Being a Nintendo fan is both awesome and frustrating. Whenever they announce something it might be super exciting, or it might be totally baffling. And sometimes it's both. Such is the case with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light, which you might also know as "the first Fire Emblem game."
Of course, back when Fire Emblem dropped on GBA in 2003 we westerners all assumed it was the first game in a new series. Or at least I did. But truth be told, it was the SEVENTH game - it was just the first to be localized.
Over the years, lots of Fire Emblem games have come to the States, both in the forms of new entries and remakes of old games. It became a cult-classic series, and then thanks to the inclusion of Marth (and a bunch of other characters) in Smash, pretty much a classic series proper. Truth be told, it's easily one of my favorite Nintendo exclusive series. Maybe my favorite.
So when it was announced at the end of 2020 that the original Famicom game would get an English localization and be brought to the eShop for a limited time, I was excited... but also baffled.
1. Why is a digital game being offered for a limited time?
2. Why does the super expensive and super pretty limited edition physical release NOT include an actual physical cartridge?
3. Why is a game that's free on the Japanese Switch Online service now $6 for those of us who live in America?
4. Why on Earth is Nintendo putting resources into localizing a game that's already been remade on the DS?
There's just so much head-scratching going on here. But at the end of the day, I could try to find the DS remake for a pretty penny on the aftermarket, or I could get the DS remake on the Wii U Virtual Console for $10, or I could just grab this new version for $6 and stop the nagging FOMO in my brain due to the limited release. So here we are.
Having said all that, I'm like four hours into Shadow Dragon and having a pretty good time. So I guess I've already gotten my money's worth, really. I mean, I spent the same on Among Us and was pretty let down by that new hotness. Meanwhile, this rusty old Famicom game is kind of a treat.
Look, there's no denying how rough around the edges this game is. But in fairness, it pretty much sparked a console genre. (Well, maybe that's unfair given that Famicom Wars was released two years prior). But still, I used to look at Shining Force as sort of the beginning of these kinds of strategy RPG's. But man, look at Shadow Dragon and it's clear where Shining Force took its inspiration from!
There's lots of little complaints I could make, but they seem unfair. I'm so used to the QOL improvements that the series has gotten as it's refined, but I have to stay in the mindset that this was the beginning and it is what it is. Yes, I'd love to instantly see how far my troops can move without just trying. Yes, there's a lot of info hidden away within menus. But what can you do?
Overlooking the roughness, I'm having a really good time going back to these antiquated roots of the series. I'm not making use of much of the new features. No rewinding or anything. I'm laying in the bed I've made with each turn. So we'll see how far I can make it.
I'll be turning 40 much sooner than I expected. So maybe an existential crisis is due? I don't know. But I feel like since the holidays I've been struggling to really enjoy a lot of the games I've been playing. I didn't feel like I had the time nor focus to dive into Mass Effect 3; I felt like Among Us was a game for younger folks, and the imposter was me - the old dude; Catherine felt way cooler when I was 29 than when I was 39; Pokemon Sword was just MORE Pokemon, and I've honestly played a lot of Pokemon in the past few years, and so on. Beyond that, the urge to collect new games has started to feel like a chore lately. It's like, how do I know what to buy if I don't even know what I'm in the mood to play?
I know Marie Kondo is kind of a buzz-word at this point, but the last time I read her book several years back, I was able to happily apply a lot of the logic to my own video game collection. So my wife re-borrowed the book for me to thumb through again. But all of this is sort of a side-rant.
The funny thing is that while I've been going through this whole WHAT GAME WILL BRING ME JOY kind of breakdown, I've been slowly chipping away at Shadow Dragon. This is an old game that I was apprehensive about handing over $6 for. Truth be told, a lot of the old NES games I've played lately have only kept my attention for a night or two. But I don't know. In a weird - really weird - way, this game has been an odd remedy.
1. It's a tried and true formula for me. I love Fire Emblem games.
2. It's simple. The game mechanics are pretty easy to grasp right away, given you've played Fire Emblem games before. The full map is laid out for you at the beginning of each chapter, thus setting up your new 'chessboard.'
3. It's challenging. I'm not coasting through, but rather having a good time devoting the hour or so before bed to clearing a chapter or two.
Honestly, when I downloaded this game it was more out of wanting to have that little piece of Fire Emblem history. I wanted to make sure I had this game before it disappeared from the eShop next month. And I figured it'd be something I'd mess with for an hour and then say "okay, I now have some first hand experience with the start of the Fire Emblem series." But strangely, I like this game way more than I expected.
I almost wanted to give up on Fire Emblem the other night. I had gotten stuck on Chapter 5, and had my party wiped out twice. Marth had a broken sword. There was some wizard enemy with strong thunder magic that was destroying us. I felt like I was up against a wall.
