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The Origin and Evolution of the Fire Emblem Series



origin of the Fire Emblem series

A Brief History of the Fire Emblem Series

In recent years, the Fire Emblem series has become one of Nintendo’s most popular franchises worldwide. Fire Emblem: Awakening, released in 2013, launched the once niche tactical role-playing series to new heights, bringing a whole new audience into the fold. Still, the franchise’s history reaches way back to 1990. From the Famicom to the Switch, Fire Emblem has had an incredible journey filled with highs, lows, and evolution. Without further ado, let’s look at the history of Fire Emblem by looking at the mechanics and characters that made the series what it is today.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light
Image: Nintendo


Original Game: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Famicom, 1990)

You’ve gotta love this old-school art!

The history of Fire Emblem begins in 1987. When Shouzuo Kaga began developing the first Fire Emblem game, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, his goal was to merge the worlds of tactical and role-playing games. Kaga felt that the RPGs of the time told interesting stories with bland main characters, while tactical games sacrificed too much story in favor of too many characters. It was from this idea that permadeath, a classic rule of Fire Emblem where characters who fall remain dead for the remainder of the game, was born. By giving every character a backstory, Kaga felt each risky maneuver the player made would hold extra weight, given the connection between army members and the player.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Image: Nintendo

Weapons Triangle/Trinity of Magic

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (Super Famicom, 1996)

It’s hard to imagine a Fire Emblem game without the weapons triangle. The idea that swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords has made up the basic strategy of Fire Emblem for years. Older Fire Emblem games, from Genealogy through 2008’s Radiant Dawn, also had a magic triangle known as The Trinity of Magic. Although the Trinity experienced a bit more tweaking game-to-game than the stable weapons triangle, most iterations featured anima magic (fire, wind, lightning) beating light magic, light beating dark, and dark beating anima.

Western players will have the chance to experience a Fire Emblem game without a weapons triangle for the first time when Fire Emblem Gaiden (1992)’s remake, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, launches on May 19th.

Recurring Story Themes

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Famicom, 1990)

While every Fire Emblem game has a unique plot, some common ideas serve as the foundation for every story. Fire Emblem games always take place in a medieval setting, and generally follow a prince or princess on a journey to save the land from evil. The common themes of courage and bravery reach back to Marth’s first adventure on the Famicom. Moreover, common character archetypes were also set there. The popular Cain and Abel archetype has appeared in every game so far, and characters who play this role are trademarked by their red and green armor and early game recruitment. A few examples include Stahl and Sully (Awakening), Kaze and Saizo (Fates), and Kyle and Forde (Sacred Stones). The Est archetype, a low-level character who joins late in the game, but has incredible growth, also originated in FE1. Examples include Nino (Blazing Sword), Ewan (Sacred Stones), and Elincia (Path of Radiance).

Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
Image: Nintendo

Support System

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (Super Famicom, 1994)

Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem’s support system looks nothing like the deep system found in modern Fire Emblem games. Still, it laid the framework for several games to come, and reappeared in Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. The basic system gave characters a small boost to accuracy, evade and critical chance, and occurred when characters with an existing relationship before the game stood within three tiles of one another. This system was dropped for the following game, Genealogy, and replaced with a Love System. This allowed characters who were used on the same map to earn points that represent love. Standing adjacent to one another sped up the process, and once the points reached 500 the characters would marry. They’d then have children who played a key role in the game’s second half.

The Gameboy Advanced Games, starting with Binding Blade in 2002, brought about the modern support system. In those games, characters who ended their turn on adjacent tiles would earn support points if they were compatible. Conversations took place on the battlefield, and bonuses to damage, critical rates, evade rates, and hit rates were given based on a character’s predetermined affinity. Path of Radiance merged the rewards from the GBA games with the Love System of Genealogy and featured support conversations in-between chapters that unlocked as units fought on the same maps together. Awakening and Fates moved back to the GBA style, with a wrinkle from the Love System, giving bonuses for having characters perform actions while adjacent to each other. Once characters hit enough points to secure their “S” support, they’d marry and have a recruitable child.

Fire Emblem: Gaiden

World Map

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Gaiden (Famicom, 1992)

Compare this image to Alm and Celica’s redesigns for some good laughs!

