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Fire Emblem 7 is my personal favorite video game ever made.
I received it for Christmas of 2003 from my aunt along with my new Flame Red Gameboy SP from my mother. I don't know why she got it for me, nor will I ever question it. Cause it changed my life, for better or worse.
The original Fire Emblem games by Shouzou Kaga were smash hits in Japan. Kaga wanted a strategy game wherein "each character is a protagonist in their own right, and you can actually get attached to them, making it closer to an RPG[.]" I always wax poetic about "player expression" whenever I am reviewing games nowadays, and that was what Kaga wanted in his series. When asked about it in the same interview, he opines, "I think this is something people understand once they play the game, but most of the characters are usable. And characters who at first seem like crappy, throwaway characters–if you take the time to build them up and nurture them, they can become incredibly powerful. We made a lot of characters like that."
Fast forwarding to 2003, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade follows the same design philosphy. Tohru Narihiro, a producer at Intelligent Systems states in a May 2003 interview that "The primary focus was to enable people do not play SRPGs to enjoy it." It is a simple game, released 6 years after Final Fantasy Tactics, the game most people (myself included) would credit as having popularized SRPGs in the west.
Firstly, I will get the obvious out of the way. This is an absolutely beautiful game with stunning pixel art and an incredible score. It is an absolute aesthetic masterpiece, with much of the groundwork laid out by its predecessor The Binding Blade. These two games are some the best looking and sounding titles in the entire Gameboy Advance library. That honor is owed to two veritable superwomen of the genre who do not get enough credit. There was Sachiko Wada, who did the character portraits as well as in-game CGs. Her art was the stuff of dreams for me, and it honestly still is. She can nail quiet beauty to war-weary stoicness; adorably cute to horrifically ugly and everything in between. Her art gives the game so much of its character- it wouldn't be FE7 without Wada's portraits. As much as I really like the art from the older entries, her work is the Fire Emblem platonic ideal. Her designs really do form the baseline by which I often compare other characters, even in other games. Wada has only worked on the Fire Emblem series to date and she is seriously incredible. She still does artwork for the Fire Emblem Heroes gacha and some commemorative pieces as well, all of which can be checked out on her Pixiv. Then there is the game's composer, Yuka Tsujiyoko. Tracks like “Wind across the Plains,” “Companions,” etc. have become iconic pieces within the series and that is all thanks to Tsujiyoko’s virtuosity. “Bern - A Mother’s Wish” deserved a real sound chip! As much as people hate the squeals and scratches of the hardware, she made it sound wonderful, particularly on the main theme, which to this day is my favorite rendition of such an iconic leitmotif.
Fire Emblem’s story is segmented into three different “modes,” one of which is a prologue and two of which exist as parallel timelines, each focusing on one of three central protagonists.
Lyndis, the first protagonist, acted as a model introduction for so many people into the world of Fire Emblem and strategy RPGs in general. It is comprised of ten simple maps and appropriately scaled narrative- a tight well constructed intro arc of a young woman of the plains discovering she is of royal birthright. Lyndis meets friends and foes alike who each introduce core concept of the games mechanics - the weapon triangle, siege maps, rout maps, terrain bonuses, party organization, enemy reinforcements, fog of war, etc.
Lyndis is a strong character, never a damsel in distress, neither beholden to expectations of her ethnicity nor her gender. Her journey through a war torn Caelin hints at far greater forces at work, but keeps things focused on her own personal odyssey and growth. Lyn Mode does have it’s fair share of criticism, particularly the forced tutorial aspects which has annoyed veteran players to the point that removing it has become a staple for ROM hackers. Lyn Mode is very easy too, but it is supposed to be, because it’s supposed to be an introduction to major gameplay concepts. It is a tutorial that has gone a step beyond, with a likable character arc and some of the most endearing playable units in the entire series. One of my main criticisms of the game is that Lyn ends up being less useful from a metagaming standpoint, because she is one of my favorite characters in any video game.
