Welcome back! Last time, I talked a bit about the mechanics shared between Fire Emblem games and my personal appreciation for the franchise, so if you're interested in this series be sure to check part 1 here first.
I know about that, get on with the game suggestions already!
A little feisty are we? Alright, alright. While the series goes all the way back to the NES, you will see my suggestions will mainly follow recent entries, because improvements to the interface and the games' speed are hard to ignore. These suggestions will be divided in three categories: The games which I feel are best to get a taste of the franchise, the games which are good for people who already have some light experience with the series, and finally recommended titles that should wait until you already know what you're getting into.
Recommended titles to get you started:
Sometimes, 13 isn't an unlucky number! Fire Emblem Awakening is a pretty obvious recommendation. A lot of elements in this game are designed for less experienced or more casual play, which make it perfect as a first entry. One of these features, for example, is the ability to turn permanent death off. When Casual Mode is selected, characters that fall during battle return after the battle is over. That way, you can play with your favorite units without any worry of losing them forever. While this does make battles less intense, it's entirely optional and could be a better fit for people starting out. It's also possible to battle between chapters to increase your armies' levels in case you're struggling on a chapter. As such, it gives you the most tools to make the game easier if you want it to be.
Chapter objectives are also simplified. While the Fire Emblem series often has some stressful mission objectives that put pressure on the player (Escaping a map alive, surviving for a number of turns, defending non-playable units and the like), Fire Emblem Awakening cut it down to two basic objectives: Either a mission asked you to defeat every enemy, or to defeat a boss. So it's a more basic entry that's perfect as a starting point.
Awakening also focuses more on the relationship between characters. The ability for romance between units returns from Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War on the SNES, this type explained by a time travel story instead of the natural passage of time. So if you're into shipping, you'll be delighted by the amount of couples you'll be able to create simply to leaving two units together on the battlefield. Their kids will join you in battle, and you can romance either the parents OR the kids with your own custom Avatar. Technology is so great you guys.
While some of these features, like creating your own avatar and casual mode, were actually introduced in the previous game in the franchise, that game never made it outside Japan. So yeah.
This is a good game to get started.
Name: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Alternate name: Fire Emblem 8
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Grinding outside arenas: Possible
eShop price: 8 USD on Wii U
Noteworthy feature: Multiplayer that completely strips away the whole tactical positionning concept
This game is also a great way to get started for a beginner, even without Awakening's newer additions. Sure, mistakes aren't as forgiving as in Awakening since there's no way to turn off permanent death. But apart from that, it's possible to roam the world map to battle between chapters, so you can grind away any roadblock. Your units are also super strong in The Sacred Stones, and the difficulty of each chapter is on the lower end for the series.
One thing I really liked about Sacred Stones is the introduction of monster units. When you're still a kid, fighting zombies and floating eyeballs is sooo cool. And the final boss in particuliar is a fantastic design in my opinion. These monster units make regular battles so more entertaining than the same old concept of fighting bandits pillaging a city.
But I digress. The Sacred Stones keeps all the features from the two previous Game Boy Advance games, but the ability to grind and the stronger party units make it much better suited as a first game compared to the other Game Boy Advance titles. You can also choose between Ephraim and Eirika, the two siblings on the image above, as your main character. That's always an appreciated feature!
Recommended titles once you already dipped your feet:
Name: Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword
Alternate names: Fire Emblem, Fire Emblem 7
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Grinding outside arenas: No
eShop price: 8 USD on Wii U
Noteworthy features: Being the first title released outside of Japan, threesome
This game is great! If you're still shaky on the fundamentals, or if it's been a while since you played a game in this series, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword has pretty much the perfect balance. It walks you right through a rather lengthy tutorial to begin with, where you follow Lyn (green-haired gal on the wallpaper) who seeks to avenge the death of her tribe. It's a very slow-paced and delicate introduction that makes sure you understand all the core gameplay concepts before going any further. One Lyn's story is over, you can choose between Eliwood's or Hector's campaign, respectively the red-headed dad and the badass dude wielding an axe in the image above.
The game ramps up quite a bit in difficulty from that point onwards, especially if you play on Hard mode. Enemies are much more dangerous than in Sacred Stones, and you cannot grind between chapters to make your life easier. The only way to grind battles is to participate in the Arena during a chapter, which is very risky.
Fire Emblem: The Blazing Sword is technically a prequel to Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (Roy's game), also on the GBA. But there is absolutely no need to play that game first in order to appreciate this one. In fact, since Blazing Sword was the first Fire Emblem released outside of Japan, most people who love this game haven't played The Binding Blade.
