Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light’s Super Nintendo Remake Deserves a Localization
Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light is a great game that might have arguably aged far better than the vast majority of the NES’s catalog, but why would Nintendo not bring over its pristine Super Nintendo remake…
The Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light Super Nintendo Remake We Need
When it comes to localization, knowing what Nintendo may bring from its past to the overseas market is an absolute gamble of ideas. During the Wii era, Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower were all given a chance in the west after being barred east well past their release dates. 3DS users were given a strange taste of The Mysterious Murasame Castle early into the system’s lifespan around 2014, while Wii U owners would get to play the first entry in the Mother series two years later with Earthbound Beginnings when the console was on its way out the door. Just a few months ago Switch adopters were granted the opportunity to experience the puzzling Mario’s Super Picross exclusively through the online service.
With the constant desire for localizations of titles that never received proper translations or releases here in the west, it is no surprise that eventually one of Nintendo’s spearheading franchises would get a big-ticket to its taste of international freedom. Fire Emblem is a strange scenario of one of Nintendo’s few modern mega culminations that suffered from a history of casualties and close permadeaths as it wiggled its way to the massive pedestal it now stands on. Ever since Awakening’s boom, it is rather ironic that Nintendo would continue to bring over more niche games rather than expanding on the potential audiences of their latest hits. It took over thirty years, but the company is finally bringing Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light to overseas markets.
While it is an exciting time for Fire Emblem fans in the west who have wanted to experience the franchise’s origin story with its classic roots, what many adopters don’t know is that they might be anticipating an incomplete narrative that has seen far better days. Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light is a great game that arguably aged far better than the vast majority of the NES’s catalog, but why would Nintendo not bring over its pristine Super Nintendo remake that is already available on their Japanese Super Famicom digital service? Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light has already been an enigma to the public, but deep in Fire Emblem’s lore lies one fantastic reimagining blooming from the days of upscaled Super Nintendo remakes- and its home territory just received another way of playing that very same title last September.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is a title well in need of localization as rising fans of the recently rereleased Nintendo Entertainment System classic are unknowingly neglecting half of Prince Marth’s completed tale. Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light had indeed received a publicly divisive remake on the Nintendo DS with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, but far before that in Japan, the franchise’s first-ever release had actually been remade from the ground up on the Super Famicom. The 1994 remake everyone outside of Japan happens to be missing out on is a critically acclaimed successor that has been regarded over the years as quite possibly one of the best entries Fire Emblem has had to offer since its debut. More importantly, it is arguably the best way to experience Prince Marth’s story: the key figure of the franchise audiences have yearned to discover more about since his inclusion in Super Smash Bros. Melee.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is the third entry in the franchise and Intelligent System’s first Super Nintendo release in the series. Americans have actually already received a taste of this title in the past, albeit not in any playable form on a console or handheld. Not only was it the franchise’s first appearance ever overseas, but the 1997 Fire Emblem Original Video Animation [OVA] from Studio KSS and Studio Fantasia was also an adaptation of Mystery of the Emblem that told a mere snippet of the game’s opening book (more on that in a second). It may not be the most impactful Fire Emblem game like its sequel, Geneology of the Holy War, which introduced plenty of the modern mainstay elements such as the weapon triangle, but it did give fans the definitive way to play through the first-ever emblem-wielding hero’s journey. In comparison to the dated NES title, Mystery of the Emblem is an extensive interpretation of its source material packed with an overwhelming amount of lore to feast upon not featured in Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light.
Outside of the obvious technical advancements adapted from its critical 16-bit hardware upgrade, Mystery of The Emblem had one major upper hand from its 1990 counterpart that largely overshadows its needed facelift that helped push many of the characters to their most recognizable forms. Its promise of telling a narrative of a failed imperial line across the continent of Archanea is compelling enough to warrant a new localization. The game not only includes a complete remake of Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light, but it continues the same story in the form of a second book that you could either play immediately after the first or on its own. In other words, if you played the first game on Nintendo’s predecessor system and wanted to simply experience the brand new story with this entry, you did not have to replay all the events you had already ventured through.
