Remaking the games of a beloved series raises questions. How faithful should the remake be? How can new content be incorporated inconspicuously? These were questions that Intelligent Systems asked as they recreated Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light and Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem. The end results were two games that expanded upon their source material greatly, paving the way for Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Even after all the work put into Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the series was still suffering from declining sales. Intelligent Systems decided that the best option was to return to the series’ roots by remaking the first Fire Emblem. They also hoped returning to handhelds, where the series gained a foothold in the West, would spark new interest. Of course, remaking a 1990 game required some quality of life adjustments from later games. The end result was Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.
Being a remake of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, Shadow Dragon doesn’t tell a new story. For a full look at the story, I would recommend reading Fire Emblem Frenzy #1. I’ll provide a short summary, however. The sorcerer Gharnef revives the Dark Dragon Medeus, forcing Prince Marth to set out on a journey to claim the Falchion and defeat the monster. The issues brought up in the original article still stand; most of the cast is bland, and the story is generic by modern standards.
In terms of new story content, Shadow Dragon adds a prologue, new characters, and a few new paralogues. The prologue provides insight on the events leading up to Chapter 1 of Shadow Dragon. Instead of Grust’s invasion and Marth’s escape being explained through exposition, the player gets to experience it. The prologue maps also serve as tutorials, striking the right balance between brevity and the notoriously lengthy tutorials of the GBA entries. The prologue also provides a bit more character development for Marth’s initial party, as each is given a chance to shine instead of being given en masse at the start of the game.
The five paralogues added to Shadow Dragon introduce the new additions to the cast. Most of these maps are distinct from the rest of the game, making them decent additions for returning players. “These paralogues are a great way to seamlessly introduce new party members while adding new content” is what I’d like to say, if it weren’t for the unlock circumstances. The first four paralogues require for the party to have been reduced to 15 or less, and the latter requires the player to purposely not obtain the Falchion and let Tiki die.
It’s unfathomable why the designers locked this content behind killing many of your units. There are over 45 recruitable units, so the player has to purposely kill their party members to unlock the new additions. Paralogue requirements are meant to encourage strategy, not carelessness. While other games have forced the player to choose between two units, none have forced this level of death to unlock everything. Luckily, this system would be rectified in New Mystery of the Emblem.
In addition to the prologue and paralogues, Shadow Dragon modernizes the gameplay to the standards of the GBA and Wii games, while also adding new features of its own. It’s understandable why Intelligent Systems views this as a “retelling”, not a “remake”. Trading has been modernized, the convoy is tied to Marth, and units can hold five items. The Master Seal of the Tellius games returns, and other items that were implemented after Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light can be purchased from an online shop. Overall, it seems as if the tweaks were made to make the game feel modern, especially in terms of online connectivity.
While past Fire Emblem games had local multiplayer, Shadow Dragon was the first to include online multiplayer on fully fledged maps. This feature was present in Awakening and Fates as well, though it hasn’t been confirmed for Three Houses. I always found the battles to be flawed in the end, as aggression could be easily punished. As a result, matches usually ended in stalemate. It’s still a nice addition.
A recurring trait of the DS Fire Emblem games is how they laid the foundations for the controversial features of 3DS Fire Emblem. The first of these can be found in Shadow Dragon‘s reclass system. While the linear promotion system was chosen for this game, any unit can change class before battle. This total lack of restriction would be used in New Mystery of the Emblem, but would be locked behind Second Seals in Awakening and Fates. I feel that the latter system is a bit more balanced, though level resetting is anything but.
Three Houses‘ promotion operates under a similar, yet altered, system. Any unit in that game will be able to access any class, but it will be locked behind a promotion exam. Hopefully, this will balance reclassing a bit more than it was in the DS and 3DS games.
However, despite all its modernization and additions, Shadow Dragon ultimately lacked one system: supports. As a result, the characters of the game were hardly any more developed than in the original. The first tale of Archanea lacked the moral ambiguity that its successors had, making the overall story quite dull compared to the rest of the series. Nevertheless, the overall improvements make Shadow Dragon far superior to Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, not to mention the first time the West received Marth’s story.
Soon after Shadow Dragon, Intelligent Systems began work on a second remake, this time of Mystery of the Emblem. After all, why remake only half of Archanea’s tale? Shadow Dragon certainly wasn’t perfect, so issues could be rectified in this game. When the game released in Japan in 2010, it was seen as far superior in comparison to its predecessor. Despite this, New Mystery of the Emblem never released outside of the country, making it the first game in 8 years to do so (and the most recent case of this). It’s truly unfortunate, as the game included new chapters and characters.
The story of New Mystery of the Emblem closely follows that of the original Mystery of the Emblem. For this, I’d recommend reading Fire Emblem Frenzy #3, as my upcoming summary will not be able to fully articulate why the game’s plot is so great. A few years after the events of Shadow Dragon, Marth and his troops are shocked to find the Archanean Empire and its monarch Hardin constantly ruthless towards civilians. Marth learns of Gharnef’s Darksphere, which has corrupted the formerly admirable Hardin. I strongly urge you to read the aforementioned article before continuing, as it throughly describes how Hardin is a foil to Marth, and why the original story was so much better than that of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
The least likable part of New Mystery of the Emblem is the fact that Book 1 is absent from this remake. However, it’s not surprising that this was omitted, as it is simply a shortened version of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. If Intelligent Systems did include it, Shadow Dragon would be obsolete. Luckily, all the new additions to the game more than make up for the lack of Book 1.
