It’s a real treat to be able to talk about this game because it’s been one of my favorites for years now. Like many other people, I got into Fire Emblem as a kid and my first exposure was FE7: The Blazing Blade, since it was the first one released in English. I enjoyed it because it reminded me a lot of Shining Force and Langrisser. Life went on, and only years later did I discover the SNES (I guess it’s more accurate to say “SFC” because these games are JP-exclusive) era of Fire Emblem, namely FEs 3-5. I didn’t grasp it at the time, but now I realize that the SFC era is the single most important time period in the series’ history, both in terms of producing some of the franchise’s best games, and in leaving a lasting impact on the future of the series… and of the genre as a whole. Fire Emblem is, after all, the quintessential SRPG series. I think it’s accurate to say that if you don’t like ANY of the SFC FE games, then you don’t like SRPGs, plain and simple. And there’s nothing wrong with not liking SRPGs, but it does mean that you’re probably wasting your time by reading this website, so if this is the case, I’d recommend finding a more engaging hobby to occupy your time.
FE3 modernized and improved upon the formula in FE1, creating an iconic “classic FE” title which delivered all the goods. FE5 stands as the hardest FE game, as well as arguably the most intimate one due to its small scope and punishing mechanics like capturing. Sandwiched between the two of them is FE4: the boldest and most ambitious FE title, in addition to the one with the best story out of any FE game. That last part is subjective, but ask any FE fan and they’ll likely tell you that FE4’s story is the clear winner. (If they tell you FE7 had the best story, then you don’t probably shouldn’t take them seriously. Or, if they tell you that FE1 had the best story, then they’re probably Genwunners as well, and you probably shouldn’t take them seriously either.)
Due to the story-driven nature of FE4, writing this article therefore becomes a little problematic because as a general rule, I don’t include spoilers in these articles, with the exception of games which are simplistic to the point that there’s nothing of value worth spoiling . All I can say here is: yeah, Genealogy of the Holy War has a great story, and if ya wanna find out why, then either play the game for yourself or watch my video review. What I can mention here, however, is the gameplay.
On the gameplay front, the long and short of it is that FE4 is the Langrisser game that thinks it’s a Fire Emblem game. As some of the examples of the obvious Langrisser influence:
- The Weapon Triangle. Many FE fans are clueless that Langrisser was the first SRPG series to feature the weapon triangle, starting with 1991’s Langrisser 1 where Soldiers > Archers > Horsemen > Soldiers. It would take years for other SRPGs to start following suit. FE did not invent the weapon triangle, although it certainly popularized the concept.
- Squad-based gameplay. On almost every map in FE4, you’ll find hordes of enemies comprised of several weaklings and one commander. In many cases, the leader will have something called “Authority Stars” or “Leadership Stars,” which function very similarly to command range bonuses in Langrisser. Also, in many cases, killing the leader will immediately result in all her/his subordinates dying as well. Just like in Langrisser.
- Mid-battle saves, although when it comes to QoL, Fire Emblem didn’t implement these as well as Langrisser did. In Langrisser, you’ll always have one slot reserved exclusively for mid-battle saves, while the other slots can never be saved over. In FE4 however, you can mid-battle save over any slot, which can potentially softlock you… in theory at least. (In practice, you’d have to be a complete dumbass to softlock yourself in a game as easy as FE4. And that brings me to the next point…)
- It’s a much easier game than FEs 1-3. The game will throw so many overpowered units at you, it gives you plenty of opportunities to break it even further, and it gives you mid-battle saves. While permadeath is still a feature, it’s hardly an issue because of mid-battle saves and because battles in FE4 are, for the most part, very easy.
- Secret Tiles (see below screenshot). While previous FE games had included secret shops, FE4 was the first to include a multitude of hidden secret tiles which grant the player free items. Langrisser had been doing prominently this since 1994’s Langrisser 2.
- Prevalence of long-ranged tomes in endgame maps. Langrisser has always been notorious for this, particularly with meteor-slinging archmages in tight corridors. Naturally, FE4’s chapters 5 and 11 replicate this layout.
