Fire Emblem Gaiden

The good ol' NES box art for Fire Emblem Gaiden!

Fire Emblem Gaiden is a tactical RPG made for the NES in 1992, and it has now been released for the American VC on the Wii by Nintendo. The game is true to its meaning (with "gaiden" being the Japanese word for "side-story"), because it is a divergence from the original Fire Emblem that takes place on a different continent called Valencia (like the orange, yes), with no bearing on the characters of the original. However, it does have the same gameplay mechanics and has cameos by a couple of original characters.

As for the plot, it follows two lifelong friends named Alm and Celica, who were separated when still young and grew up to become a fighting apprentice and a priestess, respectively. Alm's journey begins when he defies the will of his grandfather General Misen and sets out to help some of his friends in a rebellion effort against the traitorous General Tozeh, who has seized the castle of Sofia, one of two kingdoms on the continent of Valencia, the other being Rigel. Meanwhile, Celica sets out on her own journey and meets up with Alm, but the two take separate routes from Sofia Castle. Over the course of the story, it is revealed that Alm is really the hero prince of Rigel, and Celica is princess of Sofia.

For a very, very long time now, I've wanted to try my hand at a Fire Emblem game. I've always been excellent with tactical combat and thought, so I wanted to see how I would do at a chess-like game like this. Granted, it took some practice and a grasp of what the symbols meant, but I found it to be one of the most satisfying gaming experiences I've ever had. You get to see your team get more in sync and powerful, and you become attached to them, so much so that you feel a personal pain when they die in battle.

I enjoy the fact that especially when you begin the game, you have to be highly tactical about how you use your characters, or otherwise the weaker ones will be killed off instantly. Yet, even as your party becomes stronger and stronger, you still have to use the utmost caution, as the enemy will step up its game without hesitation, and you must decide where and when to place different unit types. For example, you'll often want to put your stronger melee characters in first, while backing them up with your wizards and archers. Although, you have to be careful about less potent characters, and usually keep them in a defended position, only bringing them out to take on weakened enemies and gain kill experience.

But what really has me hooked on this game, aside from the ease of gameplay, is the diversity of character types. You had your wizards, you had your healers, your fighters and soldiers, your knights, etc. What's more is that you can upgrade these characters to result in some seriously souped up party members. Although, you can't always predict which characters will result from which. It's really kind of random; for example, sometimes a villager will turn into a wizard, or an archer, or a soldier, or whatever! One thing you can be sure of, though, is that a soldier will turn into a more powerful soldier, like an armored knight, and a knight will turn into a paladin (you guessed it, a stepped-up knight). Still level ups don't always give you a new character. Sometimes you learn a new attack, particularly for wizards.

Plus, you can get new items that certain characters can use to upgrade their abilities. My absolute favorite one is the Electric Sword, which does wicked damage, even to the most powerful enemies, like the Skeleton Warriors. This sword can make one character a powerhouse, and a huge asset in battle, so I give it to Alm, the mighty main character, so that enemies would run from him in fear! Haaa!!

Anyway. Another aspect of the game I enjoy is the variety in battles; sometimes a battle will look easy, but end up being one of the most challenging. A case in point is the battle against the shaman when your party changes to Celica's. If you go into the fight blind, you find that he can actually spawn a bunch of enemies, and that means you have to get up and take him down immediately.

Speaking of changing parties, that's another interesting tidbit; you periodically change the scene from Alm's team to Celica's team, and the difficulty continues to progress as you go along, meaning you have to devote equal energy to leveling up both teams in order to do well. This kind of makes it a culture shock when you abruptly switch to Celica's small party after Chapter 1. You get that familiar feeling of "Man, I have to do this again?" Nice.

The only real bad aspect I can find with this game is the horrible job of translation. It's only ever complete during moments of key dialogue, not when you're being told which stats have leveled up, or what an object says, or even what the main antagonist says! Much of what you see in place of this is a series of numbers, letters, and punctuation. You can't even translate it from Japanese if you want to!

Aside from that, I can't find any real problems with this game at all. If you know what everything means (which is somewhat hard to do seeing as how much of the text means nothing), it becomes a doable and satisfying experience! This game is available on the Virtual Console right now, so I suggest you try it online and absolutely buy it. For all those of you who want a cool RPG, a challenge, an adventure, and a tactics-based game all in one, you will love it.