With NES Emblem, Intelligent Systems had invented the SRPG genre and then decided to change things with a weird sequel. For their third FE game – and their first one to be released on the SFC/SNES – Intelligent Systems must’ve decided that it was time to return to the original formula of FE1, and that’s what resulted in 1994’s Mystery of the Emblem.
This is one of the most well-known Fire Emblem games in history, and for good reason. FE3 is arguably, more so than any other title in the entire series except for FE1, the single most defining and influential game in the series’ long history. When it comes to Fire Emblem, FE3 is as classic as it gets.
FE3 is divided into two “books.” The first book is an enhanced remake of the first game, while the second book is new to FE3. I’ll talk about both because book 1 changed quite a few things when compared to its source material. You also can’t ignore book 1 if you want to truly appreciate FE3 in its totality.
I harbor a great deal of respect for FE1 and what it accomplished for its time. It was the George Washington of SRPGs, setting the standard for every SRPG thereafter. Yet, it’s not exactly the most comfortable user experience these days, and I suspect even back in 1990, Intelligent Systems felt they could’ve done better.
FE3 is where they really stepped up their game with the QoL stuff:
- FE3 was the first FE to display movement ranges
- FE3 was the first FE to display combat prediction panels
- FE3 was the first FE to truly allow you to turn off animations
- FE3 was the first FE to have an intuitive trading system
- FE3 was the first FE to have a (relatively) painless inventory management system from the combat preparations menu
- FE3 was the first FE to allow healers to gain experience from healing
- FE3 was the first FE to have thieves drop their items when they’re killed. I believe it’s also the only FE where thieves can potentially drop more than one item, and where they can drop stolen gold
- FE3 was the first FE to have a streamlined promotion system. In NES Emblem, promotions would raise your unit’s stats up to the class base stats, which worked really oddly. Starting with FE3, the series would give flat promotion bonuses
Due to all of these changes, FE3 feels so much better to play. Surely, it may not feel seamless from a 2022 perspective, but if we’re evaluating games fairly, then we need to give FE3 ample credit for seriously stepping things up in the QoL department. For its time, it showed remarkable improvement.
Mechanically, FE3 does a few new things, although many of them don’t come into play until book 2 (more on that later). Even in book 1 however, you’ll notice that dismounting is now a feature. This prevents cavalry units and flying units from bringing their mounts indoors; instead, they must dismount and are limited to using swords while indoors.
This makes you completely rethink the way you view units like Abel, Cain, Hardin, Caeda, and Vyland. Well… actually, does anyone even care about Vyland, beyond the yaranaika memes? (Side-by-side comparison for fun)
As another consequences of the dismounting system, armored knights have some unique utility because they’re the only indoor lance users in the game. This allows them to use javelins and the Gradivus in certain chapters where nobody else can. Lorenz notably becomes quite a bit better than he was in FE1… he’s still an armored knight, though.
Unfortunately, some characters and chapters were arbitrarily cut from book 1. I’m still quite miffed that my favorite healer in the entire franchise is nowhere to be seen. He was just a humble curate who couldn’t even fight, so why’d they have to replace him with a vulnerary?
Aside from certain characters being cut, other characters join at different areas, too. Est’s join chapter was cut, so she instead joins you if you visit a house in the Camus chapter. Merric and Wendell join you at different times. Gotoh is still in the game, but he doesn’t join you… for some reason.
A lot of FE1’s dialogue was changed or reworked for FE3 book 1, too. Michalis gets a bit more dialogue, probably as a lead-up to his increased prominence in book 2. Certain NPCs say slightly different things now:
Because of all these changes, FE3’s book 1 ends up feeling like a rather fresh experience, even for players who’ve already bested FE1. It’s sort of like Langrisser 2/Der Langrisser/Dramatic Edition/Langrisser HD: they’re all based on the same game, but they all differ in pronounced ways.
Book 1 is a good tie-in with book 2. In case you forgot what exactly happened in FE1, you can play book 1, refresh yourself on the details, get a feel for FE3’s engine, and hype yourself up for book 2.
You unfortunately don’t get any bonuses from playing book 1, unlike in FE4 where generation 2 is directly influenced by generation 1, or FE10 where you get transfer bonuses based off of how strong your characters became in FE9. Perhaps this was not possible to code at the time, so I won’t fault FE3 for this. Yet, I can’t help but say that because of this lack of connectivity, FE3 feels more like two games packaged onto the same cartridge, rather than one cohesive game which naturally flows from one chapter to the next.
