here be dragons (press start)

Back in 2004, Blazing Sword was Nintendo's first foray into a localisation of the Fire Emblem franchise. The game was released sans a subtitle, despite being the seventh game in the series - and its non-connected nature to Marth and Roy (Roy's popularity in Super Smash Bros. was a particularly strong influence in the game's international release) was the source of quite a bit of confusion given that they were not, well, in the game.

Blazing Sword was designed to be an introduction for newcomers, a perfect fit for its new audience - the opening third of the game with Lyn and her entourage comprises of a ten chapter tutorial of series terms and staples. You'll learn something new as late as the final chapter of this tutorial, when the game forces you to use a Knight Crest on Wallace to introduce the concept of promotion and second tier. And, retrospectively, that you should never promote a level 12 unit.

Still, you can play those opening chapters as much as you like. The game does not force you onto Eliwood's story - you can repeat Lyn's story until you're comfortable with the tactical RPG style, which I did. And I also really enjoyed Lyn's story anyway, and why would I abandon her to some red headed guy who I cared nothing for? Honestly, I made it through Lyn's mode at least three times before heading out into the bulk of the plot: but on my first attempts, I had lost so many units in Lyn's mode that I couldn't progress, and so the lesson was taught - you never let a unit die and if they do, there is a way to soft reset.

But when I did make it out into the rest of the game, I absolutely loved it.

What can be said about Blazing Sword and its plot is that it's fun. You've got the Fire Emblem basics - dragons, countries at war, swords and magic. You've got the plot twists, the arc villains, the absolute shock when Leila dies (it's 2017 and I am not over it) and when Eliwood ‘accidently’ kills Ninian and the grief the entire party shares. I've seen similar things done elsewhere and in some cases better, but Blazing Sword was one of my first forays into RPG as a whole - for me, back then, it was new. And something clicked. Narrative and a diverse group of characters with an underpinning supportive cast that do get a chance to shine on the battlefield was something that made me come back for more, and what more can you ask for in any videogame? And whilst I have mixed feelings over the lords as individual characters, I loved their friendship and the bond they shared over the course of their quest.

I've thought about it, and I can't remember what it was that made me pick up Fire Emblem. I was definitely a Nintendo gal - I was reared a PS1 child and had a GBC, yet I practically lived on my Gameboy Advance. That was when I really became a gamer; on the GBC I played Pokémon, but with the GBA came new, exciting J/RPG things with stories and plot and narrative. I loved stories; I still do, but back then, the world was my oyster and I wrote all the time, read all the time, lived and breathed storytelling in my media, and that's what got me into Breath of Fire, Golden Sun, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance - and of course, Blazing Sword.

Unlike those games, what I do remember about Blazing Sword is playing it. I can recall maps and tactics perfectly - that isn't unique, I remember plenty and can picture scenes from those other three games - but I also remember myself and what I was doing. I know Lyn drew me in when she wakes the tactician up for the first time; I named my first tactician Aya; I sat up a little straighter when Lyn talked to me. I know that summer was the hottest I've lived through, and whilst we went to France every year, British Rems is not built for a heatwave of 50 degrees celsius. What saved me and my brother from boredom and melting was videogames - for him, it was Yoshi's Island. For me, it was Fire Emblem.

I Am No Man: Lyndis
Lyn sparked my love of sword users, and to this day, swordies remain my siren call. I wondered if it was Guy who prompted this, but no, it was Lyn - she might be a Lord, but she plays like a Myrmidon and when she promotes she nets a bow and a Sniper's proficiency: her crits are joyous, regular things. Thinking back, Lyn was my first example of an independant female warrior that wielded a sword, or at least, the first that I can remember - I was exiting my platforming phase and venturing out into J/RPGs, notably with Breath of Fire, Final Fantasy X-2 and Blazing Sword itself - and at the time, I had never seen a woman competently protect another person, whilst wielding a sword, in a videogame. Heck, I hardly ever saw a woman as a capable protagonist, which is what drew me to X-2 despite knowing nothing about it except for three girls on the cover and the opening cutscene where they kick ass. Lyn's starring role opened up a whole new world of possibilities and considerations - women could be heroes, and able and willing to save the day for their own ends, not just for the titular hero. Representation matters.

Spend anytime in the fanbase and you'll soon notice that Lyn is a massive favourite. Not only does she represent women in a positive light, she engages with the player in their role as a tactician - she asks for input, she saves them from starvation, she protects them from bandits and every single foe you come across in the first ten chapters. Neither does she care about your mysterious origins - she brings the player into the fold and it’s an excellent entry point that you just don't get in the other titles, bar Awakening, which was likely a precursor to me liking it (and Chrom) so much, but we'll get back to that later.

As a main lord, I've used Lyn on every Blazing Sword playthrough and she has never been lackluster. I love using her; she's the first of my lords I promote, sniping and stabbing her way to victory. I don't talk about my affection for Lyn very often (if ever!) as I've long moved away to other fictional ladies, but it exists as a staple. Who knows how those first stumbling attempts at Blazing Sword would have gone without Lyn cheering me on every step of the way, and nor where I would be without her.

So, I stuck to a game far longer than most I'd touched before. I was replaying it, perfecting my playstyle. Why? What was it about Fire Emblem that I liked so much?

