The Intelligent Systems developed, Nintendo published Fire Emblem games comprise one of the longest running strategy RPG series in all of gaming. The series made its debut in 1990 with Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi for the Famicom (the Japanese version of the Nintendo Entertainment System). Now, after picking up the series with the second Game Boy Advance installment, North American gamers are finally being treated to the first game in the series, albeit in remake form–and, yes, the game stars the ever-popular Prince Marth of Super Smash Bros. fame.
Story (3 out of 5)
Shadow Dragon takes place in the continent of Archanea. Ages ago, the malevolent dragon king Medeus attempted to conquer the land, only to be stopped by a hero with a divine blade. That hero just happens to be an ancestor of Marth’s, and as the game opens, he learns that Medeus has returned and that it now falls to him in order to take up the divine blade and fulfill the duty of his bloodline by putting an end to the dragon king for once and for all. Being a remake of an 8-bit title, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon definitely exhibits a minimalist style when it comes to plot development, and the characters are rather devoid of personality as well. That’s not to say the writing is bad, just a little bare-bones when compared to recent original titles in the series.
Gameplay (4 out of 5)
If you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem game before, you pretty much know what to expect, and if you haven’t, there’s a good tutorial prologue that will walk you through the basics. Essentially, you control a group of soldiers, knights, horsemen, wizards, archers, etc. on a battlefield map. Your goal is to clear each map by besting the opposition in turn-based combat. Different weapons and types of magic are strong against one type and weak against another, forming a sort of rock-paper-scissors style triangle. Lose a unit in combat and he or she is gone for good, though throughout the course of the game you will have the opportunity to recruit new soldiers to replace fallen ones. Eventually, you can level up your troops and give them new, more powerful classes.
There are more than 20 different main levels, as well as several side-story challenges, in Shadow Dragon. Furthermore, there are six different difficulty levels, though only two are available at the very beginning. Of course, there are some major differences between this game and other U.S. Fire Emblem titles. For one thing, there’s actually a multiplayer mode–a first for the series. Not only can you battle someone over the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection, but you can also loan out units and purchase items from an online shop as well. Furthermore, unit progression is not fixed. You can "reclass" or change their classes at any time, handy for filling glaring holes in your troop roster. Finally, you can now access permanent save points during certain points in most battles, allowing for shorter play sessions. These points do disappear once used, but it definitely makes the game easier and more convenient.
Graphics and Sound (3 out of 5)
I have to admit, I’m a little disappointed by the in-game graphics. Sure, the artwork is nice, and there are some cool effects (such as having Marth run from one location to another in between chapters), but on the whole it doesn’t look all that much better than the Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem games of years past. They’re passable, but I expected more. No such disappointment with the musical score, though. The soundtrack is most impressive, and I have to admit, I enjoyed hearing some familiar tunes in the game, despite the fact that this is my first experience with this particular title.
Overall Rating (4 out of 5)
Personally, I don’t find Shadow Dragon to be quite in the same class as the last two Fire Emblem games, Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. That said, it was a thoroughly enjoyable tactical RPG and contained many of the classic series elements that I’ve come to know and love. The story was simple but entertaining, and while the game seemed more forgiving than, say, the Wii entry in the series, it still offered a decent challenge for armchair generals. It isn’t my favorite Fire Emblem game, but if you’re a fan of the series or looking for a solid new strategy roleplaying title, Shadow Dragon is definitely worthy of your time and hard earned cash.