For any fan of the story of Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light, it is absolutely not worth spoiling what goes on in the continued epilogue book, but without going deep into its plot, Mystery of the Emblem’s second chapter focuses on the time Marth spent after returning home to his kingdom. After spending his days reuniting the continent and awaiting marriage with a familiar combatant, a rebellion against his honorable leadership within Altea snowballs into a former ally attempting to overthrow his rule. Mixed into a secret reality behind the consequences of his first quest, the sequel chapter to the original event known as the “War of Shadows” expands upon the characters you already love. Mystery of The Emblem has a second book you need to experience if you consider yourself in any way a fan of what Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light presents. The back-half truly concludes Marth’s story as it better brings to life the fictional continent of Archanea in a more complex fashion before the sacred land could heal from its growing chasm of evil.
Interestingly enough, the Super Famicom remake was also one of the first-ever Nintendo games to receive post-release content that provided prequel chapters to Marth’s adventures thanks to the magic of the Japan-exclusive Satellaview console expansion pack used for broadcasting limited-time information and data- that though is one long story for another time. While it would be nice to one day see the BS Fire Emblem: Archanea War Chronicles come to life again in their 16-bit form, considering the circumstances behind them and their exclusion from the official canon timeline in the past, we will likely never see the extra content ever again outside of their remastered reimaginings featured in the DS Shadow Dragon remake as bonus chapters- one of the title’s most redeeming qualities the fan base can agree on, to say the least.
For those interested in playing Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem today, there is upsettingly- and quite obviously after reading everything above- no legal means of playing the original title with an English translation that I can currently point you towards. However, the game is available exclusively for Nintendo Switch Online members in Japan through the Super Nintendo service. You can watch plenty of fascinating essays and analyses across the internet going into the game’s history and the lore behind Prince Marth’s continued quest to free Archanea from his mutinous former allies, but when it comes to actually playing this entry, you are going to have to do your own digging. While it is something perhaps none of us can experience together at the moment on a modern Nintendo system in our own languages, maybe one day we will all be able to continue the story of Shadow Dragon & The Blade of Light in its most glorious form if it manages to make a big impact with its latest localization.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Marks A Beautiful New Beginning For Ember Lab
Kena: Bridge of Spirits will mark a beautiful new age for Ember Lab as the company will hopefully continue to pursue the interactive medium.
Kena: Bridge of Spirits Review
Developer: Ember Lab | Publisher: Ember Lab | Genre: Action-Adventure | Platform: PlayStation 4/5, Microsoft Windows | Reviewed on: PlayStation 5
Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the culmination of everything Ember Lab has created thus far. After years of presenting masterful shorts, it is only natural that the post-production company’s first video game project would flourish in the same charm its commercials and fan films have boasted since their inception. Despite being their first leap into a different medium of entertainment, Kena: Bridge of Spirits shows that Ember Lab is still on top of its game. The company has intertwined its best efforts into a seamless world of light and darkness that may occasionally appear dated but is absolutely worth visiting.
A Long-Awaited Awakening
Taking place in a world shaped by the presence of forces beyond the living, Kena: Bridge of Spirits‘ narrative absorbs its style and grace from what Ember Lab already succeeded with. While the story may not always explore its loveable protagonist to a deep extent, saying that the storytelling lacks depth would be a disservice to its emotional moments. To keep the premise as simple as possible without going into detail, the titular Kena is a spirit guide who must help lost souls find their way to what lies beyond the land of the living by repelling their darknesses. Her world’s story initially may playoff as generic, yet it grows to be both moving and surprising. Where the game’s focus really lies is in its gameplay and visuals.
As the player explores a lush open world, they will solve puzzles, fight humanoid spirits, upgrade weapons, and go on a collectathon for a handful of rewarding items. For an independent game that lacks the budget of a triple-A experience, Kena: Bridge of Spirits puts its smaller and larger competitions to shame. From its action to its artistic composition, the title knocks it out of the park with so many of its core design aspects. There may be a handful of problems with the gameplay, but its stylization and animated wonderland make it a nearly perfect adventure. Everything intertwines in a fashionable matter that feels effective and never loses focus, but there is certainly a warranted coat of polish behind its many highs.
There is a lot to love about Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ gameplay, but it is unquestionably where all of its shortcomings come from — many of these issues actually tend to go hand-in-hand for the most part as they tie into the player’s growth. While platforming and puzzle-solving are always a blast no matter what point in the narrative the player is at there are some noticeably annoying flaws that could have been easily fixed with connected solutions. Fighting enemies is always exciting and the controls are buttery smooth, but early odd difficulty curves and shallow progression often seep through the grander aspects.
