Name: Fire Emblem: Sword of Seals
Release Date (JP): March 29th, 2002
Platform: GBA
Score: 30
Beat: December 12th, 2015
Written: May 5th, 2021

Fire Emblem: Sword of Seals (also officially known in English as The Binding Blade; JP: ファイアーエムブレム封印の剣, Fire Emblem: Fūin no Tsurugi) is the first handheld Fire Emblem game as well as the first FE game to be released on the system. It stars Roy, a prince of Pherae in his quest to save Elibe from the ambitions of King Zephiel of Bern, who wishes to bring back dragons to destroy the continent with the help of the "Maiden of Darkness," Idun. Maiden of Darkness was a working name for the cancelled Fire Emblem 64. As far as I know, that is pretty much all that survives from FE64. Sword of Seals (henceforth referred to as FE6) is notable for a few reasons. It is the last game series veteran composer Yuka Tsujiyoko composed the soundtrack for. As previously mentioned, it is the first portable FE game. FE6 is also the first FE game without Kaga's direction, and it shows. It "returns to its roots" by chucking a lot of mechanical advancement in favor of a much simpler game, a la Dark Dragon and the Sword of Light and Mystery of the Emblem. This I feel, is one critical flaw with the game, not that it does this at all, but how it does it.

FE6 removes a lot of mechanics from the previous entry, FE5. I will talk at length about the map design soon so I will not touch on it here, but I will talk about some other things. The fatigue system is gone, so once more the player can overuse their best units without consequence. FE6 has a major shortage of good units though. Most of them start at level one base class with poor bases... not unlike Akaneia. Though stat caps and stats in general are lower in those games so it makes less of a difference. Gone are strength and magic coexisting, by far one of the strangest changes the GBA games make. Physical characters have a strength stat while magic characterse have a magic stat. In light of this change, Constitution is now used to determine speed penalties due to weapon weight, which has the consequence of effectively locking out weaker characters of the most powerful weapons due to their low constitution. This change also has a major effect on a returning Jugdral class in The Sacred Stones. Thankfully, Path of Radiance reverts to the pre-GBA "strength AND magic stats" for every character. Capturing is gone, though rescuing is here to stay for a while. Dismounting is gone as well, though this is a mixed blessing. If it returned exactly like how it was in FE3 and 5, then I'd dislike it. If they removed the "must dismount indoors" requirement like what Three Houses does when it brings it back, then it'd be fine.

The map design in this game is a mess. Every chapter is a seize map like its predecessors the Akaneia games. However, I feel this was a huge mistake. I can understand those two games having no variety in map objectives as they were older and very early entries in the series. There was no different type of map objective to speak of. "But FE4 only has you seize castles!" I hear someone say. To that, I say this: Yes, that is true. But A. Thracia 776 was the first FE game to really diversify map objectives. B. FE4 has stellar writing, music, characters, etc. which more than make up for some of the less good map design in the game. It's not as simple as "go to castle, fight enemy along way, seize," you really have to strategize and come up with something good to advance, not to mention a little luck. Lastly, C, FE6 has none of those. I'll talk about map design here, but I'll get to the other parts soon enough. Every map is either forgettable or a total pain. The forgettable maps are pretty easy, with nothing in particular going on. Usually very little to no reinforcements (which isn't a bad thing, don't get me wrong) and not too terrible of bosses. One thing that was carried over from FE5 was the Super Gates. They're not as good in this game. But they give massive evasion bonuses to the bosses now instead of the huge defense buff, so they're still annoying. The bad maps are terrible. Endless waves of millions of reinforcements every turn, no indications on the map of where enemies come from (4-5 enemies can just spring out from a tile of grass), and arbitrary splitting of your forces to corners of the map where it makes no sense. Then there's maps like Chapter 14. It's a desert map, with fog of war, wyverns that can swoop out from the darkness and instantly KO Sophia, the ultra weak character you have to escort across the map. If she dies, it's Game Over. Plus, if you want to get the Gaiden Chapter and therefore progress towards unlocking the last portion of the game, there's also a strict time limit. The only hint that such a time limit exists is that once you take too many turns, the sandstorm fog of war goes away and the map is clear. I can't recall a map I actually enjoyed, though to be fair, it has been about six years at the time of writing this. Idun is the easiest final boss of the series. You can easily beat her in one or two turns, depending on whether Roy criticals or not. You also have a ton of weapons effective against dragons, if you didn't break them in the previous couple chapters, which are full of dragons. And as a result, you can mow through them effortlessly. But you need to watch the durability as they are exceedingly fragile with a whopping 20 uses. Next!