The nomads of the plains do not abandon their fellow tribespeople. Eliwood and Hector are my dear friends… Their sorrow is my sorrow. Their anger is my anger.” - Lyndis in Chapter 31E/33H, Light
Then the world opens up to Eliwood’s story, the game begins a proper progression into an extensive and oftentimes challenging strategy game. Eliwood is a comparatively tame and even boring choice of protagonist compared to Lyn, sort of the picturesque shonen hero that we associate with earlier Fire Emblem. He even has the big sword to boot. Yet as the world opens up and we meet the cast, learn of the surrounding nations and their inhabitants, his story arc still maintains high quality. Eliwood mode, for better or worse, is the way we are introduced to the meat and potatoes of the game. You fight your way through sprawling maps with scores of enemy units, conveying a desperate struggle as the flames of war engulf the surrounding landscape. The political intrigue and stories of love, loss and betrayal convey great emotional weight; they serve as amazing backdrops to particularly difficult maps. The game oozes despair as armies of unfeeling humanoid killers descend on Prince Zephiel in the dead of night, or when Ostia lays under siege. The constant threat of the mercenary group The Black Fang, whom have sentenced you to death “softly, with grace.
In the name of the Fang, I sentence you to death. Do not blame me for your fate. It is your own doing.” - Lloyd Reed, in Chapter 23E/24H: Four-Fanged Offense
Of course the real star of the show is the game’s third protagonist, Hector, he of the blue-haired and brash Fire Emblem family. Hector Mode is considered Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade’s greatest triumph- specifically “Hector Hard Mode” (HHM) which is considerably more difficult than any of the other game modes. Hector was the proto-Ike, a gigantic presence on and off the battlefield. He feels much more magnetic than Eliwood, but their brotherhood is what serves as one of the best parts of the game’s narrative. Hector essentially abandons his post as a royal to help his friend and must deal with the consequences and his own regrets. Eliwood’s story is fully complemented and two’s stories intertwine in perfect harmony as both come to terms with the realities of the war. Hector’s path also opens up several different maps, all quite difficult; and also serves as the basis for unlocking all the hidden lore within the game. Once you have experience HHM, you really have experienced the full breadth of what this game can offer- it is an immensely satisfying and well balanced experience with a great trio of protagonists.
Listen, Mark. You know how Eliwood is. Never wants to burden anyone else… Takes all responsibility on himself… Now, more than ever, we have to support him. Let’s go, Mark!” - Hector in Chapter 28E, Valorous Roland
Much of what we understand as the modern conception of the "SRPG" is owed to Kaga's production of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light; which on its own was produced to be a more accessible, character-driven answer to strategy games prior. Indeed, Fire Emblem throughout the years has relied on rather simple calculations for its different gameplay functions. Take the calculation in Blazing Blade for Attack Speed (which determines if you will attack twice during the fight, referred to a "doubling"):
AS = (Speed) - (Burden)
Burden = (Wt) - (Con); negative Burden values are set to 0
Wt = value of unit's equipped weapon's weight
Con = value of the given unit's constitution.
The calculation for whether or not you can "double" is as follows:
[(Unit's attack speed) − (target's attack speed)] ≥ 4
This is something that can very easily be calculated in a couple minutes just looking at a unit's stat spread and their weapon stats. Everything is simple to understand. You can tell just from looking at the Mani Katti weapon that is effective against infantry. What does that mean in the context of the game? It simply deals bonus damage; calculated as 3x the amount of damage you do (which has its own calculation.)
The best part? You don't even need to know this math in FE7. If you can double, it gives you a x2 indicator next to the might, which is calculated for you. Effective weapons will have glowing text. The weapon triangle is a relatively simple Rock Paper Scissors mechanic as well. This sort of simplicity is what makes the game’s combat intuitive for me to play even back in 2003. It has a high skill ceiling yet isn’t obtuse. The ultimate accessible strategy RPG, a direct descendant of the forefather of the genre itself.
Throughout the development of the series, Kaga noted that some people found the games too simple on a mechanical level; to this, he responded that "Well, that is an understandable response from the perspective of hardcore strategy buffs... [b]ut for Nintendo-made products, the baseline for the development is always that it be easy to play to the end, something “anyone can pick up and enjoy.” And I think that is a perfectly fine approach in its own right." Hironobu Sakaguchi, who had the very same design philosophy for Final Fantasy, would agree; and he was in fact a fan of the series himself.
I have great reverence for Final Fantasy Tactics and I think it is one of the greatest contributions to the entire corpus of strategy games. Just from playing the first few maps of Tactics I understood implicitly that this game had depth far and beyond anything produced during the SNES or GBA era of Fire Emblems. Tactics pushed the boundaries of the genre, both from a mechanical and storytelling perspective and I love the game. Yet I wouldn't recommend Tactics as an introduction to the genre to most people. Sure, it popularized the genre to people who didn't know anything about strategy RPGs prior, but I think Blazing Blade is in fact the real perfect introduction to the genre and works as a gateway into the wider world of the genre- which includes Final Fantasy Tactics in its unfiltered glory.
