Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem has always been a curiosity of mine. Like most of the early entries in the series, the West never got a chance to play this game or its Nintendo DS remake. When Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem’s remake was released, it was the first time I was aware of a new Fire Emblem game that I couldn’t play. Fortunately, through the power of fan translation, I’ve finally had a chance to play my Fire Emblem white whale.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is a direct sequel to Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon and the Sword of Light. Don’t worry if you haven’t played the first one, though, because Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem includes the story of the first game remade with improved graphics and new mechanics. Despite the improved presentation, new mechanics, and a few cut minor characters and maps, the remake portion of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is largely faithful to the original game’s story. New features, like movement previews, make this version of Marth’s classic story much more playable than the original game. As a pixel art lover, this is my favorite version of the first Fire Emblem story, even over the Nintendo DS remake.
Once you’ve finished the remake portion of the game (or skipped it if you didn’t need the recap), you can dive right into book 2 of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem. Book 2 follows Marth after his first adventure. The story kicks off with Hardin, an ally from the first game, becoming an emperor and ordering his armies to conquer neighboring countries. Naturally, it falls to Marth to once again build an army to either defeat Hardin or talk him out of his aggressive military actions.
While the story begins as a grounded military tale, fantastic elements like magical corruption and legendary dark powers are quickly introduced. Marth will once again have to collect a set of magical artifacts to beat back the forces of darkness. This is the most complex story of the Fire Emblem games so far, and it explores themes like depression and jealousy. These themes are only explored at a surface level, but it’s a big step up from Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Sword of Light.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem’s story leaves something desired in its presentation of the characters. A select few main characters get the focus, but most others have minimal dialogue after being recruited. Despite having access to an army’s worth of soldiers, I only remember the ones that were strong combatants. I couldn’t even name most of the units that rode the bench. There’s very little space for minor characters to shine, and with over 40 allied characters in the game, I was longing for the support system Fire Emblem is known for today.
In addition to providing a more complex story than previous Fire Emblem games, Mystery of the Emblem introduces a few new features that make for deeper gameplay than its predecessors. One noteworthy addition is the dismounting feature. Mounted units can ditch their steeds and become foot soldiers at any time. Dismounting lowers the unit’s movement and forces them to use swords instead of the weapons they use when mounted. You’ll want to keep your mounted units well-stocked with swords and lances to be prepared for any situation.
Dismounting is generally disadvantageous, but it can be useful for flying units to fight the bow users they are normally weak against. The main purpose of dismounting is to act as a balancing lever for mounted units, as they are required to dismount indoors. This weakening of mounted units ensures that foot soldiers get a chance to shine in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, unlike some Fire Emblem games, where high-movement units dominate.
Another new feature in this game is the Star Shards. Each Star Shard is named after a zodiac sign and adjusts the hidden growth rates that determine which stats increase when a unit levels up. For example, a unit holding the Cancer Star Shard gets an additional 50% chance of increasing defense when leveling but a -10% chance of raising strength. I spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to set up my Star Shards to optimize my soldiers.
Star Shards add a touch of customization to Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, but they require a guide to make effective use of. The game does not tell you which stats each shard influences or your unit’s growth rates. Players need to know both to decide who should get each shard, so a guide is necessary to get the most out of this new mechanic. You also may want to ignore this feature if you are looking for a challenge, as using it enables you to make some truly broken units. Finding all the Star Shards is a bit of an ordeal, but you’ll want to make sure you don’t miss any. Beyond being a neat mechanic, you need all the shards to get the game’s real ending. Some shards are found with new characters, while others are hidden in chests or dropped by enemies.
Having missable key items that are important to the endgame is nothing new for Fire Emblem, but the star shards are egregious. None of the star shards are particularly difficult to get if you know where they are, but they can be easy to miss. Without knowing what each chest holds or checking every enemy’s inventory, it’s easy to overlook an enemy in the corner holding a shard. There’s also no notice if you did miss one, so you won’t realize you did until it’s too late to go back and get it. You would have to replay the entire game to get the real ending at that point if you didn’t have an old save.
Unfortunately, the ending you get if you don’t have the Star Shards is unsatisfying and deprives you of a few maps you only get to play if you have the shards. You can alleviate these issues with a guide, but it would be nice if the game helped you track the shards better or didn’t require them for the true ending.
While collecting Star Shards is annoying, it doesn’t meaningfully take away from a game that significantly improves on its predecessor. Book 2 of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem has better maps and more engaging gameplay than Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Sword of Light. The maps aren’t perfect, but there are far fewer boring single-chokepoint maps in this game. I didn’t feel compelled to use the warp staff to skip any maps in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, which is a major step up from some of the very dull maps in the first two Fire Emblem games. The only issue with the maps in Book 2 of Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is that many maps are very similar to maps from Book 1, but with new enemy layout. Used sparingly, this would have been a cool way to call back to events from the first game, but it happens often enough that it feels repetitive if you didn’t skip Book 1.
The most significant area where Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is a step up from previous games in the series is in its presentation. The move to the SNES came with a big upgrade to the pixel art. Characters are more detailed and expressive, and the combat animations are a blast to watch and finally have background images. Even though most characters don’t get a lot of screen time, the more detailed portraits in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem add a little more personality to each member of your army. While much of the art in the NES Fire Emblem games looks dated, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem’s presentation has aged much better. This is the first game in the series that reminds me of the visuals I fell in love with when I started playing Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is the first game in the series that doesn’t feel very dated. It’s not as experimental as earlier games, but by refining the gameplay of its predecessors and introducing a few new mechanics, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem offers a smooth-playing experience. While the game doesn’t excel in any areas, the story, gameplay, and presentation are enjoyable. This is the first Fire Emblem game I am comfortable recommending, with very few strings attached.