It’s undeniable that Super Smash Bros. is a massive success. When the series first premiered back in 1999, the recipe for a surefire hit was there. It boasted a roster featuring Nintendo’s biggest stars, the frantic gameplay was perfect for group sessions, and it gave the company a reason to go a little goofy. People ate it up with such fervor, demand for new installments came with new systems. The series has become a must have for any Nintendo fan. Its reached the point where people are now looking towards the upcoming Super Smash Bros. for Wii U & 3DS as a sort of “saving grace” for the lagging Wii U. And who can blame them? The daily updates and continually growing roster of playable characters has fanned the flames of excitement.
The success of Smash Bros. extends far beyond its own boundaries however. It has become a back door for Nintendo to introduce their lesser known series’ into the global mix. Perhaps there’s no better example of this than Fire Emblem. Though the series started out 1990 with Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, international audiences didn’t get a taste until 2001. This was when Marth and Roy, two protagonists from two different Fire Emblem games, were included into Super Smash Bros. Melee. International audiences had no idea who these characters were or what they were doing there, but players loved them. People began clamoring for more about Fire Emblem and Nintendo was quick to oblige. 2003’s Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame was released overseas as Fire Emblem, featuring additional tutorial levels to ease these newly minted fans in. It was a massive hit.
Fast forward 2014 and Fire Emblem is on a path to becoming one of Nintendo’s signature franchises. This was especially evident on July 14th when Smash Bros. director Masahiro Sakurai revealed that three characters from 2013’s Fire Emblem: Awakening are coming to the new brawler: protagonists Lucina and Robin (male and female) as playable characters, and Chrom as part of Robin’s Final Smash. Omitting the non-playable Chrom, the current count for Fire Emblem characters is four, with Marth and Ike already announced. That both doubles what previous Smash Bros. games had and currently gives the series more character representation than Metroid, Star Fox, Kirby, and Donkey Kong.
This popularity is obviously a complete 180 from what the series used to be. As I mentioned above, it was a straight 11 years before Fire Emblem was officially presented to a global audience. It took 2 more years for an actual Fire Emblem title. In that time, a total of six games were released in Japan to a dedicated fanbase. The primary reason Nintendo never shipped the series overseas is the exact reason why another popular series, Advance Wars, didn’t come until 2001. Nintendo didn’t believe that North American audiences would have an interest in complex, turn-based video games. Weapons have to be maintained, characters and classes have to be chosen carefully to ensure survival, and characters can die permanently if you make one false move. This means that you either march onward, knowing you lost what could have been a very strong unit, or restart a map and erase all progress.
Outside of the gameplay complexity, Fire Emblem is well known for featuring a diverse cast of characters and very detailed stories. In most of the games, you play as a royal lord rallying a small army against a seemingly unstoppable threat. The main antagonist is usually an evil villain seeking to revive an unstoppable dragon but on occasion the main baddie is an omnipresent demon. Either way you’re the unflappable hero and the villain is pure evil. Where the detail comes is how the story unfolds. Each game is rife with betrayal, royal treachery, and tragic sacrifices. It’s not unheard of to watch someone die that you’ve spent most of the game trying to protect. The games all explore the moral consequences of conflict too. As the game unfolds, you can recruit more characters to your army by interacting with them on the map. In certain cases, these very people are sworn enemies who realize their actions are morally wrong. They then join you, turning from a strong enemy to an unshakable ally.
There’s also the added benefit of each entry being a self-contained epic with the occasional sequel. Marth of Archanea, despite being the series first protagonist, is only the main character of two original games and their remakes. Other games have brought players to the lands like Magvel (Sacred Stones, lead by twins Ephraim and Erikia), Tellius (Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, lead by Ike), and Elibe (Blazing Sword lead by Roy, The Sword of Flame by his father Eliwood). The new additions to Smash Bros., Lucina, Robin, and Chrom, are all from Awakening, which takes place in the new land of Ylisse. These different locations and casts has allowed Fire Emblem to free itself from the certain restrictive bonds like continuity. Sometimes it’s just a lot simpler to make a brand new game than consecutive sequels.
I never heard about Fire Emblem until Super Smash Bros. Melee. My interest was significantly peaked though, so I excitedly asked for the first North American Fire Emblem for my birthday. Truth me told, it was a bumpy start. The only two characters I knew were Marth and Roy, yet Nintendo released a game that featured neither of them. I had no idea who Eliwood, Hector, or Lyn were, so I already entered in a tad disappointed. Then I discovered “permadeath” and I was floored. It seemed so ludicrous to me that death actually meant death and not like, say, Final Fantasy where characters can be revived. But despite this, I stuck with the game until the end. I’m now a massive fan of the series and I’m glad it’s finally getting the recognition it deserves. However, I will say that my desire to keep everyone alive has lead to a lot of frustration once I make a wrong move and have to start over.
Fire Emblem still has a long way to go before Nintendo considers it one of their premier global franchises. The games released are proof of this. Despite international attention following 2003’s Fire Emblem, nearly half of the library has not been released internationally. The first game was re-released as Shadow Dragon in 2008 for the Nintendo DS, but it didn’t sell well-enough to ensure a global release for its sequel remake, New Mystery of the Emblem ~Heroes of Light and Shadow~ in 2010. Nintendo likely felt a need to finally bring a Marth focused game overseas, but that has unfortunately not applied to other entries. There has been no official release for 2002’s Binding Blade featuring fan favorite Roy, 1992’s Gaiden, 1996’s Genealogy of the Holy War, and 1998’s Thracia 776. Will these games ever get their sanctioned English localization? There’s no way of knowing. But if Nintendo continues pushing the series through techniques like pumping new characters into Smash Bros., it might just become huge enough to justify the work.
Luke Kalamar is Pop-Break.com’s television editor and every Saturday afternoon you can read his retro video game column, Remembering the Classics. He covers Game of Thrones, Saturday Night Live and The Walking Dead (amongst others) every week. As for as his career and literary standing goes — take the best parts of Spider-man, Captain America and Luke Skywalker and you will fully understand his origin story.