Book 2 gives us completely new music, completely new characters, completely new battles, and a completely new story. Of course, you’ll see some familiar faces here like Marth, Catria, and Jagen (no longer in a fighting capacity).
Book 2’s story is more mature and layered than book 1’s story. It deals with the realistic consequences of a power vacuum (like the ones which hawkish American foreign policy often creates), corruption, jealousy, sacrifice, and… dragons. Yeah, it’s still Fire Emblem, so it’s a given that you’re gonna see several medieval fantasy tropes, but that’s fine.
Compared to FE1, FE3 has a lot more dialogue, resulting in characters like Michalis, Hardin, and Medeus being more sympathetic and interesting. Meanwhile, certain villains like Lang and Gharnef are truly despicable scumbags who practically beg the player to smite them with righteous fury. I don’t believe FE3 comes anywhere close to FE4 or FE5 with regards to story, but it was nonetheless a huge step up from NES Emblem, so it deserves credit for this. Out of all SRPGs which had been released up to its point in time, FE3 clearly had the best story by a long shot.
Another thing I really appreciate about book 2 is the early game battles. Out of every Fire Emblem game except arguably Radiant Dawn, FE3 book 2 has the best earlygame maps, specifically chapters 1-6.
Even as early as chapter 2, you’re fighting dragon knights. Yeah, you read that correctly: DRAGON KNIGHTS! Chapter 2 is also rife with forest terrain, forcing you on the immediate defensive while the dragon knights swoop in. Meanwhile, there’s a thief who starts off in the center. He holds a Lady Sword and you should try to get it from him before he retreats to the northwest.
Chapter 3 forces you to take a long trek around a huge mountain range, fighting numerous cavalry reinforcements while doing so. There’s a village in the northeast which only Marth can visit. Here, you recruit Julian, who in turn can recruit Matthis. Additionally, four dragon knights patrol the central mountain range. They remain passive unless you visit a certain armory.
This sort of thing might’ve been the inspiration for FE4’s gargantuan maps. It’s like an entire journey wrapped up into one single chapter.
Chapter 6 is another notable chapter. It’s the first indoor map in book 2, so Palla’s usefulness is greatly hindered. The map design of chapter 6 encourages you to send parties to both sides of the castle simultaneously: to the left, there is a recruitable mercenary holding a star shard; to the right, there are chests. If you take too long to win, then the enemy will start sending in infinite reinforcements.
I cannot overstate how fantastic book 2’s first 6 chapters are. If the entire rest of the game continued in this fashion, then FE3 could’ve been my personal favorite FE. Sadly, book 2 eventually loses some steam by reusing way too many of FE1’s maps.
Out of the 20 chapters (+2 secret endgame chapters), 7 of them are reused from FE1: chapter 8, chapter 9, chapter 15, chapter 16, chapter 17, chapter 19, and chapter 20. This is a critical flaw which I can’t simply ignore. Especially since book 1 of FE3 is already a remake of FE1.
Counting all chapters in book 1 + book 2 together, FE3 has 42 chapters. 27 of these chapters are reused from FE1, so the entire game only has 15 original chapters, including both parts of the secret endgame chapters. This is actually the least amount of new content of any FE up until FE11/12. So yes, this is definitely something that holds back FE3.
The recycled maps aren’t unenjoyable per se, but they’re nowhere near as interesting or fresh as the first 6 chapters. Of course, most of book 2’s original maps are very good. But compare this to FE1: every single map in FE1 was consistently good. FE1 never falls off; it’s an amazing game from start to finish, and it managed to do so while being the first SRPG of all time. That’s a whole lot more impressive than anything FE3 accomplished.
I’ll give book 2 credit for some additional innovations, even if they’re somewhat minor. The most obvious one is the idea of star fragments, which our good friend Wendell explains here:
What Wendell doesn’t explain is that each star fragment grants a hidden bonus to growth rates, similarly to crusader scrolls in FE5. Even FE5 shows you what the bonuses were. I don’t understand why FE3 had to withhold this information from you. Arguably the more important thing about star fragments is that you need to collect all twelve in order to unlock the “true” ending. (More on this later.)