It was every small thing that made up the bigger picture - the plot, my introduction to a genre that was a match made in heaven, the art and sprite style; the added depth of supports for those characters who didn't stand in the spotlight, even when I wasn't a fan of Eliwood and Hector. Everything was great. For the first time in a game, I also felt involved - me, the girl sat on her bed with her GBA - as the fourth wall was broken. I was the tactician! I was one of the heroes sharing in this story! Blazing Sword introduced me to so many often used ideas in storytelling, but it remains the first, the start, and that makes it special. I have nothing but fondness when I think of it, and though I haven't played it for quite a few years and am looking back on it with rose tinted nostalgia, it's well deserved.

Also, just look at it. I need a moment to just appreciate the sheer mastery of sprites Intelligent Systems possessed in the GBA trilogy, because they sure weren't messing around:

damn girl.

And Lyn does this in the prologue as a scripted event. Seriously, I'd never seen anything like it before, nor since - even with the shift to Gamecube and the return to handhelds, 3D sprites simply don't compare to the GBA sprites, least of all when they unleash a critical. PS4 games may own me for visuals, colours, and aesthetic, but when it comes to participation in a battle system, Blazing Sword still wins. I still get shivers.

Though I replayed Blazing Sword a lot - I must have completed Lyn's route half a dozen times, Eliwood's at least twice all the way to the end, and Hector's only once - what I don't recall is my favoured units in the beginning. I know I used a lot of the same characters over and over again, as I knew how they worked (and why mess with a winning formula?). I was a fan of Myrmidons, magic users, pegasus fliers, and Archers. I still am. The only additions I ever really made was prioritising Priscilla over all magic users (Troubadours, guys), occasionally using Raven as I had slowly begun to trust the Mercenary class, and introducing Heath to the squad, since I'm a Wyvern Rider convert.

As is, I played the game with my favourite characters, and all of them I would recommend due to multiple runs of excellence. From memory, my typical roster comprised of Lyn, Rath, Matthew, Lucius, Rebecca, Priscilla, Fiora, and Heath. Rebecca was a godsend and could handle any unit, any time, anywhere - others required perseverance so they could take care of their own. But I loved them, and used them. I know this from the warm fuzzies I get when I look at their names. And that if I allowed myself to, I could talk about them much, much more, and this page would never end.

Raise You Up: Nino
Whilst mulling over which units I wanted to talk about over the course of the series, I noticed my lack of mages. This isn't a surprise - it's a universal truth that mages are good units, especially earlier in the games when res is next to nonexistent. They might not take a direct hit to start with (if ever), but their access to magic make them agile necessities, and one or two mages on a roster is natural for when traditional weapons aren't (literally) cutting it. Objectively, there are very few 'bad' mages - Knoll for his luck and Ilyana for thunder magic being screwed over come to mind - but even with them, I've persisted. I've made them good. And if there's anyone you have to persist with, it's Nino.

Nino arrives in the closing hours of Blazing Sword, as a level 5 pre-promote, and most of your army is well into their second tier by this time. You've invested in your mages; if you're like me, you've salvaged every last exp point for your Troubadours and Clerics, because a Troubadour is an unstoppable tome wielding, healing force. Then Nino comes along in the last five minutes with her excellent growths and potential. The nerve.

She's the classic Est archetype, the recurring latecomer, but she wields magic. And unless you know about her potential, it's extremely unlikely you'll attempt using her. She is extra squishy and everything is going to kill her. Everything. Raising Nino is a massive undertaking that isn't exactly unwise for you to back out of - for my first few playthroughs I sure didn't. And, to get the most out of her, you'll have to escort her across the battlefield to recruit Jafar to unlock the side chapter where you can level her up to make use of her for endgame, and this side chapter is full of fliers. And archers. And disappearing pathways. Which she can't walk on. And you have to protect a prince and make sure the assassin doesn't kill himself or crit and park himself in front of Ursula to even get to this side chapter - these two chapters are stress incarnate. I have trust issues in regard to fog of war, Nintendo, and those stem from protecting Zephiel on Hector's route when the unit placement suddenly changed, but I digress.

I'm not a huge fan of Nino as a character, but the proof of how good she is is what encouraged me to use other late mage arrivals in-game, such as Pelleas (you have to play the game twice to even acquire him) - but they're both well worth the wait and effort, even if you don't have them for long. That's really what you have to weigh up here - stick with the reliables and those you've invested a game's worth of time into, or overindulge in someone new?

So, closing thoughts for Blazing Sword. I love it, though it's unlikely I will go back to it, if ever - it's a building block to my present fandoms, a cherished starter into RPGs. It's like that with Breath of Fire and Golden Sun as well - I don't know if I could ever play them again, because that magic I felt the first time just wouldn't exist so many years on. Sometimes things that were perfect in your childhood shouldn't be challenged - they should be allowed to stay wondrous so you don't begin to see all the flaws and imperfections. On the other hand, nostalgia bites, and it certainly has working on this site. And, well, when I thought I had closed the door on the GBA games for good I learned of Binding Blade, the game Blazing Sword plays prequel to, but I'm getting ahead of myself.

Blazing Sword was my beginning, as it was for many series veterans. A lot of people began elsewhere (such as Awakening), which is fine. But if Fire Emblem is a new experience to someone, I'd always recommend beginning with Blazing Sword, especially for beginners. Especially for those who want to work their way through the entire series. There be dragons here, and this is where you should press start.

two paths, one story - sacred stones