I have to start this review with a confession, I’m not a Fire emblem fan, at least not of the whole franchise. Like most people I got into the series with the GBA games, played Eliwood’s and Hector’s story to death, played Sacred Stones until all the character had capped stats and were basically the same, and saw Roy use the sword of seal 2 times with different translation patches… and that’s it, played Path of Radiance, I didn’t like it and never again touched a new entry in the series.
Now, why do I say this? Because Fire Emblem has a huge fan-base, and it could be considered one of the most important SRPG franchises story and success wise, and yet, up until recently there was a lack of “Fire Emblem-clones” or games heavily inspired by Fire Emblem. It may be because it’s a Nintendo game, and Nintendo is well-known for striking down anything that may be to close to home (*Coff coff*Kaga’s Emblem Saga*coff coff*) but a couple of years ago SRPG Studio saw an english release on Steam, a software akin to RPGMaker, but specifically designed to create 2d-topdown SRPGs with a lot of base mechanics based on old FE games… by default it could be considered a retro FE-Maker. And now we’re starting to see the results of people working with that sofware, Steam has a fair share of games made with this software already but sadly mostly in chinese, and the ones in english that are actually worth it? Maybe 2 so far, if you like challenging games…
So were are the actually good Fire Emblem fangames being produced by this software? In the wilderness of the web, on someones google drive, posted on some forum or discord group, and in this case, on itch.io.
As you may have guess by my long introduction, Demon King’s Heir is a fangame made on SRPG Studio by the solo developer Lord Garabato. It has the core mechanics of retro FE, the player phase-enemy phase turn system is there, you have your weapon and magic triangle, you have your classes and promotions, some basic skills, trading, the usual.
But the game is not targeted at hardcore-fans of the series, it is actually fairly easy, weapons have infinite durability and doesn’t feature perma-death, you can even buy teleport items in the shop as soon as chapter 2 (assuming you have the gold), so it is clearly intended as a casual and fun experience… an experience that features 29 maps and takes around 8 hours to beat, a sweet spot for replay value.
The story and setting are engaging and stay away from the tropes of most games of the genre, the game starts by turning a classic “boss fight” into the tutorial, with the Hero slaying the evil Demon King in fierce last battle… and 300 years after that fight, we’re put in the shoes of Shogun a squad leader on the Daemon army fighting a war against the genocidal king of Heldenland. This gives the setting a modern coat of paint, sword have evolved into Chainsaw swords, lances are Chainsaw lances, bows let way to guns, and axes… well, those are clubs, not a lot of tech innovation there apparently. Instead of cavaliers we have bike riders, jetpacks instead of pegasi… and magic is… magic is still magic.
The daemon army is compromised with a bunch of character with unique designs, a headless armor knight, a blind midget as the medic, a brawler golem or a werewolf, are some good examples of the diversity of the cast. Even if the secondary characters are fairly one-dimensional they are all distinct and memorable.
On the other hand, the main cast has enough development and presents nice interactions betweent them… there wasn’t any point where I felt bored with the characters, their dialogue even got a good laugh out of me a couple of times, and is well written as to not be too long to felt expository neither to short to stop making sense.
The plot has some nice progression and twists to it, and makes sure to give a fair share to all sides of the conflict… until we meet the big bad evil guys (that weren’t actually behind all the bad things that happened, there is plenty of blame to share) but are the properly evil guys of the story. I really don’t want to spoil much because even if one can expect how the everything is going to resolve how the story progresses chapter to chapter makes it engaging, from a city scape, a pit fight for ascension to a rescue mission, the game kept is pace and makes an eventful journey feel longer that just 8 hours.
The maps of the game are fairly varied, offer different objectives, and are paced in a way that you don’t feel burned out after playing them back to back. But the maps suffer a bit for feeling bigger than they need to be, at least 25% bigger, aesthetically they look good and you see bits of story telling in the map design, but when you play them there are moments were you just feel like it took you a lot of time to get from point A to point B, or just 3 or 4 units are actually doing something while the others wait around for the chance to participate.
So, is Demon King’s Heir worthy of recommendation? Totally, specially since it’s free, short and fun. It makes a great introduction to SRPGs in general with its low difficulty, has a cohesive cartoony art style with enjoyable story and characters. And being made in SRPG Studio has some nice QoL settings like good mouse support, skipping battle animations, enemy turns, etc. The only important thing is to take the game for what it is, and this is a solo developed fan game with a lot of originality made to have some casual fun.
Console: Pc (Windows)
Developer: Lord Garabato