Fire Emblem may not be as pervasive as some of Nintendo’s other franchises or mascots, but it’s managed to make quite the name for itself in the twelve or so years it’s been here in the US. Little did we know that beyond that boyish Marth character who made everyone ask “who’s that guy?” when looking at the Super Smash Bros. Melee roster lay one of the deepest and most rewarding series Nintendo has ever made. Its battles are tough, its characters as diverse as they are mortal, and on the Game Boy Advance, you could mistake those little sprites and their animations for actual cartoons.
With the latest two Fire Emblem games coming out tomorrow, we felt compelled to look back on the series and rank our favorites that have made it to America. Surprisingly there are still almost a half-dozen Fire Emblem games that haven’t come to America in any form, be it a remake or a localization on the Virtual Console; hopefully someday American fans will be able to easily play them all.
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6. Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn: Released for the Wii, a console that tried to attract audiences that weren't typically into games, Radiant Dawn offered no quarter to new players and was punishingly difficult, even by Fire Emblem standards. Fans who'd imported the series for years may have liked that, but its curve was much too steep for most; where most of these games take a while to get rolling and make sure you're up to speed, Radiant Dawn wasted no time in forcing you to make key decisions as early as its third or fourth mission. And following the sprawling Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn didn't have the charm or characters to make those frustrating decisions as rewarding.
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5. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon: A remake of the original Fire Emblem had to happen sometime. Marth was far too popular a character for there to not be a game starring him in the States. But while the game made sense from that perspective, it didn't offer much else in terms of new ideas or memorable characters; it felt too much like just another Fire Emblem game. "Just another Fire Emblem game" is still a good one, but it's made lesser by the fact that most of the games higher on this list offered something besides the series' core strategy conceit. In Shadow Dragon, there was only Marth and his character portrait, giving you the coldest, sternest look you'd ever gotten from a videogame character.
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4. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance: Because the series somehow managed to skip the Nintendo 64 entirely (opting instead to appear on the Super Nintendo as late as 1999), Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was the series' first foray into 3D graphics. The characters looked a bit stilted compared to the livelier character sprites on the Game Boy Advance entries, but the characters, and especially the writing, made the jump worthwhile. And that's what matters, honestly; you can cut out battle animations, but you can't make bad dialogue and boring missions go away. Thankfully, Path of Radiance has great characters and enough mission variety to make up for the dull graphics and animations.
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3. Fire Emblem: The first Fire Emblem released in the US had a much longer title in Japan, but it served as a great introduction to the series; without much of a resting point between missions to recoup from a loss, every decision on the battlefield mattered. The story was also smarter than you'd expect, switching protagonists mid-campaign and offering some nice twists towards the end. It didn't have a hook beyond simply being Fire Emblem, but didn't need one—getting to see the series in action was more than enough for people wondering if this series was any good or not.
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2. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones: The first Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem may have been the series' actual introduction to the West, but I would argue Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones would have made for a much better starting point for most folks. It was still ridiculously hard, but made concessions towards fans of other RPGs; namely, you could grind all of your characters into prime shape, buy and sell your weapons at your leisure, and go back and take on some side missions. You could breeze through the game this way, and this might have put some fans of the series' difficulty off, but Sacred Stones still managed to make you sweat the small stuff on several occasions. The cast was also diverse and likable enough that you wanted to make sure everyone made it through each mission, prompting the save-and-restart mentality that would carry many a fan through the rest of the games in the series.
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1. Fire Emblem: Awakening: After a three-year drought of Fire Emblem games after Shadow Dragon, Fire Emblem: Awakening was exactly the game we needed. Not only did it feature some of the best mission design the series had ever seen, its between-mission character growth was something few strategy-RPGs can pull off—giving each character their own personal story arc while making them all worthwhile. Even when the end-of-the-world plot took some eye-rolling turns, the personal stories of how every one of your troops ended up marrying each other more than picked up the slack. It wasn't a perfect game (had it let me marry Miriel and Cherche it would have qualified for a spot on my "Greatest of All Time" list), but it blazed new paths for the series without disrupting its core. Awakening was everything that made Fire Emblem great and more, and fans couldn't have asked for better from a sequel this late into a series' life.