things
The visuals for the more recent Fire Emblem games are done in a more anime-esque way. Shadow Dragon’s character designs are less anime inspired and more closely resemble something you’d see in a dungeons and dragons book. It’s still pretty good and fits well with the game’s setting. The character’s avatars on the map and in battle sequences however are faceless 3D models of varying colors. The battle avatars aren’t very detailed and they look pretty forgettable. It doesn’t help that these visuals look outdated compared to modern day CG. The sound design for the game is a bit odd. A number of the sound effects sound like they’d fit better in a sci fi game, especially the attack sounds, which sounds more like a blaster rifle than a sword or a bow.
Reclassing units is far simpler in Shadow Dragon than any other Fire Emblem I’ve played. Instead of requiring a second seal to reclass a unit, you can simply change the unit’s class from the pre-battle menu. It was initially strange but useful in the long run when I needed to fill specific gaps in my army caused by unexpected deaths. Some classes like the thief however cannot be reclassed, and you only get about two thieves in game. So good luck filling that role if you loose them.
So is Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon good? I’ll say that out of all the Fire Emblem games I’ve played that it is my least favorite. But it’s still good. Gameplay is challenging but fair and satisfying, which helps to offset some of its flaws. If you’re a fan of the newer Fire Emblem games you might find something different here to enjoy. If you’re looking to jump into the series with no prior experience however, you’d be better off playing Fire Emblem Awakening instead.
Final Verdict: 3/5
Available on: Nintendo DS (Reviewed); Publisher: Nintendo; Developer: Intelligent Systems; Players: 1; Released: August 7th 2008 (Japan) ;
Full Disclosure: This review was based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the reviewer