With the release of the Game Boy Advance, playing home console games on the go became a reality. SNES games could be easily ported, and many styles that were lost with the advent of 3D gaming had a new home. Fire Emblem was one of the many series that made the jump to handheld, resulting in a game with less systems than its predecessor, but still distinctly Fire Emblem. The Binding Blade didn’t build upon what Thracia 776 established, but instead laid the foundation for modern Fire Emblem.
The new millenium brought certain changes to Intelligent Systems, notably the departure of Shouzou Kaga, the series’ founder. This, combined with the fact that it was the first handheld Fire Emblem, has caused many fans to attribute The Binding Blade as a major turning point in the series. Some of Thracia 776‘s mission types and the overall difficulty curve was far more lenient. However, Kaga’s ideas of grey morality are still present in The Binding Blade, and his influence has continued to be present in the latest Fire Emblem titles. Most importantly, the 2002 release of The Binding Blade would be the last time a main series Fire Emblem game would release exclusively in Japan (With the exception of Fire Emblem 12).
The Binding Blade seems to be a game designed for a new generation of Fire Emblem fans. It severs ties from the previous Fire Emblem universe containing Archanea, Jugdral, and Valentia. Every game had been connected in some way prior to this title, but Elibe has no apparent relation. Elibe’s history begins with The Scouring, a war between dragons and humans over dominance of the continent. The humans were victorious, using the eight Divine Weapons, wielded by the Eight Legends, and the Binding Blade, Durandal. Sealing away both the dragons and the weapons, Elibe was at peace. The savoirs of the continent then established the many nations of modern Elibe.
Ironically, Elibian history seems to be just like the history of past Fire Emblem games. This does bring up one of Fire Emblem‘s tropes: the political unrest that the player fights through always begins as a result of a dragon’s influence. Three Houses will most likely use this plot point to explain the crisis that Byleth will have to withstand, especially since the Officer’s Academy has close ties with the Church of Seiros. I can’t criticize the series for this trope, as it allows a fantasy setting to be established, and for there to be no truly “evil” humans, but seeing the same opening exposition has become a bit tiresome over the years.
After a millenium of peace, King Zephiel of Bern frees the Demon Dragon Idunn, intending to return the world to the subjugation of dragons. Zephiel begins rapid expansion, leading to war with the Lycian league. Pherae, one of the duchies of Lycia, musters its forces for war against Bern, but the Marquess, Eliwood, falls ill. His son Roy is called home from military training to fight in his stead.
After defending Pherae, Roy arrives at Araphen to unite with the rest of Lycia. However, he finds the castle already taken, and Hector of Ostia, the de facto leader of the league, is killed. The league is now in chaos, but Roy soon gains a stable footing with the help of the Etrurian mage knights. The young lord then begins his quest to find the Divine Weapons and Durandal in order to save Elibe from the dire threat it faces.
Even though Shouzou Kaga didn’t work on The Binding Blade, the writing of Zephiel and Idunn lives up to his legacy. Zephiel earnestly believes that humanity is unjust, causing him to accept the help of the nefarious Jahn. Zephiel was once a talented and peace loving boy, but the abuse he faced from his parents drove him mad. Zephiel’s sister, Guinevere, testified for his good natured past, adding to the tragedy as the player sees what Zephiel has become. Zephiel’s childhood is seen in The Binding Blade‘s prequel, making his story all the more compelling as he murders one of the men who saved him in Fire Emblem 7.
Admittedly, the story of a corrupted ruler has been told many times in Fire Emblem. However, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is the first game in the series to make the final boss deserving of the player’s sympathy. Idunn was a Divine Dragon who was captured and forced to become demonic. Her soul was stolen, and she had no choice but to serve the dragons during The Scouring. In The Binding Blade‘s best ending, Idunn recovers her soul and regains the happy life she was once deprived of. Making the seemingly “true villain” tragic is an interesting idea, which would be tried again in Fire Emblem Fates. However, it’s not a plot point that can simply be inserted in a story, so it’s hard to tell whether Three Houses will opt to write every villain in a tragic way.
The Binding Blade simplifies the gameplay of Thracia 776, but also adds a few new systems. The map objectives have been simplified, as defense and escape missions have been omitted. Skills and dismounting have also been removed. The resistance stat has returned, and constitution continues to be present. This general structure would be present throughout all three Fire Emblem titles on the Game Boy Advance, but omitted features were added back in future entries. Despite the simplification, The Binding Blade manages to be reasonably difficult, making it accessible to newcomers, but not dull. This trait will be shared with its prequel.
The main change in The Binding Blade is a modified support system. Instead of the hidden stat boosts or love system of past games, The Binding Blade makes supports much more apparent. Certain characters who stand adjacent to each other gain support points. After enough support points are gained, the characters have a conversation, resulting in stat boosts when they are near each other in the future. Admittedly, supports weren’t very fleshed out in The Binding Blade, yet it paved the way for the modern yet controversial one present in Awakening and Fates. The modern system will return in Three Houses, and most likely every original title in the future. The Binding Blade‘s larger emphasis on supports would change Fire Emblem forever.
One subtler change to Fire Emblem found in The Binding Blade is in the RNG of attack accuracy and critical hits. In the first 5 Fire Emblem games, a number from 1-100 is rolled, and if it is lower than the value of your accuracy %, the player hits. However, in Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade and onward, two numbers were rolled, and the average was used. This leads to accuracies above 50% more accurate than the displayed number, and values below 50% hit less often. This makes Fire Emblem a bit less RNG dependent, as a 90+% hit is now essentially confirmed. This leads to less annoying failures, but it also means that there are less miraculous dodges. Overall, the two-roll RNG System was a great change, as it allowed for a bit more confidence in one’s actions, but doesn’t completely removing luck.
The visuals of The Binding Blade is notably more colorful than Genealogy or Thracia 776. This fits thematically, as The Binding Blade is a much more cheerful and optimistic story. Since it was originally meant for the Game Boy Advance, the graphics do not hold up as well when the screen is enlarged, but there is a certain “early 2000s” charm to it. The soundtrack is as great as ever, though I believe that The Blazing Sword and The Sacred Stones would utilize the Game Boy Advance soundfont much better.
(A Sigmoid Function, similar to the one representing Apparent Hit Rate vs Actual Hit Rate)
The Binding Blade was the beginning of modern Fire Emblem. It’s emphasis on character relations are still present to this day. It is reasonably difficult, has a well written plot, and is enjoyable overall. It cemented the route Fire Emblem would take. Despite the fact that the next Fire Emblem would be nearly structurally identical, it will end up having a larger impact than The Binding Blade; it marked the point that Fire Emblem became international.
Categorised in: Fire Emblem
This post was written by obliviouslifeform