Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon review
The Emblem's Fire has finally been extinguished.
It's a version of Marth's tale available outside of Japan.The bad:
A poor step in the graphical department.
Poorly implemented gimmicks.
No support conversations.
Gaiden Chapters destroy the series ideaology.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, or FEDS as I've been calling it for the last year or so, is the eleventh game in a series of tactical RPGs, wherein you take the role of a young warrior, most likely the prince of his/her nation (with a mercenary here and there, but no Ike isn't in this game) and also most likely possessing blue hair, though we do make exceptions for a couple of redheads and the odd silver-haired maiden here and there. You band together a ragtag group of soldiers from whoever you find possessing a face who won't just try and kill you- and possibly even some of the people who WILL try and kill you, poaching soldiers from the enemy is commonplace in this series. Eventually, you will invariably end a war between two or more countries, and in most ieterations proceed onwards to destroy some form of cult, with a climactic battle against a supernatural being.
This eleventh game, however, is a remake of the series first game, Dragon of Darkness and the Blade of Light. This game, like the five after it, only ever came out in Japan, baffling us all when Marth and Roy hit Smash Bros. However, after many years and two Smash Bros games with this tiara wearing man dominating the tier lists, Intelligent Systems have seen fit to remake Marth's first game (Fire Emblem 3, Mystery of the Emblem, was a direct sequel, with 2 being a spinoff that no-one speaks of) for the Nintendo DS and release it around the world.
And oh dear God, I wish they hadn't bothered.
You may be wondering if the game can be this bad, but it is. It is painfully tedious, especially in the later chapters. One false move, even on normal, can spell the end of several hours' playtime. The sprites move painfully slowly, and even with enemy movement skipped (I advise against skipping the enemy turns in their entirety if you actually play this game, as with leaving battles in you can actually see what went wrong if people died and a reset is in order), you will spend more time waiting for enemies to get to you than you will playing the damn game.
And speaking of battles, the graphical style taken in Shadow Dragon is abominable. With prior installments in the series, I enjoyed the pixellated sprites used, even spending time creating portraits of my own, using the pre-existing ones as bases. In this game, I see no such enjoyment. I see another step by the gaming industry towards "realism"- gritty browns and dark greens for all the family. Now, forgive me for saying this, but I'm fairly sure there's some bright colours in real life as well, making me wonder what the world is trying to say with all this dark green and brown.
Sadly, it is not just the new graphics that suffer in this game- it's attempts at spicing up the gameplay have failed miserably as well. The most prominent of these failed features is reclassing. It seems like a good idea at first, allowing people to be switched around at will, except it is not done at will, merely by arbitrary groupings decided based on the unit's original class. The character per class limit is actually sensible, keeping your army in more or less the same shape as it began in. However, my main issue is the lack of logic in it. You can completely cast aside a character's backstory as a brave and mighty knight and make them a meek, mild spellcaster. Now, if it let me do something as silly as make Lena, the game's early joining and very timid Cleric, into a fearless Berserker or General for no other reason than the sheer hilarity of it, I wouldn't protest, since it would clearly be trying to be illogical. However, the introduction of groupings suggests that Intelligent Systems is trying to be logical about something that is quite frankly illogical, makes me wonder exactly what the makers of this game were thinking.
However, I must apologise, as I have slightly mislead you by alluding to a "character's backstory". There is no such thing in this game; even Marth is horribly bland, and he alone of the playable cast talks for the majority of the game. I don't mind having characters hurled at me like crap at the fan, but could you at least do something with them other than having them tag along? You aren't exactly giving me characters that I grow attached to; even Sacred Stones and Radiant Dawn, for all their story faults, had good likeable characters that had me lunging for the reset button if they croaked. I felt no such thing here, only an obligation to preserve that hard-earned exp.
Now, a key feature to the development of the characters of recent Fire Emblem games (except Radiant Dawn, but we won't go into that now) are support conversations, little conversations between the playable characters that let us find out more about them. These are, sadly, absent from Shadow Dragon- quite a shame, as a good set of supports might have silenced some of my complaints about the characters being lifeless.
A final note, based on another recurring feature of the Fire Emblem series; "Gaiden" chapters, or sidequests. In days gone past, the requirements for unlocking a Gaiden would be to either complete the associated chapter within a set amount of turns or simply for the character(s) relevant to the sidequest to still be alive after the associated chapter. These days of rewarding skill with wealth, experience and further allies are long gone. Now, the requirements for Gaiden chapters are simply to have less than 15 allies total by the associated chapter- madness. It's almost as if Intelligent Systems have decided that they will reward poor playing with bonuses- though in the system's defence, there are so many characters that killing them all off could be seen as a challenge in itself. However, the series' tradition of permanent death has long encouraged strategy, something that promoting ritualistic slaughter of your allies flies straight in the face of.
To summarise; should you get this? Well, if you don't trust my opinion, then go right ahead, it's your money. However, I would HEAVILY recommend against buying it. Borrow it if you can, get it secondhand if possible, but do not pay full price; it isn't worth it, and the promise of more remakes if Shadow Dragon sells well is basically Intelligent Systems saying "look, this game sucks but we'll do something else if you buy it anyway". Do not do it. I only gave it 0.5 because to do less is an insult to what is otherwise a good series.
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