Fire Emblem is a turn-based strategy role-playing franchise developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. The series is heavily influenced by western medieval folklore, with the names of characters, weapons, and even nations taken from western history and mythology. The first game, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi, was published for the Famicom in 1990, and was one of the first, if not the first game in the strategy RPG subgenre. The series has seen thirteen full installments and one four-part Satellaview release, but the series did not see a proper release in western markets until the seventh title, Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, simply called Fire Emblem in the west.
The name of the series, "Fire Emblem," comes from a magic shield granted to Marth, protagonist of the original Fire Emblem, by Princess Nyna of Archanea. Originally an item that gave Marth the ability to open any treasure chest without a key, the shield bears much greater significance in the plot of the sequel, Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, as well as in the 3DS entry Fire Emblem: Awakening. Since then, the term "Fire Emblem" has come to represent a specific item of power found in each of the distinct universes explored over the course of the series.
The casts of characters in Fire Emblem are quite large. The total number of playable characters available in the Wii release of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn numbers over seventy. Over the course of the franchise's history, the series has experimented with ways to bring out the personalities in such large casts. Latter games make use of a system based around the idea of support conversations. In most games that this mechanic appears in, two characters with a predetermined affinity or story link to one another may engage in special conversations after spending enough time on battlefields together. The conversations reveal more about the characters' personalities and histories with the added gameplay benefit of providing stat bonuses when the two characters are within close proximity of each other on the battlefield.
In Fire Emblem titles, characters that run out of Hit Points and fall in battle can no longer be used. Unlike many RPGs, when a character dies in a Fire Emblem game, there is no common method to revive them, making their deaths permanent. This forces the player to be judicious in their approach to battle, as sending in the wrong troops at the wrong time can lead to heavy losses. In latter games, however, starting with Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo, the player may choose to play in either Classic Mode, in which characters that run out of hit points will die, or Casual Mode; a more forgiving mode in which characters that run out of hit points don't die and are able to return in the next battle.
A few games present the player with an item called the Aum Staff; a single-use staff capable of resurrecting any dead character. This item only appears in the original Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi, it's Super Famicom remake/sequel Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, and the DS remakes, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and Shin Monshou no Nazo. Further limiting the staff's usefulness, in the original game, it could only be used by Elice in the game's final chapter, but in later games, it can be used by a select few others.
Although some entries in the Fire Emblem series share settings with one another, the games are easily categorized by the continents on which they are set; some of these continents share the same world, while others exist in separate universes. Each of these separate universes feature their own distinct histories, politics, and other elements that define them.
Archanea is the setting of more entries in the series than any other. These games include the original Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi, Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, BS Fire Emblem: Akaneia Senki, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, and Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo. Archanea is also the setting of Fire Emblem: Awakening, where it is now known as Ylisse. Awakening takes place 2,000 years in the future, in a time where new national borders exist and new conflicts arise.
Set in the same universe as Archanea, Valentia is a separate continent first seen in Fire Emblem Gaiden. The game's plot has no bearing on the events of any of the titles set on Archanea, but a number of characters that appear in Ankoku Ryu to HIkari no Tsurugi make return appearances. The continent is revisited in Fire Emblem: Awakening under the new name of Valm.
The setting of both Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu and Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. It is said to be a separate continent in the same universe as Archanea, but hundreds or thousands of years in the past. Of the various games, Jugdral is the only one that does not have an apparent physical representation of the Fire Emblem.
Elibe is the setting of the sixth and seventh Fire Emblem titles, Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi and Fire Emblem, making it the first setting that western audiences were exposed to in an official capacity.
Magvel is the setting of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. To date, it has only served as the setting of one game.
Tellius is the setting of both Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.
Basic gameplay in Fire Emblem revolves around moving units across a map in order to defeat the opposition and complete the given objectives for the chapter, such as seizing a base, defeating a boss, or defending a position for a specific number of turns. The game ends if the player's "Lord" character, typically the game's protagonist or another important figure, is killed in battle or if the player is otherwise prevented from completing the primary objective. Many missions also offer secondary objectives such as recruiting possible new allies and hunting for treasure. Some missions offer bonus objectives that, if completed, unlock a bonus chapter. These bonus chapters are usually filled with rare weapons, characters that could not otherwise be recruited, and extra insight into the game's main story.
