In Memorium: Fire Emblem's Juicy, Chunky GBA Sprites

In Memorium: Fire Emblem's Juicy, Chunky GBA Sprites

A little bit of sprite art could convey a lot of emotion on the GBA.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is an excellent game. But if I can be real for a moment, I must admit it's not an excellent-looking game. The graphics don't cause any major offense, but neither do they excite me outside the characters' designs (a field Fire Emblem has long excelled at) and some of the character models.

Otherwise, Fire Emblem: Three Houses' environments fall on the meh side, especially the Monastery that serves as the game's central hub. It's a bit muddy-looking, objects fade in and out of your field of vision with the regularity of a PSOne game, and I've experienced some frame rate drops in abbey's open areas. You also clip through animals, which is mystifying to me. It's funny to stand in the middle of a horse and pretend you're cosplaying as Odin's horse Sleipnir, but it makes me wonder why Intelligent Systems neglected to program any kind of collision detection for the beasts.

"It's not beautiful, but I guess it's home." | Intelligent Systems/Nintendo

3D graphics have never been Fire Emblem's strongest field. Remember the Awakening characters' lack of feet? Still, I don't count it as a mark against the games because Fire Emblem is tops when it comes to turn-based battles, story, and character interactions. Besides, Three Houses' graphics aren't beautiful, but they're not exactly atrocious either. They're serviceable.

I don't think anyone will begrudge my warm memories for the big, gorgeous sprites that came to define the Game Boy Advance's Fire Emblem games, though. Even looking back at videos of each class' attack animation lets me appreciate small details that must've taken a ton of time and effort to implement. It's enough to make me hope the next Fire Emblem game will have an option to switch to sprite-based graphics, much how we can in Dragon Quest XI S.

I know that'd be a lot of extra work for a series as content-rich as Fire Emblem, but it's been so long since we've seen the characters move with such weight and purpose. (Outside of Fire Emblem Heroes for mobile, which is a fun game on its own merits, but isn't part of the mainline series.) I love how Archers spin their arrows before they fire a critical hit, or how Heroes throw their shields into the air before slamming their giant swords down on a foe's head. (What's a shield except a prop to help make critical strikes look cool?) Better still, characters' moves become cooler when they achieve higher classes. A magic pupil will stumble slightly before casting a spell, whereas full-blown mages trace deadly sigils in the air before unleashing a powerful barrage of magic.

Intelligent Systems deserves an extra pat on the back for some of its clever labor-saving tricks, too. The Myrmidon and Assassin blur and then "disappear" to apply their killing blows. Even though we don't see the characters' sprites at this moment, the blur and appearance of white impact marks paint a very strong illusion of the attacker moving quicker than the eye can follow. It's really boss.

I think the animals are the real stars of Fire Emblem GBA's show, however. Their movements have the same level of flourish as their human masters', and it's great. Watch how a Pegasus tosses its head as it flies back to its starting point following an attack, or how Wyvern Lords' mounts rear back and pause for a beautiful second before slamming into their foes.

Even plain horses get special treatment. I like how the Cavaliers' mounts take a couple of steps to settle back into their starting position after an attack. I also love how horses for higher-class characters move with a confident fluidity that's missing from lower-class horses. Watch how a Paladin's horse moves almost exclusively with dramatic leaps, or how it gallops in place for a moment before charging directly into an enemy. Bam.

Death by My Little Pony. What a tragic/magic end. | Intelligent Systems/Nintendo, via MobyGames

Finally, make sure to appreciate how different types of horses fulfill different jobs. The aforementioned Paladin's horse is lean and striking, whereas the Clydesdale-like horse that carries the Great Knight is stockier and seemingly better-suited for the job of hefting all that armor.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses demonstrates mind-blowing graphics aren't necessary for an epic game experience. On the other hand, the Fire Emblem's GBA sprites remind us frivolities like dancing horses and assassins that move quicker than light provide that pinch of spice that makes war extra nice. If they don't return to Fire Emblem, I'm sure I'll continue to love the games regardless. Wouldn't it be awesome if they did return, though? There's nothing like a Falcon Knight descending from outer space to assure you "Yeah, your opponent is dead. Great job."

