Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon Review «

Spanning a dozen titles over nineteen years, the Fire Emblem series is a hallmark of the turn-based strategy genre. Most notably, the games have been regarded as some of the most challenging and unforgiving; featuring battles that can take several hours to win, a huge amount of enemies per skirmish, and permanent deaths for your characters. A single mistake could destroy hours of planning and effort. This franchise seems like a strange choice to be reworked as a more accessible, casual game. However, with special care from both Intelligent Systems and Nintendo, Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon manages to pull this off, though it may come at the cost of alienating older Fire Emblem fans.
The DS Shadow Dragon is actually a remake of the original Fire Emblem for the Famicom. The story follows Prince Marth (better known in the states for his appearances in Smash Brothers), as he journeys across the continent of Archanea while fighting the Dolhr Empire. The actual plot and character development mechanics haven’t been altered from the original Famicom version — leaving the story overly simple and weak by modern standards. Despite the fact that the characters lack depth, their motivations are clear and easy to follow, which helps in preventing the story from becoming convoluted like most games that juggle a large cast. Another nice touch is that a vast majority of your party members are properly introduced as unique characters (only under dire circumstances will faceless generic redshirts join your army), making it easy to track and manage your team.

Click the image above to check out all the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon screens.
Each character has a class which determines their movement, equipment options, and stat growth; these classes range from the highly mobile Cavalier, to the sturdy Knight, and the spell casting Dark Mage. One new feature for the remake is the “Reclass” option, which allows the player to change classes for most characters in-between battles. There are some limitations though, as each character has a small list of classes they may change to, and there are also restrictions to the number of a specific class you can have (typically, only two to four members of a class can be in the active party at one time). This ends up offering some freedom while preventing the system from being exploited.

The majority of the game takes place during individual “chapters”: large scale battles with a particular goal. As with Advance Wars, battles take place from an overhead view, with the map divided into a grid. Shadow Dragon makes good use of the dual-screens, keeping the bottom screen focused on the battlefield the entire time, while the top screen switches between technical information, story scenes, and smaller skirmishes. This small change also eliminates the long load times and needless transitions found in the Famicom version. Another new feature includes being able to save during a chapter — both by suspending the game for a later session, and save points located on the field. While saving makes the game easier, it can’t be freely abused: suspension saves automatically delete upon reloading, and save points disappear after a single use. Players will need to wisely choose when to save.

Even if a player’s strategy turns out to be a costly one that leaves them with a fraction of their troops, Shadow Dragon includes “gaiden chapters”, a form of welfare which provide powerful replacement characters and equipment. The first gaiden chapter, the prologue, is accessed by starting the game on normal (the lowest difficulty setting) and includes a tutorial, four extra fights to boost levels from, and two hidden characters that are not otherwise accessible. While this is designed to make the player more powerful, it also has the possibility of backfiring. Because characters can still die during the prologue, the player can possibly arrive at the first chapter without certain characters they would have on other difficulties (in fact, to complete the final part of the prologue, the player must willfully kill off one of their party members). Outside of the prologue, accessing any other gaiden chapter requires having a very small roster of recruited characters. This unfortunately means that if you’re playing the game well, you’ll miss out on the new content, while playing poorly is rewarded. Players concerned with seeing the full game may purposely sacrifice their team in hopes of seeing new side-stories and gaining powerful characters. However, if a player’s team has dwindled, they can always turn to a friend.

Click the image above to check out all the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon screens.
Among Shadow Dragon’s new Wi-Fi features is “Rental Units”, which allows players to swap characters and equipment. This mode is similar to the handheld Pokémon games, as it lets players trade powerful characters. There are some limitations, as players can only use a limited amount of Rental Units during battle, and it cannot be used to regain fallen allies. Other Wi-Fi features include an online versus mode, where players can pit their teams against one another for special prizes. Players can even make use of the DS’ built in microphone to communicate with their opponents. As there is only one copy of the game in the office, I haven’t had a chance to extensively try out multiplayer. However, as Shadow Dragon is a game based on levels and equipment — likely giving one player a distinct advantage — it’s easy to see that multiplayer can easily be unbalanced. While this could upset some tightly wound players, most should find competing with other players satisfying.

Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon has many new features that make the game very accessible, however seasoned veterans of the series will find the game far too easy compared to previous installments. Most strategies can eventually be thrown out the window, as your team can quickly become overpowered. With saving, Reclass, and Rental Units, there is little risk in playing sloppy, and even that can be mitigated via gaiden chapters. Even if you choose to ignore these new features and start on a very hard difficulty, the game is only mildly challenging. For long time fans, Shadow Dragon will feel like a watered down remake.

Overall, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems succeeded in making the first Fire Emblem more casual, and is an excellent choice if you either found the previous games intimidating, or have never played one. Still, those looking for a hardcore strategy game will be sorely disappointed.


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