The most notable addition to this remake is the inclusion of an Avatar unit. I’ll refer to them as Kris, as that is the default name. Kris’ appearance, gender base stats, and stat growths, and starting class can modified. Excluding Mark, the non playable Avatar of The Blazing Blade, this was the first instance of an Avatar in a Fire Emblem game. Playable Avatars have appeared in all Fire Emblem games since (barring the Gaiden remake), and Byleth will be the Avatar of Three Houses.
Avatars have been quite polarizing since their introduction, mostly because they are underdeveloped. This is to be expected, as Avatars are meant to be characterized by the player. However, this lack of characterization can risk damaging the overall plot of a Fire Emblem, depending on how involved the Avatar is. I believe Kris is the right type of Avatar; they are involved in the plot and there are a few instances in which they are the figurehead, but Marth is still the main protagonist. I do think that Kris receives too much praise in game, but the theory behind his implementation is mostly correct.
I think Awakening struck this balance fairly well with Robin, as they share the spotlight with Chrom throughout the game. Once again, I feel that Robin receives a bit too much praise in game, a trend with Avatars. Corrin, however, is far too involved. I’m of the opinion that an Avatar can’t be the sole protagonist and an entirely blank slate. Corrin was the main lord of Fates and an Avatar, which significantly hurt the story in my eyes. However, Byleth seems to be a different type of protagonist. While the lack of customization for them seems to be for cutscene purposes, I see it as a symbolic one: Byleth will have more development. Even if my theory is incorrect, I believe that Byleth will be relegated to an advisory role outside of the Monastery. In Byleth’s place, the House Leaders will becomes the protagonists, ensuring developed protagonists.
Like Shadow Dragon, New Mystery of the Emblem adds paralogues and a prologue. Cleverly, this is where Kris receives the character development allotted for an Avatar; the extra content alone focuses on them to not disturb the main story. The eight part prologue focuses on Kris and Katarina’s journey to knighthood, and the latter’s assassination attempt on Marth. There are six paralogues that can be accessed without killing any of your units (I never thought I’d need to say that, but here we are). In general, these paralogues are about Kris’ conflict with Katarina’s assassin band. I like that there is a growing subplot contained in the paralogues, as it gives Kris a story without needlessly modifying Mystery of the Emblem‘s complete story.
Luckily, New Mystery of the Emblem corrected its predecessor’s mistake by including Base Conversations. This beloved feature of the Tellius games helped develop the characters, showing the growth between party members. Sometimes, these focused too much on Kris, but nevertheless, it’s still great to see it return.
Interestingly, this was also the first Fire Emblem with DLC. Granted, this was all free, and it simply unlocked content already loaded on the cartridge, but it started a tradition of DLC that has grown out of proportion. The DLC included items and a few extra chapters with staggered release dates. These were little bonuses that slightly extended the lifespan of New Mystery of the Emblem, but the DLC trend has continued since. I believe that the paid DLC practices of the 3DS Fire Emblem games are slightly insidious at best and extremely rapacious at worst, but that’s something to talk about in each game’s respective episode. DLC has been confirmed for Three Houses, but I hope it is much more consumer friendly than the 3DS games were.
The final addition to New Mystery of the Emblem is, perhaps, it’s most significant: Casual Mode. Selectable upon the start of the game, units killed during battle return afterwards in this game. This drastically changes the way the game is played, as certain risks that are unthinkable in Classic Mode are easy choices in Casual Mode. Naturally, adding the option to turn off permadeath, arguably the defining feature of Fire Emblem, created a new divide among fans. This rift became worse in recent years due to Awakening and Fates, though it seems to be healing with Three Houses. Personally, I believe that choosing Casual Mode certainly doesn’t invalidate one as a fan, but I also believe that people should give Classic Mode a try once they feel comfortable enough. In my eyes, it makes the game far more fun. Casual Mode will most likely always be an option in future Fire Emblem titles, as it makes the series far less intimidating to newcomers.
Besides the additions Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem bring, I also find it interesting how they conduct themselves as remakes. These veer more to the “reboot” end of the spectrum, as they include a plethora of new additions and features designed to modernize. However, the 2017 Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia is a far more faithful remake, retaining all of Gaiden‘s experimental features. It’s an interesting dynamic to consider, as Shadows of Valentia has rather poor sales, but was adored by fans. Considering that Genealogy of the Holy War is extremely experimental with its map size, a direct remake might please older fans at the cost of alienating newer ones. It will be interesting to see what route Intelligent Systems takes in the future when designing these remakes, especially considering the precarious state the fanbase is in.
The DS era of Fire Emblem saw both the revival of old stories and implementation of new ones. It also marked one of the series lowest points in terms of popularity, veering on cancelation-causing levels. Despite trying to keep the series as safe as possible, Fire Emblem was still a sinking ship. As a result, Intelligent Systems had to take a gamble. They had all of Nintendo’s marketing support and threw their ideas into one last attempt to save the beloved series: Fire Emblem Awakening.