Modern Fire Emblem fans probably assume that most Fire Emblem games feature a world map. They’d be mistaken, however. Fire Emblem: Gaiden (FE2) was the first and only Fire Emblem game to feature a navigable world map before Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones was released in 2004. In Gaiden, players could visit towns and talk to NPCs and could even revisit old battle maps to grind for experience. Those ideas were dumped until Sacred Stones brought back both the world map and grinding. Many consider Sacred Stones to be a spiritual successor to Gaiden because of this. The two share more than just a world map, however. Both featured two separate armies controlled by male and female protagonists that players could accompany through the main story.

Fire Emblem: Thracia 776

Fog of War Maps

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (Super Famicom, 1999)

Fog of War maps has all but disappeared from modern Fire Emblem games. The battles were fairly common in games past, however, and featured a map shrouded in darkness. Players could only see a few spaces in front of them without using an item like a torch, and even those didn’t illuminate the entire map. The first Fog of War maps was found in Thracia 776, which is regarded as the hardest game in the series. The maps reappeared in subsequent games but have not appeared in a western Fire Emblem title since 2007’s Radiant Dawn.

Class Change

Original Game: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Famicom, 1990)

Changing classes has been a part of Fire Emblem since the beginning. Originally, players needed to collect an item, reach level 10 and then use the item to promote to a higher class. While that remains the case today, with players using a Master Seal, some older games had specific promotional items for certain classes. Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, for example, required pegasus knights to use an Elysian Whip and myrmidons a Hero Crest. There are a few occasions throughout the series’ history where items were not required for promotion, however.  Gaiden (and subsequently Echoes) featured location-based class changing, where characters needed to visit maps with a Mila Shrine to promote. Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, meanwhile, allowed players to promote early by using items while also allowing them to promote upon reaching “level 21”.

Prominent Lords of Fire Emblem

Every Fire Emblem game features at least one main character, usually of the “lord” class, that drives the plot forward. While other characters can die and have the game continue, if the primary lord falls, it’s game over. These are the lords of every Fire Emblem game… now you can impress your friends when they ask you what games Marth is from when you’re playing Smash!

Image: Nintendo

Marth: The Hero-King (Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light) [FE1], Mystery of the Emblem[FE3], Shadow Dragon [FE 11], New Mystery of the Emblem[FE12])

Marth is the face of the Fire Emblem franchise. He served as the main lord in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, New Mystery of the Emblem, and their remakes for DS. Marth is a prince of Altea, destined to wield the divine blade Falchion against the evil shadow dragon Medeus. He marries the princess of Talys, Caeda, and is a distant ancestor of Awakening’s Chrom and Lucina.

Sigurd and Seliph: Heirs of Light (Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War [FE4])

Sigurd and Seliph look very much alike. This here is Seliph.

Sigurd and Seliph never made their way over to the west, outside of minor DLC appearances in Awakening, but they both are extremely popular in the Fire Emblem community. Sigurd is a descendant of one of the legendary Twelve Crusaders, Baldur, and as such he is destined to wield the Tyrfing. He marries Deirdre and has a child, Seliph, who takes over the role of protagonist after a shocking plot twist in the middle of the game. Seliph also wields the Tyrfing and liberates the land of Judgral, living up to his nickname “Scion of Light”.

Leif: King of Thracia (Thracia: 776 [FE5])

Leif is the primary lord of Thracia: 776, a game that takes place between parts 1 and 2 of Genealogy of the Holy War. After the fall of his kingdom, Leonster, he lived life in hiding with his guardian Finn. Leif takes up arms to protect his loved ones and ultimately becomes king of all of Thracia with the help of Seliph.

Image: Nintendo

Roy: Our Boy (Binding Blade [FE6])

Roy is the son of Eliwood, Marquess of Pherae, and wielder of the Sword of Seals. His story begins when he is just 15 years old when he is called to lead Pherae’s army and the Lycian League against their aggressive neighboring nation, Bern. He succeeds in his mission only after collecting eight legendary weapons, defeating King Zephiel, and vanquishing the demon dragon Idunn.

