Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light Review – Origins of Marth

    Title: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light
    Developer: Nintendo
    Release Date: December 4, 2020
    Reviewed On: Switch
    Publisher: Nintendo
    Genre: SRPG

How many people have actually played the original Fire Emblem? No, we aren’t talking about the Nintendo DS remake Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, released in 2008 as a remake of the original with updated mechanics. We’re talking about the 30-year-old title Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light for the Nintendo Entertainment System that was never released in the west, at least until now. As to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the franchise, Nintendo has decided to, of all things, rerelease the title on the Nintendo Switch in all of its archaic glory. Being the Fire Emblem nerd I am, I was more than ready to take a stab at the most old school you can go with this series.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light is a strategy RPG that stars Marth, the prince of the kingdom of Altea. After being exiled by the evil wizard Gharnef, he must round up a group of allies to reclaim his throne and acquire the legendary blade of light, the Falchion, which does not remotely look like a falchion.

Once in hand, his forces will rise and strike down Gharnef, as well as Medeus, a draconic prince summoned as the shadow dragon. It’s the most basic of plots, and even within the game itself, it’s very minimalistic. We’re talking about three or so text boxes before each map as you get thrust into the gameplay, with maybe one or two extra lines in the actual stage itself.

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I’ll break it down for those of you who don’t know how the typical gameflow of Fire Emblem works. You’ve got a small army, your opponent has a small army that’s usually larger than yours, and you take turns moving your pieces around. When you drag your piece into an opponent’s piece, they both get a shot to slap each other with their weapons. There are no skills, and some of your pieces have different ranges of movement, with various weapon types, and look smugger than your other pieces. The game itself is also quite hard.

If you’re used to playing more recent Fire Emblem titles on normal difficulty and generally don’t want to exert yourself for harder modes, you’re going to have a fairly tough time with this one. However, there are a few things added to it to make it easier. You can access all of these through a special menu via the X button during a map, for starters. This doesn’t allow you to alter the gameplay things per se, and you’re not able to boost any stats or find extra grinding maps, but you are now able to set bookmarks, which is essentially a save state you can reload to at any point or you can rewind turns from the menu.

This menu overlays the game, so if you mess up and get Marth killed, you won’t have to reload your entire save file. You can also use this to essentially reroll the stat boosts you get from every level up. Finally, you can outright toggle the speed of the game. This specifically doesn’t make the game any easier challenge-wise, but it does make it easier on your patience. Aside from the mercenary’s jumping attack animation, they’re all so slow. I had them turned off by map 2 regardless of the speedup, as it makes the grind more manageable.

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The original Fire Emblem is very different when compared to its sequels, including the remake. When it comes to mechanics, the weapon triangle hadn’t been implemented yet, which means our currently pantsless prince Marth can now take advantage of his growth rates to obliterate everyone in sight with his sword instead of the almost permanent handicap he has in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. This is mainly due to (his pants) the sheer number of lance equipped enemies. You can also earn gold from arena fights and experience, which means you will basically have infinite money and experience.

Arena abuse will do a lot to lower the difficulty of this adventure for the more average player, allowing you to kit yourself out in the most powerful weapons money can buy, as long as they can equip them. Instead of ranks, you need to increase your weapon level stat, which is purely luck based and can leave your characters either stuck with basic weapons or they’ll keep leveling it well after they can use every weapon in the game. Trading items between units counts as a turn (thank god they fixed that in future titles), and there are no marriages or supports. That’s all future stuff. Finally, if you combine the warp staff with that earlier arena abuse, you’ll find out this game can actually fall in just a couple of hours.

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Seriously, the warp staff has no range limit, which means this little staff of the gods turns the difficulty into a joke as you warp Marth across the map to two turn entire stages over and over until you win the whole game.

If you choose not to, you’re in for a 30-year-old strategy RPG that will seriously test your abilities. It’s surprisingly not unfair by any means. Still, a collection of shortcomings, such as outdated UI, visuals, music, and a very basic story with next to no characters will make this a bit harder for people to stomach. Combine that with the difficulty, and I see this being mostly picked up by people who want to have a little piece of history on their switch. But if they like a good challenge, that piece of history is there for you to punch some hours in.

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Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light provides a look back at the humble beginnings of this SRPG series that continues to find new fans to this day. It shows its age in systems and visuals, but the added options to speed up the experience and save anywhere makes it accessible for non-seasoned retro gamers. This is a game that I’m glad made it to this generation, at least to preserve its official western release.

A review copy of the title was provided by the publisher for review purposes

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Pyre Kavanagh

Senior Editor - Illusions to illusions. Will solve murder mysteries for money so they can buy more murder mysteries. @PyreLoop on twitter