On April 20, 1990, Japan received the first Fire Emblem game on the Nintendo Famicom. It was developed by longrunning Nintendo developer Intelligent Systems, who continues to develop the games to this day. Created by Shouzou Kaga, he was dubbed the founding father of the Fire Emblem series even after his departure in 1999. The series eventually gained international recognition thanks to the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee for the Nintendo GameCube. Then the west would receive the Game Boy Advance game merely called Fire Emblem, which is the seventh title in the series overall.
It was a huge success, and future games would release outside of Japan up until New Mystery of the Emblem, which remains a Japanese exclusive to this day. The 13 installment, Awakening, was going to be the last title if it didn’t sell enough copies due to the declining sales of previous games. Thankfully, Awakening became a critical and commercial success that saved the franchise from ending for good.
Fire Emblem now has 16 main titles that aged gracefully with each installment after the next. We will be taking a look back at these old and modern titles, ranking them for what they have to offer.
The Best Fire Emblem Games Ranked
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light
While it might seem bizarre to see the first Fire Emblem game at the bottom of the list, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light did not age well. However, this fact mostly comes from the game’s outdated graphics, mechanics, and gameplay, which gets improved on in future remakes and other titles. The first game is not terrible by any means. It is a good game on the Famicom. But future installments would improve significantly as the years went on after the first incarnation.
Fire Emblem Gaiden
Acting as a side story to the first Fire Emblem game, Gaiden took a strange, but a successful direction to its gameplay. These new mechanics were considered the black sheep of the series due to significant changes but gained light when they announced Shadows of Valentia. It features common elements in a JRPG, including exploring to different areas from story progression. While a step up from the previous game, it also hasn’t aged well in gameplay, especially with its weak map design.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem
Kaga managed to create a game that would remake the first game while also providing a new story set after it. That is where Mystery of the Emblem comes into play. After making the shift from the Famicom to the Super Famicom, the third title in the Fire Emblem series brought a bigger scope in its story and characters. While it is a fantastic title, it does draw back from cutting off chapters from the first game and removing characters to have space. Book II’s story does stand out and is worth playing more than Book I when playing Mystery of the Emblem. However, there’s nothing wrong with a recap to catch up on Marth’s story.
Fire Emblem: Binding Blade
The sixth entry, Binding Blade, takes a huge shift from being a home console series to adapt on a handheld system. Kaga left this game to focus on other projects. As a Game Boy Advance title, it did better in sales compared to its predecessor Thracia 776. Despite boasting fantastic sprite animations and fun map designs, the problems this game has is its weak starting characters, minus Marcus. Roy may be our boy, but in his game, he is among the worst lords due to late promotion and better sword units. Also, with the struggling development after Kaga’s departure, Binding Blade has its decent pros but damaging flaws.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
Shadow Dragon has the funniest existence as it is essentially a remake of a remake. But at least the west gets introduced to Marth’s story after being a Japanese exclusive. The overall gameplay is balanced and offers a variety of difficulty options, welcoming newcomers and veterans. Shadow Dragon’s flaws are from remaking the very first game. It does lack innovation, and the story can feel flat at times. The graphics can turn some people off as it is honestly one of the ugliest looking Fire Emblem games to date. If graphics aren’t a problem, then Shadow Dragon is a decent title at best.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
As the last entry for the Game Boy Advance, the eighth title Sacred Stones borrows elements from Gaiden such as being able to roam around the map, choosing between the two protagonists Ephraim and Eirika, and optional battles outside the main campaign. A huge flaw that prevents Sacred Stones from being extraordinary is its easy difficulty. However, Sacred Stones is one of the perfect options for people who want to get into the series.
Fire Emblem: Thracia 776
Dubbed as the most difficult game in the franchise and being the last title under Kaga’s name, Thracia 776 offers a challenge for long-time fans. Despite being the worst-selling game in the series, there are a lot of positives to the fifth entry. Its story is one of the strongest, and the gameplay features interesting mechanics such as fatigue and capturing system. Thracia 776 is not for beginners, and its difficulty can frustrate players. The game is far from perfect but is one of the best titles to date.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
The 13th installment would become the savior of the Fire Emblem franchise, and it deservingly earns that title. Awakening crammed in a ton of content and add references from each game, making this the ultimate fan service game for those who stuck around the series for so long. Coupled with nice graphics and decent voice acting, Awakening is a solid addition to the series. Gameplay, while good, is unbalanced in some areas, especially in Pair Up. Lunatic can be beaten with anyone at the right level while paired up, and they can beat the game with ease. Despite this, Awakening is a great title to pick up and beginner-friendly with casual mode.