The units in Tactics are for the most part faceless generics, whom allow you complete freedom in how you shape you army. By contrast, every playable unit in Fire Emblem 7 has a face, a story and a unique role with stats to complement. These approaches both have merit. I love the generic soldier concept, especially in games without permadeath systems like the fantastic Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark. We have Final Fantasy Tactics to thank for that.
The strength of Blazing Blade's approach sacrifices individual unit freedom for the prospect of forming emotional bonds with the characters, whom have established backstories and personalities. I always enjoyed Serra’s love-hate relationship with Erk, even if both units were weaker and harder to train. I felt a strong connection to them as characters and had a vested interest in raising them within the army. As a kid, I simply wouldn't have been able to fully appreciate the gameplay freedom inherent in FFT’s generics in comparison versus the strong personalities of Erk and Serra. I certainly would not have felt as compelled to reset a map to save a generic, faceless unit if there was a permadeath mechanic.
The approach towards unit death in strategy games has always been traditionally one of the numbers game, especially in games that try to hew closer to realism. Julian Gollop taught the world with XCOM: UFO Defense that overconfidence invites disaster and we must learn to manage our losses- not everyone is going to make it out ok and sometimes your best soldiers have to be sacrificed to make it through the mission. Real-time strategy games are so often about throwing hordes at one another, because that is truly what war is.
Kaga took this approach with the initial games in the series because he "wanted to create a game where the player could get more emotionally invested in what’s happening." He wanted a refutation of the numbers game, and this is often highlighted by each character’s individual death quote if they are slain in battle. Any Fire Emblem player can tell you stories of the permadeath system and the psychological impetus it puts on your actions in this game. I remember running through Four-Fanged Offense in my first playthrough as a kid. Doing everything right, and I understood implicitly I had put in serious progress for my overall army's strength. All of that... just to lose my underleveled Guy to a terrifying guerilla attack from the boss. I was in tears of frustration. Then I reset the game and did it all again. I did that despite the fact I didn't even need Guy to continue on through the game. I did it because I was invested and I wanted him to be stronger and see it through to the end. I could've continued, replaced him in the army. But that wouldn't be Guy in my army. I couldn't just replace him with a identical, perhaps even stronger generic unit. He would be lost forever, and dead from a narrative standpoint. Lost as a casualty of war while the other characters pushed through to victory. I couldn't deal with that. This is something Fire Emblem really became famous for among gaming circles.
Permadeath is so contentious that the series itself changes its attitude towards it as it attempted to garner more mass appeal. Permadeath in the later entries like Three Houses is now locked behind “Classic” modes while consequences are far lighter in casual or normal gameplay difficulties. That feels like a poignant descriptor. The specter of permadeath and its affect on your gameplay is just quintessential Fire Emblem to me. There isn’t a better word to describe the experience of Fire Emblem 7 than “classic.”
"[Interviewer:] There is a scene where an important character dies along the way. What was the reason behind including this death scene?
[Tohru Narihiro:] This is a recurring theme throughout the series. The game is one with fighting, but is not just about fighting. The underlying theme of the series that we want people to feel is the foolishness and fickle nature of war and battle. This has been the continuous theme of the series."
Simply put, I don't think I would have been able to appreciate Final Fantasy Tactics as that kid back in 2003, and possibly not have forged the same relationship with strategy games (and games in general) as I did with Blazing Blade. I don't think that lessens Tactic’s impact as a seminal piece of art. I think it just speaks to why my connection to Fire Emblem 7 feels more significant.
Playing as an adult, the game hasn’t remotely lost its luster to me. I don’t even view this as a product of nostalgia- Fire Emblem 7 stands proud among its compatriots with a well designed ratio of difficulty, strong characterization, implicit depth, intuitive game design, and player expression. You can take the road of ruthless efficiency, sacrifice units if you have to, and achieve your low turn count mastery of the game. You can raise your favorite units and see them through to the end. You can do a little of both. The game is amazing regardless.
I love Fire Emblem, I love strategy RPGs and I have this game to thank for that.

I bought this game from gamestop in 2012 and I needed an online code to play it which automatically gives this a 1.They did finally reverse that decision a few years later and when I tried playing I loaded into a match and was spawn trapped by a tank that was killing me on frame 1 of my deployment until the game ended which also earns it 1 star.

there is no other game i've played that i've put more hours into than this one. defined my high school years in a way that i can't really explain

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