Nintendo has given Western audiences a chance to experience the very first entry in the 19-year-old series with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a remake of Fire Emblem, originally released on the Famicom.
Those who haven't followed the Fire Emblem series, now 11 iterations deep, will likely recognise the game's lead protagonist Marth, who has guest appeared in Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. series. Marth's adventure in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is the standard stuff—a once peaceful kingdom is threatened by the resurrection of the Shadow Dragon Medeus, forcing our hero to rise to the occasion, take up arms against evil armies and restore peace to the Kingdom of Archanea.
The majority of Fire Emblem's trademark turn-based strategy gameplay remains unchanged, but developer Intelligent Systems has done much more than simply remake an NES title for the first Nintendo DS entry.
Can Marth's modern day re-imagining defeat his retro past?
Classic Mechanics: The core of what makes Fire Emblem so appealing hasn't changed dramatically over the years, generally for better than for worse. The turn-based gameplay, rock-paper-scissors weapon system, and ally recruiting remains intact. But Nintendo has refined the interface, adding the best improvements from the series' evolution to Shadow Dragon.
Smart Use Of The Platform: Intelligent Systems uses the DS's top screen to great effect, packing it with helpful info, from character stats to helpful single-screen tutorials. Given the DS's popularity, the developer has made the game more friendly to those new to the Fire Emblem series, making the learning curve easier than ever, adding mid-battle save points, padding the story of the original with a series of prologue chapters that act as painless tutorials.
Lovingly Crafted Presentation: The visual care that's been a hallmark of the Fire Emblem series hasn't been overlooked. Characters are beautifully rendered, as are storytelling splash screens. The excellent battle animations that make one-on-one fights imminently watchable return, but seemingly based on pre-rendered 3D models. They're still smooth, but lacking in the detail of the hand-animated versions seen in previous games. The English localisation, as expected, is generally spectacular.
Online Multiplayer: Shadow Dragon adds online multiplayer via the Nintendo DS wi-fi adaptor. While the appeal of multiplayer battles isn't nearly as strong as the single-player story mode, it's feature rich enough (but just enough) to make online battles compelling and Shadow Dragon replayable.
Oh, The Replayability! Over twenty five chapters, loads of characters, ample upgrade options, rare weapons via the online shop, and an excessive six levels of difficulty should ensure that your purchase of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is money well spent.
Middling, Scattershot Story: Perhaps it's the antiquated storyline or the generally humorless cast of characters, but Shadow Dragon's storytelling is probably the least attractive aspect of the title. It excels in the gameplay department, but makes for a rather bland tale, despite its various factions and political intrigue. But, hey, if you like political intrigue in your fantasy turn-based strategy games, it's here in spades.
Mid-game Confusion: While the game does a decent job of welcoming the new player to the world of Fire Emblem, it isn't as generous with its later game tutorials. The game may leave players hanging when it comes to understanding character classes (and character re-classing), and weapon forging, forcing them to *gasp* refer to the instruction manual. Veterans likely won't scoff at such trivial things, but new players may feel a bit lost.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon may feel overly familiar (and possibly overly easy) to fans who have played the localised versions of the series on the Game Boy Advance, GameCube and Wii, but the core gameplay is still compelling enough for another spin on the DS. The addition of multiplayer and touchscreen controls is welcome, as are the less punishing save mechanics, especially to those of us who aren't as tactically gifted as we'd like to be.
Intelligent Systems has done a capable job of making a nearly two-decade old adventure feel fresh, even if the ultimate result is a very good, but not great, turn-based strategy game. Consider Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon recommended to fans of the developers Advance Wars series and newcomers ready to dabble with a simple-but-deep role-playing strategy game.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon was developed by Intelligent Systems, published by Nintendo for the Nintendo DS, released on February 26. Retails for $69.95. Played campaign to completion, tested online battle modes.
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