FE3 was the first FE to have a dancer. Her name is Feena or Phina or Pheena or Fina or Pfina (y’know, like how the “P” is silent in “Pfizer?”) or however the hell you like to localize フィーナ. Personally, I’m partial to “Fina,” like the girl from Skies of Arcadia… but then again, her name was intended to be pronounced /ˈfaɪ ɴə /, so whatever.
FE3 was the first FE to include the idea of hidden treasure in a desert. Unfortunately, FE3’s desert map kinda sucks.
FE3 also introduced a few new staves, namely Rescue, Anew, Hammerne, and Silence.
FE3 surpasses FE1 when it comes to setting and atmosphere. There’s a section in the middle of book 2 where you need to venture north, traveling through a desert, a fiery bridge, an icy wasteland, and a castle. Stuff like this captures the typical JRPG charm you’d expect from SFC/SNES games of the time, and it certainly makes book 2 feel more epic.
I don’t believe this makes for an overall better game, however.
As of now, I’ve beaten FE3 twice and FE12 (the remake) once. Yet, I’ve never figured once finished the Starpshere because I’m always coming up at least one shard short. I guess I could use a guide to figure it out; maybe I’ll do that next time I replay FE12. Personally, I had refrained from consulting a guide or wiki because I felt that part of the fun is trying to find the fragments for yourself. But it looks like I’ll never be able to do that on my own.
For now, I’ll cover things through to book 2’s “bad ending” because I didn’t get all twelve star fragments. Eventually when I cover FE12, you can expect to see the “true ending” at long last.
The final stretch of book 2 is where the recycled maps become really apparent. Like I mentioned earlier, I’m not a fan of this. It feels lazy. Anyway, here’s the final boss:
And that’s book 2. The bad ending, anyway.
If I’m being objective, then I have to say that FE3 is probably a top 5 FE game, maybe even higher. If I’m being honest, then I have to say that FE3 is one of my least favorite FE games of the original twelve. Of course, I still quite enjoy it, and this should perhaps speak to how consistently great the franchise was up until 2012 if one of my least favorites is still very fun.
I just have too many issues with FE3. The biggest problem for me is the amount of recycled content. Given that book 1 is already recycled from FE1, I don’t see any excuses for why book 2 had to include a single recycled map. That it included seven is a dealbreaker for me. Furthermore, I don’t like how, out of all the first five Fire Emblem games, FE3 is by far the least innovative. It tried some new things like including new staves and introducing a dancer, but none of these changes were really that consequential.
The biggest innovation in FE3 is the dismounting system. It was interesting, surely, but it wasn’t anywhere near as fresh as FE4’s marriage system, inventory management system, and large maps; it wasn’t as revolutionary as FE5’s capture or fatigue systems; and it didn’t change the very fabric of the game the way FE2’s route split system worked. FE3 didn’t invent the genre the way FE1 did. For me, it just felt like more of the same, and it wasn’t as interesting for its time as FE1 was for its time. FE1 didn’t recycle any content, it had better map design, and it was consistently great.
Despite any personal misgivings I have with FE3, I should reiterate what I wrote at the start of this article: FE3 is one of the most well-known Fire Emblem games in history, and for good reason.
What I see as being stagnant and “more of the same” is something that many others can validly view as being refinement and polish. Surely, FE3 didn’t reinvent the wheel, but why bother? FE1 already did invent the wheel, so FE3 set out to improve it. Undeniably, FE3 succeeded; in terms of all the QoL stuff, its graphics, its music, and its story, FE3 is leaps and bounds ahead of FE1, while still offering above average gameplay.
That’s why it’s so beloved, especially for its time. By the time January 1994 rolled around, what other SRPGs showcased such stellar production value and refinement as FE3 did? Shining Force 2 was the only other SRPG that comes to mind – and even then, SF2’s depth of strategy was nowhere near what FE3 was offering. The fact of the matter is that FE3 was, by all objective metrics, the best SRPG that had yet been released. Even if it didn’t invent the genre like FE1 did, it seriously raised the bar and pushed the limits of what the SRPG genre was capable of becoming.
Even if FE3 is nowhere near my personal favorite, I must recognize it for what it accomplished. Mystery of the Emblem is among the most important SRPGs to come out of the 1990s, as well as one of the greatest entries in Fire Emblem’s long history.
Developers: Intelligent Systems
Get the translation patch here: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/4969/