by Olimar 91
reviewed on NDS
Revisiting the Past
Nintendo has caught a lot of flak lately due to its seemingly nonchalant attitude towards the hardcore gaming audience. Yes it is true; as of late they have focused on the casual market, and gamers may feel like they have been forgotten. Rest assured, however, that Nintendo still cares about its loyal fans. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a slice of comfort pie made of classic Nintendo goodness.
Many gamers may not know that Shadow Dragon is actually a remake of the very first Fire Emblem game, which debuted exclusively in Japan on the Famicom (the Japanese version of the NES). Sadly for the rest of the world, Fire Emblem did not break out of Japan until a good ten years later. Luckily, Intelligent Systems and Nintendo have given us a peak into the past with the re-release of this classic old school game.
Rock Paper Scissors ver. 2.0
As a game with roots that go back quite a ways, Shadow Dragon is focused almost solely on gameplay. It is a strategy RPG in which you take command of your units one by one, command them as you see fit, and then allow your opponent to do the same. It is essentially like a game of chess, just with a much more complicated rulebook. Instead of simply bumping pieces off the board, you need to think about attack strategy. Each unit specializes in certain weaponry, and weapons affect different units in different ways. The basic rock-paper-scissors triangle can be substituted with sword-lance-axe. However, there are way more than three units and weapons, and Shadow Dragon has no shortage of item customization options. Newcomers may be overwhelmed by all of the options Shadow Dragon has to offer, but fans of the genre will eat it up.
One of the new additions to Shadow Dragon on the DS is an in-game tutorial that eases you into the experience. It starts off easily manageable, which is nice for entry-level players. As time goes by though, you’ll soon be wracking your brain to come up with the best battle strategies. Fire Emblem has a reputation for its devastatingly unforgiving death system: lose a unit in battle and it will never return. Whether or not you care about this will depend roughly on your obsessive-compulsive level and how attached you’ve become to your pawns. On the subject of the latter, I have to mention that I didn’t get the same level of attachment to the characters as I did in more recent Fire Emblem titles. Many are tossed into the mix without a proper introduction, which can lead to characters being seen as cannon fodder instead of as individuals who matter.
Another big addition is online functionality. You can battle against others through Nintendo’s Wi-fi, or shop in an online store. However, the online is practically unplayable. Since the game carries over unit stats from your main quest, you and your rival are almost guaranteed to be sorely uneven. In fact, I would not recommend heading online until you’ve raised your units to their maximum levels. Otherwise, prepare to lose. Fire Emblem has a great formula, but it works well for single player only. Even if you’re playing against a friend, odds are you’re not going to be on level playing grounds. I really wish that the developers had foreseen this potential flaw, and evened the field. Simply giving all players access to the same units would have solved the problem and ensured an equal experience for all.
Signs of Age
While the gameplay is fun, the games’ visuals are not up to modern standards. The maps where battles take place look good enough, with much added detail over past iterations. But when you engage an enemy, the battle animations aren’t quite up to par. The hand-drawn look is temporarily done away with in favor of sub par 3D models. As if the developers knew it would be disappointing, Shadow Dragon allows you to turn battle animations off. I can’t help but feel as though that they took the easy route out of the graphical inadequacies.
Another big falter in Shadow Dragon’s formula is the story and dialog. While certainly not atrocious, they don’t stand out in today’s market. This is to be expected when playing a game nearly twenty years old, but I can’t help but wish the developers had fleshed out the story a bit for the more modern gamer. I mentioned before that it lacked the drive that keeps you attached to each character. While it isn’t completely absent, there is noticeably less personality in these characters than in more recent games in the series, or in recent RPG’s in general for that matter. As much as I love getting to see the origins of the franchise, I couldn’t help but wish a completely original title had been made, especially because the DS is such a viable platform for the genre.
One area that hasn’t lost its luster over time is the music. The tracks still hold up quite well today, and there is even an unlockable sound player where you can reminisce over the soundtrack. The sound effects are also nice and quite diverse. For example, each unit class makes a unique sound as it traverses the terrain. It’s the little touches like these that make the experience more worthwhile. On a side note, I was a little disappointed with the actual quality of the audio on the DS. When wearing headphones, some of the sound came out a bit fuzzy. It’s a common problem on the DS, but still worth noting.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is, at its heart, a great game. It has some missed potential, and occasionally a lack of polish. Yet in the end what a game boils down to is the gameplay itself, and that is where Shadow Dragon excels. The classic Fire Emblem formula still holds up brilliantly today, and is a blast to play through. Whether you are new to the series or a veteran looking to see where the series began, Shadow Dragon should satisfy your appetite.
No Pros and Cons at this time