Eliwood, Lyn, and Hector: Nobles of Lycia (Blazing Sword [FE7])

Eliwood (front), Hector (back), and Lyn

Eliwood is the father of Roy, making him also the Marquess of Pherae. He begins a journey to find his lost father and is joined by a noblewoman of Caelin, Lyndis, and his childhood friend and brother of Ostia’s marquess, Hector. Fun fact: Roy’s light blue costume in Smash Bros is based on Eliwood! Before meeting Eliwood, Lyn lived a life alone on the plains of Sacae. Her parents and all of her people were killed by bandits, and she did not know of her noble lineage until two cavaliers named Sain and Kent tracked her down. She fights to save her dying grandfather, a man she never met, and runs into Eliwood by pure happenstance. Hector, meanwhile, serves as the “lazy” brother of Ostia’s marquess. He and Eliwood were old friends, and although he isn’t particularly refined, his heart is pure and he helps his friend through his journey.

Eirika and Ephraim: The Restoration Lords (Sacred Stones, [FE8])

 The twin lords of Renais, Eirika, and Ephraim, share an unbreakable bond. Eirika is gentle and loving, while Ephraim is daring and strong, making the two a perfect complement to one another. The lords were thrust into a war they could not explain when Grado, Renais’ closest ally, suddenly attacked. Their father was killed, and the two lords fought to find the truth behind why the war began. Using the Sacred Twin Blades of Renais, Sieglinde, and Siegmund, they brought peace back to the continent of Magvel.

Ike: The Greatest of All-Time (Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn [FE9/FE10])

Ike is the first non-noble lord of Fire Emblem. His journey begins when he is just a trainee looking to join his father, Greil’s, mercenary corps. When Greil is murdered by a mysterious Black Knight, Ike decides to lead his mercenary crew on a journey filled with power struggles, betrayal, and love. Ike reappears in Radiant Dawn, becoming the main protagonist during the game’s third act. There, he finally avenges his father’s death, slays a god, and rides off into the sunset alone (or with his best friend) like a badass. He wields the two-handed blade Ragnell, which is blessed by the Goddess Ashera, with just one hand.

Micaiah: Priestess of Dawn (Radiant Dawn [FE10])

Micaiah serves as the main protagonist for the first act of Radiant Dawn. She is a citizen of Daein, a nation conquered by Ike in Path of Radiance, and seeks to liberate her homeland from the oppressive rule of the Begnion Empire. Micaiah has the special ability to sense danger before it comes and heal the injured with her own life force. She teams up with her rival, Ike, during the game’s last chapter to save the world.

Chrom and Lucina

Chrom and Lucina: Ylisse’s Most Exalted (Awakening [FE13])

Chrom is the prince of Ylisse, a kingdom created several thousand years after the events of Marth’s games. He is an ancestor of the Hero-King, and as such, possesses the sacred Falchion blade. Chrom meets Robin, an amnesiac, face down in a field while on patrol one day, and the two become fast friends. Not too far down the road, a masked man claiming to be Marth falls from the sky and protects Chrom and his sister Lissa from strange zombie-like creatures. The man also wields Falchion, and Chrom later finds that the blade is the same as the one on his hip. Marth reveals himself as none other than Chrom’s daughter, Lucina, traveling from the future to prevent an apocalyptic calamity.

Corrin: Crux of Fate (Fire Emblem Fates [FE14])

Corrin is the player’s Avatar and, therefore, can be either male or female!

Corrin was raised in the kingdom of Nohr without a memory of his past. His siblings, Xander, Camilla, Leo, and Elise, care deeply for him and raise him into a prince worthy of joining Nohr in their war against their neighboring nation Hoshido. Corrin is captured while trying to scout out a Hoshidan base and is taken before Hoshido’s Queen Mikoto. There, he learns he is actually a Hoshidan prince, kidnapped at a young age and raised in Nohr. Corrin must choose which family to fight for: the one that raised him or his family by blood. He wields the divine blade Yato.

Alm and Celica: Liberators of Valentia (Fire Emblem Gaiden, Shadows of Valentia [FE2/15])

Alm and Celica are childhood friends who were separated without warning. The two live separate lives, with Alm eventually being recruited into the Zofia liberation army, and Celica leaves her monastery to discover the truth behind the god Mila’s disappearance. With Echoes releasing in under a month, I don’t want to spoil any more plot details about these two heroes!

Tyler has been a gamer since he was old enough to hold a control. When Sonic made his way over to GameCube, Tyler was forced to renounce his SEGA fanhood and fell in love with Nintendo. His favorite game series is the Fire Emblem series, and he's a formidable Marth main in every Smash game. When he's not gaming, you can usually find Tyler yelling at his TV watching a Red Sox or Sixers game.