Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (NDS) Review

Author’s Note: Another old review I did way back when the game originally released. This time it’s Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, which came out February 2009. Like many, I got into Fire Emblem thanks to Smash Bros., and was really into the first Fire Emblem game on GBA. Although, my memory of those experiences isn’t great. Even with Shadow Dragon as well, which I reviewed below. For some reason I can’t remember much about that game. Obviously this is quite different for Fire Emblem Awakening on 3DS, which many of you may know. Anyway, hope you guys enjoy the review. (P.S. – Apologies for just the wall of text. May get around to posting in images later to make it look a bit more appealing. When I get around to some reviews on recent games though, those will definitely have some images to go along with the text.)

The Fire Emblem series first made its US debut on the Game Boy Advance. Since then the series has become quite popular, with new games being released onto the GameCube and Nintendo Wii. However, many fans couldn’t help but wonder why the Fire Emblem series didn’t make the jump back to the handheld. Well now fans finally have their answer with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for the Nintendo DS, a remake of the first FE title that came out only in Japan for the Famicom. While it isn’t a new game in the franchise, it does give fans a chance to play this once Japan-only title and the opportunity to experience the franchise’s beginnings. And Smash Bros. fans can also know the back-story of Marth, who is definitely a top favorite among many players.

In Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon you will take on the role of Prince Marth, who is the heir to the Altea Kingdom. After a sudden betrayal of sorts from their supposed ally country, Marth has been forced to abandon his kingdom. With his Dad killed, and the whereabouts of his mother and sister still unknown, Marth is forced into hiding until he has matured enough to regain what was once his. On this path of redemption, Marth will meet many allies who each have their own motives to join in his cause.

The story is quite enjoyable, but it isn’t as deep as the other Fire Emblem titles. Much of this is due to the lack of interaction that Marth has with other characters in the story. You will have lots of characters in the game, but may never get the opportunity to really know them. There are even characters who join your army without any introduction at all. Though the story may lack the character depth of other FE games, the game-play is still just as solid.

You can play the game in two ways. One way is using the standard D-pad and button setup. This style of play is similar to the GBA days of the series. The other style is by way of stylus. Using the DS’s touch screen, players can control their units by dragging where they want them to go. Other things are also accessible on the touch screen, like picking weapons and checking out stats. While I prefer using the standard controls, the touch screen is certainly easy to use, should you prefer to use it.

Like all the other Fire Emblem games, Shadow Dragon features the same grid-like systems of other typical strategy RPGs. Turns are alternated between you and your opponent, as you move your units across the map. The battle ends once you have met the specified requirement for victory, which seems to only consist of having Marth reach a specific point on the map. It’s not that simple, as each battle will consist of different enemies who plan to stop you. In order to put them out of their misery, you must engage them in individual battles by moving your unit close enough to initiate the battle sequence.

The battle sequences are probably Fire Emblem’s best feature. It displays two characters in battle, represented by 3d sprites. Each character will attack the other once (or twice for certain situations) and if one runs out of HP they will fall; otherwise both units remain on the field. Thanks to the fluid animation of the characters, the battles are pretty pleasant to watch. It isn’t all about having two characters going up to each other and battling though, as there are many factors to consider before the battle even starts.

In true Fire Emblem fashion, the game follows the usual weapons triangle of lances, swords, and axes. Lances beat swords, swords beat axes, and axes beat lances. Its a pretty helpful thing to keep in mind as you gain advantages thanks to using the top weapon, like attacking twice and/or doing more damage. A very helpful stat window, called the battle forecast, will show off these advantages since it specifies many factors like the amount of damage that will be given and taken, as well as the accuracy of landing your attack. So by keeping an eye on this window, it should help you in deciding to engage in a certain battle or to retreat. You will also have the opportunity to switch your weapon on the fly so you can see the outcome of every possible situation.

Other factors to keep in mind actually happen before you even enter the battlefield, as you can buy more weapons, choose which units to bring, and even change the class of a character, which will change their stats drastically. The stats of a unit also change when they level up, but the stats that get upgraded are totally random. Another thing to keep in mind is that characters will level up individually and will only receive experience if they engage in battle, with the exception of healers. So in order to make sure your characters get a good amount of experience through each battle, it’s best to get them all involved.