During the first third of the game, the combat can oftentimes feel as if the player has an overwhelming upper hand on their enemies. Most of the hostile forces can be mowed down in less than two or three hits with players’ beginner attacks. These generic enemies may lack any thoughtful weaknesses, but thankfully the later foes require much more attention to overcome. However, getting smarter does not necessarily mean that the player will get to employ more skills. Kena: Bridge of Spirits can quite literally be beaten with the unaltered moves and weapons the player receives at the start of the adventure.
Disappointingly, Kena: Bridge of Spirits has a promising arsenal of abilities that provides no real progression — not because they aren’t hard to earn but due to their lasting worth. With only one melee weapon, a long-ranged bow, bombs, and the ability to dash, the game leaves itself with a small number of upgrades for the player to unlock that do not contribute much. The vast majority of these moves feel rewarding to use, yet they come off as features that could have easily been implemented into the player’s base moveset. They never provide any true variety to the combat or even necessarily skills that are required to finish the game.
It’s not just the weapons that suffer from this problem. They may be fun to collect and utilize, but the Rot creatures present a large growing number that represents little progression in terms of combat and somehow puzzle-solving. Apart from droplets that allow the Rot to take a larger serpent-like form as the player recruits more of them, the number of these spirits to collect can feel a tad insignificant in the long term. Customizing their costumes and seeing how they interact with the world will always put a smile on the player’s face, but nonetheless, it is a shame how the gameplay underutilizes their long-term presence.
Forging Large Hearts and Lovely Souls
During Kena: Bridge of Spirits’ hands-on previews, a lot of users compared the game to titles such as Horizon Zero Dawn, Pikmin, and God Of War. However, the clear inspiration for the game comes from The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask and its iconic fan film that Ember Lab helmed. Majora’s Mask — Terrible Fate was a spectacle that further skyrocketed the company to fame. Everything that short succeeded on in terms of both visuals and narrative — along with Ember Lab’s other projects for that matter — was carried over magnificently to Kena: Bridge of Spirits artistic direction.
While the gameplay has its faults, it’s no shocker that Ember Lab’s title would thrive most from its breathtaking visuals, cinematic direction, and audio design. Kena: Bridge of Spirits stands as not only one of the best-looking and sounding PlayStation 4 and 5 titles ever released, but one of the finest in the gaming industry overall. The gameplay may be refined, but the lush world Kena: Bridge of Spirits holds is one of the digital realm’s most beautiful landscapes to ever release on any platform.
On top of gorgeous environments, clean character models, and atmospheric effects, Kena: Bridge of Spirits truthfully thrives in visuals because of its animations. Whether you are watching cutscenes or walking around the world, there are always movements to sit back and admire. The game’s cast and environments never remain still–everything is highly expressive and constantly moving. Not a single spec of Kena’s palpable land feels as if it were forgotten or designed to simply act as something for the player to pass by. This sentiment especially shows itself with the Rot species.
Whereas the Rot may be criticized for their overarching gameplay purpose, it is impossible to deny the fact that they are beautifully animated. The spirits never feel as if they are glued on to Kena or their surrounding environments. They are constantly expressive and characterized by their movements and interactions with the world itself. The Rot are regularly interacting with their surroundings as they jump between locations and engage with structures in unique ways. Kena’s world already feels organic and lively thanks to its therapeutic atmosphere, but the Rot adds another layer of spirit to the game.
Of course, having a visual spectacle in an Ember Lab project means that the audio design was bound to be a knockout too. Kena’s score composed by Jason Gallaty and Dewa Putu Berata is remedial to the soul. It is bursting through the seams with heart and proper articulation as it helps further enhance the player’s immersion with environments and cinematics. On top of fantastical orchestrations and well-pieced sound design, the game boasts an excellent voice cast breathing into its many characters. Berata’s daughter, Dewa Ayu Dewi Larassanti, ended up voicing Kena herself, and you would think she is a veteran of the industry, but this is her first gig. Larassanti does a spectacular job, as does the rest of her fellow actors. All the performances together are just another factor that helps keep players invested.
The only disappointing aspects coming from the look of the game comes from the transitions between gameplay and cinematics. The cutscenes were clearly designed with a moviemaking mindset and sadly do not accommodate for performance mode on PlayStation 5. Rather than adjusting to the smoother sixty-frames look, the pre-rendered cinematics stick to half that rate. They still look unbelievable, but it can feel weird instantly jumping between the two — however, this problem is only for those using performance mode. The brief loading screens that equate to literal seconds do not ruin the fluidity of the presentation either, but hopefully in the future Ember Labs will be able to iron out this nitpick in whatever they choose to pursue next.
