Together, We Ride: How Fire Emblem Went From Death’s Door to Cornerstone Franchise

Super Mario. The Legend of Zelda. Pokémon. Fire Emblem.

Wait, Fire Emblem? Yeah. It’s true. In the past several years, Fire Emblem has gone from being on the verge of an orphaned series to one of Nintendo’s flagship titles. It didn’t happen overnight, and it can’t be traced to any one thing. Rather, it gradually happened over time as both old and new FE fans came together to support one of Nintendo’s longest-running franchises. 1)It began way back in 1990. How did it happen? And just how close was Fire Emblem to ending for good? Most importantly, what does this mean for both the series and Nintendo moving forward? Well, you’ve come to the right place. Welcome back to Game Losers.

The recent story of the Fire Emblem series can be told via the subtitles of the games. The series saw success with Path of Radiance (2005) and Radiant Dawn (2007), titles for the GameCube and Wii respectively. 2)They are the eighth and ninth titles in the series overall. They were the first non-portable FE titles to be released internationally, and both were praised by critics for their story, challenge, and depth. 3)Admittedly, critics also found issue with the graphics of both.

The next Fire Emblem game to be released internationally was a remake of the very first FE game. Titled Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, it was released for the Nintendo DS in 2009 and faced a lukewarm reception. The reality of the matter was that it was little more than a fresh coat of paint on an outdated NES title; everything else therein was the same as it ever was. There were no support conversations, and as a result the characters—often a strength of FE games—suffered. It sold a mere 250,000 units in North America and the age of shadow began.

Another DS remake, Shin Monshō no Nazo, was not localized. 4)The title translates to New Mystery of the Emblem. It was a remake of the third Fire Emblem game (which itself was a sequel to the first), originally for the Super Famicom. It came out only in Japan in 2010. Nintendo’s decision not to localize it was telling. It was the first Fire Emblem to include a fully customizable and playable “Avatar,” and it was also the first to include a Casual mode that turned off the series’ flagship feature of permanent unit death. By all means it should have appealed to international audiences, but it never got the chance to. It remains the only unlocalized FE game since the series went international with Fire Emblem (FE7) on the Game Boy Advance back in 2003.

Now, all of a sudden, it’s 2011 and it has been four years since the last Fire Emblem game that wasn’t a remake. A team comprised both of Fire Emblem series veterans and people new to the series have come together to make a new title. You can meet most of them in this Iwata Asks interview from 2012, which is the main source for most of the stuff I’m going to bring up. As can be seen, the original ideas for the thirteenth title in the Fire Emblem series were very out there for a series that is, by definition, very traditional. Two of the suggestions were fighting in a modern-day world and even fighting on Mars. Eventually, the team concluded that an “ultimate culmination” of everything that makes Fire Emblem enjoyable would be the best route to take.

That “ultimate culmination” is how the team came up with the subtitle for the game, Awakening. 5)Kakusei in Japan. This was a stark change from previous subtitles, which all followed the Japanese format “_____ no ______,” which could typically localized as ______ of _____. 6)Only Path of Radiance strictly followed that pattern. That title was also born out of necessity: if it didn’t sell well, the series would be canned. Therefore, many of the features included in the game couldn’t make it in without excessive scrutiny. This includes but isn’t limited to the marriage and romance features, the inclusion of Casual mode, and full voice acting.

Awakening was indeed the first Fire Emblem with a full voice cast. The two previous titles to include voiced lines had the voice acting done in-house. 7)It shows. However, in Awakening, both the Japanese and English versions featured star-studded casts who had, for the most part, a great deal of experience in voice acting. Without a doubt, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems (a subsidiary of Nintendo that has developed every Fire Emblem title and is also known for Paper Mario and Advance Wars) were putting all of their money on Awakening. If it did well, it became a blueprint for future games in the series. If it failed, there was no point in making any more FE games.

Perhaps most importantly, it was the first-ever physical Nintendo game released internationally to have downloadable content features. The content ranged from free maps, items, and recruitable characters released every week to paid maps, some of which were built to provide easier access to better items, more gold, and easy experience. Others were built specifically to challenge players, and even more were built for nostalgia, as the units they contained were all from previous Fire Emblem games. Though purchase numbers for DLC aren’t available, weekly DLC kept coming for months and, with Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Brothers, Nintendo is all in on DLC sustaining interest in games.

Fire Emblem: Awakening not only flew off the shelves when it came out in Japan in April 2012 and internationally in early 2013, it moved systems and was a critical darling. Many (myself included) feel it is one of the best games on the 3DS, if not the best. As the team who worked on it intended, it appealed to both new and old fans of the series. The title proved to be a premonition as well. FE went from bright days to days of darkness to an awakening. The plot of the game, in short, deals with averting a doomed future. It was safe to say that applied to the series in general as well. The happy ending meant that it wasn’t an ending at all.

Rather, it was a beginning. A month before Awakening came out in America, a new game was revealed in a Nintendo Direct. A crossover title between Atlus’s Shin Megami Tensei series and Fire Emblem, creatively titled Shin Megami Tensei x Fire Emblem, was announced with a short, thirty-second trailer consisting of no actual gameplay. Hold that thought. Hold it for a while.

