Might as well start this journal off with a big, sweeping project. I’m going to play through Fire Emblem chonologically, from its first epic eight-bit gestures up through its latest flashy anime incarnations on the 3DS. Maybe further. You’ll see my reactions here.
Longer, thinkier reasons for this decision after the jump.
Time was, I thought the greatest series of story games was monolithic old Final Fantasy. It had everything kid me wanted in a diversion: exciting save-the-world plots, number-crunching strategy, memorable characters, team building over time, mayyyyyybe a stunning fictional girl or two to daydream about, and perhaps most importantly an input system that didn’t rely too heavily on my shoddy coordination and reflexes. (Those have only gotten worse with age, by the way. Nobody tells you that loving video games will eventually mean that Mario starts to make his own adventures harder just because he’s a function of your thumbs. It’s the ultimate player-instituted challenge.)
Now, I still love Final Fantasy, of course, or at least some Final Fantasies in at least some of the directions they’ve taken over the years. To me, VI (the titles of the main Final Fantasies will forever be just numbers to me) remains one of the greatest games ever made, and VII was an unforgettably wonderful mess. I am, I suppose, one of the VI generation.
But this is the internet, and there have been volumes written about that series already. More to the point, playing some of those titles years later leaves me feeling a little cold. Some have aged well. In others, though, I see all the hallmarks of adventure stories written for kids and teenagers, and those tend not to be so timeless on replay in adulthood. XII, in this respect, is one of the most mystifying gaming experiences I ever had: the best storytelling I’ve ever seen in a game, relating a surprisingly mature tale about a fascinating group of characters, mixed up with equal parts juvenile kid appeal, teenage angst, and Japanese Playboy bunnies. It’s a product of two markedly different directors, and it shows. I have the oddest tempered love for that game, because it’s the first that made me really feel my age, both for better and for worse.
This project is about a different series. At bottom, it’s about this cool thing I discovered in college that, it turns out, stuck with me ever since.
Like Final Fantasy, Fire Emblem‘s history with North American releases is byzantine, because—like Final Fantasy—nobody expected there to be a market for hard strategy and menu combat in America. Where Final Fantasy dropped its first Japanese title Stateside in the ’80s and waited several years and a couple sequels to try localizing another title here, Fire Emblem just avoided the United States altogether. The first Fire Emblem we Westerners got was the seventh entry in the series in Japan. In the time between the original Fire Emblem and that release, thirteen years passed, the series migrated across three gaming systems, and it wrapped up not just its most ambitious entry but that entry’s direct sequel. We were late to the party.
In my usual form, I was later than most. Blazing Sword, or FE7, was released in 2003; I didn’t get to it until very late in 2004. It was freshman year of college, and I was freshly dumped by my high school girlfriend. Spirits and direction in life were at an ebb. (Funny how so many memories of games are intertwined with our own stories at the time we first encountered them.) My best friend said some good things about this one Game Boy Advance title, and I figured I’d check it out.
And Blazing Sword was astounding. With simple resources and cartoony looks, it introduced me to a cast of really compelling people. The writing was excellent, which did wonders for the storytelling. Intrigue abounded. There was heady number-crunching strategy; there was team building on the scale of whole armies; there mayyyyyy even have been a stunning fictional girl I daydreamed about. I got to save the world from a strikingly nuanced sorcerer. And dragons.
I was hooked. My best friend and I leapt right into the next entry in the series, and then into the Japanese entry that preceded Blazing Sword. And then, because I had a GameCube and time on my hands, I delved further into the next release in the series, and the rest is history.
I haven’t played every Fire Emblem yet, but I know I want to. That’s where this idea came in. Why not, since I derive so much storytelling pleasure from this series, play them all from the beginning, to really get a sense of their scope? And why not write about it, since it’s given me so much to think about over the years?
So: Fire Emblem Revisited, in which I’ll tour the Fire Emblems from the first journeys of Prince Marth against the kingdom of Dolhr all the way to whatever the heck is going on in the latest installment. I promise to try to be insightful in musing on these stories. I might succeed from time to time, who knows. But I’m certain that I’ll at least have fun in the process, because that’s something Fire Emblem has always delivered. Ever onward.