Are you looking forward to playing Fire Emblem Engage but want to experience what came before it? Or, if you are already playing Engage as of reading this, do you wish to know what titles you should play next? Maybe you are just generally curious about the franchise and want to know more. Whatever the case, look no further, as this guide will show you the best ways of experiencing this classic tactical RPG franchise.
Official Methods of Playing the Fire Emblem Series In 2023
As this is an old series of games, you may face some challenges if you wish to play through the entire franchise. The first game, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light dates all the way back to 1990 and was released exclusively in Japan on the Famicom. It would see a re-release with an official translation on Switch in 2020, but unfortunately, you can no longer purchase it from the eShop. So, is there any other way to play the game officially?
Unless you’re willing to spend a lot on a Famicom and the game itself (remember that there’s also a presumable language barrier), your only other option would be to play the Nintendo DS remake. Fortunately, the remake did manage to get an English translation, so there’s no language barrier to worry about. Unfortunately, even a copy of this release will likely not be cheap as well.
However, there is still a way to access Shadow Dragon and some other Japan-exclusive Fire Emblem titles on the Switch. Inconveniently, this will require a Japanese Nintendo Switch Online account and you won’t be able to play these games in English. This may be the easiest method to currently play some of the old titles in an official capacity.
Why Older Games in the Series Are Difficult to Get Your Hands On
Shadow Dragon is not unique in how difficult it is to play through official methods. Many of the earlier titles in the series suffer from the same problems as the first game. For many years, the series was exclusive to Japanese audiences. The first time people overseas would get to experience anything related to Fire Emblem in an official capacity wouldn’t even be a game in the series. Super Smash Bros. Melee would be the first time many would meet iconic Fire Emblem characters.
This Japanese exclusivity would finally end (for the most part) with the release of The Blazing Blade for Game Boy Advance. Every game between Shadow Dragon and The Blazing Blade has yet to see an official release in English, with a bit of an exception. The first sequel in the series, Gaiden, would receive a remake on the 3DS in 2017 called Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. If you wish to play the second game in English, this is the only official way.
What About Newer Games?
Fortunately, the situation with most games after The Blazing Blade is much improved, but perhaps not ideal. It really depends on what consoles you own and how much you’re willing to pay. Copies of some Fire Emblem games from the aughts are currently sold at incredibly high prices. For example, Path of Radiance, the only GameCube title in the franchise, is often sold for hundreds of dollars. You may be able to find a good deal if you go digging, but I wouldn’t count on it.
However, titles from the 2010s and onwards are often sold at far more reasonable prices. Starting with Fire Emblem Awakening in 2012, the series becomes a lot more accessible as long as you own a 3DS. According to pricecharting.com, A “loose” copy (meaning just the cartridge itself) sells for around $30. The other 3DS titles in the series sell at similar prices, so getting your hands on these titles shouldn’t be too difficult.
Of course, the Switch titles in the franchise should be the easiest to get your hands on if you exclude the Shadow Dragon re-release. Previous games such as Three Houses, Warriors, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE Encore, and Warriors: Three Hopes are readily available to purchase physically or download from the eShop. It’s safe to say that modern Fire Emblem is just a whole lot more accessible to non-Japanese audiences.
Unofficial Methods of Playing the Fire Emblem Series in 2023
I’m assuming many might find it cumbersome to play the classic entries in the series on old, foreign hardware. There’s also the issue of a language barrier in Japanese-exclusive titles. Emulation can help address some of the hurdles you may face while trying to play the classics. Through emulation, you will be able to install fan-made English patches that make early titles a lot easier to play. However, it is important to note that you are legally required to dump your own copy of each game if you wish to emulate them.
If experiencing the Fire Emblem series through emulation sounds tempting to you, there are a good number of options available to you. On PC, you can install emulators such as Nestopia for the Famicom entries in the franchise and Snes9x for the Super Famicom entries in the franchise. Alternatively, you could just install RetroArch, which may make the process of setting up your emulators and organizing your ROMs a bit easier. This is something you can also install on your Android phone if you wish to emulate games there instead.
Later games in the series are also getting easier to emulate as hardware advances as well. You can use Dolphin to emulate both GameCube and Wii titles as well as Citra for some of the 3DS titles. It is worth repeating that you must own a copy of each game and make your own ROM file with them to emulate these games legally. A smooth experience with more intensive emulation will require a decent CPU.
What Should You Play First?
Unfortunately, the answer to this question can get quite complicated. It really depends on what hardware you have access to and how much of the series you intend on playing. However, there are multiple entry points into the Fire Emblem franchise and most games have a fairly self-contained story. While many games in the series aren’t as easily accessible as others, it should be fairly easy to choose your first/next game.
