Many of Nintendo's long-running franchises have been well-known in the West as well as in Japan. Mario, Peach, Donkey Kong, and Link are all instantly recognizable. But for 30 years, Nintendo has had hot and cold results with another franchise: Fire Emblem.
The tactical role-playing game series turns 30 today, not long after one of its biggest successes to date. Fire Emblem might be riding high atop a wave of new fervor, but things weren't always so rosy. It wasn't even that long ago that some players wondered who those sword characters in Super Smash Bros. were.
Despite it being 30 years since the original Fire Emblem came out in Japan for the Famicom, it wouldn't be until 2003 that Fire Emblem would make its way to the United States. After Marth and Roy's mysterious appearance in 2001's Super Smash Bros. Melee, 2003 saw Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance, better known as Fire Emblem: Blazing Blade.
That was the start of Fire Emblem in the West, but despite it being a fan favorite, the series didn't grab a major audience. Through several iterations, both on Nintendo handhelds and even consoles, Fire Emblem seemed destined to be one of the more niche series in Nintendo's first-party catalog. Then came Awakening.
As our own Staff Writer Nadia Oxford notes in her write-up on the game's one-year anniversary, Fire Emblem Awakening seized a fandom the series hadn't seen before. Maybe it was the more lenient combat options, or possibly the bolstered presentation, or maybe it really was just the anime guys and gals. Whatever it was, Fire Emblem Awakening breathed new life into the series.
Two more games followed; the divisive three-parter Fire Emblem Fates, which still had a successful launch all things considered, and a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden dubbed Shadows of Valentia. But the Nintendo Switch was on the horizon, and despite the success of the 3DS and the Wii, neither platform's Fire Emblem could ultimately match up to what would become Three Houses.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses quickly became a series standout, both critically and in sales. Rather than split up into different entries like Fates, the entire branching experience was on a single card. Three Houses drew inspiration from modern Fire Emblem games with its romance and difficulty options, as well as older games like Genealogy of the Holy War, a game that still hasn't found its way west.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses also set several sales records for the series, and even just this year, got a new DLC addition of a secret fourth house. I'm still working my way through the DLC, but suffice it to say, the basement goths rule.
Alongside a very successful mobile game in Fire Emblem Heroes, which I will happily bestow the honor of being a gacha game I don't loathe myself for partaking in, Fire Emblem has somehow poised itself as a leading franchise in Nintendo's stable. For years, it was the series that never came west; even following Awakening, it was hard not to wonder if it could break out again. The combination of Koei Tecmo and Intelligent Systems ended up making Three Houses one of the Nintendo Switch's standouts, and now, the future ahead for Fire Emblem—especially in the States—is looking bright. But could we also celebrate a little with a Genealogy of the Holy War port?