This one is a favorite for a lot of people, and I'm quite fond of it as well. It's unclear how much of it is genuinely the game's quality, and how much of it is the nostalgia that comes with the first entry you play in a series. If tried this after Awakening or The Sacred Stones, I'm very interested to hear what you think about it.
Name: Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Alternate names: Fire Emblem 9
Platform: Nintendo Gamecube
Grinding outside arenas: No
Very expensive online, eBay or Craigslist might help
Noteworthy features: Slaying filthy sub-humans
Path of Radiance is possibly my favorite entry in the franchise, thanks to its fun cast and interesting story, but be aware! This game is the most challenging listed so far. Not only are encounters generally more challenging, at least in personal experience, but there is also a new mechanic to take into account known as Biorhythm. As you progress through combat and battles, characters will alternative between feeling good and feeling not so good, which impacts accuracy and the ability to dodge attacks. You'll want to take that into account and make sure to use units while they're feeling good as much as possible.
Like The Blazing Blade, Path of Radiance lacks the ability to grind skirmishes, and the permanent loss of allies might prove to be too much for first-time players. Once you have some experience under your belt, however, there is a greatly satisfying SRPG to experience here, which everyone should try out.
Recommended titles once your hunger knows no bounds:
Name: Fire Emblem Fates (Conquest Edition)
Alternate name: Fire Emblem 14
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Grinding outside arenas: No, unless you buy DLC
Roughly 40 USD on Amazon and eShop
Noteworthy features: Dress up your own castle, have sex with members of your adoptive family.
I've talked about this game a lot, haven't I? Fire Emblem Fates is both great and terrible, but you can maximize the greatness and minimize the bad by sticking to a single version of the game: This one.
Let's start with a quick overview. Fire Emblem Fates sticks a lot to the Fire Emblem Awakening formula, which is understandable since it's, you know, the best-selling entry. Another difficulty setting even easier than Casual Mode is introduced, Phoenix Mode. Units that fall in battle return the following turn. As long as you don't get completely wiped out, your army will keep coming back while enemy units are gone forever. Talk about tipping the scales in your favor!
Baby-making also comes back, and the reasoning is even less logical than in Awakening: You stick your baby in a fast-forward land beyond time between chapters, so you have the time to raise them until teenage years in the few hours in universe between chapters. If that made you scratch your heads, be aware that the story in general in Fire Emblem Fates is something you shouldn't take seriously, unless you want to give yourself serious brain injuries. There are some nice improvements to the gameplay over Awakening, though, which is why I recommend the Conquest version.
See, Fire Emblem Fates comes into two flavors (technically three, but one version can only be purchased if you own one of the other two). While the units, classes and general gameplay mechanics are the same between them, Nintendo or Intelligent Systems made the puzzling decision to split off important gameplay elements with what should have been a purely story-based process. If you buy Conquest, you prefer to side with Nohr compared to Hoshido during the upcoming war... OR you prefer to play the game with more varied mission objectives and no ability to grind. On the flip side, if you buy the Birthright version, you decided to side with Hoshido OR your prefer a streamlined version of Fire Emblem most similar to Awakening. The version split is my number one issue with Fates.
But, if you stick to Conquest and ignore the puzzling story, you'll find a very nice game here. The return of varied mission objectives mean some fantastic highlights like the infinite staircase. In that mission, you need to climb a large set of stairs while being pursued by enemies that respawn infinitely and don't give experience. You really feel the desire to escape this madness! Weapon durability is also removed in this entry, which means you don't have to micromanage the uses of your favorite weaponry. A new weapon type, daggers, is introduced and adds a lot to the game! It's a weaker physical weapon that can be used at close range or at a distance, and decreases the opponent's stats after combat. Really useful for support characters!
Basically, while I have my fair share of issues, it's hard not to recommend Fire Emblem Fates (Conquest) if you have prior experience with the series because of the gameplay refinements over Awakening.
Name: Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Alternate name: Fire Emblem 4
Platform: Super Famicom
Grinding outside arenas: No
I saw an english copy of this floating on eBay, buy at your own risk.
Noteworthy feature: Invented the weapon triangle and having sex
Official english release: Nope!
This game is a very important milestone in the series. It's the first game with the weapon triangle, which added a lot to the game's depth (even if it's a bit nonsensical). It's also a big, sprawling adventure. The game's war takes place over two generations, hence the title. That means for the first time in the series, you can hook up characters together, concept that would eventually make a return in Awakening and Fates. This affects the second generations' skills, so it's worth messing with. If you don't hook characters up or too many parents die, that's fine too! Substitute army members will appear instead of the kids, so you're never screwed over by this system.