Units may enter combat when positioned within range of an opponent and the option to attack is selected. In melee, the attacking unit must be adjacent to the target. Standard ranged attacks, such as arrows, magic attacks, or javelins feature a common maximum range of two squares. When combat is engaged, the attacker will attempt to strike the target. If the opponent is not killed by the blow, (s)he will have the opportunity to counterattack unless such an action is impossible. If the attacker has a much higher speed than the defender, the attacker may attack a second time after the opponent's counterattack. Further, when equipped with Brave-class weapons (ex: Brave Sword), the wielder will attempt two blows in a single attack.
Units that engage in battle earn experience points. Those that engage in combat but don't kill the opposing unit will receive a small experience increase while an enemy's defeat grants a larger reward. Units that attack and defeat opponents that are of higher level will earn a proportionally larger amount of experience points. For every 100 experience points earned, units rise in level until the level cap is reached. When this occurs, the character must promote to a new, more powerful class in order to continue growing stronger. The actual act of promoting is handled differently from game to game. Some titles require the use of crests or other items that allow the unit to transition to their new class, while other games allow for automatic promotion upon reaching the level cap. Sometimes, class promotions for important characters are limited to story events and will occur regardless of the character's current level.
When units level up, the stats that increase are randomly chosen. Sometimes, only one stat may be increased, while three or four may be increased the next time the unit levels up. This random nature can lead to a peculiar quirk in the Fire Emblem leveling system, as sometimes characters will level up without receiving any stat growth at all. For further explanation on this aspect, please see the section "Explanation of Random Number Generation" below.
In between battles, most of the player's actions are made on the camp screen; a menu in which the player organizes and equips units, distributes bonus experience points (in the entries that award such), and in some games, engage in support conversations and visit shops. These latter two actions are not always available in camp, as some entries in the series place shops on the battle maps, and support conversations may also only occur during battle.
The Weapon Triangle
Most games in the Fire Emblem series base their combat around a concept called the Weapon Triangle, a rock-paper-scissors relationship between the three primary weapon types. Namely, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. Pitting a sword-wielding unit against an axe user does not guarantee victory; rather, it gives a slight boost to possible damage dealt by the sword user while imposing a penalty on the axe wielder.
Bows, another common weapon type, exist outside of the Weapon Triangle. In most Fire Emblem games, archers are defenseless when pitted against an enemy in melee range. However, they are very strong against flying units such as Pegasus Knights and Dracoknights.
Trinities of Magic
Similar to the Weapon Triangle, the Trinity of Magic defines the relationship between the different schools of magic. In the most common trinity, Anima magic beats Light magic, Light beats Dark, and Dark beats Anima. However, in some games, such as Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, the Anima school is divided into its own trinity, in which Fire beats Wind, Wind beats Thunder, and Thunder beats Fire.
In Seisen no Keifu, this latter trinity exists alongside both Light and Dark. In this specific game's case, Light and Dark are neutral to one another, but both are strong against Anima. In Path of Radiance, the Dark school is not included, and Light magic is neutral against Anima. In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, both full trinity relationships exist, with the Anima-specific trinity existing inside the standard form.
Weapons in Fire Emblem do not last forever. With the exception of a few unique weapons such as the swords Ragnell and Alondite that appear in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, all weapons have a set number of uses. When that number drops to zero, the weapon breaks. The maximum number of uses that a weapon offers typically declines in relation to the material type of the weapon. For example, an iron sword may offer forty uses to start with, whereas a more powerful silver sword may offer only thirty. As a result, players must ensure that their units are stocked with proper equipment to see them through each battle.
The exact line-up of classes that appear in each Fire Emblem title varies from game to game. Some unit types may appear as a playable class in one game only to be omitted from the next, or possibly only appear as an enemy unit type. However, there are a core set of classes that are commonly found throughout the series. Examples of these classes are listed below.
Lords are traditionally the protagonists of each game. Most frequently, they are sword wielders, though some specialize in either lances or axes. Their importance to the story also makes them the most common unit type that cannot fall in battle, lest the current chapter end in failure. While some characters begin their respective games as lords, others promote to lord through either standard class promotion mechanics or through story progression. However, even when a lord character does not begin the game as such, their importance to the story and gameplay remain vital. Examples of lords include Marth, Leif, Eirika and Ephraim.
Cavaliers, or horse-mounted knights, are able to cover long distances across the most standard terrain types. In most games in the series, they are capable of using swords and lances, while in Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, they are divided into distinct categories defined by their weapon specialization in either the sword, lance, axe, or bow. Upon promoting, cavaliers become paladins. Paladins feature an increased movement range, and in most games become capable of using any of the standard melee weapon types. In Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, paladins are allowed to select a second weapon proficiency upon promoting, and are allowed to use bows.
