Original Release Date: 2003
The Fire Emblem Series has had an unusual reception over the years. Unlike other Nintendo franchises, Fire Emblem remained relatively unknown for quite some time. The first six games were never released outside of Japan, and it wasn’t until the success of Advance Wars and the debut of several Fire Emblem characters in Super Smash Bros Melee that the games finally began to be released worldwide, beginning with Fire Emblem 7.
From there, the series slowly gained greater recognition, finally achieving mainstream attention with the release of Fire Emblem Awakening. Once in danger of being canceled, Fire Emblem has finally attained the praise and recognition it deserves. So in celebration of the release of the latest entry in the series, Fire Emblem Fates, I thought I’d take some time to look at what is at the time of writing my favorite game in the series.
As the first game to be released outside of Japan, Fire Emblem 7 was designed with newcomers in mind, and ironically is the first game in the series that does a good job of explaining how its various mechanics work. Much like Advance Wars, it breaks down the different parts of the gameplay into small manageable chunks, and like Advance Wars it strikes the right balance of being both simple and deep at the same time.
It lacks some of the more complicated features of later games, but the gameplay is so incredibly well balanced and polished that this doesn’t really matter. The gameplay on the whole is excellent, it has a phenomenal cast of characters, and its story is extremely well paced and put together. (Although there are a few details that aren’t very well explained. Are the dragons good or bad? The game constantly sends conflicting signals regarding that issue.) If one is looking to get into the older Fire Emblems, Fire Emblem 7 is a good place to start.
While overall a great game, FE7 does have some issues that are worth addressing. The tutorial phase of the game can be a bit overbearing, and while it’s useful for first time players, it can become rather tedious on subsequent playthroughs. Another issue is that, while the game is fairly friendly toward new players at the start, the game still provides a meaty challenge later on. This isn’t a bad thing, but if you don’t level up your characters efficiently throughout the game (which is a fairly easy mistake to make if you’re new to the series), the game can become literally unwinnable down the road. If someone gets themselves into this situation, there aren’t any alternatives aside from starting the game all over again. I’m not saying they should have made the game easier, but some sort of system that allows an alternative to starting again from scratch would have been nice.
There are also a handful of mechanics that are a little annoying to deal with. Rather than purchasing weapons and items in between battles, you have to do so during battles, which slightly undermines the strategy, and micromanaging all of the items between players can be a bit of a hassle, especially if you don’t have the merchant available.
While the game is fair for the most part, there are a few situations where the game can pull some dirty tricks. The most prevalent one is when enemy reinforcements show up unexpectedly with no warning. Most of the time the game does telegraph this sort of thing, but when it doesn’t it really throws an unnecessary wrench in the overall flow of the game, and can often lead to a character being ambushed and killed unexpectedly.
The biggest mechanic I have an issue with is the Fog of War maps. As I said in my Advance Wars review, Fog of War takes away the strategy from the game, because hiding the enemy prevents the player from being able to make informed choices, so the map can only be beaten through trial and error. On top of which, the enemy does not seem to be bound by the same limitations as the player. You can’t see the enemy, but based on how the enemy AI behaves, they can see you, which only compounds the issue of how unfair Fog of War is.
Finally, the Support conversation system isn’t very well designed. It takes far too long to activate a support, and the game limits the number of supports you can unlock during each playthrough. One of the best things about the Fire Emblem games is the characters, and getting to see the different personalities bounce off of each other and reveal new things about themselves is quite interesting. So it’s a shame that FE7 put unnecessary restrictions on this.
But while the game does have its flaws, FE7 more than makes up for it in the things it does right. As someone who was introduced to the series through Awakening, and who does think Awakening is better in some regards, overall Fire Emblem 7 is the superior game, and it is absolutely worth your time if you enjoy strategy RPGs.
How well it holds up 4/4
Personal Enjoyment 5/5
Overall quality 9/10
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