This strategy series might be a hot franchise these days, but it's been a bit of a slow burn to get there, taking more than a decade for the series to even make its debut outside of Japan. Now Nintendo is giving fans worldwide a chance to revisit the origins of Fire Emblem with the limited release of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. Playing the game is a bit like opening a time capsule from the early '90s, with 8-bit graphics, sounds, and complex, menu driven gameplay that made the most of what the original hardware was capable of. While it's certainly not pushing any boundaries by today's standards, the core mechanics and plot still stand the test of time.
Younger players might need a little help adjusting to this old school revisit. Without the grandiose cutscenes of today's games, the story's a narrative heavy experience. There's a lot of reading involved. Thankfully, a lot of time and effort went into the English localization of the game, so the text doesn't feel awkward or forced. After just a few battles, it's also easy to see how this original Fire Emblem didn't just build the framework for the series, but also laid the foundation for the entire tactical RPG (role-playing game) genre. Recruiting and training new units, arming them with key equipment and abilities, and planning out just which combinations will give the advantage were just as important back in the day as they are in modern tactical RPG games. And things like the potential permanent loss of units add to the risk of each battle and can change the entire course of the story. The game's newly added features, which include a rewind and save states, help to ease players into the experience though by offering a sort of do over when mistakes are made. Overall, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light isn't just a great taste of nostalgia for Fire Emblem fans, but it's a great history lesson on the evolution of an entire genre of gaming.