Fire Emblem’s Secret 16-Bit History Part 1 – ファイアーエムブレムの歴史

Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo’s longest running franchises, beginning in 1990 on the Famicom.  Created by the internal team Intelligent Systems, it is also one of Nintendo’s many critically claimed series, with averages as high as 92% for the latest entry Awakening on the 3DS.  Nevertheless, a considerable number of entries within the series, which currently stands in at 11 games and two remakes, have never been seen outside of Japan, remaining a secret to only the most ardent of retro importers.

All of this comes despite the increased interest in the series following its international arrival in 2003.  As such, let me present to you a brief guide to all of the Super Famicom Fire Emblem games from the 16-Bit era that still remain exclusive to Japan, and incidentally three of Nintendo’s best kept secrets to all outside its native homeland.  So to begin, we’ll be exploring the first of the Fire Emblem games released for the Super Famicom, and that game is Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (ファイアーエムブレム・紋章の謎)

Mystery of the Emblem
Original Box for Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem

The first of the three Fire Emblem games released for the Super Famicom came in 1994, four years after the console’s local release.  Mystery of the Emblem as the game was subtitled, was designed by Shouzou Kaga, the man who had developed the two earlier games in the series for the Famicom.  In addition, it was produced by Gunpei Yokoi, the creator of the Game & Watch and Game Boy, and the producer of Metroid.  In fact, whilst Mystery of the Emblem was the third game in Intelligent System’s RPG series, it actually has striking resemblances to the very first title, with these resemblances being most evident through the manner in which the game itself is split into two halves.

These two halves take the form of two books, with the first of these being a remake of the Famicom original, and the second being a continuation of Marth’s story.  Obviously Intelligent Systems didn’t want to risk leaving out those new to the series, given the four years that had passed since the first title, but at the same time they were not willing to draw Marth’s tale to a close just yet.  Consequently, this game takes the series’ most famous character, who many will know from numerous appearances in Smash Bros, and tells the story of how he travels the continent of Akaneia, in order to retrieve the legendary Fire Emblem.

Marth as he is depicted in Super Smash Bros.

As with all Fire Emblem titles, the story weaves and alters its path over the course of the two books, and sees Marth aim to stop a variety of enemies from bringing ruin to the lands.  These enemies are varied, and include his former ally Hardin the soon to be Emperor of Akaneia, his partner General Lang, and the Dragon King Medeus.  Another sentence

Nevertheless, whilst featuring new advances such as a battery save feature, and the ability for cavalier warriors to dismount and fight on foot, the game also saw the removal of many features seen in Gaiden, the series previous game released on the Famicom.  These absences included a navigation-able world map and explorable towns.  This in part led to a less than sparkling review of 24/40 from leading Japanese gaming publication Famitsu.

Overworld View
Overworld View

However, back at the time of release the fans spoke out and disagreed with the critics.  In fact Mystery of the Emblem remained number one on Famitsu’s very own chart for an entire year.  Additionally, the game’s popularity was also reinforced when Japanese gamers were polled for their greatest games of all time in 2006, and Mystery of the Emblem came in as the highest ranked Fire Emblem game coming in at number 68.

The game was also later remade for the DS in 2010 titled Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow.  Nevertheless, despite the series having seen international releases since 2003, and the growing popularity of Marth thanks to Smash Bros, this title was once again only released in Japan.  As such meaning that Mystery of the Emblem remained exclusive to Japan, and ultimately largely unknown by the rest of the world.

Mystery of the Emblem Battle
Battle Screen

All in all, Mystery of the Emblem paved the way for two more excellent Fire Emblem titles to be released on the Super Famicom.  In fact, these games would utilise many aspects set forward in Mystery of the Emblem, including development style, gameplay mechanics, and storytelling.  Not only this, but it also cemented Marth’s story as the flagship tale of the Fire Emblem series by not only revisiting it, but by expanding on it as well.

Coming up next in Rings & Coins’ look back of the Super Famicom’s Japanese exclusive Fire Emblem titles, is the 1996 game Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War.

*Note: If anyone is wondering what the Japanese in the article’s title  (ファイアーエムブレムの歴史) actually means, it literally translates to Fire Emblem’s History or The History of Fire Emblem.

Sophia Aubrey Drake

A lifelong gamer with a fanatical love of all things Nintendo and Japan. So much so that she's written a thesis on one and lived in the other. Currently on a quest to catch every last Pokémon. Follow me on twitter via @DivaXChill or @RingsandCoins.

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