Oh Fire Emblem. A franchise that I am totally cool with being some variation of the exact same thing in every installment. Yes, swords will beat axes, axes will beat lances and lances will beat swords. Yes, you will invariably start with a pre-promoted character (usually a Paladin) who starts out powerful and either ends up sucking (Jeigan archetype) or actually is able to keep up with the rest of your army (Oifaye archetype). Yes, you will have two cavaliers, one red and one green who specialize in strength and speed. Actually, just read the franchise wiki page. It's quite well done. Point is, Fire Emblem is totally rad and I know fully well that I will end up playing every game in the franchise (as well as the “Totally not Fire Emblem” PS1 game Tear Ring Saga) at some point, regardless of the fact that the NES installments have undoubtedly aged super poorly and probably weren't all that amazing to begin with in Gaiden's case. Thus, to make good on that, I will attempt to talk about a few of them without sounding like a raving lunatic. It will be difficult, but I'm sure it will be worth it in the end. Oh, and don't worry if you've never heard of them. They're all Japan-only this time, so I'm sure this blog will get lots of comments, just like that one time I wrote about how I thought Alpha Protocol was bad. For the record, I still stand by that statement and when I made my now former roommate play through it he said the same thing.
Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu (Genealogy of the Holy War)
Maybe you have heard of this game. I know I certainly have. Some guy on our forums seems to consider it to be the best game ever. He's wrong, but Seisen no Keifu is clearly where Fire Emblem started hitting its stride. Whereas the first three games are some variety of ok, I feel like this one in particular represents a rather large leap in quality in both a gameplay and story perspective. Is it perfect? No. Is it a hella cool Fire Emblem game? Yes. And let me tell you why. With words.
Released in mid 1996, Seisen no Keifu is the 4 game in the series and one of the most popular (in Japan). In fact, it was the best selling title in the series until Awakening came out earlier this year. It introduced the weapon triangle in addition to skills. However, while the weapon triangle has gone on to be a definitive part of the series, and skills have been in most of the newer titles, the single most unique thing in Seisen no Keifu is that it takes place across two generations of characters. The first half deals with Sigurd of Chalphy trying to find his father (which of course turns into a story of intrigue as he is branded a traitor and has to clear his name) and the second half has his son Celice and everyone else's kids finishing where their parents left off.
While the story is still very much a plucky young hero and his friends defeating an evil empire (that their parents inadvertently helped create), there is a surprising amount of characterization and incidental dialogue between both generations. Indeed, though the translation patch is at times a bit stilted and overly literal, it still gets a surprisingly well-told story across. Dark cults, family drama, incest, potential incest and waifu obtaining all get their fair share alongside storytelling tropes that one would expect from a game like this. It's a pity then, that the translation patch I was using doesn't have the ending translated (apparently it's bugged or something), and I had to look it up on the internets instead.
Anyways, it's a Fire Emblem game. However, the maps are insanely huge (there are only 12 of them) and often requires you to capture one enemy castle before moving on to the next one. As a result, the game is rather lenient with its saves, since you can do so every turn without penalty. You can also deploy everyone in your army at all times. These tilt the balance of the game towards mounted units, which is fine and dandy since half of your army is mounted in either generation. Foot soldiers have their place as well (the swordmasters in this game are crazy good, for example), but the two generals you get are totally garbage and not worth touching at all.
However, low movement units are but the tip of the proverbial iceberg in terms of the insanity that lurks beneath the hood. While the first generation is respectably difficult most of the time, despite Sigurd being a death machine from level 1, the difficulty of the second generation revolves heavily on which characters you paired with which mother in the first (and if you didn't pair them at all you get hilariously crappy replacement characters). Like the support system in later games, pairing characters is as simple as making them stand next to each other for an inordinate amount of time until they have a conversation or get a mark on their status bar. While there are no wrong pairings per se, there are most certainly right pairings. While these have been discussed to death by the contentious and debate-happy Fire Emblem fan community, it bears in mind that if you pair Arya (a swordmaster) with say... Lex (an axe knight), her two kids will gain double experience, attack first at low health and have respectable amounts of defense and HP in addition to their already high speed, skill and inherent meteor sword skill (5 hits full damage).
Thus, it is unsurprising to say that one of the things that Seisen no Keifu has no sense of whatsoever is balance. Holy weapons give +20 to certain stats, Wind Magic and Swords are significantly lighter than other types of weapons and the game occasionally decides to throw like 25 high level enemies at you at once, which is all well and good since your characters are supposed to be broken enough to deal with them. Even if you for some unholy reason decided to do an all-replacements run, the preset units in generation 2 (namely Aless, Celice, Shannan and Altenna) have enough holy weapon lolbroken-ness to at least even out the last two or three chapters. I'm pretty silent on the first generation in this respect, because for the most part the first generation doesn't have this problem, since only Levin and Briggid have holy weapons before the last chapter.
I could probably go on and on about this game, but I will suffice to say that if you are a fan of the series and don't mind the legally questionable zone of downloading ROMs and translation patches then you should most certainly play Fire Emblem Seisen no Keifu. But before I go... bonus games!?!?!?
Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
Unlike the wall of text that you just read, I have not finished Thracia 776, the other crazy SNES Fire Emblem game (released in 1999, which is totally crazy), and is a midquel that takes place right before and during the second generation of Seisen no Keifu. It's more standard in the way it's structured, and is notable for introducing the rescue command, fog of war maps and multiple victory conditions. It's also notable for being BALLS HARD, which is why I haven't finished it and why it's a footnote in this blog. However, from the half or so that I have finished, I can tell you that it's fantastic. Unlike something like say... Act 1 of Radiant Dawn the difficulty comes from the fact that most of your units are capable, rather than wet paper that dies in two hits. You will probably be hearing more about this from me in the future, assuming my current Fire Emblem bender holds.
I also played and finished the second DS Fire Emblem (Shin Monshou no Nazo), and it's quite good. However, not much needs to be said, other than that the translation patch isn't finished and that it is basically like Shadow Dragon but better. A lot better. Because Shadow Dragon was kinda bleh.
And thus concludes a blog. About video games. You should play them. I obtained Suikoden IV for free as part of a buy 2 get 1 free sale at Play-N-Trade. That may have been a poor choice. The Civ V expansion seems pretty cool. I'm out.