Most Fire Emblem titles begin with the player in control of one paladin. This character is much more powerful than the player's other units at the outset and is most effective in aiding the other units until they've leveled up enough to hold their own. Examples of cavaliers include Cain, Abel, Kent, Sain, Kieran and Oscar. Characters that begin as Paladins include Jagen, Seth, and Titania.
Pegasus Knights are a flying unit capable of moving long distances and are not impeded by terrain such as mountains or rivers. They favor speed over defense, making them susceptible to damage but difficult to hit. The primary weakness of Pegasus Knights, as with all flying units, are bows. Pegasus Knights originally promoted into Wyvern Riders, but in later games promote into Falcon Knights. Examples of Pegasus Knights include Caeda, Florina, Tana, and Marcia.
Myrmidons are talented sword users that excel at delivering critical strikes, but have a lower defense than other melee unit types. In most games, Myrmidons promote into Sword Masters. Examples of Myrmidons include Joshua, Mia, Zihark, and Navarre.
Mages are offensive magic users. Depending on the game, they may make use of either fire, wind, and thunder magic (collectively known as anima), light magic, or dark magic. Mages can attack from either melee range or from a distance, but have typically poor physical defense in exchange for high magical resistance. Mages most commonly promote into sages, at which point they may gain the use of healing staves or, in some games, daggers. Examples of mages include Merric, Erk, Lute, and Soren.
Priests and clerics are healing units that lack the ability to attack and require other units for protection. The primary difference between priests and clerics is gender-based. They earn experience points by using healing staves during battle. In most games, priests and clerics are able to promote into bishops; healers that are also capable of using light magic for offense. Examples of priests and clerics include Lena, Serra, Natasha, and Rhys.
Bards and dancers exist purely as support classes. They are units that can grant other units that have already acted another action before the turn is complete. In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, these units are replaced by the heron laguz characters, who can sing to impart the same effect. Examples of dancers include Feena, Ninian, and Tethys. Examples of bards include Elphin and Nils.
Thieves are agile characters that use daggers. Their attack strength is lower than that of other melee units, but they have the ability to open locked doors and chests without the need of keys. They are also able to steal items from enemy units and in fog of war situations can expose a larger portion of the battlefield. In some games, thieves have no promotion class, but in others are able to promote into either assassins or rogues. Examples of thieves include Julian, Matthew, Colm, and Volke.
Archers are ranged fighters that use bows. In most games, they are incapable of defending against attacks from melee range. However, archers have a strong advantage against flying units and can deal greater damage with increased accuracy than other ground-based unit types. Their most common class promotion is the sniper; an enhanced variant of the base class. Examples of archers include Gordin, Rebecca, Rolf, and Leonardo.
Explanation of Random Number Generation
The random number generation system used in some games, starting with the Game Boy Advance titles, can be exploited. The reason for this is because the game generates all of the random numbers for an entire level at the beginning of each level. In more technical terms, the game simply saves the random seed that it will use for the entire level at the beginning of each level. As such, you can exploit this and figure out how what the order of the random numbers will be on any given level. The way that the game's engine levels up a particular character's stats is by randomly generating seven numbers between 0 and 99. If that number is lower than the character's percent chance to get that stat, they will get one more point into that stat for that particular level up. For example, if an archer has an 80 percent chance to level up the Skill stat and the random number generated for that stat is 46, then they will get a point into skill.
A counter example would be if a character has a 40 percent chance to level up Skill and the random number generated is 62, in which case no stat growth is earned. The seven random numbers that are generated are used in the order which they appear on the level up screen, as shown to the picture on the right. The game goes down the left column first, followed by the right column, with all stats except Constitution having a chance to go up by a point.
The exploit itself comes into play when the player writes down approximately what random numbers are being generated for a particular level. It is only possible to accurately predict if the numbers generated are between 0 and 49 or between 50 and 99. This still significantly increases the odds to have certain statistics that have a low chance (below 50 percent) to be increased. At the beginning of any level, the player can take a Pegasus knight type unit and move the cursor around it in a circle as shown below. This represents the maximum movement range that a Pegasus knight has, and as such, when you move the cursor one more square north the game has to pick a different path for you to take to get there. Rather than hard coding in what path it would pick, the developers made the game randomly choose one of the two possible paths (to the left and then up OR up and then to the left).