A Bridge Between Works
In the coming days, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is going to be compared to the likes of Pixar and Dreamworks for its visuals. Its gameplay will be explained by critics and the public by corresponding it with numerous popular franchises. Ultimately, though, Kena: Bridge of Spirits is the culminated work of Ember Lab’s extraordinary history in the entertainment industry. With ten years in the visual effects department, hours of experience filming at real sets, and a whole lot of inspiration from video games at the core of their spirit, the success of Ember Lab’s first independent title was inevitable. Kena: Bridge of Spirits will mark a beautiful new age for Ember Lab as the company will hopefully continue to pursue its latest shining endeavors in gaming. Kena: Bridge of Spirits is a beautiful work of art, and Ember Lab has just gotten started.
A Descent into Akira Yamaoka’s Silent Hill 2 Soundtrack
The Music of Silent Hill 2
Silent Hill 2 is something else.
First released in 2002 by Konami (developed by Team Silent) for PlayStation 2 as a follow-up, not sequel, to the original Silent Hill (released in 1999 for PS1), it has since remained a crucial cornerstone in gaming history.
For those who embrace it, connect with it, it becomes an emotional endeavor, accomplishing a level of involvement and investment with the player that I have hardly, if ever, seen in the form of a video game.
You play as James, a troubled man drawn to the mysterious town of Silent Hill at the bequest of his, apparently, dead spouse. What follows is a downward spiral into the inner demons of the body, mind and soul, as Silent Hill comes alive as an amalgamated reflection of the torment James and the townsfolk that he meets have to live with.
In Silent Hill 2, the audio is as integral a part of the whole setup as anything else that contributes to its existence. Composer Akira Yamaoka is often credited as one of the three to four key people behind the creation and formation of the game, holding a status within the development team that is often not granted to a music composer.
The entirety of the soundtrack for Silent Hill 2 can be described as an intentional cacophony of bittersweet melodies, with hip hop beats laid over the darkest, most intimate, yearnings, and harrowing human-like-yet-synthetic sounds staggering out slowly from within the mostly silent environments of the game’s world.
The dark ambient aspects of the score are so simplistic but full of unnerving raw emotions.
While it would be expected for an atmospheric horror game of the time to perhaps include ambient sounds of howling winds and rustling trees, zombies or similar creatures going “uhhgghhh”, and other such things, Yamaoka’s compositions instead sputter radio noise, distorted electric strings and heavy drums that contain themselves within their own reverberations.
Yamaoka himself talks about this in the “making of” documentary, stating that he didn’t want to create the typical, scary sounds done in games like Resident Evil.
Keeping to its ambient nature, aspects of the score blend in with the environments of the game itself, merging the music played for you, the player, with the Otherworld screaming around James. But, in between these instances is often silence, scored with just the sounds of footsteps and faint environmental noises. Without these moments, the score would most likely lose all of its punch.
Considering the personal nature of James’s struggle within the context of the story, and his role in the creation of his own individual Otherworld, this ambiguity of the score plays directly into the narrative.
Also, it all sounds downright scary. That’s important.
Slower moments in the soundtrack, usually those that play in “safe” areas where enemies can’t reach you or in reflective cutscenes that divulge upon James’s thoughts, are pensive, which is in deep contrast with the balls-to-the-wall insanity that happens in the Otherworld. Here, we have somewhat relaxing, downtempo beats that resemble something more out of DJ Shadow’s catalog, or a song on a lo-fi chill playlist, which are popular these days.
Yamaoka counts Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails and Angelo Badalamenti (most popular for his work on David Lynch’s Blue Velvet and Twin Peaks) as two of his influences, and the chaotic rush of violent sounds that are then followed by melancholic and reflective plateaus seem to, perhaps, combine the best of those influences.
I’m not sure if Yamaoka heard or was in any way inspired by Maurice Jarre’s score for Jacob’s Ladder (the 1990 movie directed by Adrian Lyne served as perhaps the main inspiration behind the visuals and general ideas behind Silent Hill), as it too has the same qualities Yamaoka brings forth.
Unfortunately, Silent Hill 2’s full soundtrack has never been officially released, with the CD releases only containing thirty tracks, most of which are the more traditionally structured pieces.
While these tracks are crucial in bringing together the overall feeling of certain aspects of the game, on their own they simply cannot convey the complete mindset of the game’s experience.
