I think we can all agree that Nintendo has been around the block. Because of its longevity, it has had several significant video game anniversaries over the past few years. Last year, they celebrated the 35th anniversary of the Super Mario franchise and this year the 35th anniversary of The Legend of Zelda. These commemorations usually coincide with repackagings of old games with new textures and a bevy of bonus goodies. That was the case last year with the Switch releases of Super Mario 3D All-Stars and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. The latter of which is the first official English translation of Fire Emblem 1 and marked the 30th anniversary of the franchise. However, Nintendo is set to remove both of these titles from their marketplace at the end of the month.
I'm not going to beat around the bush. I think Nintendo's decision to make these games "timed sensitive" sets a horrible precedent and an annoying blow to video game preservation. Sure, an argument could be made that there might be a hope these titles get sold piecemeal later down the road. Another could be made that Nintendo will have these games pop-up in their Nintendo Switch Online program after allowing consumers about a year to buy them wholesale. As you can probably tell from my tone, I am rather pessimistic about either of these scenarios and think the likeliest outcome is that after March 31st, 2021, consumers will be shit out of luck. When you look at every time Nintendo has ported older games to platforms, you'll notice that rarely if ever, they go back and make those releases available on newer platforms. And this applies to EVERY landmark title or franchise in Nintendo's wheelhouse! For example, despite Mario's cache as an industry icon, the GBA Super Mario Advance games live and die on that handheld and have never been made available elsewhere.
However, there's no doubting that Nintendo does play favorites. I think the odds of the games in Super Mario 3D All-Stars turning up on the Switch store are a lot better than that of Fire Emblem 1's. Which, if we are being honest, is what inspired me to write this blog. I am downright furious that the original Fire Emblem will disappear for what I worry is forever as I prefer the older Fire Emblem games to the current titles (i.e., Three Houses or Fates). I know that sounds "weird," but I am a sick person who enjoys the byzantine character recruitment requirements and the balls-hard difficulty curve of the Shouzou Kaga-helmed titles. I am obviously in the minority in that regard, but hey, to each their own. The Switch release of Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is the only game in the Fire Emblem franchise in the past fifteen years that pines for that old-school aesthetic and gameplay that I enjoy. Until Thracia 776 or Genealogy of the Holy War get their much-deserved official translations, I am shit out of luck after March 31st in terms of legally buying a Fire Emblem game I want to play. Yes, I currently have a copy on the Switch, but if an unfortunate series of events caused me to need to create a new Nintendo account after March 31st, I would not be able to own this game.
Super Mario 3D All-Stars Might Not Be Great, But It Shouldn't Disappear
Super Mario 3D All-Stars is a $60 title on the Nintendo Switch and contains "remasters" of Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, and Super Mario Galaxy. When this package was released, it was met with a fair amount of derision and for a good reason. The ports are of questionable quality, with the Super Mario 64 part of the compilation being the most dubious. Personally, when I booted up the Super Mario 64 port, I thought it looked like dogshit. I immediately felt like the textures were over-compressed and found the attempts at visual fidelity groan-inducing. However, my most significant issues are with the Switch Lite ports of Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. In both, you can only pick up collectibles by tapping the screen on the Switch Lite. There's no button prompt to collect everything littered on the screen during action scenes or platforming levels. Instead, you need to come to a full stop in-game and tap your screen to pick up anything that needs collecting. As a Switch Liter owner, I can tell you this makes both Sunshine and Galaxy nigh unplayable.
All this bellyaching aside, Nintendo pulling this title at the end of the month is a shitty thing to do. For one thing, this compilation pack is the only way for Mario fans to play any of these titles on the Switch until further notice. To add insult to injury, if you search for Super Mario 64 on Nintendo's website, the only result you get is the Wii U port of the DS port of Super Mario 64. Before we move on, I want you to know the awkwardness of that last sentence is entirely intentional, and I hope it profoundly hurts you to read as much as it hurt me to write. Back to the matter at hand, for new consumers or platform adopters, this sucks. If Nintendo makes any of these titles available later down the road, they will likely NOT be sold in a single package. The best-case scenario is that you will be able to buy the HD Remasters of Super Mario 64, Sunshine, or Galaxy separately but not together and certainly not as a single executable. Finally, it remains to be seen if all of the anniversary trimmings will translate into these supposed later releases.
We are also all assuming these games will be made available at some point in separate packages. Unfortunately, when you stop and think about Nintendo's history regarding their hallmark anniversaries or previous ports of older games, the likelihood of that happening is rather slim. To return to my Super Mario Advance example, all of those ports made novel changes to the originals so they would control better on the GameBoy Advance. However, they have never been made legally available anywhere else. Let's stop and think about the implications of that last point for a minute. How many times have you been able to play the original Super Mario Bros. on a Nintendo console or handheld? Now, please think about your favorite version of the original Super Mario Bros. On how many Nintendo platforms can you legally buy that version?
Let's say your favorite outing of OG Super Mario Bros. is the Super Mario All-Stars version. If that's the case, you can only play that version on two platforms: the SNES, Wii, or Switch. However, because Nintendo discontinued the online Wii Shop two years ago, future digital purchases are no longer available on the Wii. There's also the Nintendo Switch Online version but for arbitrary reasons, let's assume you don't have a Nintendo account. If that is the case, then you are going to need to track down a physical copy to play it. I should also mention, Nintendo has attempted to shutdown re-sellers of cartridges of their older titles. So, by their books, if you buy an SNES copy on eBay, they think you are breaking the law. My point here is simple, Nintendo has allowed all re-releases of their "classic" titles to die a death by a thousand cuts, and it does not matter if it has Mario's name on it. They do not give a fuck. You can play those games on their intended platforms, and only if you bought them in the narrow window Nintendo sold them. To call all of this a "moral hazard" for video game preservation is an understatement. It is a fucking nightmare.