The music is a step down from FE5. I can't be too hard on it though. FE6 was released early into the GBA's lifespan, and I imagine there was some adjustment that had to happen both from Tsujiyoko and from the sound programmers. As a result, the music sounds somewhat fuzzy and empty at times. Despite these difficulties, there are some good songs. Many songs are updated and reused in the prequel sequel, Blazing Sword, which released the next year and fixed basically all of my complaints about FE6. However, there are a few songs in which I prefer the FE6 version, such as Beneath a New Light, the second-to-last map theme, or last if you broke or missed one of the extremely fragile legendary weapons. Overall, not too bad for GBA, but mediocre for an FE soundtrack with some stand out pieces.

The writing is... unimpressive, to say the least. The story is basically a rehash of Akaneia and the characters are ported from Akaneia as well. Roy is practically Marth 2, but less interesting. Lilina serves as Shiida 2, though unlike Shiida, it's entirely possible Roy picks someone else from his harem, from the Native girl to the General. Roy for some reason has a harem in the first place. Almost all of his supports are romantic. It's almost foreshadowing Awakening and beyond... Speaking of supports, they are very bland and uninteresting. There's also no support viewer, which is annoying, but that was fixed in Blazing Sword. While Roy and Lilina at least try to be their own characters, Ogma, er, Dieck is literally a copy-paste of Ogma, except shirtless and with teal hair. Rutger is in a similar role, edgy swordsman that perfectly mirrors Navarre. Their designs are even extremely similar, especially if you look at his FE11 design (which didn't exist yet to be fair), though his FE3 design is pretty similar as well. Navarre's FE1 design is completely different, so it doesn't count. One critical difference between Navarre and Rutger is that Rutger is NOT recruited by Lilina who is Not Shiida, but instead another character (Clarine.) The story, as mentioned above, is about an evil man that wants to destroy the world with dragons. Sound familiar? That's because that's the plot to the original Fire Emblem. I'm not even oversimplifying it, the game's plot is just that simple, but it's excusable for FE1 as that is an NES game. Add in the details that the evil man is a king (Hardin is an emperor, but it hardly matters here) and you need to collect all the macguffins to unlock the final stretch of the game and you have the borrowed FE3 elements. It could be an homage, but it just feels lazy to me.

The graphics aren't too bad. The new bright palettes and boppy sprites are welcome, as well as some cool new graphical variations for the different areas of Elibe. There are variants for houses and towns so they no longer all look the same. Basically, things are more varied and more interesting visually. The battle animations are no longer as exciting as the later SNES games. No longer do they dash across the screen and move about the battle field as they do battle, but are now constrained to their "platforms." There's two distinct halves of the battles. The left side being the enemy's and the right side being the player's. The character will attack, then return to their side of the field. The critical animations are notoriously ridiculous and I love them. One thing that does bother me, especially coming from the earlier entries is the complete lack of scale for the battle sprites. Generals tower over paladins and cavaliers whose war horses, particularly for the latter, are more like ponies, and way less cool than Bill. Some battle sprites are a little odd in this game, but were refined (read: almost completely redrawn) in the next game.

So yeah, I don't like FE6. It's several steps back from the previous entry, fumbles all the important parts, and managed to elude localization once more. This is the lowest point of the series until Fates in 2015. It's not completely horrible, and I firmly believe no game is not worth a shot, so do give it a try. Be sure to leave your expectations at the door as you venture into this game. If this were to be a first FE, I'd heartily ask to reconsider, and instead play Blazing Sword (which released as Fire Emblem in the west in 2003) or Path of Radiance on GameCube. You didn't hear it from me, but it's perfectly acceptable to emulate a game where actual copies of it cost hundreds of dollars.
To finish off, I leave this quote courtesy of my brother, "it's no wonder Tear Ring Saga sold better than this garbage."

-Hat Kid

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