Fantasy and strategy is a weirdly popular mix. If it’s not Warhammer Total War pitting rat-men against elves, then it’s Final Fantasy spinning off into imaginary snowball fights. A fantasy tactics series with some of the most die-hard fans in the universe is easily Fire Emblem. Although the first game to be released in the west didn’t arrive until 2003, the series has been going on since 1990, with an impressive 16 titles in the series.
With so many games available, how do you know where to start and which games give you the best Fire Emblem experience? That’s where we come in. We’ve put together a comprehensive list of some of the best titles in the Fire Emblem series.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses
You know what they say: practice makes perfect. While it’s occasionally the case that a series’ first entry turns out to be the best, occasionally the latest entry has just managed to perfect every last detail and turned out great. Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a great example of the latest entry perfecting the formula of the series while managing to make some really good additions that drew in more people to the series than ever before.
The major new addition to the gameplay is that it’s been split into two distinct sections. There’s the regular combat gameplay that’s been part of the series since the very beginning, and that’s still as great as ever. On top of that sort of gameplay, there’s the addition of the school mode that allows you to tutor various in-game characters so they learn new skills, as well as complete side missions to improve various stats and combat performance levels from your characters.
The new school half of the gameplay gives you a much more dynamic sense of control over the progression of your characters. The tutoring you do not only affects the different weapon proficiencies they have, but you also define the class they end up with once they graduate from school. As with any decent gameplay addition, the school mode is successful because it adds extra value to the main gameplay while giving you something else to do to keep things interesting.
If you’re into games with replay value, you’ll love Three Houses. To see the full extent of the narrative, you’ll need to play through the game several times, which isn’t too much of a chore because of how much fun the gameplay is. It’s the titular three different houses that make the replays worth doing. Though it should be said that some hardcore gamers might find the gameplay a little easy. Regardless, Three Houses is certainly worth your time, even if it’s your first Fire Emblem game.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Radiant Dawn is a bit of an odd beast thanks to the era it comes from. It’s a Wii game which you’d have thought means it comes with annoying, token motion controls, but fortunately the game avoided this fate and you can use the more traditional method of pressing buttons to actually play the game. It’s a good thing too because Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is certainly worth playing thanks to having one of the most ambitious storylines of the entire Fire Emblem series.
Radiant Dawn follows on directly from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance on the GameCube, and has many of the same mechanics as the previous title. One of the main differences is that the western release doesn’t have any gameplay tweaks to make it easier for the audience outside of Japan, so you’ll be getting the originally intended experience. Of course, that also means that the game can be a bit difficult at times, but that’s part of what makes it so enjoyable.
The story is the really unique aspect here, and it does have a sort of love/hate effect on fans of the series. You bounce around following several different groups of characters, and it’s certainly one of the largest storylines that the series had attempted to tell up until this point. It can be a little jarring and confusing if you struggle to keep up with complicated plotlines, but if you can get invested in it, you’ll find a storyline well worth trying to keep track of.
The other aspect of Radiant Dawn that makes it interesting is the support system used. Typically in a Fire Emblem game, you’ll want to try and improve the relationships between characters by having support conversations, but only certain characters will be compatible. Radiant Dawn tried a new system that meant any character could support any other character. While this does leave the characters feeling a little more like blank slates than usual, it’s at least an interesting take on things from a gameplay perspective.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening is another game in the series that manages to do a great deal towards bringing in some new players. While Awakening does have some divisive elements to it, there’s plenty to enjoy to be found as well, and there’s also quite a lot of replayability too if you like to get your money’s worth when you purchase a game. It’s definitely one of the best games in the series if you’re a newcomer, and while that might annoy some hardcore fans, it is certainly something that is worth celebrating.
Part of the reason that Awakening was so great for newcomers was the same reason that it managed to annoy a fair few of the older fans: simplified gameplay. The game has a really strong opening in terms of gameplay and map design, managing to be tough but fair while keeping things engaging for new players. However, if you’re a big fan of previous entries, you may notice that certain battle objectives have been removed, leaving you with ‘route the enemy’ and ‘defeat the boss’ as the only two possible objectives. While this does mean less variety in the gameplay, it’s also much easier to understand for anyone not used to this type of game yet.
Other than that, there’s quite a lot going for Awakening. Character development is some of the best in the series, as long as you’re looking in the right places. With a game this deep, you have to really try hard to get stuck into everything that it has to offer. The story is also pretty solid but lacks the overall complexity that might make it a struggle to keep track for a newcomer.
As you can probably tell at this point, Awakening is certainly an entry that feels designed for someone who isn’t already into the series. Understandably, that does mean that it isn’t quite as appealing to a die-hard fan who’s been with the series since it was first made available in the west. Despite this, there’s a lot of fun to be had, and in many ways Fire Emblem: Awakening is the perfect start for anyone who wants to get a foothold on the series, and that alone makes it a great entry in the series. Add the interesting characters into the mix and you’ve got a pretty sweet package.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Well, we’ve had the follow-up, now it’s time to take a look at the original. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is the game that came before Radiant Dawn, both in terms of release, as well as in terms of storyline. Path of Radiance is fondly remembered by many fans, partially because it resembles some huge milestones in the series that helped it to feel like it was being brought properly into the 21st century.
The first, and probably the most noticeable milestone is that Path of Radiance is the first game in the entire series to feature fully 3D rendered graphics. The characters, the maps, and the battle screens are all viewable in glorious 3D, and because the game is on the GameCube it looks great as well, even in the modern era. On top of that, this was also the first time that the series featured voice acting for all of the main characters, bringing them to life in a way that fans just hadn’t seen before.
There were also some interesting additions to the overall universe of Fire Emblem with Path of Radiance. A new race of warriors known as the Laguz was introduced who fight using animalistic forms, which as a way of keeping your universe interesting is a pretty decent way to go. Another new addition was the preparation system which could help your team get ready before a battle, something which most games in the series continued to feature afterward.
Path of Radiance is a great entry in the series, and because it’s the start of the two-game Tellius Series, it’s also a great place to start if you’re not already familiar with the series. While these titles weren’t overly popular in Japan compared to the rest of the series, here in the west they really left their mark, making Ike an incredibly recognizable character, especially after he was featured in Smash Bros Brawl.
The Final Word
Picking the best games from the Fire Emblem series was no easy task, especially with so many different games out there. If you’re a huge fan, there’s a good chance that you have your own favorite title, and might not like some of the ones we picked. Let us know which games you’d have chosen for the list in the comments down below.