Retro Metro (12+1): Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Hello, lectores fidelissimi, and welcome back to the first Retro Metro of the 2017-2018 school year! Today, I shall be reviewing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a Nintendo DS port of the first Japan-exclusive game in the Fire Emblem series of games, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, for the good ol’ NES. In many ways, this game is quite similar to the game I reviewed back on the old Shield site, Shining Force II: the Sword of Hajya (SF2tSoH), which you can read about here. Okay, now that y’all have refreshed your memory on that game, we can continue.

The story of this game is kind of weird, so much so that the re-makers had to add a Prologue to the game in order to explain it. Basically, a long time ago an evil kingdom was led by the Shadow Dragon, and a good kingdom’s leader killed the dragon with the sword Falchion. Hundreds of years later, the Dragon is resurrected, and the good kingdom’s current king goes off to fight the bad kingdom now once again led by this Dragon, leaving behind a son, Marth, a daughter, and for some odd reason Falchion. The kids’ caretaker, however, betrays them to the bad kingdom, and so the good kingdom is ravaged, Falchion is stolen, the daughter dies, and Marth runs away with the remaining forces. Years later, he and some men start trying to take back the good kingdom, get a magical talisman called the Fire Emblem that somehow signifies Marth is to save the world, and eventually kill the Shadow Dragon. The taking-back bit is where the player comes in.

The gameplay is extremely similar to SF2tSoH: you have units and enemy units on a grid, and you move them around and kill enemies. There are, however, two key differences in battle: permadeath and the weapons triangle. In SF2tSoH, when a unit dies, you can revive it in Camp Mode for a small fee. In Shadow Dragon, however, when a unit dies it’s dead forever, and if Marth dies you must restart from your last save (more on that later). Furthermore, the three main types of weapons—swords, axes, and lances—form a “rock-paper-scissors” equivalent: lances deal more damage against swords, swords deal more damage against axes, and axes deal more damage against swords. There is also technically a triangle for the different types of ranged magic attacks, but it does not really matter.

In addition, there are also some smaller differences: weapons break after a set amount of uses and must be rebought at Camp, magic is not set by spells but by tomes (that also break), and units are divided into certain “classes.” These classes determine what kinds of weapons they can use and which stats (speed, health, attack, etc.) are higher. Classes can be changed at any time in Camp mode, but characters can only access classes if they are a certain level (based on experience points they earn through killing enemies), and at certain weapon proficiencies—this is based on how many times a character has used a kind of weapon, and determines what weapons of that kind he or she can use (higher proficiency weapons deal more damage). In addition, you do not beat a level by killing all of the enemies, but rather by getting Marth to a certain glowing square . . . which just so happens to always be occupied by the leader of the band of enemies you are fighting, who is, as you might expect, the most powerful of the bunch.

The saving process for this game is a bit unusual too. While at Camp or right before a battle, you can just save, but once you’re in battle you must use one of the two “save points” by having a character step on it. This saves your game as normal, but each of these points can only be used once. Related to this, as I mentioned earlier units in this game die permanently, and you might think that means you cannot win without using hundreds of health-restoring potions. Fortunately, that is not the case. After every battle, if you have a small enough amount of units, a bunch of random soldiers show up and join your army—so random, in fact, that they have been given “Octo,” “Quarto,” and other number-based names. You can also very occasionally steal units from your opponent’s team. Just keep in mind that you can only take a certain number of units with you into battle each level, and that more units means you must procure more weapons, health-restoring potions, etc., although every unit comes with a weapon.

This is actually a great segue into items. Like in SF2tSoH, units can carry a fixed number of items, including weapons, staves (for healers; these also have limited uses), potions, and, in this case, tomes, and, instead of attacking, can consume some or trade them. In this game, however, Marth and a handful of other units can put in and take out items from the “convoy,” the place where all your items not with a unit are stored. This is quite useful, as it allows items unusable by one unit to be put into the “convoy” and retrieved by a unit that can use them, among other applications.

Finally, we get to the part about the game’s graphics and music. The graphics are on par for a DS game, and presumably quite an improvement over the original’s. The music is pretty good, but the same song is used for each level, which can get boring after a while.

So, there y’all have it. I hope that this article inspires you to look into Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, or at least reignited some fond memories of 2016. Valete!

About Ben Buyer 12 Articles
Howdy-ho! My name is Ben Buyer, and my interests are pretty eclectic, ranging from Latin, to old video games, to The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (which some consider old), to South Park (and to a lesser extent, Futurama and The Simpsons), to Magic: the Gathering™. So, yeah, th-th-th-that's all, folks!

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