The Fire Emblem Series: Where to Start?
The tactical roleplaying genre wouldn’t be what it is without the existence of Intelligent System’s Fire Emblem series. With its first game released back on Famicom in 1990, the series has transformed with each subsequent entry. With most of its early titles releasing only in Japan, it wasn’t until the Game Boy Advance era and the opportunity for remakes that those titles were localized for western audiences, beginning with The Blazing Blade, which launched simply as Fire Emblem. From there, western audiences were able to enjoy somewhat regular releases until Radiant Dawn on the Wii when the core series went dormant for a brief period.
There were five years between the release of Radiant Dawn and the smash hit that revitalized the series, Fire Emblem Awakening. Awakening, and the entries that followed geared themselves to be more newcomer-friendly, offering more accessible options for players who wanted to enjoy the series’ stories, but didn’t necessarily want to deal with some of the series more difficult elements such as character permadeath. Offering Casual settings allowed newcomers to embrace the series in a way that has launched it to higher levels of success.
In addition to its now-optional permadeath, the series is also known for its branching class systems, wherein characters build proficiency with different weapon types and are able to change classes. There is so much flexibility in the class system structure, allowing players to experiment with different class types to suit their needs. Many of the older games are touted as being very difficult, while newer entries offer more flexibility in difficulty. There are more social elements in newer entries, including the ability to date units, which began in Fire Emblem Awakening. Having the social elements allowed the series to grow in a new way, allowing for more opportunities to get to know units and forge bonds with them.
With seventeen core entries and five spinoffs across the series’ thirty-three-year-old legacy, there is much ground to cover. We hope this helps give readers an overview of all of the games titles and potential starting points if current platform availability makes many of them hard to get hold of. Please share your thoughts in the comment section below and let us know which are your favourite entries in this beloved franchise.
By Sam Wachter, Ryan Costa, Jon Jansen, Phil Willis, Robert Sinclar, Ryan Radcliff, Erik van Asselt, Cassandra Ramos, and Robert Albright
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light
Available on: Nintendo Entertainment System, Nintendo Switch (delisted), Nintendo DS (Remake)
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light for the Famicom was originally released for the Famicom on April 20, 1990, becoming the first in the long-running series. This game was not released outside of Japan during the 8-bit era for reasons that can only be speculated. It would take another nineteen years until a version of the first game was officially localized as the DS game Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon.
The game stars Marth, the prince of Altea traveling across the continent to reclaim his homeland from the titular Shadow Dragon Medeus. Although Shadow Dragon lacks support conversations, the story is more fleshed out in the DS game and the localized script is excellent. Many aspects of the gameplay were changed to be more in line with later Fire Emblems such as adding the magic stat, putting in the weapon triangle, changing certain character classes, introducing weapon forging, and so on. An oddity of the remake is that to recruit brand new characters in Gaiden chapters, players need to get their units killed off so that they only have fifteen total characters in their army. This goes against many players’ instinct to keep all of their units alive, but it helps that most of Shadow Dragon‘s characters have little in the way of personality.
Curiously, the original game was localized into English and released on the Nintendo eShop for the Switch, but this was only for a limited time, as it was delisted on March 31, 2021. This Switch version adds the ability to create bookmarks, a turn rewind feature, and adjustable gameplay speed. While these features make this difficult and slow game easier to play, it’s not readily available anymore. The DS remake Shadow Dragon would make for a more approachable game, even if it may not be the best entry point for newcomers. If players prefer a strong story with personable, loveable characters, Shadow Dragon will probably not be very appealing. If they prefer solid gameplay, then Shadow Dragon may be a good game to start with. The gameplay mechanics lacks specific nuances of later games, like skills, but it is engaging and battles are quick with well-designed maps.
Fire Emblem Gaiden
Fire Emblem Gaiden was the second Fire Emblem game ever made and at its time was a huge commercial success in Japan. Although westerners did not get a chance to play the game until the Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia remake, a fan translation of the game had been floating around for many years. The game sees two protagonists fight their way across the map, each chapter flipping from one army leader to another.
