Review by GreenShyguy04

Reviewed: 02/19/09

It's not Blazing Sword, but it's still hot as dragon fire in it's own way

For the first time, the very first Fire Emblem in the series is released outside of Japan. As most of you know, this game chronicles the adventures of Marth as he fights to reclaim his kingdom from the clutches of the evil dark dragon Medeus.

Of course, the game has received a huge face lift since it was first released for the Famicom back in 1990. I don't mean just an average upgrade; the graphics look fantastic. The character portraits are all perfectly done. The map backgrounds are pleasing to look at. The characters used for battle animations could've been a little better, but everything outside of that is pure eye candy.

They kept the same tunes, and remixed them so they sound really great on the DS. All of the songs are really catchy. The sound effects for characters moving on the overhead map sound perfect. It's easy to distinguish regular footsteps from horses hooves.

As far as game play is concerned, it's the same formula we all know and love for the most part. You control the units in blue and the computer controls the units in red. You get a chance to move all of your units in one turn, and the computer does likewise. The object is to seize the enemy gate/throne/space which is always guarded by the level's boss. The idea is to position your units in such a way to give yourself advantages ranging from how you match up against incoming enemy units, using terrain as cover, and keeping weaker units out of harm's way, but yet close enough so they can still participate. There is plenty of strategy, but the manner in which the game is played is extremely simple and it takes virtually no time to learn the fundamentals.

As with most games in the series, the difficulty progresses at a nice, steady pace. It even offers a normal mode and five different degrees of hard mode. The normal mode even throws in a prologue, which lets the player get a feel for the game before throwing him or her to the wolves. Of course by the time the battles do get larger and more grand, your units should be beefed up as well. As a matter of fact, you can even promote your units, with a few exceptions, to a greatly improved version of the character's initial class. This means players need to carefully manage battles so the better characters gain as much experience as possible, thus leveling up and promoting as early as possible.

Along the way, there will be opportunities to recruit extra units, visit villages for goodies, and buy extra weapons and items at shops. Figuring out how to get Marth (He's the only unit who can visit villages in this game.) safely to a village before an enemy thief wipes it out plays into part of the strategy as well. Villages are particularly important in this game because a good deal of them early on offer gold. Also, one of the best units in the game is in a village early on, so these villages are almost mandatory.

Now one minor complaint can be voiced about how you go about recruiting certain extra units. Some units are hidden in gaiden chapters, which can only be unlocked if you have a total of 15 units or less in your army. Anyone who has played other games in the series knows that this is completely counter intuitive; Fire Emblem has always been about trying to keep all of your units alive for the whole mission. Forcing the player to slaughter friendly units is a bit silly. However, these are in fact extra chapters. The game can be finished without unlocking a single one of these chapters. As a matter of fact, if you didn't unlock any gaiden chapters, you would just play all the chapters from the original Famicom version. So if you are just looking for an experience as close to the NES version as possible, then you really aren't missing anything.

On top of having a large cast of characters to experiment with, the game also offers the ability to change classes. However, all classes are actually divided into different sets, which means you can only change to another class in the same set. This isn't extremely useful, but it does add a whole new level of experimentation to the game. Do you believe in brain over brawn and wish to add some more mages? You can do that. Want some more mercenaries? You can do that. Want a whole herd of cavaliers? You can do that.

One aspect that did surprise me a little bit is you can in fact initiate regular conversations during battle assuming you have to right two characters next to each other during the right chapter. Sure, there aren't that many, but these do add to character development and the overall atmosphere of the game. A lot of players have been complaining about lack of character development. It is in fact in this game, but it's just not the same level of detail as Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is an enjoyable strategy game that is extremely easy to learn and play, while offering enough strategy, challenge, and grand scale battles for even the most seasoned veteran. The graphics and music are absolutely outstanding. The story and character development may not be quite as good as other RPGs, but it's good enough. This is still a must play for any fan of the series or for fans of strategy RPGs for that matter.

Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Product Release: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (US, 02/16/09)

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