Review: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)

What this remake lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in polish

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, the Nintendo DS is the best current generation system to look to when it comes to role-playing games. With titles like Final Fantasy IV, Dragon Quest V, The World Ends With You and Children of Mana, this portable gaming wonder plays host to some of the biggest RPG franchises in the history of the genre.

Adding to the list of must-have RPGs on the system is Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, Nintendo's attempt at revitalizing the classic NES game that kick-started the franchise. Instead of just taking the backbone of the original and bringing it to the Nintendo DS, Nintendo has gone out of its way to implement a ton of new features, most notably online play.

With that being said though, it isn't difficult to see that the game is based off of a NES title that was first released almost two decades ago. On the bright side though, this is the first time it's been granted an international release. Back in 1990, the game was released only on the Famicom (the Japanese counterpart to the NES) and it wasn't until almost a decade later that the series broke free from its reigns and escaped from its native Japan.

Like the other games in the series, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a turn-based strategy RPG in which players assign commands to individual units on a gird-based battlefield. After assigning commands, players just sit back and watch the enemy take their turn. This cycle repeats itself until Marth, the protagonist of the game, seizes a particular square. To do this, players just progress their army through hordes of enemies, engaging in battles along the way. Once they arrive at the square, they'll have to take down a boss that once defeated allows players to seize the square and progress to the next level.

Due to it being more an enhanced remake, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon isn't all that innovative and doesn't hold up all that well compared to recently released installments in the franchise. With that being said though, it isn't hard to see the distance the developers went to polish the game to perfection. Each battle is heavily tuned and balanced and is presented through a very slick and slender interface.

One of the gameplay mechanics that is essential to victory is the 'rock-paper-scissors' triangle in which swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. Though this mechanic wasn't included in the original, it fits into the game perfectly and adds a new layer of strategy to it.

For the most part, the story in the game is pretty standard RPG stuff. Though it has its moments (such as when you're forced to sacrifice one of your units to continue with the game) most of the key moments are fairly dull and forgettable. Due to the age of the game, it's understandable, but it would've been nice for Nintendo and Intelligent Systems to go one step further and revamp the story a little.

Like other RPGs, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon features twenty different classes that each of the units in your army can take on. Some units have abilities that will prove to be essential in routing the enemy whereas others will prove to be vital in making it to a treasure chest. Returning from past games is the ability to earn the support of certain characters by getting a previously recruited unit to talk to them. Sometimes finding out the unit to talk to them with is a little difficult, but once completed, you'll have a brand-new soldier at your disposal.

Perhaps one of the neatest additions is the inclusion of an in-game tutorial that helps explain the basics of the game to newcomers and veterans of the series. It starts off relatively easy, which is great for newcomers who are trying to wrap their brain around the concept, but as time progresses, it starts to become rather difficult. If you've played any of the other games in the series then this won't be so much of a problem, but newcomers might find it a bit hard-going.

The biggest addition thrown into the mix this time around is the ability to connect to Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection and battle opponents from around the world. Using the units that you've trained in the story mode, players can take on another army consisting of five units and see how they stack up. With all due honesty, it's nice addition that is implemented really poorly. If you've just started playing the game, you may end up playing against somebody who has already completed the game. Unless you've trained your units to their maximum levels, prepare to lose.

From a visual perspective, the game looks great. Units are very well animated during fight scenes which take place on the upper screen, but on the downside, they lack animations when on the playing field, which is presented on the bottom screen. With that being said though, the battlefields and character models look great.

Conclusion

When everything is said and done, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a solid role-playing game that will keep players occupied for countless hours. Though the game isn't quite as long as recent installments (there are only 25 chapters this time around), Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection helps make up for the shortness of the game - providing you've completed it and gotten all the best units, items and stats. If not, prepare to lose each and every battle online. With that complaint aside though, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a very worthwhile RPG that should satisfy gamers looking for a hardcore experience.