I took a break with some rounds of Overwatch and then came back to FE with a fresh brain. I created a screen for Marth so he could head towards an item shop. Meanwhile, my squad wiped out a bunch of grunts leaving only that wizard. Guess what? Turns out that wizard ran over to Marth and joined our team! So now I have a super deadly wizard dude in the lineup. Marth bought a new sword, so we crossed a bridge, headed west, met up with some more recruits and wiped out the remainder of the enemies. Chapter 5 is done, and I feel rejuvenated.
There is an alternate reality out there where Shadow Dragon was released on the NES in America. In that reality, I would have played this before X-COM: Terror From The Deep, and it would be my introduction to the genre. In this reality, Fire Emblem would be my long running favorite strategy RPG series; it wouldn't' have taken me until Awakening to get into the series.
As I keep saying, yeah, this game is rough around the edges. But it's also brilliant.
I've had a very busy week with work and shoveling snow and stuff around the house and all that. Plus we watched that Britney Spears documentary. So I haven't had a ton of time for gaming this week, unfortunately.
But, I was listening to a Game Informer podcast episode about the upcoming Mass Effect remaster, and it reminded me that I've had a copy of Mass Effect 3 for Wii U sitting on my shelf for ages that I've never popped into the console.
Let me remind for a moment.
Quite a few years back, I was heavily into PC gaming. Somebody gifted me a copy of Dragon Age Origins, which I enjoyed immensely. After I finished that one, I decided I should play Mass Effect because in mind, it would be like Dragon Age In Space, and sci-fi is cooler than fantasy. So I played Mass Effect for a while, and liked it, and then got distracted by other games. A year or so later, I did the same exact thing with Mass Effect 2: started it; enjoyed it more than the first; got distracted by something else.
Now that we're a strictly Nintendo household, I only have access to ME3, but that's okay because I've at least spent time with the first two in the past, and really, I was most interested to get to that third game.
To my utter enjoyment, the Wii U edition begins with something called Genesis 2, which is a pretty lengthy comic book (published by Dark Horse!) that retells the events of the first two games, but has you make important decisions. It's basically like playing an abridged choose-your-own-adventure version of the first two games to catch you up on the story, and allow your decisions to carry over in lieu of playing the first two games in full. This... is kind of brilliant.
Anyway, I've only had a couple of hours to actually play so far, but I'm enjoying it a lot. Jane Shepard is awesome. And I forgot that Freddie Prinze Jr is the voice of James here (shout-outs to FPJ's cookbook!). My squad is currently exploring Mars, so I'm very, very early in the game, but looking forward to spending some more time with it.
Among Us has been one of this big buzz games that all the kids are playing. There's memes and streamers love it. Ostensibly, it's got a semi neat idea because it sort of reminds me of John Carpenter's The Thing, except with silly looking visuals.
Anyway, it was $5 on the eShop and I have $3.50 in credit, so I figured why not give it a try? It was snowing pretty hard, and I wanted to kill some time but wasn't really ready to dive into a big time-sink game.
So I squeezed a couple of hours of Among Us into my weekend. And... it's fine?
I had more fun playing as a crewmate than as an imposter, personally. Doing the tasks, avoiding getting killed, keeping an eye out for strange behavior was all fun enough. But ultimately, I don't really see the hype here. It feels like a fun little party game, but not something that would hold my attention long term.
The rounds end quick. Even with 10 players it seemed like a game would play out in minutes. Sure there were some moments of suspense - like when I killed someone and had to try to hide to not get caught. And there were some funny moments.
But overall, it felt kind of trendy to me. Maybe I'm wrong, and future updates will bring enough new maps and content to make it more everlasting. But right now, it feels like a kind of silly fun game that's also a bit shallow and lacks replayability for my own interest.
When I was a teen, I got a promotional copy of X-COM: Terror From The Deep for our PC somehow. I think it was because my step-father worked at Circuit City at the time? I'm a little fuzzy on this memory. Anyway, the game combined an ocean setting and aliens - two things that are awesome. See Also: The Abyss. The game was also brutally difficult to make sense of if you didn't have a manual. But it set up my future love and intrigue for turn based strategy games which would continue on in my life through Final Fantasy Tactics, Fire Emblem and so on.
The original reboot of XCOM (which dropped the dash and added the "Enemy Unknown" subtitle) blew me away. Between Xbox 360 and PC I put in like 200 hours on Enemy Unknown and its expansion, Enemy Within. But nothing could prepare me for the followup, XCOM 2, which somehow upped everything that I already thought was perfection.
