everyone you love is dead

Ah yes, the dark ages. This is where we take a (second) break in my chronological Fire Emblem adventure, as what had become a steady wave of new releases stopped. No new games were announced - and for a time, Fire Emblem was seemingly a forgotten property. Marthís legacy, everyone.

I played a lot of Tellius in this time period: but inevitably, you get the itch to try something new. I knew about the Japan-only titles by osmosis, but was reluctant to try them given how bad my experience with Shadow Dragon had been - and I was beginning to learn that going backward in a franchise was not going to satisfy me. (Thereís a whole rant about my feelings and difficulties with going backwards with a set of titles on Shadow Dragonís page, if youíre coming here from the sitemap, so I wonít repeat myself.) When I approach a franchise now I start from the bottom - Assassinís Creed is the most recent example that comes to mind. No perceived downgrades here.

I didnít want to go back to Gaiden, Genealogy, nor Thracia - and most fan translations were partial. Sometimes I marvel at how much the fandom exploded, because back then, Fire Emblem had a loyal following, but its numbers were quite small.

Enter Binding Blade. Originally released in Japan in 2002, it had a full fan translation: and was in the familiar format of two GBA games I knew extremely well, so I would have a reasonable idea of what to expect. And letís face it, after Shadow Dragon I was eager for something that would remind me why this series was my favourite.

I guess I should also thank Roy for making fans curious enough to find out exactly who he was to bother translating a Japanese game from scratch.

Blazing Sword also happened to be the prequel to Binding Blade. Persuading myself to play it didnít require a great leap of faith. Playing Binding Blade second instead of first would be just like playing a sequel, I reasoned - this would be a game about the offspring of characters I knew well in a world I still remembered.

It was a strange kind of homecoming - but as Blazing Sword was a prequel, and I had limited experience with prequels, what didnít occur to me was that a lot of characters I had known would seemingly never have existed, and that a lot of them would be dead. Or would die. On screen. Brutally.

No, I am not over Hectorís death - it was so out of the blue that I did not see it coming. There was no forewarning, no expectation... the sanctity of being a main, loved character was not a thing for Hector in Binding Blade, because that only came about in its prequel. Retrospectively, it makes sense - for the new kids on the block to have a turn at saving the world, the last standing war-worn dad must die. And it works. Itís enough to fuel Lilinaís resolve. But itís a double whammy when you consider Hectorís later/earlier role in Blazing Sword. It was his death that made me realise all bets were off. Everyone I loved? None of them were safe. Thatís something to keep a girl on her toes.

Playing any game which spawned a prequel is a wild ride. Not only were there sudden deaths and characters wiped from existence - Lyndis straight up doesnít exist, Lyn, the most popular character in the Fire Emblem franchise, and her absence speaks volumes with Eliwood and Hector featured as much as they are (until one of them fucking dies) - but you can visibly see the intended Blazing Sword parentage for the Binding Blade characters. Most are never named even if its possible to infer a parent from each gameís dialogue, but itís not really needed because the characters look like their parents. They look related. Itís weird, and mind blowing. But mostly weird.

Oh, and the precious, well meaning child of the Blazing Sword chapter that haunts my dreams whom you must protect because he is a cinnamon roll? He grows up to become Darth Vader. He's twisted, deludedly evil, obsessed with protecting his sister, and the war is his fault.

at least i could rely on you, sprite friends.

Once you get past all of this (or not), Binding Blade is actually a nice little game, the start of the modern era of Fire Emblem series which I so loved. That was what I took away as I slowly made my way through - it served the purpose I had subconsciously assigned to it.

That said, thereís not much I recall in regard to playing it. I do remember entertaining myself at university between lectures and seminars by playing Binding Blade via emulator on my netbook. I also played them on mute - I was a good three quarters into the game before I realised. At that point, I couldnít engage with Binding Blade and sound, since it had always been silentÖ which was another weird experience, because soundtracks can literally make or break games for me. To this day, I have no idea what Binding Blade sounds like, and have no association for the tracks I have heard from it.

Arena Abuse: Zeiss
Binding Blade was an entry that reminded me what it was I loved about my favourite classes. A reinforcement, really - no one outright surprised me as a unit, but that was because by this point, I already knew who was going to impress me. If I did remember more of playing this game, perhaps I would rant about them at length - but thereís only one that stands out to me as a new experience, and that was with Zeiss. It might have been Jill that made me fall into the defecting wyvern rider defense camp, but it was Zeissí elder sister Melady who was the first one I was ready for. However, Meladyís defection is an immediate thing, as she shows up with Guinevere. She might not officially join your army for some time, but sheís there - and thereís no laboured decision for Melady, because sheís already made up her mind that Guinevere is, yíknow, far more important than her lover and her younger brother.

Tragic Wyvern Rider sibling angst drawn from being on opposing sides of the war? Sign me up.

I was determined to use the both of them, but Zeiss is swayed fairly late into the game. And with a low level. He was clearly another Est archetype, and having him blitz through levels with exp that might be better served with my stronger, levelled army was something I briefly weighed up. Until I realised I didnít have to. I was, after all, playing on an emulator.

Playing via emulator meant I was not restricted by the homely, familiar experience of spending two hours on a map only to mess up a turn and lose those two hours - I could save where I wanted, when I wanted. I self restricted this. I wanted the challenge to remain, but I also wanted the security of a turn save that Radiant Dawn had given me on its long-winded, everything can very quickly go wrong chapters (I did royally mess up a few times with eager saving, because being physically at uni, sometimes I ran out of breaks). Still, crafty saving was how I unravelled any level up that was not in my favour with decent stat upgrades, and I was beating the RNG at its own game. But because I could save, arenas were no longer a gamble.

That was how I rushed Zeissí levelling. I abused arenas. Arenas give matches based on level, and if it wasnít an advantageous or worthwhile fight, I Ďresetí. I abused one particular arena for an infinite number of turns to the point where Zeiss had caught up with the pack, and his comrades also took trips whilst I farmed levels.

Part of me wondered if I was making a mockery of the system; it was an experience I questioned even whilst I was doing it. I sort of was: there was no difficulty in raising Zeiss, but after so many years of pulling up Estís by their bootstraps, I wanted to have the time to use him. I wanted to have Zeiss and Melady form an unstoppable, wyvern sibling team. I wanted the game not necessarily to be a breeze, but to have the best builds of a character possible, to really experience them as they are meant, and not by relying on my (and a unitís) luck with a sequence of numbers that gave them strength +1 or not. Would I do this again? Possibly, possibly not. Thereís pros and cons to both.

Though I canít tell you how they handled, I can take a stab at my roster. You can blame type preference and again, warm fuzzies, for knowing this. I recollect using (and having moderate to decent success with) Roy, Thany (Shanna), Clarine, Rutger, Dorothy, Sue, Noah, Lilina, Wendy (Gwendolyn), Fir, Geese, Klein, Melady, Cecilia, and Zeiss. Most of the girls in this game are top-notch, actually - even those you donít play as. I remain extremely fond of Guinevere and Idunn. And Iím all about female dragon final bosses.

Binding Blade wasnít the most fantastic game I ever played, but to date, itís the only game Iíve ever taken the time (and wanted) to emulate. I had fun with it - it fed my nostalgia and gave me something new in a style I love, and filled the Fire Emblem shaped void in my heart when I needed it most. It wasnít ever meant to be difficult, and because I wanted to have fun, I went much easier on myself than my usual standards (looking at you, Zeiss and arenas).

And it reminded me that I really, really enjoyed Blazing Sword, which might have led to digging out my GBA for a replay.

to the moon and back - awakening