The most important factor to consider is probably unit placement. Sure you would want to eliminate a nearby enemy, but in doing so, it may leave you open to multiple attacks by other nearby enemies. And as always, if a character dies in Fire Emblem, they die permanently and won’t be usable for the course of the game. Of course, if Marth dies, then it’s game over. Fortunately, with the push of a button, you will be able to see if your units are within an enemy’s attack range. What’s more great is that you will be able to leave this option on while you’re moving units, which is pretty useful and helps you conjure up a pretty solid strategy.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon may sound like a pretty complicated title, but the game has been revamped a bit so that newcomers can easily get into it. Prologue chapters are included in the normal difficulty setting, and they will help those new to the franchise get use to the mechanics of the game. Veterans can also enjoy the game as well, since a harder difficulty is available.

The game can be pretty challenging but in Shadow Dragon, save points are much more accessible this time around, which will save you from restarting a long battle from the beginning. Aside from having the usual save points showing up between chapters and being able to suspend a battle at any time, the game will also have save points on the battlefield. These save points will usually appear in either one or two spots on the map. Use them wisely though, as these save points have only a one-time use.

The game-play is certainly deep, but more solid than other Fire Emblem titles. Don’t let that intimidate you though, since the mechanics of the game are pretty simple so that anyone is able to join in on the fun. The new changes certainly make the game a bit more casual, and veteran players may find the game not as hard. It’s still a challenging title and the enemy may catch you off guard if you’re not careful.

Shadow Dragon’s graphics are certainly steps ahead of its original. Some nice character art is presented, along with blinking eyes and moving lips during dialogue sessions. It’s too bad that they weren’t able to show much more emotion. Some scenes in the game are also represented by a special art image, as well as for introducing certain characters.

The true graphics of Shadow Dragon lay in the battlefield. As I mentioned before when engaging in a battle, the two participants are shown by way of 3D sprites on a 2D plane. They are well animated when performing their attacks, and also show off a different animation when performing a critical attack. While it does look nice, they don’t compare to the awesomeness of the GBA sprites. I just feel that the 3d sprites weren’t as animated as their GBA counterparts. It seemed a bit too plain, and didn’t have the flashiness of the ones on the GBA.

If you’ve played previous Fire Emblem titles, the music in the game would certainly sound familiar to you. Themes used across the series are also present in this game. Not surprising though, as this is the first title in the franchise. That’s certainly not a bad thing though as I’ve always enjoyed the sweet sounds of Fire Emblem’s epic orchestra soundtrack. No voice acting though, but I’m sure fans don’t mind as the original title didn’t have any either.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon spans across 20+ chapters, and by chapters I mean battles. There are also extra chapters to be found, called gaiden chapters. Along with the prologue chapters, these gaiden chapters can help users gain some strong units, as well as some side story. Though these chapters will only be accessible if you have a small army. That’s right, if most of your army has fallen, then these chapters will be available for you, to help rebuild. Unfortunately for those who play well enough to not have any characters fall, you will miss out on these chapters.

Still with the normal 20+ chapters that you will undoubtedly go through, the game is pretty lengthy. The story alone will clock you at around 10 hours. Of course this is a very loose estimate, as your performance in battle can certainly make a chapter be completed in mere minutes to close to an hour. The fun isn’t over though, once the story is done, and thanks to the game’s Wi-fi features, players can now face other players across the world.

This Wi-fi feature in Shadow Dragon is definitely the main highlight. Not only can it be used to face other players around the world in a 5-on-5 battle with voice-chat support, but also there are many other uses that affect your experience of the game. One feature is the ability to borrow units from friends, which you can use in story mode. A Wi-fi store is also accessible, which is full of strong and rare weapons that you can purchase for use. Visiting the Wi-fi store on certain dates will also lead you to some pretty nice stuff. The Wi-fi is definitely a great addition to this series, and one I hope is used often on future titles.