I’m going to start this off with a bit of a revelation; I owned a Nintendo DS for the best part of 2 months before getting rid of. In that time, I only had two games for it; Yu-Gi-Oh and Resident Evil. As such, I really don’t have any level of nostalgia for the console or the games on it.
Later on in life, I went and got a Nintendo DS emulator to try out the one game that really caught my attention, to see whether I should get another DS and buy it. As a huge fan of the Lunar games, that particular game was Lunar: Dragon Song. For those of you who don’t know the Lunar games, or at least don’t know that one, it was awful. Not only was it incredibly disappointing as a Lunar fan, but it also pretty much killed that series off.
With that said, I really didn’t know what to expect from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon when it was selected for this week’s Retro Showcase.
I had heard mixed things about the game, especially from Fire Emblem fans, which did concern me a bit as it brought back the memory of Lunar: Dragon Song. But I went into the game with an open mind, and now it’s time to talk about what I thought of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon!
So, my first impressions of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon really came into effect after getting into the game itself. Usually, I look at the opening screen and menus, but it is rather simply for Shadow Dragon. So rather than focus on that, let’s jump straight in!
I wanted to start by talking about the music that starts as soon as you actually get into the game. That really was my first impression.
As the melodic sounds pierced my ears, I found my imagination instantly transported into the world. It was so immersive, especially for the very first track that you hear. From there, with the intrigue of the opening scenes and plot events, I was pulled into the story very quickly.
Part of that probably comes from the fact that it is basically a remake of the first game. But either way, the opening sections of the game were very interesting and actually captured me. Then, as I progressed into the gameplay itself, I was interested to see if it was as bad as people say it is.
As is to be expected from the Fire Emblem series, Shadow Dragon is an absolute tactical RPG. Because of this, you play through the game on a grid-based system, moving characters around and engaging the enemy. Spliced amongst these segments are short dialogue scenes which are created using 2D character imagery and text boxes, similar to a lot of older J-RPGs from before the move to 3D graphics.
Since my first experience with tactical RPGs was, unsurprisingly, Final Fantasy Tactics, this method of storytelling in a tactical RPG was still rather new to me. The other games in that genre which I had played extensively were the likes of Front Mission and Disgaea.
These games typically had specific scenes outside of the battles for most of their dialogue and events. In fact, Final Fantasy Tactics actually had fully animated scenes between character sprites, moving around on the field and everything. So part of me expected something similar from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.
With that said, it didn’t bother me that Shadow Dragon didn’t have that sort of storytelling. Instead, I thought that the text box and old school cutscenes worked really well, especially for the Nintendo DS.
Considering the 2D, top-down, pixel art graphics of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a more simple method of storytelling works perfectly. The fact that it uses both screens as well, so that the in-game world is still shown, means that they can use the story segments to actually setup the next battle without the need for any loading screens or transitions.
This use of the dual screen also doubles up on usefulness when you’re actually in battle, as it gives you access to each character’s stats without you having to take the screen away from the battle.
In terms of the actual battles, they start off really easy, with you being able to effectively steamroll through them. However, that creates a definite false sense of security that is quickly destroyed as you progress through the prologue. Considering Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon continues the series’ core design, including the permanent death mechanic for your characters, the increase in difficulty can really catch you out of you’re not paying attention.
Yet it is worth saying that the game isn’t punishingly difficult just for the sake of it. Instead, the game’s challenge comes from the fact that you actually need to think tactically. You can’t just do what you want to do, but instead, need to determine the best thing to do. We actually got a Game Over at the end of the stream because I wanted to keep my cavalry units but that was the wrong thing from a tactical point of view.
That’s what I like about tactical RPGs; they reward tactical thinking but punish you for mistakes that you make, rather than just punishing you for the sake of it. So, all in all, the gameplay of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon was actually rather good!
Sure, it wasn’t as good as the few other Fire Emblem games I have played, but I still thought it was done well.
Finally, we need to talk about the entertainment value of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. After all, a video game needs to be fun in one manner or another. This can be through the gameplay or the story.
With Shadow Dragon, the story is definitely a winner in terms of entertainment. Right from the offset, I was engaged with the characters. Even though it felt a little bit cliche in places, they handled the tropes well and subverted them enough that it was still enjoyable.
On top of this, the gameplay was done rather well. I wasn’t expecting much from a Nintendo DS RPG, if I am honest. So whilst the gameplay wasn’t as deep as other Tactical RPGs on other consoles, it was smooth and didn’t feel like it was slow. The actual combat animations helped that, as they broke up the basic movement combat and gave a nice level of detail to the battles.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is definitely not one of my top Tactical RPGs, but it is a good game. It is certainly a higher quality game that I expected compared to my previous experience with RPGs on the Nintendo DS and the various things I have heard about the game.
And That’s All Folks
In the end, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a lot better than I thought it would be. Sure, it is definitely not the best out there. However, it is enjoyable and the gameplay is simple enough to pick up but complex enough to create an actual challenge.
Add to this the fact that the story is intriguing and hooks you in straight away, and you have a pretty decent game. I would recommend you give Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon a try and see what you think of it for yourself!