But What About Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light?
Things are notably worse for the Switch "remaster" of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light. Despite the game being ostensibly the first "true" release of the original Fire Emblem in the West, it too is set to disappear from the Switch marketplace on March 31st, 2021. The reason for this decision is pretty apparent... there is no reason! What we have here is a classic case of "Nintendo being Nintendo" in the worst way possible. It is worth mentioning, but the Switch port of Fire Emblem 1 is $6, and it is not a part of a more meaningful compilation package. It is just one game with slight work done to the textures, so they don't look like shit on modern monitors. The issue here is that Western audiences do not have any alternative title to backtrack to when this game disappears from the Switch marketplace. Worse, because the original game did not get an official translation until this Switch release, if you wish to emulate the original game, you are forced to contend with fan translations, some of which are suspect at best or only partially complete.
If you want to emulate Super Mario 64, the only "real" weirdness you have to contend with is the state of N64 emulation and the refresh rate "wonkiness" associated with the platform. You don't, in general, have to worry about some random yahoo, including turn-of-the-century memes for no goddamn reason or self-inserting themselves as an NPC. Trust me, as a fan of the "classic" Fire Emblem games; I have had to deal with that for the better part of twenty years. However, let's say I want to "upgrade" my console or create a new account for personal reasons. If that happens after the end of this month, I will NEVER be able to play Fire Emblem 1. Outside of their efforts to completely shut down Twitch streamers or the Smash tournament community, this is the most profoundly stupid thing Nintendo has done this year. I do not see the point of Nintendo pulling their rendition of the "Disney Vault" on digital releases of classic video games.
Suppose you want to be generous and put yourself in the shoes of Nintendo. In that case, I can imagine there being a small modicum of fear that whenever a new Fire Emblem title comes out, people might "test out" this game and be bummed that it does not play anything like Three Houses or Fates. But you know what? Tough titties! If you want to appreciate where the franchise is today, you owe it to yourself to check out the Kaga-led Fire Emblem games. Do you think it's a pain in the ass to recruit characters in Three Houses? Come back to me when you've managed to add Xavier to your party in Thracia 776! And if people feel inspired to check out an older Fire Emblem game because they played Smash or a more modern title, why prevent them from doing that? This is, after all, the game that gives you Marth!
Finally, there's the argument that Nintendo is planning to add this title to their Nintendo Switch Online suite of freebies. I think this is wishful thinking as Nintendo thus far has not made any gestures of their long-term plans with any of these sorts of games. Also, even if the game does appear, how long will it be available to download before it entirely escapes into the ether? As a short case study, think back to EarthBound Beginnings. The Wii U release of Mother 1 is the only legally purchasable version of that game outside of Japan. The GBA Mother 1+2 compilation pack, which includes an extended ending, never came out in the USA or Europe. Despite the release of EarthBound Beginnings being touted as a goodwill gesture to long-time fans, the game lives and dies on the Wii U. The moment Nintendo pulls the plug on the Wii U online marketplace, as they did with the Wii, that game is dead forever. Nonetheless, at least that game didn't disappear after six or seven months!
I cannot emphasize enough, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is a historical landmark and culturally vital to the evolution of tactical strategy games even though it was never released outside of the West. Without Fire Emblem 1, you don't get Tactics Ogre or Final Fantasy Tactics. While it lacks the sweeping story or heady characterization that we now associate with the Fire Emblem franchise, it is the game that codifies a lot of the mechanical design standbys of the tactical RPG genre. By playing this game, you can find yourself in different "places" in the genre, whether it be the works of Nippon Ichi or Squaresoft. Furthermore, the indelible mark it has on the Fire Emblem series is equally undeniable. When I played the game, I was somewhat surprised to see how much of the series's DNA was intact. You have interstitial moments in-between combat sequences as well as an intricate inventory management system. The iconic "combat triangle" is not present, but all of the expected unit types are here. It is certainly not for the faint of heart, and you should not play it with the expectation that it will amount to what the series has become nowadays. Regardless, playing the game should be allowable so more people can appreciate the hard work Nintendo has done to keep this series relevant for thirty years.
First, I want to clarify that by no means am I advocating for piracy or any other "illegal activities" in this blog. I will, however, gesture that I understand why such activities exist. Providing consumers with only a limited window to buy goods or services is frustrating, if not infuriating. For some people, it could be another two or three years before they have the wherewithal or knowhow to purchase or play any of these games. To take that ability away from them, even temporarily, will simply crystalize the same arguments we have heard repeatedly about why people support piracy. And with digital marketplaces setting new standards for what people expect when searching for video games, Nintendo should do better.
Lost in the mix are the games themselves. Regardless of how you feel about Super Mario 3D All-Stars, I'd rather it exist in perpetuity than be a sad endnote to a major anniversary. The release itself and Nintendo sweeping it under the rug leaves a bitter taste in my mouth, and I think we can all agree Mario deserves better. The treatment of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light, on the other hand, is totally unconscionable. With every new title, more people get introduced to the Fire Emblem series. Newer fans might not be in a position to explore or appreciate the franchise's roots until another contemporary title presents itself. Furthermore, taking away the only official translation of a game, less than a year after its release, is simply unfathomable. It does not make sense from a business standpoint, nor does it make sense as a goodwill gesture to fans. These are, of course, franchises that have helped establish Nintendo as a titan of the industry. But hey, Nintendo be Nintendo, amirite?