Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon
Marc "DjinniMan" Allie
PopCap - XBLA
The Fire Emblem series has been around for a long time, though only recently in the United States. Turn based strategy with RPG elements was a good fit for the Game Boy Advance, and now it's available for the DS. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is a remake of the Japan-only original Famicom Fire Emblem game, and features Marth, of Smash Brothers fame.
Gameplay in Fire Emblem is simple, yet quite deep. You are presented with a wide variety of units to command, ranging from heavily armored Knights and swift mounted Cavaliers to sword wielding Mercenaries and invaluable Clerics. Once you choose your army, your units take the battlefield. Different units are effective in different situations; for example, Pegasus Knights have high mobility, but can be wiped out by a single Archer. Knights are almost immune to physical damage, but can easily be slain by magic.
Playing Fire Emblem on the DS is one of those "eureka" moments. The touch screen is well suited to moving units and navigating menus quickly, and the second screen, switching from detailed unit information to a wider view of the map, is quite handy too. This type of game plays so much better on the DS, you'll wonder how you made it on the GBA. The graphics are cleaner, especially on the field map. I found myself missing the excellent hand drawn animations of previous Fire Emblem games, as Shadow Dragon uses 3D rendered, cel shaded models. These look nice overall, much better than more realistic models of the Gamecube and Wii Fire Emblem games. Still, you can't beat hand drawn animation.
Fire Emblem games are reknowned for their brutal difficulty. Unit death is permanent, and if you are a perfectionist like me, that means you will restart maps often. Shadow Dragon is not quite as tough as previous games, though; for one thing, enemy units, particularly bosses, seem far weaker. Additionally, there are multiple save points on each map, which is a welcome addition. For those who prefer the older, hardcore style there are several different difficulty levels available from the beginning. I find the game quite enjoyable on normal now, generally having to replay chapters perhaps two or three times. It's still challenging, but I haven't thrown my DS across the room yet. (My poor old GBA got tossed a few times, I have to say.) I played a few chapters on 2 star hard, and it was nearly impossible to keep all my units alive. These harder difficulty levels will certainly add to the game's replayability.
All in all, Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon is an excellent title. The gameplay elements are well suited to the unique capabilities of the DS. The changes to difficulty might alienate old fans, but certainly make the game more casual friendly. I found myself missing some of the innovations of previous games, like rescuing units, for example. But for a remake of a game two decades old, it holds up very well. Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon has been the only game in my DS for over a month now, and I don't see that changing anytime soon!