A Newcomer’s Guide to Fire Emblem

Alright, I’ve introduced you to the Metroid series, and the Xenoblade series, but what about Fire Emblem?

Perhaps you’re curious about all of the anime sword characters flooding the roster of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, or maybe you’re interested in the newest spinoff game coming out, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. What are these games all about? Where should you start?

Well, I can most certainly help you with that!

Who are these anime people, and why exactly are there so many of them in Super Smash Bros.?

Would I Like Fire Emblem?

As with all video games, that will depend. Like Xenoblade, Fire Emblem is a JRPG, but it isn’t your standard JRPG — it has its own unique mechanics and story themes. Even if you normally don’t like JRPGs, you might find yourself making an exception for this series and its quirks, which are:

Fire Emblem is like chess, only your pieces can talk, cast spells, and level up.

1. Strategy Elements. You could say Fire Emblem is chess, only the game pieces have personalities and silly fantasy outfits. In every game you recruit an ever-growing roster of quirky characters with their own strengths and weaknesses. These characters come in classes like axe-wielding barbarians, powerful mages, and swiftly-moving Pegasus knights. To achieve victory, you’ll need to use the terrain to your advantage and position your units wisely. Fans of strategy games such as XCOM: Enemy Unknown or Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle will enjoy combat in Fire Emblem.

Thankfully the games balance tense strategy fights with mundane moments in their Support Conversations, where these characters can grow (and sometimes fall in love), and I never get tired of it.

2. Visual Novel Elements. As the characters fight together, their bonds strengthen, which in turn improves their ability to fight even more. These relationships build in short cutscenes called Support Conversations. These little skits are sometimes comical, and sometimes heart-wrenching. In a good Fire Emblem game, your units will develop from easily-recognizable archetypes into complex and well-rounded people. They change not only by the events in the plot, but also by interacting with each other. Most of the recent games have other activities you can do to build your bonds further, such as having tea or cooking with them. You can even romance some of them. People who like meeting a compelling cast of characters like the ones found in Xenoblade Chronicles and Persona – especially those that like the life sim / dating part of Persona – will fall in love with the people of Fire Emblem games.

Ever since the series began, Fire Emblem has always been about epic conflicts between nations and the people living in them.

3. Epic War Stories, Where Every Decision Matters. Fire Emblem games involve massive conflicts between kingdoms. Covert assassins, devout pilgrims, and ancient dragons all take part in the twists and turns of these games. Fire Emblem is committed to putting you, the player, in a position where you decide the fates of these characters. This may be determined by which faction you ally with, or simply which units you put into battle. Old Fire Emblem games were so committed to this gritty decision-making that if a unit died in battle, that was it. They were officially dead. It really makes you think before you act, right? Think of it like an anime Game of Thrones. More modern Fire Emblem games made this permadeath mechanic optional, though, so if permadeath feels like too much responsibility, then don’t worry – you can always turn it off. If you enjoy directly affecting the outcome of epic fantasy stories, such as Final Fantasy Tactics or Shin Megami Tensei, then you’ll enjoy pulling the strings in Fire Emblem.

Can Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes Be My First Game?

Ah… no. I don’t think that’s a good idea. For starters, it’s a Warriors or “musou” game, which is in an entirely different genre. Secondly, it’s a spinoff game, and you’ll likely need to be familiar with the characters of Fire Emblem: Three Houses in order to really make much sense of it. However, it may be a good game to play later down the line if you enjoy Fire Emblem and want a bit of variety.

This is a no-brainer: start with Fire Emblem Three Houses.

Where Would You Recommend I Start With the Series?

This question is easy. Play Fire Emblem: Three Houses first. It’s my #4 favorite game on the Switch, and in my opinion, it’s the console’s best JRPG. It does a solid job of easing you into the Strategy RPG mechanics while also offering one of the best cast of characters the series has to offer. This game can easily take up hundreds of hours if you get really into the decision-making and all the different routes you can possibly make through the game. There’s even a turn-rewind feature should you ever accidentally pick the wrong move. If you want a more in-depth discussion of the game, I’ve written a review of my own playthrough, as well as my partner’s thoughts about the game (she’s not a JRPG person and it’s one of her favorite games).

It’s the second game afterwards that begins to get tricky. You have three different options:

After playing Three Houses, you may like its spinoff that’s about to be released.

Option 1: Play Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes. This is an easy second option as the game will be on the Switch, a console you’ll already have if you’ve played Three Houses. Keep in mind, though, that while Three Hopes will have some similar elements like the characters, setting, and strategy elements, the moment-to-moment gameplay will be significantly different. It’ll play as a hack-and-slash Action RPG. If you’re okay with that, then this is an easy pick. There’s also another Fire Emblem Warriors game already on the Switch if you find yourself enjoying Three Hopes.

Fire Emblem Awakening is a fan-favorite. Unfortunately, you can only play it on the 3DS.

Option 2: Play Fire Emblem Awakening. Unfortunately, you’ll need a Nintendo 3DS to play this game (or a strong gaming PC and the ability to use the Citra emulator). Fire Emblem Awakening was the entry point for many fans back in 2013, and it does its job rather well. Many critics who don’t even consider themselves JRPG fans cite this game as one of their favorites on the 3DS. If you fell in love with Fire Emblem: Three Houses, then you owe it to yourself to buy a 3DS and play the three Fire Emblem games on that platform, starting with Awakening. For those interested, I’ll include a link to my review of Awakening here.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones may be old, but it’s an excellent beginner-friendly game.

Option 3: Play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. This game was originally released on the Game Boy Advance. So unless you want to buy an $80 GBA cartridge, or you own a Wii U with the game already downloaded, you’ll have to emulate this one. Thankfully, GBA emulation is a lot easier to pull off than the 3DS. The plot-driving decisions in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones aren’t quite as robust as the modern games, and be warned that permadeath is here, but the beauty of emulation is that you can just rewind if you make a mistake. Out of all the “old” Fire Emblem games, this is most accessible to newbies. For those interested, I’ll include a link to my review of The Sacred Stones here.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentina was actually my first Fire Emblem game, and it’s amazing in its own way.

If you find yourself hungry for more, then these next games are also solid follow-ups:

  • Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (3DS)
  • Fire Emblem (GBA), known in Japan as Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade
  • Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)
  • Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GameCube)
Seriously, don’t sleep on Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia

And that’s all I have for you for today. I hope you found this guide helpful! Of course I’ll be reviewing Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes once it comes out and I will be sure to cover any other Fire Emblem games in the future. Thank you!

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