Following the release of Fire Emblem 5 (Thracia 776), director Shouzou Kaga left “Intelligent” Systems and started working on TearRing Saga. To this day, neither party has disclosed why exactly this happened, but many fans suspect that the two parties split on less-than-friendly terms. As evidence to support this suspicion, The Making of Fire Emblem: 25th Anniversary Development Secrets conspicuously OMITTED the guy completely. Which is ridiculous, insane, and idiotic. To provide some context, that’s like doing a documentary on Star Wars and not mentioning George Lucas. Or a documentary on Spongebob and not mentioning Stephen Hillenburg. Or a documentary on Black Sabbath and not mentioning Tony Iommi.
Then there’s also the (in)famous lawsuit between Nintendo and Enterbrain which resulted from TearRing Saga – a lawsuit which established the precedent that games which were “clones but not clones” could coexist alongside their source material (e.g. Yooka Laylee, Mighty #9, Destiny, etc.). Suffice it to say: I don’t believe Kaga and “Intelligent” Systems will reconcile in the near future. If ever.
And yes, I put quotation marks around “Intelligent” because their efforts over the past decade have really been anything but intelligent. They haven’t created a great game in over 10 years and seem content to focus on waifubait trash like Fire Emblem Heroes.
Anyway, let’s talk about TearRing Saga itself! In many ways, the game can be described as the “true” successor to FE5. TearRing Saga retains many features from FE5: dismounting, skills, units with mobility growths, and ample instances of weird, cryptic shit that nobody would figure out without a guide. The route splits from FE2 also make a return, and this time allow you to customize whom you bring with you on each route.
Compare this to FE6, which dispensed with these eccentricities and instead streamlined the gameplay with faster controls, simplified systems, and a simplified storyline. FE6 may not be my favorite FE game, but it was solid, and was developed back in the days when Intelligent Systems actually focused on making good games. It was a step that, in retrospect, the FE series needed to take, and I’m grateful for it. In my book, FE6 and TearRing Saga are both great games for different reasons.
While FE6 was the most accessible FE game released at the time, TearRing Saga didn’t pay any heed to mass appeal… for better or for worse. TRS has all the hallmarks of a Kaga game. There are characters whom you can’t recruit unless you go through very specific sequence of events that you would probably never think to do without a guide. There’s treasure that you can miss out on because you forgot to bring a thief in your party: “oops, I put my thief on my other team, so I guess no treasure for me!” There’s a crossbow that quadruples because… well, because Kaga. Apparently, there’s even an entire chapter that I somehow missed. How does that even happen? TearRing Saga has no shortage of unreasonably obtuse secrets. Even the plot is excessively difficult to understand because it feels like it’s trying to cover 50 different storylines at once. That’s how you know it’s a Kaga game.
The positive side to Kaga’s design is how richly deep the game’s systems are. Take the route splits for example. While on one hand, you can certainly screw yourself into having mismatched teams for some chapters, this also means that it’s another thing to consider when optimizing the game on subsequent playthroughs. Inventory and gold management becomes a complex stratagem as a result. Map design is similarly excellent; most maps in the game are setup in such a way that necessitates a full army of diverse units. Characters, too, are some of the best designed in any Fire Emblem game. You’ve got an armor knight with a mobility growth (Billford), a unit with low stats who snowballs into a gamebreaker (Esther), a prepromote who promotes AGAIN (Raffin), a sniper who has False Swipe from Pokemon (Raquel), the best-designed Est archetype in FE (Sun), a squishy mage who can rewarp herself (Sierra), and so much more. Many units have their own personal weapons too, which further contributes to that sense of unique personal identity – something from which many SRPGs could learn. Vega has the Schram sword, which halves all damage taken. Shigen has the Dullahan sword, which automatically revives him when he dies. Maruj has the Wundergust tome… which doesn’t have any special effects, but it’s still powerful.
Overall, while Kaga’s design means that his games aren’t as easy to pick up for newcomers, it also means that they have some of the best replay value and most satisfying systems out there. Optimizing his games by LTCing (Low Turn Count runs, wherein you try to beat them in as few turns as possible) is a perennial pastime of the FE community. And while surely, LTCing has been done for post-Kaga games like FE6 and etc., most of these games are not as deep or involved as Kaga’s games, particularly FE 4, FE5, and TearRing Saga. (FEs 10-12 were surprisingly deep though, considering Kaga had nothing to do with them.)
There’s also Berwick Saga, the followup to this game, but that’s another post for another day.
To wrap things up: TearRing Saga is a game which every self-respecting FE fan should try out. It’s got all the marks of a Kaga game, and is in some ways a more fitting successor to FE5 than FE6 is. I won’t take any sides on FE6 vs. TearRing Saga with regards to which is better, since I love both games. Play ’em both, folks! The FE series and Shouzou Kaga have so much to offer to every SRPG fan.
Developers: Tirnanog Studios
Serenes Forest’s TearRing Saga page; includes lots of helpful information