- And as a story one, Arvis’ character very much runs parallel to a certain red-headed protagonist in Der Langrisser’s independent path, although I won’t spoil anything else about that.
Make no mistake, though; FE4 is its own game. I mention these Langrisser influences because, in my eyes, they make FE4 even better than it otherwise would’ve been. In terms of original ideas, FE4 had plenty as well, including the introduction of personalized skills for each unit, a world map which actually corresponds with the in game battles maps, a revamped arena system, weapons which can “grow,” an original (although some would argue, clunky) inventory management system, and of course, the famous inheritance/marriage system.
Genealogy of the Holy War spans two entire generations of characters. The first half of the game follows generation 1. The second half takes place years later and has you controlling the kids of your characters from the first half. Kids will inherit many attributes such as growth rates, base stats, personal skills, holy blood, and equipped items. Inheritance is where you can start to truly break the game, but I won’t get too much into that here; instead, I will refer you to SRPG Academy’s FE4 Marriage Guide (linked below). It’s a complex and immensely enjoyable system if you understand how it works.
But that’s the problem.
The game doesn’t really explain how any of it works, aside from vague hints like “Boys take after their fathers.” Well… GEE, that’s useful! I can understand things like secret conversations being well hidden, but there’s not excuse to NOT explain something as integral to the game’s fabric as inheritance. This is where I have to agree with FE4’s detractors, because I can understand the complaints of a first-time player who comes into the game blind. As another issue, things like the secret tiles, especially those in Chapters 1 and 2 (for the Brave Axe and Pursuit Ring, respectively) have no excuse for being so obscurely hidden. As a third issue, FE4 runs agonizingly slowly at times, just like most other SNES/SFC RPGs like Bahamut Lagoon, Tactics Ogre, and Front Mission to name a few. Perhaps the most common complaint I hear about the game is its inventory management system. Characters can’t simply trade items, or give each other gold (unless they’re Thieves). No, instead, if you want to transfer an item from Character A to Character B, you need to sell the item with Character A and then buy it back with Character B. Imagine having to do this in real life. What a mess that’d be! It makes no logical sense whatsoever, although I do believe it makes for some rather interesting gameplay at times.
All this (and additional problems that I’m not listing, in the interest of brevity) comes to show that FE4 has plenty of imperfections. We should be able to admit what they are instead of getting personally offended at someone who points these out. I won’t be one of those blind fanboys who fails to see that my favorite game has problems. Those fanboys are toxic and make the world worse for everyone. If we can’t honestly talk about a game’s problems, then it does everybody a disservice; not only does this mindset stultify interesting conversations, but it gives developers a free pass to stagnate, instead of working to improve their next entry.
Genealogy has problems. Do they outweigh the game’s strong points? Not in my opinion, but I can sympathize with those who can’t get into the game because of them. For me, FE4 is a masterpiece of the 16 bit era. It had the best story of any SRPG of its time, its gameplay was ambitious and innovative, it took many great ideas from Langrisser, it has some of my favorite music in the franchise, and its inheritance system is damn fun. It’s one of those rare games that I could probably play several times a year and still not tire of it.
If there’s one single FE game deserving of a full-blown remake to rectify its flaws, or in the very least, an English port, then that’d be FE4. (It’s the oldest FE title to never have been remade or released officially in English, as well as one of the most beloved entries in the franchise.) But unfortunately, “Intelligent” Systems in recent years has been anything but “Intelligent.” That’s another story for another day though… perhaps if I ever decide to torture myself by playing FE13 (Awakening) or FE14 (Fates). At this point, I have more faith in John Sykes putting out a new album of original music than I do in Nintendo/Intelligent Systems giving FE4 the treatment it deserves.
Which is to say: it’s monumentally unlikely that it’ll happen any time soon, if ever. And that’s a true shame, given how unique of a game FE4 is.
Console: Super Famicom
Developers: Intelligent Systems
SRPG Academy’s Marriage Guide
Translation patch: https://forums.serenesforest.net/index.php?/topic/63676-fe4-translation-patch-open-beta-v7/