The real legacy of Fire Emblem Gaiden is its mechanics. It was the first game that had explorable towns and dungeons, features that would not reappear in the game again until the much later entry Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. It was also the very first game that had promotable units which have become a staple in the series since.
Although the ease of access that this game has in the modern era is high. This is not a game to go jumping into. It is a very brutal game, state increases are minimal, magic takes HP to cast, and healers can only heal. Even with a translation patch, this is not a game to go jumping into. It is a very brutal game, state increases are minimal, magic takes HP to cast, and healers can only heal. A much more approachable version exists with Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, which we’re about to get into.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Like with many other series that began on the NES, Fire Emblem Gaiden was odd in comparison to the first game. It was such a big shift that many other later games would revert to stay more in line with Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Having explorable towns was a neat idea, but losing HP to cast magic and poor stat growths likely soured many. It’s a small wonder that Gaiden never saw an official release outside of Japan. It wouldn’t be until 2017 that westerners would get the chance to play Gaiden in the form of Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia for the 3DS.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is both a faithful remake and a complete reimaging of Fire Emblem Gaiden. The basic story in both Gaiden and its remake is the same. The nations of Rigel and Zofia go to war after many years of uneasy peace and childhood friends Alm and Celica pursue different means to end the war. Shadows of Valentia, however, fleshes out the plot substantively, not only adding new characters but also granting much more personality to the ones returning. Many of the gameplay quirks are carried over but these have been altered and modernized, such as the HP cost for magic casting being easier to cope with thanks to improved stat growth. Gaiden would be quite the challenge for any player, new to Fire Emblem or not. Shadows of Valentia, on the other hand, will appeal to fans and newcomers alike with its more engrossing story and much less frustrating gameplay.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
Japan-only: Super Famicom, Nintendo DS (Remake)
The third entry in the series, Mystery of the Emblem was the very first one to be made for the Super Famicom. It’s a direct sequel to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, taking place two years later. After the experimentation of Fire Emblem Gaiden, Mystery of the Emblem returns to its more straightforward chapter-based gameplay without the explorable towns and dungeons. Despite being a direct sequel, it makes an effort to welcome newcomers by including a slightly truncated version of the first game in order to bring them up to speed.
Its DS remake, dubbed New Mystery of the Emblem, follows the same story but adds some differences. First, it adds the avatar player character who acts as an advisor to Marth as a playable unit in combat. It was also the first game to add the Casual Modem, which makes the series’ traditional unit permadeath entirely optional. The DS remake also received bonus chapters, finally granting players access to content from the Stellaview prequel BS Fire Emblem, which we will cover later.
With the eventual — and temporary — release of its predecessors or remakes, this is currently the first entry in the series to have never received any official English release. However, it is regarded as a fun entry in the series for those who can get their hands on it.
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Japan-only: Super Famicom
Like its predecessor, the second Super Famicom entry Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War has never received an official English release. It is also the first not to have been remastered or remade. However, those that are able to play it are introduced to one of the strongest-starting protagonists the series has. Sigurd starts as a pre-promoted mounted unit, which gives him great mobility and is a series first for a starting lord. Added to his great movement are his absurd growth rates that always make him a powerhouse in any playthrough.
Genealogy of the Holy War also gives players a large, multi-generational cast of playable characters as eventually, Sigurd hands the main character title over to his child, Seliph, who then recruits the offspring of characters seen in Sigurd’s story. However, this is a game for fans familiar with the grit and grind the series was known for. That and the lack of an official translation make Genealogy of the Holy War a hard sell for newcomers that want to jump into the series proper.
Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
Japan-only: Super Famicom
Released on the Super Famicom in 1999, Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 was the last titled to be developed for this platform. Often considered the black sheep of the earlier Fire Emblem games, Thracia 776 was the weakest selling console game in the series, partially due to its release during the fifth console generation, and because boxed copies were released in the year 2000. Taking place during the events of the later parts in Genealogy of the Holy War, this story focuses on Leif, the ready heir of the Republic of Munster, who ends up on the run and is saved by his friend Finn after being attacked by the Thracia Army. Having lost his home, Leif and his companions work towards reclaiming the Republic of Munster and destroying the Thracia Army.