Yes, when XCOM 2 launched my wife said "I'll see you in a few months," only half-jokingly. Of course we didn't have a child at the time, so I could easily plug away at the game via late (LATE) nights. And I did. I played through the main campaign and its expansion, War Of The Chosen - again, I think between PC and Xbox One this time.
When War Of The Chosen was originally released, I remember thinking that I really wished it was on my new Switch. I felt like XCOM would be perfect for playing on a portable. But alas, I instead had to settle for Mario + Rabbids there. At least for a while.
But XCOM 2 was finally brought to Switch in 2020. I admit, I was a little bummed that Enemy Unknown wasn't included in the package as 2K's other compilations released at the same time (Bioshock and Borderlands) included three games each. But what can you do? Truth be told, XCOM 2 is a way better game, so I can't really be that upset. Though I would still re-buy Enemy Unknown yet again if it came to Switch.
Anyway, for my - I don't know - fourth (?) replay of XCOM 2, I'm enabling all the extra stuff. It really makes it a whole new game. You've got "The Lost," which is a swarm of alien zombie things. You've got The Chosen, who are unique "boss" enemies. You've got new rebel allies. It's just a crazy game with all these bells and whistles enabled.
I'll admit, the framerate chugs at times on Switch. I mean, Xbox One had trouble keeping up with the horde of Lost at times, too. But I don't care. I'll take what I can get if it means portable XCOM. I am having a total blast here. This is one of my favorite games EVER. And I'm thrilled to jump back in again.
Oh the agony and drama of XCOM!
I was cruising along, making good progress. We went on a mission to collect some info on The Chosen. Now, I hadn't unlocked the perk to bring a fifth soldier on the mission, and so I should have probably slowed down. But I got cocky. This wasn't my first rodeo.
So we attempt to do the mission with four soldiers and things are going well enough. We're reaching the goal of the level, and I'm being pretty strategic. I set up two soldiers - one on each side of a closed door, and then marched the other two in another door into the building. I figured I'd have the first two outside, and out of sight ready to ambush.
That's one when one of those big Robocop-style ED-209 things shows up and fires a barrage of missiles at the closed door, bringing down the whole wall and letting Elena - my best solders! - bleed out. Ugh.
Things moved from bad to worse pretty rapidly from there. Two alien soldiers accompanied the 209, and THEN another two soldiers and a mind-crolling alien showed up behind us. We were outnumbered, and taking a beaten. Which means this would be the PERFECT time for The Chosen to show up and wreak even more havoc.
It was a suicide mission. I lost all four of my squad, and failed the mission. Things are not looking good for the XCOM project at the moment, but I need to march forward. There's no save-scumming, friends. You take the hand you're dealt and hope you can somehow learn from your mistakes.
I lied. I ended up restarting a new campaign after a few more major losses. I just wasn't feeling this playthrough and needed to start fresh. But that's the thing about XCOM, even if I sink multiple hours in, I don't mind restarting. That's very different from how I feel about most games. But XCOM... XCOM is special.
Imagine if you will a chess game but with lots of aliens. That's sort of the simple version, but it's ultimately what I love so much about these games. And yes, I'm a big fan of turn based strategy games in general. I've played tons of them including dumb ones like Falling Skies. And while the Fire Emblem series comes really close - XCOM is most definitely my favorite. So I don't care that I lost hours and then started all over again. I don't care that I've already seen XCOM 2 through the end multiple times now. This game always feels fresh and exciting to me.
I was too cocky. I felt like I've played enough XCOM that I could just blow right through this campaign - hitting up all the required missions. But after failing the Advent Blacksite mission TWICE, I decided to slow things down.
I've been focusing on building facilities, recruiting soldiers, sending rookies out on covert ops to gain some experience and rewards, and just generally managing the XCOM project instead of just going in too fast. Having now regrouped a bit, I feel like I have more control over what's going on and can get back to the story missions.
I love XCOM 2. I do. But it's always the ones you love that can hurt you the most. And hours in to my 2nd attempted campaign, I'm feeling completely beat down. The Avatar Project is only a couple of clicks away from complete domination. My ranks are whittled down. I keep failing at major missions.
I don't actually remember XCOM being this hard. But then again, I haven't played these games in nearly three years now. I guess I'm rusty.
I think diving straight back into the War Of The Chosen expansion was my mistake. I just felt so sure of myself. But wow, The Chosen are jerks. They show up at the worst times and they just wreak total havoc on an already heavy situation.
It pains me to say, but I think I'm going to have to start a new third campaign - this time just plain ol' vanilla XCOM 2 so I can get my sea legs back. But I might have to take a break and switch to something else to refresh my brain in the meantime. I've been hitting XCOM 2 for nearly two weeks now.