Fire Emblem - Ankokuryuu to Hikari no Ken [Model HVC-VX]

Nintendo Famicom cart. published 33 years ago by Nintendo Co., Ltd.

Listed in MAME

Fire Emblem - Ankokuryuu to Hikari no Ken [Model HVC-VX] screenshot

ファイアーエムブレム 暗黒竜と光の剣 © 1990 Nintendo.
(Fire Emblem - Ankokuryuu to Hikari no Ken)

The first installment in the Fire Emblem series. Set on the fictional continent of Archanea, the story follows the tale of Marth, prince of the kingdom of Altea, who is sent on a quest to reclaim his throne after being forced into exile by the evil sorcerer Gharnef and his dark master Medeus, the titular Shadow Dragon. Forming new alliances with neighboring kingdoms, Marth must gather a new army to help him retrieve the sacred sword Falchion and the Fire Emblem shield in order to defeat Gharnef and Medeus and save his kingdom. The gameplay revolves around turn-based battles on grid-based maps, with defeated units being subject to permanent death.

Goodies for Fire Emblem - Ankokuryuu to Hikari no Ken [Model HVC-VX]
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Released on April 20, 1990 in Japan.

Development began three years prior to its release, after Intelligent Systems turned its attention away from developing hardware for the Famicom towards creating what they called simulation games. The initial development team was not very large, and several staff members undertook multiple tasks.

The concept was first decided upon after the completion of Famicom Wars, as the team wanted to move away from the war-based setting of Famicom Wars and create a role-playing experience. The project was first proposed to Nintendo by Kaga with a design document. The document included all the basic elements, including the story, main character and gameplay mechanics. At this stage, the project was called Battle Fantasy Fire Emblem. The staff never considered the game as a commercial product, being defined by Kaga as a doujin project that was made on a whim. To make the game accessible to a wide audience, Kaga did his best to avoid emphasizing stats and other numerical data. The game's genre necessitated the extensive use of the Famicom cartridge's memory. Fire Emblem exceeded these limits, so Intelligent Systems used a portion of memory dedicated to saving games to get round this limitation. With Nintendo's help, they created a new chip for the cartridge that could process and display Japanese text.

Kaga wanted to create a scenario where players would care about the characters in a similar way to a role-playing video game. According to Kaga, while role-playing games had strong stories but limited protagonists, tactical games had multiple characters but a weak story: Fire Emblem was his solution, combining the two to create a fun gameplay experience with relatable characters. This lack of emphasis on a single character was intentional, to the point that even Marth was not considered by Kaga to be the main character. The setting and characters drew inspiration from Classical mythology.

During the early story draft, there were two dragons that acted as bosses: the Earth Dragon Gaia and the Water Dragon Neptune. While Neptune was scrapped due to hardware limitations, Gaia would evolve into the character of Medeus.

The series' titular Fire Emblem appears in its first and most recognizable form as a shield with mystical power.

The artifact's title made reference to war and the power of dragons, which would form a key part of future entries.

The use of such an extensive story approach was a rarity in Famicom games at the time, which were still beset by memory storage problems. Multiple scenarios were also planned by Kaga to alleviate the linear feel of the campaign, but this could not be managed.

The initial plan was to create setpiece graphics for key story moments, similar to simulation titles on PC games. Among the scenes initially planned were Marth kneeling next to the character Jagen in a pool of blood, and two characters escaping from an ambush. To try and accommodate the advanced graphics, the team opted to use an MMC3 memory chip. The adoption of the MMC3 was influenced by memory space difficulties experienced by the team during the development of Famicom Wars. When it was discovered that the chip only had one megabyte of memory, the team were forced to streamline the graphics and visuals, resulting in the setpiece graphics being cut. The reduced emphasis on graphics meant that the game was not visually impressive, which was later regretted by Kaga and other team members.

During its early advertising, the game was dubbed Honou no Monshou (lit. Emblem of Fire), and used character and narrative concepts that did not appear in the final product. The graphics also underwent changes, being particularly noticeable with Marth's hair color and style. The game was advertised on television with a live-action commercial featuring a version of the Fire Emblem theme. Filming the commercial proved troublesome: the actors overheated due to their heavy costumes, and the light and sound effects made the actor horse skittish. The commercial required twenty retakes.

Goodies for Fire Emblem - Ankokuryuu to Hikari no Ken [Model HVC-VX]
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Game's ROM.