While Thracia 776 borrowed elements such as the skills system from the previous title, it also added a few new elements that were met with a mixed responses. The game introduced fog of war, where the location is obscured by darkness and players can only see a few tiles ahead. The game also added fatigue as a feature, where if a unit’s fatigue exceeded their maximum HP, that unit could not participate in the next chapter while they got the required rest. The game is considered incredibly difficult, and while fan translation exists, this Japan-only title is not recommended for newcomers.
Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade
Japan-only: Game Boy Advance
The first entry in the series to hit Game Boy Advance, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is perhaps most notable in the west for being the game from which Super Smash Bros.’s Roy hails from. Unfortunately, the game itself is another entry to have not received an official English release, but it is the most recent title to have that status.
This is an interesting game in the series, though it may not be the easiest game to play since there is no official North American release. Roy also ends up being a stunted protagonist who doesn’t get his second promotion until very late in the game. Though when he does promote, he gets the titular Binding Blade and can become a very powerful character. The Binding Blade ends up being a game for hardcore fans of the series who love the sprites offered in the GBA titles and want to experience that style one more time.
Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade
Available on: Game Boy Advance
Here we are finally, the first game (chronologically) in the series to be released in the west. After skipping all of the Famicom and Super Famicom games, as well as the first GBA entry, Nintendo finally gave the SRPG franchise the chance to spark an English fanbase. While there are plenty of hardcore fans who have enjoyed fan translations over the years, the average North American audience only knew of Fire Emblem for Marth and Roy’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Released in the west simply as Fire Emblem, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade is a prequel to The Binding Blade. It is split into two main parts, with the player controlling an avatar tactician. The first almost acts as an extended tutorial and follows Lyn, a girl looking to reunite with her grandfather. The second part takes place a year later with friends Eliwood and Hector as a new adventure sees them trying to avert a full-scale war with many characters from the first part, including Lyn, returning to aid them.
The game itself is about as hardcore an experience as you can find in the series. There’s little in the way of supports, there are no accessibility options, and the game is genuinely difficult, though the story is well told and the animations look great. There’s even a New Game+ that allows you to play an expanded second part of the scenario where Hector is the main character rather than Eliwood, which is a nice alternate view of the story. Going back to it now may scare away the casual fans of the later, more forgiving titles, but if for experiencing an authentic piece of the series’ beginnings there really is no better game to jump into.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Available on: Game Boy Advance
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was the third Fire Emblem game on the Game Boy Advance and the second game in the series to get a release in the west. Upon its release, there were some mixed feelings from long-time fans of the series. This is because the player was able to travel across a world map between missions and was able to do random encounters, much like in Fire Emblem Gaiden. Many saw this change as a way to cheat the game’s difficulty. On the other hand, this made the game more accessible for players who found that there was not enough room to give their favourite units the experience they needed.
That is why this is a great entry point for people who want to get into the older Fire Emblem games, but still want to have the safety of being able to grind that the newer games provide. The game covers the story of the twin royals from Renais, who need to keep the eponymous stones safe after their neighboring kingdom of Grado started their grand invasion. After a few missions, players are given the choice of following Eirika’s story or, if they would rather, play her brother Ephraim’s tale. During each story, players find a different cast of characters and going through both provides a more in-depth view of the story. As a ready-made two-in-one package, it’s a highly recommended entry in the series from any standpoint.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Available on: Nintendo GameCube
In 2005 the series jumped to the third dimension with the release of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance on the Nintendo GameCube. After skipping the Nintendo 64, though a project for it was started, the series was back on a Nintendo home console and this was one of the entries that led it to become a mainstay in the west. Even though the game feels a lot more modern than its immediate predecessors, it still features the same combat that western players were introduced to on the Game Boy Advance. However, one of the biggest changes is the battle preparation screen. Between missions players are able to go to the camp, get information on the previous battle, gain bonus experience, and prepare units for the upcoming battle. Players can also talk to characters to gain new information or even get some support conversations in.
