Also available on Wii U
Review written by Stephen Deck; originally published 4/2/2019 on Teacher by Day, Gamer by Night
One of the ironic things about the sixth Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, is that despite the fact that the inclusion of a character from the game – the protagonist, Roy – in Super Smash Bros. Melee is a big part of what got Westerners talking about Fire Emblem, it’s never received an official English translation. Fortunately for SRPG aficionados likes me, Fire Emblem has a pretty dedicated fanbase which produced a high-quality fan translation patch for the series’s handheld debut.
The first game in the Fire Emblem series to get a Western release was the seventh game, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade (simply titled “Fire Emblem” in the West), but that was actually a prequel to this previous game. In Binding Blade, the game centers around Roy, the son of the seventh game’s Lord Ephiram, as he sets out to discover why the nearby neighbor of Bern has launched a war of aggression and shattered the peace that the continent had worked so hard to maintain. Most Fire Emblem games follow a fairly similar story structure, but in typical Fire Emblem fashion, the quality of the storytelling and the absolutely fantastic character development make up for the relatively generic nature of the story itself.
From what I’ve read about the game’s development, Intelligent Systems tried to make Binding Blade more forgiving than the previous entry in the series, the Super Famicom’s Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. That alone makes me terrified to play Thracia 776 eventually as Binding Blade already had more than its share of challenges. The game’s overall difficulty was tough but fair, but there were a few bosses and individual levels that were absolutely brutal if you didn’t have a weapon that could exploit a specific weakness. I appear not to be alone in that opinion as Blazing Blade and the 8th game in the series, Sacred Stones, both saw the overall difficulty toned down a bit.
Binding Blade had an interesting development cycle having started its life as Fire Emblem: The Maiden of Darkness on Nintendo 64 before being virtually completely scrapped and moved to Game Boy Advance with only the protagonist, Roy, and a swordmaster character, Karel. Beyond the scrapped development of Maiden of Darkness, though, Binding Blade ended up introducing its own new spins on the series. First and foremost was the introduction of the magic triangle. Since the Super Famicom era, Fire Emblem games have had a weapon triangle; sword beats axe, axe beats lance, and lance beats sword. Binding Blade expanded that mechanic to magic in a system where anima (elemental magic) beats light magic, light magic beats dark magic, and dark magic beats anima. Binding blade wasn’t technically the first game in the series to have this sort of advantage system – that would be Genealogy of the Holy War, the fourth game – but whereas Genealogy only had the dis/advantage affect accuracy, Binding Blade expanded that to have an effect on both accuracy and damage, making it much more crucial to the development of effective strategies.
All things considered, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade made about as impressive a debut on the handheld scene for the series as one could want. The game isn’t perfect as there are some minor quality of life things that I found annoying – the inability to use non-combat items like Speedwings and Hero Crests from the pre-battle prep screen, for example – but those are nitpicks at best. The only real complaint I have is that the game’s balance could have used a little bit of tweaking, but at no point does it feel unbalanced to the point of being broken. I’m not willing to say that Binding Blade is the best game in the Fire Emblem series, but it definitely is the best of the first six games that saw retail release.