Since Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade — or just Fire Emblem as it was known in the West — made its way to the West on the Game Boy Advance thanks to the popularity of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee, the series has filled a cutthroat, tactical RPG void on almost every Nintendo console since – all the way up to the stellar Fire Emblem: Three Houses on the Switch.
Known for wide casts of colourful characters, challenging maps, permadeath, dozens of classes, and more recently matchmaking, the plots of political intrigue often get left out of the Fire Emblem discussion. A shame, because the writers over at Intelligent Systems have put together more than a few decent yarns over the series' 30-year+ history. As such, we expect this month’s Fire Emblem: Engage to have a great story as well, despite much of the conversation being focused on the protagonist’s toothpaste hair.
We’ve gone ahead and ranked all the Fire Emblem game stories (including remakes) released outside of Japan from worst to best below, keeping in mind how well the plot integrates into the gameplay. Be aware that spoilers abound...
The original Fire Emblem (in both its DS remake form and limited-time localised Switch version of the Famicom original, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon & the Blade of Light) bottoms out this list not because it’s bad, but because it’s by far the most straightforward – and a little rote – narrative due to its age.
Long ago, the Shadow Dragon Medeus was defeated by a legendary hero wielding the Falchion, the Blade of Light. A century later, Evil Dragon Bro is resurrected, once again invades, and it’s up to the descendant of said legendary hero – Marth – to take care of Medeus once again.
Shadow Dragon’s story remains primarily foundational and fairly forgettable, especially because it lacks support conversations to provide depth and context.
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The setup for Fates might be the most intriguing the series has ever had, but in most facets of its execution, it dropped the Vulnerary. Fates is split into three games dependent on protagonist Corrin’s choice early on: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations.
This setup had a major problem despite having a well-written ensemble. If you didn’t buy all three games – a tall ask – you lacked some fairly necessary attachment and context to the characters you were fighting against. While Birthright suffers less from this, Conquest stretches believability to justify Corrin’s quest to – SPOILERS! – invade her native country in order to seat her adoptive father on a magical throne to reveal him as a corrupt puppet of the evil dragon god Anankos. Yes, it’s a bit convoluted. Furthermore, Revelations undermines the tension of the initial setup by — MORE SPOILERS! — bringing everyone together to defeat the Big Bad Dragon God for a happy ending.
This is without mentioning how the — WHY ARE YOU STILL READING IF YOU DON'T WANT SPOILERS!? — children-from-the-future mechanic from Awakening was shoe-horned in with little regard for plot.
(We're done flagging spoilers now, okay?)
We love The Blazing Blade for introducing us to the series back in 2003. The tutorial missions starring Lyn, one of our favourite protagonists, as she reclaims the throne of Caelin served as a perfect introduction.
After that, the story of Eliwood and Hector definitely has its ups and downs – the death of Eliwood’s father and Hector’s brother both hit us in the feels, and the Big Bad Nergal certainly poses an intriguing threat. However, of all the early Fire Emblem games, The Blazing Blade comes off as overly lengthy; the arcs of three protagonists and quite the convoluted backstories lose some of their strength when all crammed into one story.
The Sacred Stones separates siblings Ephraim and Eirika into two campaigns after their kingdom of Renais is sacked by a former ally hell-bent on unleashing – you guessed it – an evil demon upon the land by destroying the Sacred Stone of each neighbouring kingdom.
After the introductory chapters, you can choose either Ephraim or Eirika’s stories to follow, having to restart the game to experience the other sibling’s narrative. Playing through either story reveals some neat little beats after clearing the other, but between the two, Ephraim’s mission of resistance stands out as a solid tale in Fire Emblem lore with high stakes. Eirika’s falls a little flat as she bounces between enlisting the help of other nations.
Prince Lyon, being one the primary villains and childhood friend of Ephraim and Eirika, also brought a lot of personal weight to a story of warring kingdoms and demon kings, making him one of the more memorable antagonists.
A 3DS remake of the second instalment in the overall series, Echoes: Shadows of Valentia also follows the dual stories of Alm and Celica rather than a single protagonist.
Despite having a somewhat straightforward story akin to Shadow Dragon with some fairly predictable plot twists, the interplay between Alm and Celica as you switch between their respective parties, along with some great support conversations between the cast, gives Echoes some much-needed depth to the ol’ Evil Gods Are Behind The Warring Kingdoms trope. The fact that, as opposed to Sacred Stones, you see both perspectives in a single playthrough helped keep us invested in both characters’ adventures. This version also added a neat little connection to Awakening post-game that we enjoyed.
It continues its predecessor's poignant story of racial tensions and does a great job of showing the aftermath of the Mad King’s War on the losing kingdom through the new perspectives of Micaiah and Sothe, fighting against an oppressive occupation force. The game then shifts perspectives to the Crimean Royal Knights and once again to Ike’s Greil Mercenaries, before bringing them all together for an epic if somewhat over the top and character-heavy conclusion as all three teams assault an awakened god determined to end all of humanity.
It’s all a bit much but well told with the likeable cast from its prequel bolstered by some memorable new faces.
Awakening marked a shift in the series, emphasising the relationship-building/dating sim aspects more than ever before and wrapping them up in an intriguing plot that saw children from the future coming back to help their parents win an unwinnable war.
Many veteran Fire Emblem fans disliked this change while others loved it. Regardless, Intelligent Systems did a great job integrating the stories of Robin, Chrom, and Lucina in their war against the Fell Dragon Grima. Chrom receives quite a lot of character development as he grows into a father after a brief time skip, and the player character Robin factors into the story as a vessel for the Fell Dragon rather than being a blank slate amnesiac.
Throw in a great cast and their interactions with their children from the future, as localised by the excellent team at 8-4, and you’ve got one of the better Fire Emblem tales.
The most recent Fire Emblem game does what Fates could not: it doesn’t pull its punches.
There’s no happy ending for everyone here. Tasked with becoming the professor of one of three houses at the Garreg Moch Monastery as Byleth, the first half of the game is spent getting to know the numerous members of the Black Eagles, Blue Lions, and Golden Deer – all of which have intriguing arcs and backgrounds to uncover over the course of the game. The latter half, in true Fire Emblem fashion, is all about war between these students after a five-year gap. A lot of them die depending on your path, creating some of the most gut-wrenching situations in Fire Emblem history.
Yes, there are some dragon gods kicking about and mysterious origins for Byleth to uncover, but Three Houses' story shines because of how war tears Edelgard, Dimitri, Claude, and their respective houses apart.
In our opinion, Path of Radiance has the most fleshed-out and well-paced story of all the Fire Emblem games released in the West.
Ike’s coming-of-age story after his father’s death to the Black Knight – one of the series’ best secondary antagonists – as he tries to return princess Elincia to her throne remains remarkably down-to-earth throughout the lengthy campaign, even with the Mad King Ashnard trying to awaken a dark godlike all Fire Emblem bad guys are wont to do. Racial tensions between the Beoric (humans) and Laguz (animal shapeshifters) also play a pivotal role in the plot and are done with a thought-provoking grace not seen in the other games, making it a crying shame that Path of Radiance and its sequel haven’t yet been remastered for the Switch.
And there are our choices for the best Fire Emblem stories. What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Waiting for an official localisation of another game in the series?
Vote for your favourite in the poll below and feel free to discuss in the comments.