The game follows Ike, a mercenary within his father’s company, who gets enrolled in the war between Daein and Crimea by accident. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance builds a world with new races, kingdoms, and history, and can be seen as a response to the popularity of Final Fantasy Tactics. Unfortunately, those who want to play the game now might need to pay quite some money to get the game, since its price on the second-hand market has gone up by quite a bit. Let’s hope Nintendo will provide GameCube games on the Nintendo Switch in the future, as it’s a very strong entry well worth checking out.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Available on: Nintendo Wii
If there is one word to describe Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, it’s “ambitious.” The preceding game Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, was the first console Fire Emblem in many years, so perhaps the developers at Intelligent Systems wanted to outdo themselves with its direct sequel. Radiant Dawn‘s story begins with Micaiah, leader of the Dawn Brigade trying to drive out the occupying forces of Begnion from her home of Daein. To say it escalates from there would be an understatement, but it is a very intricate story, even if it stumbles a bit. The gameplay is equally as grand, as it expands upon returning features and adds its own. There are many more skills and classes, the battle maps are incredibly nuanced, and there is even an elevation mechanic, the first (and so far only) time one has appeared in a Fire Emblem game.
Although fantastic in many respects, Radiant Dawn is not easy on Fire Emblem newbies, many of which might have jumped in here with the success of the Wii. Permadeath strikes hard here, and though Radiant Dawn is by no means brutal — there is even an Easy difficulty setting — players new to the series may not realize they will lose a unit if their HP reaches zero. It can also be difficult to level enough units effectively. There is much to love for veteran Fire Emblem fans and those who enjoy a challenge, but newbies may want to start somewhere friendlier.
Fire Emblem Awakening
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
There was a deep concern in the years after the release of Radiant Dawn that the Fire Emblem series was unlikely to reemerge. However, five years later came a resurgence for the series in the form of Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS. Set 2000 years after the original Fire Emblem, Awakening focuses on Chrom and his army known as the Shepards, along the way picking up the player character, known canonically as Robin (though players could choose both the name and gender for the protagonist) as they journey across Ylisse and defend it from the Risen, undead invaders from the nation of Plegia.
Awakening was a game-changer for the series in the west as it was the first to allow players to turn permadeath off and play in Casual Mode. Although hotly debated by series fans, and the development team itself, the addition of Casual Mode had allowed a whole new group of fans to appreciate the series without the fear and disappointment of losing a favourite unit. Without wishing to spoil too much, the game is also known for its take on the multiple-generations of characters and support conversations. Awakening is a fantastic recommendation for newcomers given its many accessibility options while still offering strategic and deep gameplay. On the secondary market, it won’t set you back a pretty penny compared to other games in the series.
Fire Emblem Fates
Available on: Nintendo 3DS
Fire Emblem Fates is best described as a story in three parts. The two initial stories of Fates are Birthright and Conquest, and they were actually released as separate titles. They each tell the story from the side of one of two countries as they fight against the other, with the players picking a side based on which version they have. As the story progresses through the two versions, it’s hinted that there is a much deeper plot going on, which is then worked through in the third route, available as DLC or in a special bundle, Revelations.
Mechanically, the game is an extension of what was started in Fire Emblem Awakening, as it leaned more into the social aspect of the characters, although certain elements ended up being a bit clunkily implemented. This one introduced a base that players can customize with buildings and shops, allowing them further opportunities to interact with the characters in their army. Combat-wise the three routes play very differently. Birthright is very beginner-friendly, with most maps coming down to just wiping out the enemy army. Conquest has the easily most map variety with a lot of objective-based maps where players must fulfill certain conditions to continue on. Revelations play very similar to Birthright on most maps objectives, but the maps themselves have some unique concepts.
