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Thursday, October 22, 2020

Three reasons why Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light coming to Nintendo Switch isn't great...

By LUDWIG VON KOOPA - And dispelling the one reason why people do think it's great.

Today, Nintendo of America had big news. In fact, it was big AND had a lot of suspense. So much mystery... they put question marks in their announcement trailer:

They had to make it a mystery, because otherwise no one would watch it if they really knew what was going on. Nintendo is bringing the original Famicom title of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light to the Nintendo Switch... in English! With all of the mystery, you'd think it'd be Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, which Americans were just begging for a month ago because Japan got it as part of their Nintendo Switch Online subscription. By the way, that game is both a remake of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light AND a sequel.

A lot of very ignorant people think this is great news, but I'm going to explain why it's not with three reasons, plus addressing one reason why people think it's good news. Speaking as a Fire Emblem long-time fan.

Why Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light isn't a good game

There are a lot of nice things that only came later on in the series. Basically, Fire Emblem wasn't good until later on in the SNES. The first game was missing a lot of things, like the weapon triangle, promoted classes for most units, checking enemy attack ranges, trading, modern stats and weapon ranks, support conversations, a Resistance stat above zero, staff-using characters ever getting level ups, and more. The game didn't figure out the whole units-have-personality thing yet. Many units—playable characters—have the exact same character art/portrait, and few, if any, lines of dialogue or backstory. The development philosophy back then was that your units are disposable, as opposed to the more modern philosophy that recognises most people reset the game if a character dies in battle.

A lot of this goes against what mechanically makes Fire Emblem a good series today, and modern players will be tremendously unimpressed with this first game. The trailer promises “quality of life” features, but these are what you see on Nintendo Switch Online today (save points of your choosing, rewind) plus a fast-forward. Those don't address the basic problematic mechanical issues.

It's a limited release

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is coming out on December 4, 2020 in two forms: A $5.99 Nintendo eShop download, and a $49.99 while-supplies-last physical thing with “a nostalgic, stylized physical NES box and a replica NES Game Pak art piece”, and “a colorful, 222-page Legacy of Archanea deluxe hardbound art book and a game download code.” ...In other words, you have to download it from the Nintendo eShop either way.

Unfortunately, it “will only be available to purchase until the end of the franchise's 30th anniversary on March 31, 2021.” This happens to be a familiar date, since it's the last day you'll be able to buy Super Mario 3D All-Stars before that also no longer becomes available.

It makes some sort of financial sense for Nintendo to do a limited-edition thing of Super Mario 3D All-Stars, but I don't understand the rationale for pulling Fire Emblem off the digital shelves.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon already exists on DS

I'm not saying this in a “well this localisation obviously took no effort for Nintendo to put together” way, because Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on the DS (which came out in the United States in 2009 and HAD MARTH TALKING IN ENGLISH) made script changes and added several gameplay elements and extra stuff. It's not as easy as directly copy-pasting the DS script to the NES (Famicom) one. ...That said, a lot of the work was already done, since everything in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light is a subset of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. (Note that the DS version dropped the Falchion reference from the original title.)

Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon DS vs NES English localization comparison Pirates of Galder
Was Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon an unofficial localisation?
In any case, Ogma has been saying the same thing for years.

If you REALLY want to explore Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, you can still buy it on the Wii U Virtual Console for $9.99. (Unless Nintendo decides to take it down.) It's not a great game, and I think it's much more of the reason that the Fire Emblem series was almost dead as opposed to the popular narrative that it's Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn's faults (Shadow Dragon came out after and was much, much worse, since Ike's games are the best in the entire franchise). The reason it's so bad is because it had terrible source material in the first game of the series, with its many problems.

Don't assume this'll get Nintendo to localise more games

I looked like an idiot for years saying MOTHER 3 is coming out soon because of the release of EarthBound Beginnings. Then we tried to pull the HEY IT'S A 10-YEAR ANNIVERSARY card, but anniversaries are irrelevant... and only matter if Nintendo decides it matters. In other words, the date doesn't give meaning. Nintendo gives the meaning and uses it as a cute tie-in to whatever they were already doing.

In other words, EarthBound Beginnings didn't lead to anything further. There's clear precedent to suggest that Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light wouldn't, either, if you wanted other, much better, Fire Emblem games to be localised. I've seen many people suggest “If we buy this, it'll prove to Nintendo there's a demand for the thing we really want!” Listen, no one asked for this specific game. Nintendo will just do whatever they want, and you'll buy it anyway, whether it's a new game or an old game.

This also clearly never worked for Ace Attorney Investigations 2. Different company, same principle.

Ludwig has no plans in buying this game, because the only reason anyone would is because it has the name Fire Emblem, instead of looking at the merits of the game and seeing it's horrendously outdated. What do YOU think about it?

Why is Super Mario 3D All-Stars disappearing on March 31, 2021? It's a celebration!
Only the DS remake really shows Marth's true colours... of blood red.


  1. Replies
    1. I first thought we'd be getting Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, 'cause it was Roy.

  2. The limited release thing is annoying.

    About people taking this as some sign of hope for Mother 3, I think it does shed some tiny amount of hope there in that it says Nintendo is willing to look at a really old unlocalized game and decide to suddenly localize it.

    1. Even if Shadow Dragon was a good game (and by comparison, Sacred Stones is pretty average for a Fire Emblem game, but that's still good overall... I can't say the same for Shadow Dragon), the limited release thing is apparently now a growing trend and has to be opposed.

      As far as I can see, Nintendo is only interested in looking at really old and bad games and localising those, not any game.


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