I’ll admit it: I’m not a very huge fan of tactical RPGs; most of the biggest letdowns I’ve played have in fact been of the subgenre. Even supposedly-good tactical RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics and its Gameboy Advance sequel I didn’t like as much as others, not to mention the recent Devil Survivor, despite claims from its apologists that even those who didn’t normally like tactical RPGs would enjoy it. In my continuing crusade for a tactical RPG I would actually enjoy, I looked to Nintendo’s beloved Fire Emblem franchise, having never played any of its installments, and believed the recent Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, being a remake of the very first game, would be a good diving board into the series. How wrong I was.
As with about 99% of every good and bad RPG I’ve played, Shadow Dragon started out an enjoyable game, with things such as the franchise’s weapon triangle providing a decent degree of strategy alongside conveniences such as being able to view the enemy’s combined attack zone and effectiveness of weapons against enemies before attacking. However, as with most mediocre and bad RPGs I’ve played, the fun began to wear off after a few hours, with its various irritants such as weapon breakage, permanent character death, limited money, a shop between battles that didn’t update its inventory at all, and endlessly respawning enemies, becoming apparent as the game dragged on.
Eventually, the game reached a point where I found myself being utterly slaughtered, and literally begging for help from users at GameFAQs on how to advance. I did occasionally receive some decent advice, which led me to reclassing a character in a fashion that made him a tank for most of the game that could block narrow passages and protect the rest of my characters, although for the most part, users expressed shock at how I was struggling even on the easiest difficulty level. I guess I was, as the series’ defenders would term me, a “clueless n00b”.
I actually thought of giving up on the game entirely since I found it to be incredibly frustrating, although I persisted, believing it to be my duty, as a game reviewer, to suffer through even the most annoying RPGs. However, I still found myself relying upon a guide and occasional GameFAQs message board advice, to this reviewer a sign of poor game design, to make it through the game, ultimately relying upon a strategy of quickly plowing through the maps, since endlessly respawning enemies made it virtually impossible to play carefully, while losing many characters permanently along the way.
Fire Emblem, by the way, is one of those RPG series where leveling characters to make things easier is not an easy task. Arenas do exist on some maps where the player can bet money and have characters fight enemies for experience and more money, although this, along with the supposed strategy of “arena abusing,” seemed incredibly risky to me, given the potential to lose characters permanently to the technique. That enemies on certain maps with arenas could endlessly respawn further heightened the risk of such grinding. Unbalanced leveling, in this player’s experience, has always been one of his chief complaints with strategy RPGs, with heavy-hitters hogging experience and weaker characters quickly becoming useless.
Towards the end of the game, my opinion on the game actually increased a little, since making it through maps even with faceless reinforcements didn’t seem too bad, and I had little trouble making it through the final side-map, the penultimate battle, making me believe that I would have similar success on the final map. How wrong I was: my faceless units could barely scratch the enemy while dying easily, and endless enemy reinforcements again made the map difficult, if not impossible, to complete. After several failed attempts to conquer the last map, I once again begged for advice on GameFAQs, unfortunately having no success with what strategies I did receive, and even asked for loan units via Wi-Fi, though no one had any for me at that point.
Several more failed attempts later, I came to a difficult decision, that of whether or not I should continue my vain struggle to complete Shadow Dragon, restart the game entirely (as one GameFAQs poster suggested) and endure that masochistic hell again, or just give up and move on to something else. Since the final battle seemed unwinnable because of my pathetically weak party and the utter inability to grind, I decided that it was not worth playing anymore. Thus, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon became the very first RPG I have not completed.
In summation, while I had decent hopes for Shadow Dragon to be a tactical RPG I would like, it instead became an epitome of what I detest in the subgenre, worsened by things like the difficulty of leveling to make things easier, permanent character deaths, and especially the potential of the game to be unwinnable. Fans of the franchise might be used to its various irritants, although these, in my opinion, make the game horribly inaccessible to those new to the series and those such as me who normally don’t enjoy tactical RPGs. I have, however, been recently able to complete the game with the help of the official strategy guide, and as the latest entry, Awakening, makes permadeath optional, I might give the series another shot despite not caring much for Shadow Dragon.