It was just a few years ago that Fire Emblem Awakening was to be the franchise's swan song—a final bow for a series on the decline.
In the wake of a pair of underperforming remakes for the Nintendo DS—one of which didn't even make it to the U.S.—it seemed as if Fire Emblem's time was up. As reported by Spanish magazine Hobby Consolas back in 2013, Intelligent Systems was told that the series would come to an end if Fire Emblem Awakening didn't sell 250,000 copies. It ended up selling more than 2 million.
Since then, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have been happy to ride the Fire Emblem train. Coming on the heels of last year's Fire Emblem Fates, we have four new Fire Emblem games coming out across the Nintendo 3DS, Switch, and Android/iOS—a remake, a musou-style beat 'em up, a mobile game, and a brand new entry for the Switch.
It speaks to Fire Emblem's sudden stature with Nintendo that it got its own Direct less than a week after last week's big Switch reveal. Not Mario, not Pokemon, but Fire Emblem. It's night and day from what Fire Emblem fans had to put up with in the fallow years after the GBA.
What's changed? A few things:
- Intelligent Systems finally figured out how to balance out hardcore appeal with a more casual demographic using the aptly named "Casual" mode—a difficulty setting introduced in the Japanese-only Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem that removed its signature permadeath mechanic. That made Fire Emblem much less intimidating to newcomers (though Fire Emblem is still better with permadeath).
- It got back to basics. Fire Emblem Awakening brought back many of the mechanics that western fans missed from Shadow Dragon, such as the relationship system. It also revived long-dormant mechanics from the SNES version, like the ability to have your characters marry and have kids. The result was that Fire Emblem Awakening was called the best Fire Emblem game ever made by some critics, even as hardcore fans decried balance-breaking additions like the ability to grind through random maps.
- It got a lot prettier. Fire Emblem Awakening (and later Fire Emblem Fates) exchanged the drab 2.5D art of Shadow Dragon for fully 3D models. The result was one of the best-looking games on the 3DS.
- It managed to remain in the public eye thanks to Smash Bros. Even during Fire Emblem's wilderness years, characters like Ike and Marth remained well-known and popular among Nintendo fans thanks to Smash Bros. It helped that Marth was one of the best characters in Smash Bros. Melee. Fire Emblem Awakening and Fates were later featured in Smash Bros. for the Wii U, further boosting the franchise's standing among fans.
Fire Emblem certainly deserves its newfound popularity. Originally born on the Famicom back in 1990, it was one of the first examples of the tactical roleplaying genre on console. Its longevity can be attributed to its lean design, fast pace, and wicked challenge, as well to its appealing cast (and let's be honest: the fact that it's not afraid to encourage the... uh... fantasies of its fanbase). Fire Emblem Conquest in particular encapsulates everything that is great about the series.
I don't know how long this mini-renaissance will continue, but it sure seems like Fire Emblem has managed to break out of its particular niche, and it only looks to get better from here.
Next page: So let's talk about the new games!