A release that includes every single ambient or other soundtrack-related tracks is not common or even heard of; in the case of Silent Hill 2, however, these oft-disregarded pieces of “mood setting” music are perhaps more crucial to the identity of the game than they are for most other games.
Instead, to listen to the entire score of Silent Hill 2, one has to depend on dedicated fans such as “firebrandx”, who compiled the entire true score into an ultimate edition (tracks from which I featured within this article), and “TokyoBrando“, who has painstakingly compiled 108 or so tracks that amount to 3 hours and 40 minutes or so worth of material to YouTube.
Given that the series lost its identity after Silent Hill 2, meandering in mediocre scares and unimaginative canonical mishaps (not to mention things like the god-awful PS3 “remaster” of this very game), it’s fitting that it’s the fans who would work to preserve what once was.
Great Moments in Gaming: Silent Hill 2, Angela Orosco and the Stairs of Fire
This final meeting in Silent Hill 2 is about giving in to our worst impulses, and the tragic inability to save someone from themselves.
Looking Back at the Most Devastating Moment of Silent Hill 2
Great Moments in Gaming is a column wherein we look back at some of the great gaming moments that have made a significant impact on our view of this medium and how we have come to understand it. Today, we’re looking back at a tense, troubling stand-off between James and Angela in Silent Hill 2.
The Silent Hill series has long been known for its disturbing imagery and psychological knack for terrorizing us with our own worst imaginings. However, it is also known for the many tortured souls which are drawn to the titular town, and how it forces them to pay for their sins.
This is the impetus behind Silent Hill 2. James Sunderland murdered his sick wife. Angela Orosco murdered her abusive father. Both escaped justice, and it is for this reason that the town of Silent Hill calls to them. As James, you meet the troubled Angela several times over the course of your journey, and each time she seems to have descended further into her own personal abyss.
After James finds out the truth about the town, and why he was forced to return there, he meets the suicidal Angela one final time. Suddenly, apropos of nothing, James opens a door in the Lakeview Hotel and goes from a dusty, dilapidated haze to a sudden roar of flames and smoke.
There he sees Angela again. She seems to have resigned herself at last to carry out her suicide, and while James tries to talk her out of it, he soon grows resigned to let her go as well. Broken and disillusioned by the revelations he has been forced to accept about himself, and his own selfish nature, he lacks the strength to talk her down this time.
“It’s hot as hell in here,” he says at last, having nothing left to offer. To this Angela drops the most troubling line in all of Silent Hill 2. “You see it too? For me, it’s always like this.” The revelation that this is how Silent Hill has looked to Angela all this time, as opposed to the empty, foggy town you’ve been seeing, is a jaw dropper in its own right, but the connotations beneath the line are what really dig their fingernails into your psyche.
As a survivor of years of sexual abuse from her father, Angela has suffered for so long that she’s barely able to hold on to her sanity. With the murder of her father still weighing on her, the blame of her mother still tormenting her and the town of Silent Hill forcing her to face her trauma and her sins head on, Angela’s version of hell is truly a horrific place. The above line refers to how she, as a survivor of sexual abuse and trauma, is forced to live in her devastating reality all the time. Even as those around her walk in and out of her private hell, she is unable to leave it.
This is the moment in Silent Hill 2 when she is finally giving up, giving in and letting go of this horrible life. As she walks off into the flames, James is forced to watch, knowing he lacks the courage and compassion to save her. James isn’t even sure he can save himself anymore. And so he watches, as Angela climbs the stairs to her demise, disappearing forever into the flames that have threatened to consume her for so long.
It’s a devastating scene, and maybe the most emotionally evocative moment of the whole franchise. Set to the heart-wrenching “Theme of Laura“, James and Angela’s final meeting is about giving in to our worst impulses, and the tragic inability to save someone from themselves.
Silent Hill has always been about this sort of thing. Tormented fathers, grieving mothers, impetuous daughters, and sinful sons. However, no creature in the series storied past has been as damned or as tortured as Angela Orosco of Silent Hill 2, and as James watches her walk into those flames, we are left with a feeling so raw and empty that the smoke begins to fill our hearts as well.
All these years later, I can still see those flames and smell that smoke. I’ve never forgotten Silent Hill 2’s Angela, and like Aerith Gainsborough in Final Fantasy VII and Sarah Miller in The Last of Us, she lives on even in her death, filling players with horrible regret and transcendent sorrow for the girl we just couldn’t save, no matter how hard we tried.
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