Sadly, accessibility for this entry is a mixed bag. Although Birthright and Conquest both had physical releases, Revelations was a DLC-only option, and with the closing of the 3DS store, this game is a lot harder to get a hold of to play. And if players want to be able to experience the full story for the game, Revelations is a requirement.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Want more social elements in your tactical RPG? Then Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a great place to start. Three Houses, the first entry to launch on Nintendo Switch, leans into the social aspects of its gameplay more than any other game in the series. Its school setting allows the player to teach, train, and learn more about their students before the battle. What makes this great is the stellar, and extremely large, cast of characters that all have their own unique personalities and backgrounds that also help to build the world of Fódlan. The world is divided between three ruling powers, which are connected through the Garreg Mach Monastery that houses the school and church. The player can choose one of the three houses, Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deers to teach and lead in battle. Each route has its own endings that feature political, religious, and interpersonal stories.
Three Houses is also one of the most accessible games in the series. There are many quality-of-life features and custom difficulty options, like switching off permanent death, that can help ease newcomers of the genre into combat. However, for players looking for a more challenging or hardcore tactical experience, this may not be the best place to start. Combat certainly isn’t bad, but it’s easier compared to the rest of the series and lacks depth which may make it seem less engaging for some. Despite that, Three Houses is a great entry in the series that boasts an excellent story and it is perfect for those looking for a less hardcore tactical game.
Fire Emblem: Engage
Available on: Nintendo Switch
Fire Emblem: Engage offers a refreshing take on the traditional Fire Emblem gameplay while still staying true to the core mechanics of the series. It acts as both a celebration of the past while bringing a few new elements to the series’ gameplay. The primary innovation comes from Emblems, characters from previous entries in the series. These previous protagonists are given a colorful remake within Engage, and can link with their Emblem Ring bearers to grant them additional power, skills, and even fully merge with them for a full power up that adds another element to the rest of the strategy mechanics, which are in full force.
The weapon triangle strategy found in previous games gets its most robust outing with the different add-ons building out from it. The available skills and combos allow units to work together to perform powerful attacks, and the game has some substantial battles, that cover multiple phases and maps. At the heart of the game is the cast engaging with the Emblems, and merging with them is flashy and satisfying, with the game making use of the Switch with its colourful graphics.
While not as in-depth as Three Houses in its social simulation elements, Engage features a diverse cast of characters that players can grow to love and care about. There are a variety of unique character classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses, and players can customize their units to fit their play style. While the overall narrative certainly isn’t as strong as its predecessors, it’s one that’s very much built to satisfy those who like utilising the available mechanics.
Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE
Available on: Nintendo Wii U, Nintendo Switch
Tokyo Mirage Sessions is a fascinating blend of two great franchises, with the gameplay of the Persona series with the characters and weapon triangle of Fire Emblem. Combining both works remarkably well and is a combination that fans of both franchises should play. With that said, as someone who played this before a modern Persona game, the weapon triangle makes re-learning the regular Persona combat style a bit more difficult. Similarly, it is a poor game to start with if one actually wants to learn much about Fire Emblem and what it’s all about due to the turn-based combat being completely unlike anything else in the tactical franchise.
The story is a lot of fun, and seeing cast members from both Fire Emblem Awakening and Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon merge with the modern world and idol culture was a great, unexpected surprise when the game was announced. Everything in the game from the characters and story to the gameplay, visuals, and music is of great quality. Fans of either of those games as well as the Persona franchise would be doing themselves a favour by checking this game out, as time has made it an underrated gem.
Fire Emblem Heroes
Available on: Android, iOS
Fire Emblem Heroes is symbolic of many RPG franchises, with a mobile game able to capitalize on the popularity of its characters. Luckily, there’s a decent game attached to it, as while the gameplay is simplistic, it still has all the staples of Fire Emblem as a whole, serving as a great introduction to how the system works. The mobile game has lasted for years and spawned many memorable characters unique to the game. The developers keep adding fun conversations through bonding events and tempest trials that have conversations between groups of characters, some of which may have never met before. Fire Emblem Heroes introduces new characters on a weekly basis and has been around for years, giving players access to over a thousand units in the game.
