Fire Emblem Gaiden: the second FE title ever released, the first directed by Shouzou Kaga, the first with any exploration or grinding… and possibly the worst FE game in existence. Yeah, this is what you’d call a “sophomore slump.”

In fairness, FE Gaiden was a good game for its time. It’s always best to evaluate games based off of their time period, and by this metric, FE2 is certainly no worse than any other contentious-yet-respected NES sequels such as Castlevania 2, Zelda 2, Mario 2, or Final Fantasy 2. If I’m being honest though: I’d rather replay FE Awakening than touch this game ever again. Even if Awakening was a much worse game for its time, it still has a bunch of QoL stuff that Gaiden does not.

I won’t harp on Gaiden for being a sluggish, ugly game because that’s just part and parcel of being a NES game. Nor will I criticize it for lacking QoL features like being able to see what items can do. However, I will lambast its piss-poor map design. It’s some of the worst and blandest I’ve seen in any SRPG. I find it remarkable how these maps were designed by Shouzou Kaga, the same guy who gave us a panoply of amazing maps in Thracia, TearRing Saga, and Berwick Saga.

You’ll see this map several times throughout the game. Gaiden has a penchant for reusing certain maps and loves to reuse all of the worst ones.

Maps in FE2 are needlessly large, excessively plain, and in many cases, sadistically frustrating. As one example of cruel map design, there are some maps where the enemy has an entire squad of archers all tucked safely behind a wall.

This is just unfair

I should give FE2 credit for its innovations, however. It was the second SRPG to allow for any exploration (Crystal Warriors was the first, and wasn’t as extensive with this anyway). It was the first SRPG to use a communal experience system: in FE2, every time a unit fights an enemy, there will be some “group experience” added to a pool which is then distributed at the end of the battle.

Most importantly of all, it was the first SRPG that splits up your party, allowing you to control two armies at once. I’m not sure any other SRPG game developer would’ve thought to do this. Although this game was flawed, it nonetheless displayed some of Kaga’s unorthodoxy. And that’s a good thing; the army split is one of the things that Gaiden actually does right. You control two separate armies – Alm’s and Celica’s – and starting with chapter 3, they go their separate ways (worlds apart). The two routes never intersect, but you do have methods through which you can send items from one army to the other, or even units from one army to the other… admittedly, the latter seems more like a glitch because it involves getting a unit killed in one army, and then resurrecting it with the other army.

Note how Alm is standing on the castle in the west.

Later games such as Tactics Ogre or Feda would allow you to move around on the overworld like this. (Little Master actually pioneered this idea back in 1991.) But FE2 was the first SRPG that had you control two separate parties. If we’re being fair, then we must acknowledge FE2’s innovations. This was a game which had legitimate potential to be a terrific game.

…Unfortunately, I don’t believe it ever fulfills that potential.

Map design is, again, FE2’s greatest weakness… and it’s a pretty big weakness. In addition to the terrible map design, FE2 features some really bad difficulty curves. You could say it was the proto-Tactics Ogre in this regard. Thankfully, the game gives you tools on each route to completely curbstomp everything that comes your way. In Alm’s army, Alm + Silk are sufficient to clearing every map; in Celica’s army, Celica + Palla + Catria will be doing most of the heavy lifting; and for the final chapter, Mycen absolutely destroys everything he gets his hands on. It’s just too bad that almost every other unit is anywhere from mediocre to useless.

Perhaps the game was designed with the intention of making players grind. If so, that’s not good game design, especially for a SRPG. The presence of permadeath makes this (lack of) balance even worse; whereas FE1 gave the player plenty of units, FE2 is very stingy, so if even one of your lynchpins dies, that always merits a reset.

There do exist a few other units who have their uses, namely Zeke, Mathilda, Teeta, and Saber. I don’t like how huge the power gap is between the top units in the game and everyone else though.

Anyone who asserts that FE2 was an improvement over FE1 is flat-out incorrect (unless we’re talking about the music, which IMO has a case for being better). FE2 was certainly not a bad game for its time and we can certainly appreciate its innovations, even 30 years later.

At its core, however, its underlying gameplay is a mess. FE Gaiden is objectively the worst-balanced and worst-designed game that Shouzou Kaga ever engineered. A lot of the bad things you could say of FE Awakening were, uh… pioneered by FE Gaiden. When it comes to bad FE map design, Kaga did it first. When it comes to stupidly overpowered main characters, Kaga did it first. And when it comes to awful difficulty curves, Kaga did it first. Thankfully, Kaga got better and eventually went on to direct some legitimately amazing games. Everyone has to start somewhere.

Currently, I’m very much interested in playing FE15. Did it successfully manage to stay faithful to FE2’s ideas while dispensing with the frustrations? 25 years after FE2 was released, was this finally the year when it would realize its full potential?

General Information
Year: 1992
Console: NES
Developers: Intelligent Systems
Get the translation patch here: https://www.romhacking.net/translations/1445/

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iCalv
1 month ago

Great review, this is a game that part of me wants to try out someday because I’ve already played the remake twice, however, there really doesn’t seem to be a good reason to play the original nowadays. It seems more appealing to me than FE1 because I don’t like the idea of having to spend like 30 minutes just shopping for more weapons. I think most people would agree that the lack of durability in gaiden is a change for the better since the hardware at the time was not sufficient for shopping trips to not be a slog. On the contrary, you definitely pointed out a lot of negatives about FE2 that the lack of durability can’t make up for. But with that, I’m very excited for what’s in store for 2022. Keep up the good work man!