Banner art via The Cover Project

Sometimes we include links to online retail stores. If you click on one and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. See our terms & conditions.

Nadia Oxford

Staff Writer

Nadia has been writing about games for so long, only the wind and the rain (or the digital facsimiles thereof) remember her true name. She's written for Nerve, About.com, Gamepro, IGN, 1UP, PlayStation Official Magazine, and other sites and magazines that sling words about video games. She co-hosts the Axe of the Blood God podcast, where she mostly screams about Dragon Quest.

Read this next

The Fire Emblem: Three Houses Student Ranking Thunderdome: 34 Students Enter, Only Shamir Leaves

We have no favorites among Three Houses' students, except for the ones that are our favorites.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Recruitment Students - All Recruiting Requirements for Students and Teachers

Here's our guide covering Fire Emblem Three Houses recruitment, including recruiting students, teachers, and more.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Romance Options - How to Romance Edelgard and Other Characters

This is our guide covering Fire Emblem Three Houses romance options, detailing how to romance Edelgard, and more.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Tea Guide - Get a Perfect Tea Party With Edelgard, Dorothea, and More Characters

Here's our complete Fire Emblem Three Houses tea guide, walking you through how to hold the perfect tea party in Three Houses.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Edelgard - The Fourth Edelgard Route Explained

In this guide covering the Fire Emblem Three Houses Edelgard route, we'll be explaining how to side with Edelgard for the fourth story route.

Fire Emblem Three Houses Dancer Class - The Best Dancer in Three Houses

Here's our guide on the Fire Emblem Three Houses Dancer class, covering the best Dancer in the game, and more.

More Opinions

The Fire Emblem: Three Houses Student Ranking Thunderdome: 34 Students Enter, Only Shamir Leaves

We have no favorites among Three Houses' students, except for the ones that are our favorites.

NBA 2K20 Finally Tackles the VC Microtransaction Grind: "We Didn't Want People to Feel [...] Trapped in This Grind Anymore"

Virtual Currency is here to stay, but at least the grind will be less painful this year.

No Man's Sky Beyond Is Finally Feeling Like the Game I Wanted Three Years Ago

The new Beyond update continues to make No Man's Sky the game it was supposed to be.

More on Game Boy Advance

Transferring Pokemon From the GBA to the Modern Games is an Insane and Convoluted Ballet

Bringing Pokemon from Gen 3 to the new games is like delivering a breech Miltank calf: You gotta twist and pull a little.

Kingdom Hearts 3 Primer: Making Sense of Kingdom Hearts' Notoriously Complex Story

We try to condense everything you need to know about Kingdom Hearts, so you don't have to read five million Wikis.

Game Boy Advance Emulator Contains Option That Brings Back Warm, Horrifying Memories

A feature on a Game Boy Advance emulator reminds me nostalgia is a landscape of contrasting feelings.

The Top 25 Pokemon in Series History: The Best Monsters From Pokemon Red and Blue to Sun and Moon

On the 20th anniversary of Pokemon's release in North America, we rank the 25 best Pokemon to date.

More Role Playing Games Games

Cyberpunk 2077 Producer Details Law Enforcement and the Rich Areas of Night City

There are no cops in the poorer districts. That all changes when you get to the affluent areas of Night City.

The Fire Emblem: Three Houses Student Ranking Thunderdome: 34 Students Enter, Only Shamir Leaves

We have no favorites among Three Houses' students, except for the ones that are our favorites.

Witchbrook Dev Tweets Design Docs Revealing New Details on the Charming Magical School Sim

A rare look into the internal process of development as it happens.

Remnant From The Ashes Tips and Controls

If you’re playing Remnant From The Ashes, you’ll need these essential tips.