Now, flash forward to 2014. Throughout the first half of the year, Nintendo periodically announced characters on the roster of the new Super Smash Brothers game, one of their most popular titles. Both Marth and Ike of the Fire Emblem series were announced to be returning as playable characters from Brawl, the third SSB title. Ike’s announcement was a shock; many fans were convinced a character from Awakening (most likely Chrom, the protagonist) would be included. But Ike threw a wrench into things. Most people were operating under the assumption that Fire Emblem would have two representatives, max.

In July, a short trailer got released early in the morning confirming both Robin (the player character from Awakening) AND Lucina (Chrom’s daughter) as playable characters. 8)Chrom makes a cameo in Robin’s Final Smash. That brought the FE total up to four, surpassed only by Zelda (5), Pokémon (6), and Mario (6). 9)The Pokémon total includes the DLC character Mewtwo. The Mario total does not include Yoshi or Donkey Kong. Indeed, no other franchise has more than four characters represented, with Kid Icarus and Kirby each having three.

It seems like a clumsy estimate of how much Nintendo values a franchise, yes. But when it’s looked at in the grand scheme of things, it makes sense. The January 2015 Nintendo Direct opened with the announcement of and trailer for a new FE game, Fire Emblem if. The responsibility of opening a Nintendo Direct traditionally doesn’t fall just to anyone. Previous examples from roughly the past year: 10)Title-specific Nintendo Directs, as well as the E3 Digital Event, are omitted.

  • February 2014: Opens with a trailer announcing Little Mac as a playable character in SSB. It’s the fourth new character reveal overall, and first since the Rosalina & Luma trailer in December 2013.
  • November 2014: Cold opens with a trailer announcing The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D, one of the most heavily rumored-about and anticipated titles in years.
  • January 2015: Fire Emblem if.
  • April 2015: Cold opens with Mewtwo’s full announcement trailer. 11)His initial announcement was accompanied only by a render, as it was early in development. It then segues into the announcement of DLC Mii fighter outfits and then the shock announcement of Lucas as DLC and a form for DLC character requests.

Aside from the realization that there have been only four general Nintendo Directs in the past year and change, that puts FE14 (which looks much less clumsy than FEif) in pretty sweet territory, with two Smash trailers and the long-awaited MM3D trailer.

There’s more. At the same time FE14 was announced, plans for a new Fire Emblem trading card game series were announced, as well as a new manga, both of which will come out around the Japanese FE14 release in June 2015. In February, a Fire Emblem 25th anniversary symphony was revealed to be taking place this July in Japan.

The April Direct hit us with some more haymakers. We got a new trailer for FE14, and the Japanese Direct got some more information about the game’s release. Similar to Pokémon and the later Mega Man Battle Network games, there will be two versions of FE14 to represent the two main branches of the story based on who you side with. A third story where you side with no one is slated to be DLC. There’s a limited edition with all three parts represented, and the people behind the game claim that each title has enough unique gameplay for its own game. I trust that. There’s no word on any details for the international FE14 release, yet.

As if that wasn’t enough, a new SMT x FE trailer was revealed after over two years. You can finally drop that thought now, I know it’s been a while. It wasn’t quite what anyone expected, but then again no one knew what to expect. The game has been rebranded in Japan with a title that can be translated to Illusory Revelations#FE. 12)No word on a localized title. The # is meant to be read as “sharp.” The producer of the game has stated that, instead of a plain crossover, it’s a new game entirely drawing elements from both franchises. Most importantly, the damn thing exists.

Nintendo also launched an official Fire Emblem Twitter account, @FireEmblemJP. Don’t quite know if an English account is in the works, but @FireEmblem is a ghost account and @FireEmblemEN is free. Recently, the account posted a link to a stream (again in Japanese, of course) on the FE TCG, dubbed Fire Emblem Cipher, which revealed some more details about how to play and expansions, and also a few notable things about FE14.

Over here in America, we’re still a long way away from either new FE game (both have vague 2016 release dates as of right now) and we probably won’t get the TCG or the symphony (but I can dream). But, of course, Nintendo is a Japanese company. The attention they are giving Fire Emblem is not any less valid because of the audience.

The fact of the matter is that Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s cornerstones now. It’s true that it lacks an obvious mascot like Mario, Pikachu, or Link. 13)It’s hard to say Marth, because he has only been in one localized Fire Emblem game and two overall, not counting remakes. But that “ultimate culmination” mentioned earlier is due to a large cast of characters, each with their own stories. That’s what sets it apart, and that’s what kept it alive when it might have died. Truly, as the title of one of the series’ most recognizable songs states, Together We Ride!

Notes   [ + ]

1. It began way back in 1990.
2. They are the eighth and ninth titles in the series overall.
3. Admittedly, critics also found issue with the graphics of both.
4. The title translates to New Mystery of the Emblem.
5. Kakusei in Japan.
6. Only Path of Radiance strictly followed that pattern.
7. It shows.
8. Chrom makes a cameo in Robin’s Final Smash.
9. The Pokémon total includes the DLC character Mewtwo. The Mario total does not include Yoshi or Donkey Kong.
10. Title-specific Nintendo Directs, as well as the E3 Digital Event, are omitted.
11. His initial announcement was accompanied only by a render, as it was early in development.
12. No word on a localized title. The # is meant to be read as “sharp.”
13. It’s hard to say Marth, because he has only been in one localized Fire Emblem game and two overall, not counting remakes.

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