I'm Not Giving My Name to a Machine!
I'm Not Giving My Name to a Machine!
1 month ago

As someone who played Gaiden blind back in late August, Early September of 2020 with only FE4, FE5, and FE1 under his belt (and Warsong), I think you are way, way too harsh on the game. To me, after playing and surprisingly being able to enjoy FE1, FE2 was such a breath of fresh air. It was the first time Kaga’s mentalitiy of being able to use most of or even all your units started, as that was something FE4 incorporated in its design and I always hear his Saga games do. You can also save mid dungeon in FE2 including the final dungeon so I don’t agree with the save state statement.

Anyway, as a blind player I managed to beat the game with everyone alive AND without resetting. There were a decent amount of revives used, and I had intended to revive one of Celica’s mages (May) on her side but I triggered The Dragon’s Trap and had to finish with her instead, so Alm revived (and benched) her, which I would like to add is NOT something you can do in Echoes. In fact something people like to do is kill off Silk once Celica gets access to revive statues so you can warp skip with her, then revive her on Alm’s side. Again, not possible in the remake. And I don’t believe it to be a glitch either as other glitches were made possible in Echoes.

And while I haven’t actually played Echoes myself yet, I wouldn’t say there is no reason to go back to the original as there are actually people who will give legitimate reasons why they prefer Gaiden over its remake, such as the major nerfs all the fun tools OG Gaiden gives you. I’m personally an armor knight fan so Luka actually being great was so fun for me, and then the game gives you the BEST iteration of the speed ring which MAXES OUT YOUR SPEED so he will double EVERYTHING IN THE WHOLE GAME! And it really boosts his avoid rating too, so on any evasion tile he’s basically a dodge-tank that is also a tank that also hits really hard! The speed ring not only gives max speed, but also auto-heals every turn for 5HP (like most items in Gaiden) and increases the unit’s movement by +5! This is not remotely possible in any other fire emblem game either, especially the remake as it only gives +10 speed, +1 move. Nowhere near as fun to use in my opinion. And that’s just ONE item that was changed, virtually every cool equip like that was nerfed to hell (Angel Ring, Magic Ring, etc.)

Plus, while I don’t know the specifics, I know there are people that don’t like how the story was completely changed for Act 4 & 5 of Echoes, and people tend to say they made Celica’s character much worse overall in that game. I haven’t gotten to Echoes yet, but I think that alone makes it worth checking out Gaiden even if you play the remake first.

I understand Gaiden demands a more defensive, unique kind of playstyle compared to other SRPGs, especially other Fire Emblems, but if you play the game the way it wants you to it’s fun and more managable. You can’t go in as aggressively as possible in most cases unless you’re Alm, so I get why some people don’t like it. The map design for the forts specifically were meant to really make it feel like you were storming a fort by blatantly making the enemy have the advantage, which makes total sense. In terms of “gameplay and story” feeling connected it actually did that well in that regard because I felt tense in those moments and had to think of my moves carefully. In fact the reason why terrain gave such massive evasion boosts is because Kaga wanted to recreate how advantages terrain was in real wars. It can be a little fun to cheese, as many maps have the boss that normally sits waiting for you on one of those tiles standing NEXT to it on the first turn, so you can just warp Alm by himself (especially with the Holy Bow) and watching him become invincible instead! The summoners admittedly are a little dumb, but the Dear spell nukes them all in 1 turn anyway and you can basically do this infinitely. It’s only a little annoying to see the animation every time but other than that it is manageable. Also, even though it’s secret, I loved finding the hidden easy grinding spots where you fought Mummies and could easily get tons and tons of levels from a single battle, as well as the rare RNG item drops that have crazy effects like the Astra Lance and its massive 100 HIT, 50 CRIT, and 10 MIGHT.

Gaiden in my opinion gets an undeserved bad rap in general because of how much it did right and how fun it still was today. The pixel art and music was just magical and hits me in a way that no other fire emblem game can. It’s not my favorite in the series, but I genuinely have warmer feelings to it than say, the GBA fire emblem games as I’m not a fan of games feeling copy-pastey (I still like them though!). I hope I didn’t come off as annoying with this. Sorry for the long post, I’m just really passionate about the game.

I'm Not Giving My Name to a Machine!
I'm Not Giving My Name to a Machine!

One last thing I forgot to add, but the entirety of the final act is one of my favorite experiences in a video game. Going in with the mentality of not resetting and trying to do it on my first go was so satisfying to succeed at. But it was also super tense and it made me love it. The atmosphere is so creepy and unsettling, and the final map too with Doma because he is definitely the creepiest FE final boss. He was based off of the “Lou Carcolh” which looks horrifying but is such a unique final monster for the franchise as virtually every single one of them has been a dragon. And look, dragons are cool, but this is such a creatively designed boss that showed me a mythical creature I didn’t know was a thing.

And if you don’t believe me, just go here and click the links related to the post and google “Lou Carcolh”
https://www.reddit.com/r/fireemblem/comments/5oth8j/i_call_that_mila_and_duma_are_now_confirmed/dclxxkf/?utm_source=reddit&utm_medium=web2x&context=3

Kurisu
25 days ago

Yeah it’s not very good. The map design is terrible — one of the worst examples is a desert map with a bunch of poison ground where half your party starts in the swamp.

I get that it was trying something new but Shining Force came out just a few months later and did it much better.

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