For modern Fire Emblem games, Fates leaves a lot to be desired. For one, the overall story is a convoluted mess, and they executed the concept horribly. While it is easy to make fun of the story, Fates does have stellar gameplay, especially in Conquest. Revelations acts as a balance for both Birthright and Conquest in terms of difficulty. But its map design is among the most atrocious in the series. Birthright is like Awakening in terms of story and map design, but sadly too easy, even on Lunatic mode. Conquest might have the worst story out of the three, but the map design is easily the best and challengingly fun, saving the game overall from being an utter disaster.
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Genealogy of the Holy War is responsible for bringing gameplay features we all know today, such as the weapon triangle and pairings for future children. What the fourth entry in the series offers is the huge scope of the game, specifically the maps for each chapter. It’s no wonder why most characters are either cavalry or flying units. Like Thracia 776, this game can be too daunting for beginners with its huge map design and losing units to intimidating bosses. Storywise, this game excels, mostly in the first generation, but the second generation is just as good.
We have to hand it to the seventh entry for being the first game in the west, introducing us to the Fire Emblem series. In Japan, they called it Rekka no Ken, also known as Blazing Sword. The story is not the best, but the characters are endearing when their support conversations are unlocked. Veterans might groan at the tedious tutorial mode, but it is fantastic for newcomers. The gameplay offers a variety of maps that range from defeating the boss, routing the enemy, and seizing the map. Many secret routes encourage multiple playthroughs, including normal and hard modes for the three main lords. Even if Fire Emblem can be a bit overrated at times, it is one of the perfect entries to start the series on.
Path of Radiance doesn’t disappoint in creating an epic Fire Emblem game, as it is the first to have cutscenes to expand the story. Along with an engaging story, the game has unique mission objectives to make the gameplay fresh and exciting. The ninth entry did miss out on bringing back branching class promotions to make units unique, but there are nice additions to gameplay. It also missed out on bonus EXP and laguz units which fit the narrative and gameplay excellently. The graphics are not great for a GameCube game, but what makes a fantastic Fire Emblem game like Path of Radiance is the effort behind the overall gameplay.
Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem
New Mystery of the Emblem would become a Japanese exclusive after Shadow Dragon, and it is a shame. Not only is the 12th installment an excellent game, but it does a great job in expanding the story of Book II from Mystery of the Emblem. Like with Shadow Dragon, this game is excellent for difficult playthroughs but is also the first to include a casual mode for those who never played Fire Emblem before. The level design is easily one of the best the series has to offer, bringing diverse map objectives. Character portraits are slightly better looking, but the game’s graphics carry over from Shadow Dragon with its dull colors and weird 3D sprites. New Mystery of the Emblem is still a strong game in its own right, thanks to being a remake.
The 10th in the series acts as a sequel to Path of Radiance, continuing Ike’s story while also expanding on other characters like Micaiah. Like with the previous game, gameplay functions similarly but with significant changes to add more variety. For example, skills can be equipped to other characters and make them stronger in battle depending on the thresholds. The game is incredibly long too, putting in more hours to get the Fire Emblem experience. Third-tier classes make a return, and they are amazing for any character that can promote to them. Radiant Dawn suffers heavily from lack of support conversations. No supportive conversations make characters from the Dawn Brigade suffer from lack of character development and having to rely on their character in the main story. Path of Radiance must be played first to understand the story, but it would lead up to playing an arguably better game in the end.
The thought of remaking a game that is considered the black sheep of the series is a bizarre idea, but Intelligent Systems excels once again in remaking Gaiden. Shadows of Valentia is a love letter to those that played Gaiden while bringing an incredible experience to those who have never played it. The game is fully voice acted, making the characters feel real and natural whether it is in the story or support conversations. New characters add more depth to the story, and it is a nice change. The gameplay is true to the source material while also revamping it to make the game be more like a modern Fire Emblem title, including Mila’s Turnwheel. Players do not lose their characters permanently in classic mode. The only weakness it has, as a remake, is copying and pasting the lackluster map design. Otherwise, Shadows of Valentia is an excellent game.
Not every Fire Emblem game is perfect, but Three Houses took risks and ideas that would shape up to be the best game in the entire franchise. The game is highly customizable for how the player wants to set up their units in what class they can be in. Three Houses is also gigantic, taking up tons of hours to complete just one route. There is a ton to do from teaching, having meals and tea with the students/faculty, and doing small quests that range from item searching to battles. For criticisms, it is mostly on how easy it can be. With more DLC coming in the next few months, the game will offer more content and extend its difficulty. Intelligent Systems took the criticisms from Fates and made sure that Three Houses would be an amazing successor, and it achieved that goal on a high note.
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