[Review] Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light – Nintendo Switch

  • Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo
  • Publisher: Nintendo
  • Release Date: 4/12/2020
  • Price: £5.39 / $5.99
  • Review code provided by Nintendo UK

Introducing: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light Switch Review

I grew up with a NES and played most of the big titles: Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Mega Man, Contra; you name it, I had it – or rented it. Years later, as I was playing Smash Bros Melee, I discovered Fire Emblem. It’s the lost Nintendo classic that never made it out of Japan. I was intrigued and after a few more years, I finally got to try it at my friend’s house. I died horribly, losing my main character in the first battle. Ever since, I‘ve stayed away from Fire Emblem for the most part. Now, I‘ve taken the plunge into Nintendo history with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light. The question now is, has it fared any better?

Critical Hit!

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light originally released as a Japan exclusive on the NES in 1990. However, a remake would make its way to the DS in 2008. While not the first time we‘ve seen this title, it is the first time it‘s been made available in its original format. If you‘ve played the title on the DS, the story is mostly intact; You take the role of Marth of Altea as he sets off to defeat the empire of Dolhr.

Over 25 chapters, you’ll be able to recruit new allies to your army. Hopefully, you don’t lose them because if they die, they‘re permanently gone! This can play a major role in the story as when every character dies, the game keeps moving – with the exception of Marth. This has the possibility to restrict which characters can be recruited throughout since they must interact with specific characters. In 1990, I’m sure this was groundbreaking in terms of storytelling, leaving so many different options open. In 2020 however, it is more common than not.

Comparing this title to present day SRPG’s in terms of story content seems very unfair to Fire Emblem. I feel this game should be seen from a historical perspective – like an unearthed time capsule. For the 90’s, this was exceptional. Having dialog between, before, during and after battles was new. The game was very long too. The story takes place over 25 missions, which can be very long if you are not sure what to do, like me.

Pegasus Knights!

Fire Emblem is a strategy RPG, and a tough one at that. It features permadeath for all soldiers in your army. Normally, this would be a deal breaker for me. I’m not the most talented in this genre but thankfully, we now have some modern additions in this port. First, the ability to make bookmarks – or save states – makes this game that much more accessible. You can also rewind your turns in case you make a bad move and lose a character or get into a pinch.

Besides the new additions, this game plays like a standard SRPG. Gameplay takes place on a grid map, with one army controlled by the player and another controlled by the computer. Characters can level up after each turn, gaining EXP by either defeating opponents, causing damage, or sometimes surviving attacks. Villages, shops, and other buildings dot the map, allowing you to gain information from the game in cryptic RPG fashion, as well as buying items and weapons. One major complaint I have is related to the enemy spawn rate. Certain levels push for you to finish rather quickly and to do this, the game throws enemies at you at an insanely high rate. At one point, I had over twenty enemies surrounding me, with 3 to 5 more spawning every turn. Instead of playing slow and careful, I had to run through the level to avoid the hordes.

Broken Sword!

Weapons are breakable in this title, which took me by surprise. Again, as this is the first time I have spent significant time with Fire Emblem, and I wasn’t happy to figure this out. Thankfully, they can be acquired from enemies, chests, and shops. The villages are split between two different types: ones that all characters can interact with, and those only Marth can. The basic villages will offer tips and hints on how to play the game or things to look out for, whereas the Marth-only sections can be used to recruit new characters. I found this out the hard way as I passed up on them until the 6th or 7th level.

Unearthed History!

We often get new stylized titles that look like NES games, but it isn’t often we get a brand new unreleased – in the west anyway – game. Because of this, it doesn’t hold that same nostalgia that other titles do. I didn’t grow up with Fire Emblem and seeing it in its pixelated glory doesn’t hold a candle the same way as Zelda II or SMB3 – titles I grew up with. While I can respect what it was going for, I‘m sure these graphics would‘ve been top notch for the Nintendo Entertainment System back in 1990. The animated battle scenes are quite nice, even if they do fight on just a solid black background. It also has a large variety of character classes available,

The music is a different story. I don’t know most songs, but when certain ones play, my Smash Brothers knowledge kicks in. I‘ll instantly recognize them and get goosebumps. The first time this happened, I almost jumped off my couch like Buddy the Elf, “I know this one!”. Sadly, not an exaggeration; I get this excited for video game music.

Seal of Quality!

Fire Emblem ran extremely smooth for the entirety of my playthrough. I would expect nothing less since it is a port of a NES game with minor additions. Regardless, if you prefer to play in handheld mode or docked, there is no wrong way here. I personally played more in handheld mode, favoring late night sessions, playing and replaying the same turn over until it was perfect.

Final Thoughts!

Reviewing a game from 30 years ago felt different than reviewing a newer title. Yes, this is its first official release in the west, but people have been playing this game via the remake and emulation for years. It is even available on the Japanese Nintendo Switch Online App – albeit in Japanese. Still, for $6, this is a piece of history that was still fun and playable. This pricing scheme is in-line with previous Virtual Console releases on the Wii-U too – Earthbound Beginnings was $7. If you are a fan of Nintendo history, pick this up while you can because it‘ll be unlisted after March 31st. For everyone else, there’s always Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

Pros

  • Piece of Nintendo history
  • Budget Nintendo title
  • Save states
  • Great length

Cons

  • Enemy spawn rate
  • Mechanics not explained
  • Pretty barebones

Verdict
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light is a true relic from Nintendo’s vault. Diehard fans will want to experience the beginning, while casual fans may choose to skip this aged title.

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