For various reasons we now live in an era where developers breaking away from their parent companies to make similar-but-different pseudo-sequels to dormant, dead, or defiled game series is now a relatively commonplace occurrence, with Koji Igarashi's Castlevania successor Bloodstained being the latest to promise fans a slice of an old favourite all wrapped up in a modern bow. But the industry wasn't always so welcoming to experienced talent trying to take back their creations, and Fire Emblem creator Shouzou Kaga's 2001 Playstation RPG Tear Ring Saga had Nintendo in a bit of a flap.
So why exactly are we discussing a PlayStation RPG on Nintendo Life? Shouldn't this article be on our wonderful sister site, Push Square? Well, other than the format the game released on, it really couldn't be more classic Nintendo if it tried. Kaga's involvement offers an obvious connection, but there's also the fact that Fire Emblem artist Mayumi Hirota created the characters. In fact, Tear Ring Saga is so Fire Emblem that those with the skill and inclination can find graphics bearing the game's original title, Emblem Saga, hidden on the disc!
Did Nintendo sue? Of course it did! Did it work? Sort of. After several years of legal battling publisher Enterbrain was fined around 76 million Yen (approximately £400,000 GBP / $600,000 USD using current exchange rates) under the "Unfair Competition Prevention Act" due to the potential for confusion between Tear Ring Saga and the Fire Emblem series – but it was decided that the game wasn't actually infringing any Nintendo copyrights and could remain on sale.
With all that exciting legal shenanigans out of the way, now would probably be a good time to talk about the game itself, but as it follows the classic Fire Emblem formula so closely there's really not a great deal to explain. Breakable weapons, permanent character death, sidling up to NPCs in the middle of a battle for a quick bit of shopping… it's all in there, and it all works exactly as you'd expect it to.
But is it any good? Thankfully, yes. It feels a lot fairer than the notoriously brutal Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 – Kaga's last title for Nintendo and at the time of Tear Ring Saga's release, the most recent game in the series – but it's certainly not "dumbed down" either; Tear Ring Saga simply feels like a tough but not impossible challenge for anyone with a reasonable grasp of the genre and in an odd sort of way would make a good introduction to pre-GBA style Fire Emblem.
Tear Ring Saga is an interesting part of gaming history, a "what if" glimpse into an alternative future for the Fire Emblem series. But to leave it at that would be incredibly unfair: it's also a very good RPG in its own right and deserves praise on its own merits – and not just for taking on Nintendo at its own game and (mostly) winning.
A beautifully-animated sequel to Tear Ring Saga was released on the Playstation 2 in 2005, titled Berwick Saga. While this new entry featured many changes which moved the game away from the core Fire Emblem-style formula – the most immediately notable being hex-based maps – it is still clear to see where it draws its inspiration from. Sadly, while both games generally reviewed well, Berwick Saga turned out to be last game in this brave new series, as well as the last game from series developer Tirnanog.