Also available on Wii, 3DS and Wii U via Virtual Console (Japan only)
I'd heard that Fire Emblem Gaiden changed up the standard Fire Emblem formula, so I was always a little unsure whenever I considered playing it. With the 3DS remake coming out in North American in two weeks, though, I knew that now was the time to power through. If I played the remake first, not only would I not appreciate the changes made in the remake as much, but I knew the original would feel clunky and archaic when I played it later. To get full enjoyment out of both games, I knew I needed to play the original release before the upcoming remake.
There are definitely a lot of things that Gaiden did that breaks from what now know as the "core" Fire Emblem formula, but it's not as drastically different as I had expected. I've seen it compared to Zelda II, and in some ways, I think that's fair; it's the second game in the series, so there wasn't an established "tradition" to continue or break, but because it's different from what later became the norm, it can feel quite alien to those playing it today. Gaiden did the whole "do it differently" thing much better than Zelda II, however. The only major differences are that weapons don't degrade, you have a map you can traverse at will (rather than straight linear battle progressions), and your game is split between two separate groups - Alm's group and Celica's group, each of which move on opposite sides of the map and interact only in indirect ways until the end.
The battles themselves work pretty much the way that they do in any Fire Emblem game. You move around a grid in turn based combat and try to kill the bad guys before they kill you. Weapons don't degrade, so there's one less thing to worry about, but because this is an early Fire Emblem game, there's no weapon triangle. I forgot about that when I first started playing and was horribly confused with an axe wielder crippled one of my sword users in an early battle. Otherwise, it's your standard Fire Emblem combat system. You get experience for kills, you stats go up when you level up, and one wrong move can fuck your entire team. One difference to note is that class ups work differently here. There are development "trees" that different classes use, and you class up not with an item or by surpassing a level cap but by visiting a shrine once you've attained a minimum level. From that level, you can either promote your unit or keep them at a lower class (though I have no idea why you'd ever want to do that). Enemies in shrines also respawn every time you leave, so they're great for grinding exp (a must in this game).
I do have one minor gripe with this game - I didn't find the characters or story as engaging as most Fire Emblem narratives. That's not to say that it was bad; it was very enjoyable. I'm normally absolutely engrossed in the lore and story of a Fire Emblem game, and here, I was only interested. I felt little burning urge to rush home to play immediately after work, and I've rarely lacked that for a Fire Emblem game. I certainly played once I did get home, and I enjoyed it, but it certainly didn't hook me hard and relentlessly like Mystery of the Emblem or Path of Radiance did. I'm hoping that spruced up cut scenes and some voice acting in Fire Emblem Echoes will make me more interested than the Famicom's mute text screens. That's not knocking text delivered narrative at all, but it's undeniably less immersive than animated cut scenes with voice acting.
Fire Emblem Gaiden isn't going to make my Top 5 Fire Emblem Games list or anything, but it's an extremely competent sequel to the original, and while it can be a little bit rough around the edges, it's absolutely still worth playing for fans of the series as well as fans of SRPGs in general. The characters, while not as captivating as other entries in the franchise, are interesting and likeable, and the story is deep enough. The combat is what really makes the game shine, though, and truthfully, that's as it should be. If you're into Fire Emblem or strategy games, definitely give this one a go next time you're in the mood for a challenge.
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.