Also available on Wii, Wii U, and 3DS via Virtual Console
Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (sometimes referred to as Fire Emblem 4 as it was the fourth retail release) is one of the seven Fire Emblem games that never saw a release outside of Japan (eight if you count BS Fire Emblem), and that’s a real shame because this game is incredible. With this game’s completion, Thracia 776 is now the only game in the series that I haven’t played as of the time of writing, and setting that one aside as I obviously can’t judge it, Genealogy of the Holy War has solidly taken the #3 spot on my ranking of Fire Emblem games after Awakening and Three Houses, respectively.
What really sets Genealogy apart from the three games that came before it is that the story is split into two distinct parts with a distinct line-up of characters for each part that only has a couple instances of overlap. In the first half of the game, your protagonist is Sigurd, the young heir next in line to become lord of the Grannvale territory of Chalphy. The bulk of Grannvale’s army – including Sigurd’s lord father – is away fighting a war against the Kingdom of Issach in the northeastern corner of the continent of Jugdral. During this moment of vulnerability at home, the neighboring kingdom of Verdane in Jugdral’s southwest corner launches an unprovoked invasion of Grannvale. Sigurd must take what few knights were left in Chalphy and protect the kingdom from these invaders. This leads into what ends up being a much longer military campaign than Sigurd expected, and along the way, he picks up new friends and allies. For the first six of the game’s twelve chapters, you play as Sigurd and his army. Then, after some plot points I won’t spoil, the game jumps forward fifteen years.
The last six chapters have Sigurd’s son, Seliph, as the protagonist. In the time between the two generations, Grannvale has moved from being a relatively peaceful kingdom to being an autocratic empire ruling all of Jugdral with an iron fist. Seliph is thrust into the position of revolutionary as fate places him in command of an army of liberation that, starting in Isaach, begins a march throughout eastern Jugdral with the goal of freeing the continent from the Empire’s grasp and restoring justice and freedom to Grannvale. With the exception of Finn, a knight from Leonster in Jugdral’s southeastern Thracian peninsula, none of your combat troops from the first generation make a return in part two. One non-combat unit from part one becomes a combat unit in part two, and one combat unit from part one becomes a non-combat character in part two, but Finn is the only one who takes part in combat in both generations.
The “generation” mechanic, which wouldn’t come back until my beloved Fire Emblem Awakening, it really what sets Genealogy of the Holy War apart. To put it briefly, each female in your army will, if my count was right, have two children if they’re paired with a male lover by the end of Chapter 5. The son will inherit the items and skills of whomever the father was, and the daughter will inherit the items and skills of whomever the mother was. If there’s a female unit who isn’t paired up, some boring and much less powerful substitute unit will take the children’s places. Protip – Ayra’s children could single handedly win the second half of the game for you. I mean, not literally, but they’re broken in the most glorious ways possible.
The character art is really good and, with the exception of some enemy units, makes each of your units feel unique and special. The enemies leave a little to be desired in that regard, though, as even named enemies tend to look the same. Almost all of the female mages look exactly the same with just different eye and hair colors, most of the male generals look the same, and most of the dark priests pretty much look the same. At least the player characters – the ones you see most of the time – each look solid and unique. The sprites, too, look really nice. The game’s soundtrack, something that always stands out as special to me in Fire Emblem games, doesn’t disappoint here, either, as all of the game’s music is extremely well composed and fits the mood and tone of whatever’s going on perfectly.
The game’s general objective is pretty much the same as most Fire Emblem games – evil cult tries to resurrect evil dragon to take over the world, so good guys descended from legendary good guys have to team up, awaken some super good dragon, and beat the evil dragon to save the world. Most of the series follows the same basic script. It’s the details and smaller story elements that make each game unique, and they really knock those out of the park with this game. As I said in the beginning, this game rocketed into my top three, and it’s definitely my favorite pre-3DS Fire Emblem game. It gets everything right. There were one or two little translation quirks I noticed where the wording was just a little awkward – “I crave your forgiveness” being a line that stood out to me and probably could more accurately have been translated as “I beg your pardon” or simply “Please forgive me” – but I’ve seen officially licensed translations that people were paid to do that had more errors than this free fan translation, so you know what? A+ on this one, dude. If you had taken me in cold and told me that this was an official commercial localization, I’d have totally believed it without hesitation.