The maps in this game tend to be huuuuuuuge. You need to travel over huge areas and capture multiple objectives per chapter. And while it's definitely a faster game compared to the NES games, the animations and interface are just not quite to the level of GBA entries and onwards. It's definitely the slowest game in this recommendation list, so you best be patient. It still has a special place in my heart for being so important to the series, and because the story is genuinely very interesting!
Unfortunately, there's no official English release of this game, so you'll have to hunt a translation online if you want to play it. Don't lose hope, though! Games 1 and 3 in the franchise already have remakes, so after Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (A remake of the second entry in the franchise, Fire Emblem Gaiden) remaking the fourth game is a no brainer! We might get a translated remake of this game before long.
Name: Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow
Alternate name: Fire Emblem 12
Grinding outside arenas: You can access the arena between chapters, so kinda?
Good luck finding this one
Noteworthy features: Introduced the circle-jerked self-insert and Casual Mode. Also has a ridiculously long title.
Official english release: Nope!
I'm not done with this one, but I'm really digging it so far. It's a remake of the second part of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem on the Super Famicom with a lot of improvements. There are a lot more units to recruit, allowing you to have a much more balanced team overall since that game was all over the place. You can create your own unit in this game, like in Awakening and Fates. This remake also adds chapters that focus on your Avatar and a group of assassins sent after Marth. If you prefer playing without permanent death, you can also turn it off for the first time in the series!
The ability to reclass any class into any other for free allows you to customize your army just the way you want it. If you want to change your armored soldier into a frail mage, you can! You can be as ridiculous or strategic as you want. You can also forge better weapons and give them a name. You could totally self insert as King Arthur wielding Excalibur!
The game is fairly challenging. I'm playing on Hard Classic right now and it took me by surprise a few times. Enemy stats aren't unsurmountable, but you don't always have a lot of breathing room to take it slow. Reinforcements can also make your day a lot worse, and there are plenty of them! So even if you're experienced with the series, I don't suggest playing above Hard without a guide... Unless you crave punishment you sicko.
Unfortunately, this game hasn't been officially released outside Japan, so you'll have to hunt down a translation online. Come on, Nintendo! If not for this game, you would have a perfect localization streak between Game Boy Advance and 3DS entries.
Cool, alright. Got any hot tips?
Sure! For starters, once you get a unit of the Dancer or Bard class, you want to train them and make them a permanent member of your team. The ability to give another action to the unit that needs it most is invaluable, and can really make the difference in a dangerous situation. You can attack twice with a powerful character. You can attack with a close ranged character, give that unit another action and escape with it leaving the spot open for someone else to attack. You can heal two characters with a single healer. The possibilities are endless, and since Dancers get experience by using their ability even when not taking part in combat there's no reason not to use one.
Attacking on your turn can be risky. It's a good idea to position yourself to let yourself be attacked by enemies if you're not sure you'll get the kill on your turn and you think you can survive a turn of attacks. Let's say two players are playing the same chapter with identical units. Player A attacks on their turn, while Player B lets the enemy attack first. The enemy unit has 20 HP, his own unit has 22 HP, and both units deal 12 damage. After the first round of combat, for both players the enemy unit has 8 HP and their own unit has 10 HP. But, player A will be attacked by the enemy unit on the next turn and lose their character, while player B has the opportunity to strike first and win combat (or, at the very least, escape and heal). See how much safer it is to let enemies attack you when you're not guaranteed to get a kill?
Don't be afraid to use promoted units! Fire Emblem games often start you off with a strong unit that gains a lot less experience than other units and has shittier level ups, and a typical reflex is to hide them on a corner of the map to make sure they'll never take away precious exp. The thing, though, is that you're pretty much guaranteed to waste experience on units you won't use in the end game anyway, and you can use these stronger units as shields for weaker units until they can level up. If they're not going to be used anyway, why not let them catch a grenade for you? Throw their heads on a blade for you? Jump in front of a train for you? You know they'd do anything for you!
Take decisions keeping in mind that the worst can happen. Are you really willing to take a 45% chance that the unit you want to train dies? Maybe it's a better idea to let a stronger unit take care of this one. You can make bold decisions if you're pushed against the wall, but there are a lot of opportunities to train every kind of unit. Close ranged units can kill squishy characters like mages or especially archers, long range characters can wait until an enemy is close to death and finish them off without ever being in danger.
Enemies that can attack a single character will attack this character unless their AI prevents movement in general. It's a good idea to check the edges of the reach (or Danger Zone) of the enemy team. If you can move into the range of a single unit while the other sides are safe, you can throw a character that's good against that enemy on that spot for an easy victory.
Anyway, with all this you should be more than ready to face whatever's in your way. Of course, if you have any personal experience with these games to share or questions about a specific entry, I'll be happy to hear it! For now, folks, I'll just return to Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Hair.