Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
Original Release Date: 1994
Fire Emblem is a series that has managed to pique my interest in recent years. I absolutely loved Fire Emblem: Awakening, and as a result I ended up going back to play Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, and I loved it as well. Both were excellently crafted games with engaging gameplay, memorable characters, and intriguing journeys that are worth experiencing again and again. Between these two games, I became much more interested in the franchise as a whole, and decided to go back and play all of them, including the ones not released outside of Japan, to see how the series has changed over the years.
And, after playing Mystery of the Emblem, what do I think? Honestly, it’s rather underwhelming.
Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not terrible by any means. It’s got a decent storyline, okay characters, and functional gameplay. But there are countless things about Mystery of the Emblem that are not well designed, and don’t hold up to modern scrutiny.
First of all, the graphics and art style are really not very good. It’s very obvious that this is a remake of an 8 bit game, because instead of taking full advantage of the SNES’s capabilities, it tries its best to mimic the original Fire Emblem game, and as a result is not very interesting or appealing from a visual standpoint. Animations are basic, the maps are incredibly small, and the environments are not that memorable at all.
Another issue is that the game doesn’t really explain any of its mechanics, opting instead for a sink or swim attitude of making the player figure things out on their own. As someone who’s played several Fire Emblem games before this, I didn’t have too much trouble, but someone who is new to the series would have a much harder time. When it comes to some games, such as Mario or Megaman, you can get away without directly explaining anything, because the mechanics and goals of the game are very basic and straightforward, and don’t require much explanation. When you’re dealing with something much more complicated like a strategy RPG, however, not explaining how things work doesn’t give player the knowledge or the tools they need to overcome the challenges of the game. This is unnecessarily punishing, especially for a series as unforgiving as Fire Emblem.
Another issue is the story. While not a bad story, it’s not presented in a way that’s very memorable or visually appealing. While the original 8 bit game could get away with having lackluster presentation due to the limitations of the NES, Mystery of the Emblem doesn’t have that excuse. It also does a number of things that annoy me, such as dumping a bunch of exposition on the player right at the very start and expecting us to be immediately invested in a conflict we’ve just been introduced to. Rather than experiencing firsthand the events that led Marth to leaving his kingdom, we’re just told about them through several text dumps and expected to instantly care about a character we’ve just met. This is not the best way to start a story, as it’s better to start off simple, and add more details later on.
For example, in Blazing Sword the game starts by introducing Lyn, explaining that she is the only surviving member of her tribe after a bandit attack, and she is now traveling on her own. From there, the game gradually introduces new plot elements as the story progresses, and doesn’t overload the player with tons of information at once. It does get more exposition heavy later in the game, but by that point the player is invested in the world and the characters, so the story is allowed to indulge in a few exposition dumps. This is not the case with Mystery of the Emblem, as the story is not that engaging, and often opts to tell rather than show.
And playing through the game feels like a chore. The maps don’t feel that well designed, the characters are alright, but not that memorable, and the experience as a whole just feels kind of hollow.
Some people may say that I shouldn’t be so harsh to Mystery of the Emblem, as it’s quite an old game. My counterargument is that just because a game is old doesn’t mean it should get a free pass if in retrospect it has some rather major shortcomings. There are plenty of old games that hold up perfectly well that don’t need excuses made for them. Super Metroid is over 20 years old now, and it’s still brilliant. Hell, Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword is over a decade old now, and it still holds up beautifully despite lacking some of the more complicated features and graphics of Awakening. If a game doesn’t hold up to modern scrutiny, then it’s more than likely because there’s something severely flawed with the game overall.
The bottom line is that Mystery of the Emblem has not aged well. It’s not a bad game, but it falls short in every area imaginable when compared to games such as Blazing Sword and Awakening. As such, it’s really not worth going back to unless you’re a diehard Fire Emblem fan who really wants to explore the evolution of this series.
How well it holds up 2/4
Personal enjoyment 2/5
Overall quality 6/10
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