- Turn type: Player turn/enemy turn.
- Maps: Small to medium. There is terrain that gives bonuses.
- Character Customization: Promotion of units at predetermined levels, by visiting goddess statues. A small number of units begin as “townspeople” and can be promoted to multiple different class tracks.
- Character Development: Standard XP level system.
- Party Size: Two different parties; on the maps you get different numbers of units (from 5 to 13 or so).
- Equipment: One item for each character (weapon or armor)
- Game Flow: Most of the maps are required and must be done in order, although in chapters 3 and 4 you can do Alm or Celica’s route in either order (and switch back and forth). There are some side maps that can be used for grinding, and a few optional maps. The game has towns as well, although they are much smaller than the towns from RPGs of the era.
- Saving: Only outside of battle.
- Death: Permanent death, although there are statues that can revive units a limited number of times.
With the exception of the remake of this game, FE never tried this style again, and probably with good reason. This game feels odd to play, and there are a lot of frustrating aspects to the game. The RPG elements are rather shaky. The towns themselves have very little to offer (especially since there’s no money or shops). There’s essentially no RPG-like exploration, with the except of the last dungeon and one or two other small places. The equipment and item system is also not especially well implemented, with no useable items and only one equipment slot (for a weapon or armor). Now, it may not be fair to criticize FE Gaiden for this — I don’t know what the designers were aiming at in their decisions.
But honestly this could have all worked out well, but design and balance problems plague the game as well. There are a lot of maps that just feel unfair — with your guys spread out all over the place and high movement flying units that are hard to protect your weak units from. The increased range of bows is nice for your side, but when the enemies have bow knights it can really exacerbate this problem of not being able to protect the units on your side. The warping female mages add to this randomness.
The plot is a mess, but I’m not going to fault a 1992 game too much for the story. On the whole, this game just didn’t feel fun. The first Fire Emblem, despite its flaws, was (for me) an enjoyable experience. This game was not. I commend the designers for trying something new, but it just didn’t work out.
The music is not bad, though.
Finally, I forgot in the introduction to scan some pages from the manual. First off, here’s the map:
Then, there are the usual pictures of the characters. This was important in early games because you sometimes couldn’t tell what they were supposed to look like just from the in-game graphics. I’ll just put the pages up with Alm and Celica.
So that’s FE Gaiden. The next FE game will be after another ten games or so. Next up is the other game which was influential in creating stronger RPG elements in SRPG games — Shining Force.