The way the game does this is by using one of the numbers randomly generated at the chapter's start. If the path moves to the left and then up, the number is between 50 and 99. Likewise, if the path the game chooses is up and then to the left, the number is between 0 and 49. It is preferable for the number to sit in the range of 0-49 for the purposes of exploiting the leveling system. As such, players can simply move the cursor around the Pegasus knight and write down whether the game generated a low or a high random number. Doing so several times in a row at the start of the chapter will allow the player to compile a list of random number possibilities that will remain valid for the entirety of the level.
Upon restarting the level, the same random numbers that were just written down will be used to dictate what happens in every encounter with the enemy and every level up. To effectively game the system, the player must time the usage of the random numbers in the game to line up seven low numbers in a row to ensure that the characters have the best chances to increase their stats when they level.
Other Uses For Random Numbers
Below is a list of when and how many random numbers are used for particular things throughout the game.
- Calculating whether an attack will hit or miss: 2 numbers (the average of the two is taken)
- Calculating whether an attack will be a critical hit: 1 number (unless they have a 0 percent chance to crit, in which case no number is used)
- Forcing the game to pick a path for you: 1 number (as described in the above paragraph)
- Leveling up: 1 number per stat, 7 in total
The same amount of random numbers are used for the enemy as for the player. For example, if the player enters a battle in which the player's unit will attack twice and the enemy will attack only once, so long as both units have a 0 percent chance to to score a critical strike the total number of numbers used will be 6. 2 for your initial attack, 2 for the enemy's attack, and then another 2 for your second attack. Using this, one can line up 7 low randomly generated numbers in a row and guarantee that they will have the best odds possible for a character's level up.
Common Fire Emblem Character Tropes
Over the course of the history of the series, a number of common character tropes have become well established. Some of these include:
- Cain and Abel: The original Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi features two cavalier units that are among the player's first. Cain, with red hair and armor, and Abel, with green hair and armor. Later games in the series include similarly colored cavalier pairs, such as Kent and Sain in Fire Emblem, Forde and Kyle in Sacred Stones, and Kieran and Oscar in Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn.
- Jagen: Another character from Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi, Jagen joins the player early as a Paladin, making him significantly stronger than the player's other starting units. He's a useful character to help guard the less powerful units until they gain enough levels to hold their own, but his effectiveness does not grow in stride and he eventually becomes one of the game's weaker units. Similar characters, such as Marcus, Seth, and Titania serve such a role in their respective games and are sometimes referred to as Jagens, though the reduction in their combat effectiveness varies. In particular, Seth and Titania remain effective throughout their respective games.
- Anna: Anna is an NPC that makes frequent appearances in the series. She typically pops up to either assist in presenting game tutorials or when the player chooses to suspend the game. She also appears as an NPC within the game world of some games. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, she makes her first appearance as a playable character as a member of the Trickster class.
Representation in Other Games
Super Smash Bros.
The first exposure to Fire Emblem for many westerners was through Super Smash Bros. Melee. The game included two Fire Emblem protagonists in its roster. Marth, the hero of the original Fire Emblem and its subsequent remake/sequel, Fire Emblem: Monshou no Nazo, and Roy, the protagonist of the sixth game, Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi.
In Super Smash Bros. Brawl, Marth is brought back, along with Ike, the protagonist of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and its sequel, Radiant Dawn. Lyn, one of the lords from Fire Emblem, appears in Brawl as an assist trophy, as does a Fire Emblem-themed stage and numerous standard trophies and stickers representing other characters from throughout the series.
It has been confirmed that Marth will return as a fighter in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS. The 3DS version of the game will also feature a stage based on the arena in Regna Ferox depicted in Fire Emblem: Awakening.
Daigasso! Band Brothers
The Nintendo DS rhythm game Daigasso! Band Brothers features the main musical theme of the Fire Emblem series in its track list.
Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem
Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem is the first proper crossover of Fire Emblem with another property, in this case Atlus's Shin Megami Tensei series. The game is currently in development for the Wii U.
Fire Emblem vs. Tear Ring Saga
Fire Emblem became the subject of a lawsuit between Nintendo and Enterbrain, the publisher of the PlayStation strategy RPG Tear Ring Saga. Tear Ring Saga was developed by Tirnanog, a developer founded by Shouzou Kaga, a former game designer at Intelligent Systems and one of the creators of Fire Emblem. Nintendo brought claims of copyright infringement against Enterbrain due to Tear Ring Saga's design, which very closely mirrored the design of the Fire Emblem series and was for some time during development known as Emblem Saga.
Nintendo won the lawsuit on appeal, but Tear Ring Saga remained on store shelves. Tirnanog eventually produced one sequel entitled Tear Ring Saga: Berwick Saga, but the series has been dormant ever since.