We Didn’t Start the Fire… Emblem

Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade is a Strategy RPG developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. It released on the Game Boy Advance in 2003. When published in America it was renamed simply as Fire Emblem. To reduce confusion when talking about the game, I will refer to it as The Blazing Blade. I played the game in 2019.

Retro Catch Up GBA

Okay, I’m taking off the training wheels. I’m stepping out of Fire Emblem’s 3DS kiddie pool. I said I was a big fan of the series, and now I want to prove it by playing the “hardcore” older games, starting with the first one ever localized to the States.

As my first retro Fire Emblem game, The Blazing Blade had its own unique ups and downs that I didn’t experience before in the series. Its political yet personal story, complex and lengthy maps, and ranking system made it a strong strategic experience, but it ended up feeling weak on the RPG side of things. In other words, The Blazing Blade felt more like a strategy game with RPG elements. It was overall a stellar game, but I found myself missing features that I took for granted on the 3DS.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s start with what I enjoyed. Due to its focused, linear nature, this story soars above Awakening. Fire Emblem has this ability of taking standard fantasy stories and fleshing them out into compelling narratives.

Take Lyn, for example. She’s the main character for the tutorial / prologue of the game. She grew up in a nomadic tribe and is the sole survivor of a raid by simple bandits, or so she thought. She later discovers she’s the heir to a noble throne, and others in power would rather not have her reunite with her grandfather. It’s a standard fantasy coming-of-age story, but other details add an extra layer of depth to the plot. Lyn encounters prejudice from other nobles against her ethnicity, and she finds loyal allies with their own goals and dreams. The game knows exactly what story it wants to tell, and it executes it superbly.

The same holds true for the rest of the game. After the tutorial, Lyn takes a passenger-seat role in favor of Eliwood’s search for his father. In fact, the main characters Hector, Eliwood, and Lyn all act realistically in a world that shifts from peaceful to war-torn in just a few chapters. These three belong right beside Echoes‘ Alm and Celica as A-tier protagonists.

The strategy gameplay is tenser, more puzzle-like than the 3DS games. You’ll often find yourself outnumbered, facing dozens of enemy reinforcements, navigating fog of war, confronting overpowered bosses, and running against a time limit to save an ally character. I enjoy strategy games, so at first I liked this difficulty increase. I wasn’t very far into the game before I found myself soft-resetting at least once every chapter when a character died.

Which brings me to my issues with the game. Several quality-of-life features in the 3DS games weren’t made yet in The Blazing Blade, from highlighting all the enemy’s ranges to undoing a mistake once a mission. This lack of features changed my experience from a high-stakes challenge at the beginning to a slog near the final chapters. I had to be constantly checking ranges, weapons, and stats for every single enemy for every single turn. I had to stay patient too, because one slip-up meant 4 enemy reinforcements would suddenly gang up on a character… and I would have to start the hour-long map all over again. Not having a place to level grind also meant that some characters important to the plot went in underleveled, dying more easily and conflating the endgame’s tedium.

That satisfyingly pace to a battle that I talked about in Awakening and Echoes was only present for the beginning 2/3 of The Blazing Blade. If let your guard down once, even near the end of the mission, then enemy reinforcements can suddenly appear and flank you. I ended up turning off the stylish fight animations just to speed those battles along; the endgame was that exhausting and puntitive.

Considering its flaws, I still liked The Blazing Blade. It’s arguably a better game than the 3DS games, but if you were to ask me which one I’d rather play again, I would easily tell you Awakening or Echoes. I still have an interest in the other GBA games, but I might hold off on old juggernauts like Tracia 776 until I’m better at Fire Emblem.

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