Fire Emblem: Dark Dragon and the Sword of Light (ファイアーエムブレム 暗黒竜と光の剣)
Release Date: 4/20/1990
|Behold no pants Marth and his merry band|
System: Famicom, later remade on the Super Famicom and Nintendo DS
Designer: Kaga Shozo, Intelligent Systems
Welcome! This is the first game I could find that fit my criteria for a strategy RPG. I’ve seen people claim that this is actually the first game to combine strategy and RPG elements, which is not true — there were a number of games that did this prior to Fire Emblem. Among them are King of Kings, Fairytale, and Meimon! Takanishi Oendan. The last one, in particular, comes very close to being a strategy RPG for me — the only thing it’s lacking is a developing story.
Probably most people reading this are familiar with the Fire Emblem series, which began in 1990 and is still producing games today. I first played the series in 2003 or so, when I dabbled with FE3 and 4 but then did some (bad) script translations for part of FE6 for the now defunct Fessforum board. Despite this, I have never actually finished a Fire Emblem game, and I hope to make this the first. By my rules, I think I could have played the Super Famicom remake of this game, but since it is the first game I thought it best to experience it in its original form. The first post is going to be devoted to the background of the game and the instruction manual, to see how the company was presenting this game to consumers who may have been encountering a hybrid RPG-simulation game for the first time.
Like many early games, the game itself contains no background or opening scene to set the story, except for the opening English text “In the beginning there are dark dragon, falchion sword, and…FIRE EMBLEM.” The game just immediately starts in Chapter 1. To get the backstory you have to read the manual, which has the following story which I will summarize. (The official romanizations are probably different, but some of them seem to be new names rather than actual romanizations of the Japanese so I’ll just pick my own.)
Long ago, the kingdom of Akaneia was invaded by the Drua Empire led by the Dark Dragon Medius, Emperor of the Mamkute. In the midst of this chaos, in which Akaneia was almost destroyed, a young person named Anri defeated Medius with the holy sword Falchion. Without their leader, Drua was easily defeated by Akaneia. Anri then became the first king of Altia.
100 years later, Medius has returned. He rebuilds the Drua Empire by joining the Grunia and Macedonia kingdoms, and is joined by the dark priest Garnef who also wishes to take over the world. Akaneia once again defends itself, but has no chance in the face of Medius and Kamyu, the hero of Grunia. King Cornelia, the descendant of Anri, takes the Falchion and goes forth to fight Medius, but is betrayed by the king of Gura. Akaneia is destroyed, and the Falchion is taken.
However, the 14 year old Prince Marth is able to escape with the help of his sister Ellis, and he escapes with his guardian Jeigan to the far away island of Talis. Princess Sheeda welcomes him, and he dreams of the day he can regain his kingdom. Two years later nothing has happened towards that end, when the Galda Pirates, working with Drua, take over Talis Castle. Sheeda and Marth join together with their small force and head for Talis.
|The map of the world|
The most surprising part of the manual to me is pages 6-9, which list all 25 stages of the game along with short descriptions of what happens in them. So for instance, I already know that stage 23 will be the final fight against the Dark Priest Garnef. It’s unusual to find so much information in the manual. The rest of the manual is quite detailed, giving the details of most of the weapon, armor, and items, and even a suggested strategy for stage 1.
Perhaps they were afraid that this new kind of game would confuse the audience and wanted to make sure they had as much information as possible. There’s also an ad for the upcoming hint guide (for 630 yen) at the end — this is pretty common in Japanese games. Hint guides have always been well made, cheap, and released almost at the same time as the game itself. Not all Japanese gamers were as hardcore as people say.
There is also art for a number of the characters. This was always helpful in early games since the in-game graphics were sometimes hard to figure out.
|Marth, Abel, Sheeda, Kain, and Jeigan|
|Nina, Doga, Gordon, Rifu, Daros, Hardin, Ogma, Julian, Modorof, Lena, Minerva, and Marik|
The English wikipedia page actually has quite a lot of detail on this game, but here are a few interesting tidbits from the Japanese page:
- The permanent death of player units was an intentional choice to make the units seem more like individuals rather than just pawns. I always wondered if the designers intended for the player to lose units during the game but replace them with others. But apparently the large size of the army was to allow different players to use different combinations of units and strategies, and share them with friends.
- The first person to complete the game was a graphic designer not connected with the development, which convinced the team they had created a game that could be enjoyed by more than just hardcore fans.
- This was one of the first games to have popular characters, where fans would vote on which character was the best, ship their favorite characters, and such.
Finally, here are some basic notes on the gameplay.
- As in later Fire Emblem games, the player and enemy take turns moving all their troops in any order. This means you always have to be very careful to end your turn with good placement or the enemies might swarm someone and kill them. Terrain gives bonuses to dodge but apparently not defense.
- Weapons have attack power, weight, and a “weapon level” the character has to have to be able to use them. Depending on weight and speed the attacker may get 2 attacks. The equipment is very basic — a character has no actual “equipment”, just 4 item slots, with one weapon the basic weapon that the character will use to counter attack. Weapons have a range of either 1 or 2, rarely both. Almost all weapons have a number of uses before they break.
- You cannot choose any kind of reaction to an attack; the character automatically counters if able.
- The weapon triangle that Fire Emblem fans are familiar with is not in this game (I believe it enters the series with the 4th game). Bows are still effective against flyers.
- Characters have a variety of classes, and can upgrade with an item when they reach level 10 — this is familiar Fire Emblem territory although some classes cannot upgrade (like Marth’s “Lord” class).
- The “growth rates”, which are in most or all FE games, mean that on level up, each stat has a chance to raise by 1. This includes HP, which means that even higher level characters have fairly low HP. This reduces the advantage that a high level character has over a lower level one.
- As with many strategy RPGs, you cannot save during the map, only between maps. This makes the levels very tense, particularly near the end of them, since a single bad move can lead to a character’s death.
Next post, I will actually begin the game with the first few stages.