Marth steps out of the shadows and into another remake

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (2008)

Hollywood’s gotten itself into a creative funk again, and but for the presence of a hundred thousand Marvel and Disney films, made with the express purpose of giving these two creators more disposable cash than any piddly old first world country, there isn’t much to see in the cinema.

Well, that’s not fully true: there are a bunch of remakes for you to “treat” your eyes to. I even hear rumblings that they want to redo The Breakfast Club. Simply impossible – how do you catch lightning in a bottle twice? The kids would be on their phones all day, secretly capturing videos of each other to post publicly in humiliating fashion for the victims, and that would be that. God, I’m glad the phones weren’t smart when I was in school.

You will also have remembered that whole Ghostbusters furore from 2016, when anybody who pointed out that a female-only Ghostbusters reimagining that looked catalogue awful were the misogynistic spawn of Hitler. You could protest and say that, more than anything else, it would inflict Melissa McCarthy on us for 90 minutes and that was a war crime in itself, but no joy – you would be de-platformed immediately. The film came and passed, and it was indeed awful, but I’m sure glad I didn’t say it at the time. They’d still be peeling pieces of me off the Twitter scrapheap.

That doesn’t mean remakes are inherently bad, however, especially when it comes to gaming. To be honest, I’ve been on record before as saying that we should just wrap up any new games now because all of the ideas are done. Forget about VR, or 3D or any of that guff. Forget about indie games and all the rest of it. Let’s just remake everything from now on. An open world Ice Climber, Dynamite Headdy with pastel graphics, that sort of thing. Leave it to the remakes to bring us something new.

In a sense, Fire: Emblem Shadow Dragon brings us something new, or at least something that had never left Japan before. In this case, a remake is fine – it’s retreading old ground for the Japanese players, but at least it gives us all a new toy to play with. Of course, the very first Fire Emblem did indeed get a localisation some years later on Switch, with a longer subtitle.

And actually it’s not the first time the first Fire Emblem game was reimagined – the Super Famicom (and only the Super Famicom) received Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem way back in the 90s. God, it seems like the original game gets a remake every 10 years, doesn’t it?

Shadow Dragon was one of about nine million games on that wondrous console, the DS, a console that I initially passed up which ensured that it would go onto become mega-successful. I’m just glad I didn’t buy a Wii U at launch or I’d really be cursing my luck. Given that it was a remake, made with then-modern sensibilities, it should be a lot less clunky and more accessible than the 1990 original, right?

Or failing that, at least the remade game will look prettier. Shadow Dragon does get mocked and repels players for its graphics, especially the character portraits, right in that uncanny territory, a little bit too human except a little bit not human enough, very 2008. A far cry from the top notch sprites of the GBA predecessors, without doubt.

Once you look past the divisive graphics, it really is a note-for-note remake, so much so that I reckon for some long-time FE fans it’ll be a bit like being at church and disinterestedly going along with the prayers and readings. Apart from the looks and music (which I think is decent, but not mega) there’s a bit more flavour text between stages, well written stuff, but that’s it. No abilities or cutscenes or Supports that allow you to LARP as someone about to deflower the comely Pegasus Knight.

Even the maps you battle on are essentially ripped from the Famicom original, which is nothing if not authentic – no falsified ageing techniques at play here; Intelligent Systems haven’t elected to cut holes in their own jeans and distress them. The game does creak a bit in places but it eventually just devolves into straightforward fun, with the missions getting shorter as you go on instead of longer.

Once you have a decent army built up, you can be finished the easier difficulty campaign in no time at all. There is a facility to create a limited-use checkpoint during battles, which is far from being a save state and actually adds a bit of strategy. And that old tactic of using the Warp spell to place Marth an inch away from the boss’s face, ready to strike, in a manner similar to Pierce Brosnan throwing a lunger at that chap in the toilet in Goldeneye, that one still works. Is that how the heroes of legend did it…?

I didn’t quite 100% this game though, because I later learned that to unlock some gaiden side chapters you have to have less than a certain amount of units total, as in you might need to cull a few from your ranks to make the cut. But, just as I cannot pick the slightly mean dialogue option in games because I’m too sensitive and spineless, so I cannot bring myself to play the role of the insane Roman General and kill my own men to further my Machiavellian goals.

As a result, those chapters shall simply have to remain unplayed, but I doubt we’re missing much. Remember that the original Fire Emblem game on Famicom was designed to be played action movie style, picking up and dropping AK-47 Cavaliers and Wind Mage M16s as you went. There is precedence in having a revolving door of characters, but anyone with a bit of sense resets when a member of their army gets cut down. What if you need them to carry some spears and vulneraries later?

It is a mythologically significant game too, because this is the first time we actually got to use Marth in a game outside of Smash Bros, although you’d be forgiven for forgetting that fact considering the lack of fuss this game received, from Nintendo as well as from anyone else. But then, one must remember that Shadow Dragon came out in the days before Fire Emblem games got any kind of push, and certainly before it went full anime. 

Think of it a bit like wrestling – these days even a jobber, a no-hoper, could possibly drum up a following and eke out a career by leveraging social media or something. They can get their name out there. If you were a bottom feeder in the 90s and early 00s though, before the internet was around to rescue you from the scrapheap, then you could forget it.

The Wii and DS consoles may have sold like hot cakes, but their Fire Emblem titles sure didn’t. You know what they’ll have to do, don’t you? Well, the same thing they did for the twelfth Fire Emblem game, the one that came directly after Shadow Dragon, imaginatively titled New Mystery of The Emblem – they’ll need to remake the remake. And I for one can’t wait.

21 October 2022

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