Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon - Reader Review  

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by KnightTrain

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Less than 20 Hours
+ Very original, even for a remake
+ Enjoyable battle system
+ Nice Visuals
- Very little character development
- Obtuse story line at the beginning
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   In late 2001, Super Smash Bros. Melee was released for the Nintendo Gamecube, and those that were dedicated enough to see all unlockable content were given the option to play a blue haired swordsman named Marth. Without more substantial evidence it is likely that this cameo in a massive Nintendo crossover sparked interest in the U.S. for the Fire Emblem series of which Marth is from. Hence, Nintendo decided to bring the series over to American shores after more than ten years staying in Japan. Yet after four U.S. releases of FE titles, Marth was still nowhere to be found. Those who have been pining to finally see their favorite Smash Bros. character in action need wait no longer. Nintendo has decided to remake and release the Fire Emblem game that started it all. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon stars Marth, a young princeling who is ousted from his Kingdom of Altea by neighboring country and once-ally Gra. After biding his time in a far off island country, Marth sets out to the mainland with a small army to free his homeland and the rest of the continent of Archanea from an evil Dragon of legend bent on taking the world for its own.

   Those of you familiar with the Fire Emblem series will be perfectly familiar with the unique tactical battle system found in these games. For those unfamiliar, battles are broken up into Player turns and enemy turns. Upon player turns, your given the task of commanding your army's movements and attacks. When one of your units stands adjacent to an enemy unit (or two spaces away if your unit is capable of ranged attacks) you're given the option to enter a battle with that enemy unit. Before your attack is confirmed, your given an easy-to-read "battle forecast" which tells you the damage your expected to cause, your chance of landing a hit, number of attacks based on character speed, etc. This battle forecast (apparently missing from the original Famicom version) goes a long way in helping you make important tactical decisions. If you put a unit up to more than they can handle, you run the unfortunate risk of losing that unit for the remainder of the game, so great care must be taken to avoid character deaths and a great deal of frustration. One wrong move can destroy a lot of hard work if you're not careful. Thankfully, a new addition to this title is map save points so you won't have to start the entire battle over again if you lose a valuable character you weren't intending to lose. However, you still have to choose carefully when using the save spots as each one can only be used once. There are about 1 or 2 save points per battlefield. Despite the additions, there are a few detractions. For instance, mounted units are not able to use the remainders of their moves after performing an action like attacking or trading. Units are not able to rescue smaller units from danger. These omissions likely were not in the original so it is understandable that Nintendo did not intend to add every newer feature to the original game. The weapon triangle was added to this version (the magic triangle from later versions is not present). That said, the battle system is still very exceptional for what it is. There is enough strategy and risk to keep players on their toes till the end. For those who love strategy, the battles in Shadow dragon can be very enjoyable. Those who do not enjoy tactical RPGs should probably stay away from this title altogether.

Better cover your face Better cover your face

   After a few chapters (each chapter consists of one battle) players are given many options on how to manage their team. You can manage items, purchase and forge weapons, and even reclass your units (another new feature). There is a lot to take into account when preparing for battle, and everything is very easily managed. During battle, players will be able to visit shops and armories that sell better items than the armory you can access between battles. Items purchased will automatically be sent to the convoy, if in fact the character's inventory is full, which Marth and any character standing adjacent to Marth has access to. In a tactical RPG such as this, micromanaging is of the utmost importance, and the developers did a nice job of making the micromanaging very easy. One huge disadvantage, though, is that you can't easily see which characters on the battlefield are able to have conversations with each other. Since in-battle conversations are important for recruiting new characters, this feature is missed. However, the majority of the recruitment conversations are done by either Marth or Caeda (your first flying unit), so it's not a huge drawback.

   Yuka Tsujiyoko returned to compose Shadow Dragon's musical score. While nothing particularly stands out about the music, it is obvious that effort was put into the work to update the music for DS sound capabilities. New tracks were added as well so the same music wasn't heard over and over again. The soundtrack is very easy on the ears, and veterans will no doubt find a few of the tracks to be very familiar.

   Being the first game of its series, one could say that it deserves points for being the original and beginning a long line of successful tactical RPGs. However, this remake of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is just as original in its own right. It is the first FE title on the Nintendo DS and makes full use of the DS's dual and touch screen functionality. Players can opt not to use the stylus if they choose, and the game is just as easy to play. Another addition is a one button press to see all danger zones on a battlefield instead of individually selecting enemy units. Therefore, it is not as easy to accidentally leave a weak unit to die unnecessarily. Another addition that was mentioned before is the ability to reclass your units. While this feature probably won't be used a lot, it can be really helpful if you just recruited someone who would serve you better as a mage because you recently lost one.

Choose Wisely Choose Wisely

   If not the most captivating, FE: Shadow Dragon's story is decent. The first half of the game is very strangely paced, with confusing plot devices used to send Marth's army every which way until the second half of the game. When players reach a certain point in the game, the story really picks up and becomes much more focused. The one thing that is really missing from this FE title is characterization. Granted, the developers added much more dialogue than what was in the original, but for a current generation title there is much to be desired. There are many characters that will join your party without much reason and a lack of personality. However, this might make it easier for some players to just keep moving on if a character dies in battle. In fact, players are actually rewarded with extra content if they complete chapters with less than 15 or so characters in their roster, something that would definitely add to the challenge if a player so chooses.

   While the visuals don't make the best use of the DS's graphical capabilities, Shadow Dragon still looks good on the platform it was remade for. The graphical style used a kind of wash-out, earthy theme, where green and brown seem to be the colors you will see the most often, with a lot of gray mixed in when you're storming a castle. Sometimes, because of blending colors on the battlefield, it may be hard to distinguish between changes in terrain (e.g. is that a "plain" or "hill" tile?). However, this is a very minor issue. Overall, it is a very nice looking game, and the art style goes along with the overall theme.

   No one can say that Fire Emblem games are a cake walk, and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is no exception. There are, however, six difficulty settings for players to choose from normal to merciless. Normal mode (the easiest setting) has a prologue that acts as a tutorial for new players and adds a little more back story to Marth's escape from his homeland. The next level in difficulty (hard) might be more akin to the normal setting in other FE games. The game is pretty short, taking probably less than 20 hours to complete. Each battle takes about 15 minutes without restarting, so it's an easy game to play for short bursts of time.

   So for being a remake of a past title (and during a time where it might seem that's all we gamers are getting these days) Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon holds up amazingly well. It may be one of the better remakes of late because of how much it adds while keeping the spirit of the original intact. Because of it's length and varying difficulty, it is a perfect RPG for both casual and hardcore gamers. Definitely, it is an admirable addition to the DS's ever-growing library of RPGs and worth picking up.

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