If you look at my profile, I’ve frequently talked about a turn-base tactical RPG franchise called Fire Emblem. I’ve covered gameplay and story elements from different games in the franchise, but I’ve never actually compared two Fire Emblem games. Today, I’d like to remedy that as I cover how gameplay has changed over the years. For this blog, I’ll be comparing broad gameplay elements from the GBA era games and the newest instalment in the series for the Switch. However, I should mention that although I’m using the GBA era games as a reference, the history of Fire Emblem is much deeper, going as far back to Nintendo’s Super Famicom. Unfortunately, I’ve never played a Fire Emblem game prior to the GBA era and thus can’t conduct a comparison of any kind. Now, with that mention out of the way, let’s move on to the comparison.
When you start up a game, the first thing that usually catches your eye is the graphics. It may not be surprising that graphics usually improve as time progresses and technology improves. However, that may not always be the case. In all the GBA games, the story is told through still photos and dialogue boxes, with very little animation of any kind. On the map, most units are distinguished by their classes with very few exceptions and everything is displayed through a top down isometric view camera. In comparison, the newest instalment of Fire Emblem uses a heavy amount of cutscenes and 3D animation to tell its story. When playing through the game, all units are displayed as 3D models and each unit has their own unique look. The top down still camera has also been done away with, replaced with a manoeuvrable orthographic view camera. As you can see, the two are very different in terms of art style. While I admit each side has their merits, I prefer the GBA way of telling its story. In my personal experience, I find Fire Emblem’s use of 3D models to be rather clunky, especially in the 3DS era games.
The next big difference is the gameplay, or rather the lack of a defining feature in the Fire Emblem franchise. Since the beginning of Fire Emblem, combat revolved around a rock, paper, scissor weapon triangle. In layman’s terms weapons have weaknesses and advantages over other weapons untimely forming a triangle. For example, swords are good against axes but weak against lances. This fosters a sense of gameplay balance and coerces the player to have units specialize in different weapons. However, in the newest Fire Emblem game the weapon triangle is removed. What this means is you could have a team full of sword units and face no repercussions against facing waves of enemy lance units. Rather, everything is now based upon the individual weapons accuracy and power. For example, an axe would have higher power but less accuracy compared to a sword. This system still makes you consider have a diverse party of units, but still think including the weapon triangle wouldn’t have hurt.
However, an ever bigger mix up to the traditional Fire Emblem formula would be the change to the promotion system. In Fire Emblem you could always make a unit stronger after a certain level by giving them a promotion item. For example, a Villager promoting to a Mercenary would give the unit more points in strength. In real life this would be equivalent to getting a promotion in your job, your pay raise being the increase in stats. Normally, there is no going back on a promotion, usually linear, and your unit’s level would reset. In previous games this had you levelling units to their max level, even if they could promote earlier to get the best stats possible. For example, if a unit can promote at level 10 but caps at 20 and they get a level of strength for each level, you would want to wait, as 20 strength is much better to 10. However, like the weapon triangle, they replace the promotion system with a completely new one. In the newest Fire Emblem game, units still need to reach a certain level to promote, but now their level doesn’t reset, they can promote to almost any class as long they fulfil the requirements, and they could go back to previous classes anytime they want. Personally, I like this change a lot as it give so much unit customization to the player. A great example of this is promoting a mage into a swordsman, though likely a terrible choice still very funny. Prior to the newest instalment, this would never had happen. As a casual player, it’s always fun to see what kind of crazy creations others have promoted their units into.
Overall, the newest Fire Emblem game has changed many thing. The features I just discussed are only the ones that have been directly changed from previous games. I haven’t even touched upon the new features the latest Fire Emblem game introduced. Now, the question is how will future games look like? Will the weapon triangle be reintroduced or will another feature be drastically change, we just don’t know. For now, we can only speculate.