A two faced game with an awful first half and a great second one.
Many games in the era before 3D remained region exclusive. This is a real tragedy, as the entire world would have to wait until the advent of emulation and ROMs before they could experience true classics like the NES RPG Final Fantasy III, the SNES tactical-RPG Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War and perhaps the most famous example, the job-system-centric RPG Final Fantasy V. However, not every title to stay confined in a single gaming region is a gem. Some are just of average quality. One such game is Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem.
The first game in the series, Fire Emblem: The Dragon of Darkness and the Sword of Light, was the first ever tactical RPG, and this game is both a remake and a sequel to it, so one would expect that the game does not offer as much depth as later games in the genre such as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea. The game started the slight trend of games being both remakes and sequels with its Book 1 and Book 2. Book 1 is a somewhat watered down remake of the original game with updated graphics, music, and a retranslation of the game which reduces the somewhat OK script of the original to worn out archetypes and blunt, to the point dialogues. The whole book follows Prince Marth’s quest to rescue his sister Ellis (along with Princess Nina), obtain the Falchion, and stop the Doluan Empire from resurrecting the powerful Dark Dragon Medeus. Book 2, however, picks up from where the original left off and tells a new tale of how Marth must defeat his old ally Hadrian, the now Emperor and holder of an ancient relic by the name of the Dark Orb. But the translations currently available won’t help your understand any of this, as most translations have very little, if any of Book 2 converted into English. In order to fully enjoy the game, one must have a comprehensive knowledge of the Japanese language
Despite story differences between the two, they both share the same exact gameplay. As mentioned before, the game was based off the first of its kind, so an uncanny amount of depth is not to be expected. The object of all levels is to conquer the throne/castle (almost always occupied by a boss). You move units on a grid based map and can perform several actions from there. You can choose to attack your foe, recruit an enemy unit (an uncommon occasion that only works with certain units under certain conditions), trade items with units, or just plain end your character’s turn. Your characters level up after gaining 100 experience points and their statistics increase as one might expect. This may not sound like it is a very deep game, but it makes up for it in many other areas of the gameplay. For starters, death is permanent in this game. There are no spells to revive your characters, nor are there special items that do so, and even when they do exist, they have a one time use before breaking. As a result of this, the gameplay becomes much more strategic than most other games in the field. Within 30 minutes of starting up the game, you’ll soon learn when to charge head on, when to form a wall with your tank while slowly pushing onward and when to use the big guns like Volcannon and Starlight. The game also adds the Dismount command to the original’s arsenal, lending a bit more to the strategy. Sure, your character has better stats on a horse, but he won’t be able to use swords or enter buildings while he’s on his mount
A lot of this, however, does not mix well with the remake. The gameplay of the original has not aged well, and the original game was compressed by cutting down 6 chapters and getting rid of certain characters. The experience is not made better by the painfully simplistic maps and the fact that some of the new features, such as giving weapons and items their own sections for inventories and the previously cited dismount command, weren’t designed for the game to begin with. Book 2 is where the attributes of the game are used to their fullest. New maps and characters are introduced, the features seem to add strategic value, and the experience feels much more fleshed out. One flaw that both games share is that it is incredibly easy for those not familiar with the game to get lost and miss vital items to complete the games
The game’s graphics are where it seems to stumble a bit. Both games share the exact same looks, and the graphics themselves look as if they’re a compromise between the epic SNES RPG Final Fantasy IV and Final Fantasy III for the NES. The battle graphics do show some improvement over this, even if they do sacrifice consistency for good looks. Rather than appearing to be somewhat cartoony and exaggerated in appearance, the dueling characters look realistic move quite fluidly during battle. The turn based battles do make it look quite humorous that the opponents wait their turn to attack, but soon after starting the game, you’ll get used to and come to accept it.
While the graphics do somewhat disappoint, the music is a bit of a mixed blessing. As has been the case with most of the game, the original’s music is not an asset that has aged well. Most of the tracks in Book 1 are simplistic and repetitive. However, to cut the game some slack, it did come out on an 8-bit system to begin with. Book 2’s music shows a vast improvement over its predecessor. The tracks are much more complex, sound better, and help to further the story. And unlike Book 1, the map music will change several times before the end.
In conclusion, unless you've played the original game, steer clear of the poorly aged remake of it that is Book 1, as most of the game’s quality lies in Book 2.