Fire Emblem Heroes provides newcomers multiple introductions to the various casts of characters in each game, while series fans can have fun seeing adorable alternate versions with abilities they’d never have in their original titles. Attaching to a favourite here, then going back to explore their full story in their proper Fire Emblem title is a lot of fun. There is a drawback though, as characters are summoned using limited currency, with the rarest characters having low chances of being pulled. This makes it very difficult to even collect one copy of every character, never mind maxing the level of the character, and the temptation to dump real-world currency into the game for more chances at those units is always there. Some of the harder content can be tough to pull off, but not impossible, without doing so and free currency is given out at a decent rate, so it isn’t too frustrating to enjoy on its own merits. Being a mobile game it’s easy to jump in and do a few fights and get enthralled with the characters that span the entirety of the Fire Emblem franchise.
Fire Emblem Warriors
Available on: Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch
Like Tokyo Mariage Sessions, Fire Emblem Warriors blends two franchises, using the gameplay of a typical Warriors musou as a foundation and adding the tactics of the Fire Emblem series. Merging a deliberative turn-based tactical series with hack-and-slash action sounds like a curious idea, but the team at Omega Force is up to the task. Its action is brought to bear with players able to command eight fights at once and the weapon triangle is alive and well. Commanders must be careful not to send their warriors off against the wrong opponents, or they will meet a quick end.
The story of the main campaign provides a thread-bare excuse to bring together fighters from the various Fire Emblem games spanning most of the franchise. It all becomes easy to forgive, however, once players get to play their franchise favorites fighting dozens of enemy soldiers all at once. While the cutscenes of attacks have always been a highlight of the series, they pale to the anime-inspired musou attacks unleashed by fan favorite heroes such as Lucina or Owain. The addictive gameplay is further enhanced by a beefy post-game where players re-visit famous battles of the prior titles. Fire Emblem Warriors is not only a fantastic musou game, but a great celebration of the franchise as a whole.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes
Available on: Nintendo Switch
The second musou title to be developed by Omega Force, Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is a banger of an action RPG. Set in the same world as Fire Emblem: Three Houses, it occurs in an alternate timeline where protagonist Byleth serves as an antagonist, and our new hero Shez, has their sights set on revenge. Similar to Three Houses, the game offers three unique routes based on which character Shez chooses to join, with the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deers making their return.
Fire Emblem Warriors: Three Hopes is such a fun addition to the Three Houses world given how memorable the cast is. Besides its great cast of characters, it also sports highly addictive action gameplay, with Fire Emblem’s class system integrated fully. This means different class types will play differently, and there are so many different playstyles to enjoy, on top of the fun musou gimmick of mowing down hundreds of enemies and completing various tasks such as escorting units or capturing enemy bases. Fire Emblem: Three Hopes is best recommended for those who enjoyed Three Houses, as certain characters and story elements may not make much sense to those without some background.
BS Fire Emblem: Archanea Senki-hen
Japan-only: Super Famicom, Nintendo DS
BS Fire Emblem: Archanea Senki-hen was a four-part episodic chapter that was a prequel leading into Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and Mystery of the Emblem. Unlike the traditional Fire Emblem maps, each episode was a single map but would throw wave after wave of enemies at the party for up to a three-hour time frame.
As this was part of the Satellaview service, the original streaming of the games not only contained maps but also voice acting for each of the characters. Sadly the games are a rarity since the Satellaview was shut down so only a pre-existing download from a cart would be able to play them and the voice acting was completely lost. A version of these episodes was made available with Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem for the DS retitled New Archanea Chronicles.
The Fire Emblem series has quite the history, and we hope you enjoyed our deep dive into this long-running franchise. Would you recommend a specific starting point? Join the conversation by dropping a comment below!