Release Order of the Mainline Series
- Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (1990, Famicom, Japan only)
- Gaiden (1992, Famicom, Japan only)
- Mystery of the Emblem (1994, Super Famicom, Japan only)
- Genealogy of the Holy War (1996, Super Famicom, Japan only)
- Thracia 776 (1999, Super Famicom, Japan only)
- The Binding Blade (2002, Game Boy Advance, Japan only)
- The Blazing Blade (2003, Game Boy Advance)
- The Sacred Stones (2004, Game Boy Advance)
- Path of Radiance (2005, GameCube)
- Radiant Dawn (2007, Wii)
- Shadow Dragon (2008, DS, a remake of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light)
- New Mystery of the Emblem (2010, DS, a remake of Mystery of the Emblem, Japan only)
- Awakening (2012, 3DS)
- Fates (2015, 3DS, divided into the Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation campaigns)
- Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (2017, 3DS, remake of Gaiden)
- Three Houses (2019, Switch)
- Engage (2023, Switch)
Considering how many games in the series are Japan-only releases, playing in this order is going to be difficult for most. It’s admirable if you choose to go down this path, but it’s not exactly what I would recommend. However, playing the games in this order may give you some great insight and appreciation into how the series evolved over the years.
The series would see many changes, introducing new mechanics and removing others to fit each game. However, as neat as it is to experience these changes as you play through the games, it will likely be an exhausting way to experience this series. Since story continuity isn’t much of a concern, there are better ways to play through these games.
Why You Should Play Fire Emblem Awakening First
Often considered to be one of the most accessible games in the Fire Emblem franchise, Awakening may be a great choice if you own a 3DS. While the game does contain some nods to previous games in the series, its story is still easy to grasp. It’s nowhere near the best the series has to offer, but perhaps that is partially why this is a good place to start. If you end up liking it, you will know that there will be even better titles to experience afterward.
In terms of difficulty, Awakening is one of the easier games in the franchise. This is great if you aren’t accustomed to Fire Emblem games or the tactical RPG genre in general. Awakening is the first title in the series with an official English translation to include casual mode. New Mystery of the Emblem was the first game to incorporate this, but that was a Japan-exclusive release. Casual mode allows you to enjoy the game without the fear of permanently losing your units when they die in combat.
Why You Should Play Fire Emblem Three Houses First
If story and replayability are something you value, you may want to check out the previous mainline entry in the series first. As the title itself suggests, there are three houses of students that the player must decide between teaching. Which house you choose will have a significant effect on the story that will unfold. As you can imagine, this makes for some intriguing storytelling and great replay value.
The game is also quite accessible as well. Three Houses features a mechanic that allows the player to rewind some of their moves to correct mistakes that would otherwise result in a defeat. There is also a fair amount of downtime between battles that allow you to engage with some of the game’s social mechanics. What’s also worth mentioning is the fact that this game introduced several people to the franchise, and it’s still easy to pick up today.
As I mentioned earlier, most games in the series feature a standalone story. So, even if you don’t choose to play Awakening or Three Houses first, there aren’t many “wrong” choices to start with. However, there are select games that serve as direct narrative sequels to other games. For example, Mystery of the Emblem is both a remake and a sequel to Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. However, New Mystery of the Emblem is specifically a remake of the sequel portions of the original game.
Things can get a little bit complicated depending on what title you are playing. Thracia 776 is set during the events of Genealogy of the Holy War, but of course, that does not mean you should play Thracia 776 in the middle of Genealogy of the Holy War. There’s also the case of The Blazing Blade being a narrative prequel to The Binding Blade. The Blazing Blade was released after The Binding Blade, but which order you play them in is up to you.
However, with other games, it can be quite simple. Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to Path of Radiance and should be played in the correct order. Overall, the order in which you play Fire Emblem games doesn’t matter all too much. Despite that, it is still worth noting which games share continuity. You will also find nods to other games throughout the series, but this isn’t something to be overly concerned about.
In more recent years, the Fire Emblem series began to receive numerous spin-off titles. Perhaps this is why there is some confusion as to whether or not Engage is a mainline title. Fortunately, most of these are easy to pick up if you haven’t played any of them yet. Whether you play these or not comes down to what you’re in the mood for. However, I don’t necessarily recommend playing some of these unless you have already played some other games in the franchise.
For a spin-off that resembles the tactical RPG gameplay of the mainline series, Heroes is a free-to-play mobile game you can try out right now. This game features various characters from several other games, similar to Engage (there will also be a rewards collaboration as well). On the other hand, if you’re looking for a more unique spin-off, you may wish to try Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE, a crossover between Shin Megami Tensei and Fire Emblem. While this was originally exclusive to Wii U, an enhanced Switch port was eventually made.
The Warriors entries in the franchise should be played if you are already a fan of the franchise and enjoy the Dynasty Warriors style of gameplay. The first Warriors game brings in characters from a few different games in the franchise, so it’s recommended to have some experience with the franchise to appreciate their presence. On the other hand, Three Hopes focuses on the world of Three Houses and it’s best if you play it after you finish Three Houses.
Play the Fire Emblem Game That Intrigues You the Most
While I have given a few suggestions as to what you should play first, you are pretty safe to choose whichever games strike your interest the most. The series can be quite varied despite the vast majority of games containing tactical RPG gameplay. If you find that one game isn’t really doing it for you, don’t be afraid to try another! I can almost guarantee that there is at least one Fire Emblem game for everybody.