Fire Emblem is a series that you either love, or really love. There is no in-between. But it hasn’t always been this way. For those who have stuck with the series from the beginning, even the hardcore among you who were importing it before Super Smash Bros. Melee introduced the West to the tactical strategy series with its inclusion of Marth as a playable fighter, you have my utmost respect. We owe a lot to veterans of the series for seeing the beauty in it before the rest of us did. If it weren’t for your support, Fire Emblem wouldn’t be enjoying the renaissance that all gamers are presently benefitting from.
Alas, as stated previously, it hasn’t always been this way. The series hasn’t always been at the top of Nintendo’s roster of properties. It’s well-established video game history that Fire Emblem didn’t really start gaining mass appeal until after its debut on the 3DS back in 2012. Since then, we’ve seen three more installments in the mainline series (technically five if you break Fire Emblem: Fates up into its three different versions, respectively). In honor of this golden age of Fire Emblem, I’ve decided to rank the releases from this decade from worst to best. Or really, from best, to best of the best , because let’s be real – modern Fire Emblem is awesome no matter how you slice it.
For the purposes of this list, I won’t be including spin-off titles like Fire Emblem Warriors or crossovers such as Tokyo Mirage Sessions FE or Pokémon Conquest (okay, that last one isn’t a Fire Emblem crossover, but was a tactical RPG so it’s close enough!). I also won’t be including the massively popular app Fire Emblem Heroes. This list is strictly for mainline releases from this decade alone. So, without further ado, here is my list of the top modern Fire Emblem games:
6. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright
Look. You know it. I know it. Everyone knows it. Birthright is not only the weakest incarnation of Fire Emblem Fates, it’s the weakest modern Fire Emblem in general. This isn’t even controversial, it’s well-accepted within the Fire Emblem community. I must say, it is not a bad game though. It probably gets more criticism than it deserves. The biggest problem with it is its difficulty; more specifically, the lack of difficulty. Birthright was clearly targeted towards casual players of the franchise (like myself), but it went overboard and just became mind-numbingly easy with large open maps that almost remove the entire strategy element out of this strategy role-playing series. Which is too bad, as the fighting mechanics for the Japanese-inspired units like samurai and ninja were promising. Really though, if you have the money, you should still play it before Conquest and Revelations if possible. Partly due to story reasons and partly because its simplicity will help prepare you for the unforgiving world of the other versions of Fates. Speaking of which, that brings us to…
5. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest
Conquest is amazing if you have the patience for its brutality. This is the Dark Souls of modern Fire Emblem. Which somehow feels like a breath of fresh air after playing the so-easy-it’s-kinda-boring world of Birthright. The map designs in Conquest demand you put some consideration into your battle strategy; you can’t randomly waltz onto the field and expect a victory. Sometimes it is a bit too punishing, and perhaps even unfair, but at least you feel like you earn your stripes here. Plus, I like Conquest‘s cast of characters more than Birthright. Although there is some overlap, and it’s arguable that Conquest‘s story is slightly weaker compared to Birthright. Still, while I wouldn’t recommend it to newcomers of the series, Conquest is a solid entry.
4. Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation
At first I considered giving Fire Emblem Fates: Revelation a tie with Conquest, which would’ve also given me a clean ‘top 5’ list to share. However, despite now having to lengthen my list to 6 titles, I had to be honest and admit that Revelation is the best of the Fates saga. It deserves that distinction. Without getting into the minutia, Revelation is simply the best balance of the three titles. The difficulty is pitch perfect, the story strikes a nice even keel, and the whole thing really ties the entire Fates experiment together.
3. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Wait, put down your pitchforks! Before you crucify me, please hear me out. Parsing out the Fates episodes was a cakewalk compared to weighing the pros and cons of the last three games on this list. This one took a lot of contemplation. Let’s get one thing out of the way: I absolutely adore Three Houses. If you don’t believe me, you can read my full review of it over here. It has one of the strongest casts of any game in the series – I love these characters. I love the world it builds. I love the story. The fact of the matter is, Fire Emblem: Three Houses is a must-own game for anyone – Fire Emblem fan or not. Period. End of story.
All that being said, while I appreciate the risks Intelligent Systems took by changing the formula and adding in a more dominant social simulation aspect to the proceedings, at the end of the day I feel like some of those risks did come with sacrifices. One of those sacrifices was the Fire Emblem battles I’ve come to know and love. If it could have balanced these things out more, the outcome might’ve been different. Alas, while being a stellar game, it still isn’t the best modern Fire Emblem. A follow-up very well could be, but let’s not give the crown away so readily. Also, despite being on a console, the character animations lacked the soul of the 3DS entries. And let’s keep it real, the box art was also lacking. (That last part has no bearing on my final judgment of the game though, I’m just saying.)
2. Fire Emblem Awakening
Fire Emblem Awakening deserves to be enshrined on the top of the tallest mountain on earth as the game that not only single-handedly revived the Fire Emblem series, but brought it to the top tier of Nintendo’s franchises. This game alone has forever left one of the most positive marks on Nintendo’s history and has an unparalleled legacy in the history of comebacks. It made Fire Emblem accessible to a larger audience by giving players more difficulty options so the series would no longer be limited to hardcore fans. It introduced a system wherein characters could find love, get married, and even have children without sacrificing the core gameplay. Its soundtrack spared no expense at delivering on the epic backdrop. Go down the line and Awakening knocks it out of the park on every metric. You can feel the passion that went into this game. The staff really thought this might be the last entry in the series, and they spared no expense in pouring all their energy into this labor of love. Nearly a decade later, it remains a title that demands to be experienced and puts other games to shame. With all of that, it’s still not my top Fire Emblem game, but it could be yours and I definitely understand if it is.
1. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia
This is it. The big number one. My favorite modern Fire Emblem game. Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. Throughout this list, you might have noticed I like balance. Revelation was my top choice in the Fates saga for its balance, and while I enjoyed Three Houses, my main problems with it were its balance issues. Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, on the other hand, is by far the most balanced game in modern Fire Emblem. In fact, Echoes is a remake of 1992’s Famicom title Fire Emblem Gaiden. That’s right, it’s a bridge between old Fire Emblem and modern Fire Emblem – the perfect balance. While some may argue this forces it to downgrade some of the bells and whistles of other modern titles, I suggest it merely cuts off any extra fat and delivers the closest thing you could get to classic Fire Emblem while bringing it into the modern era with dignity and accessibility. Yeah, some of the maps aren’t the best and the game totally throws out the weapons triangle system, and some class tiers are lacking. But everything else is so solid. The gameplay, the chess-like strategy elements, the story, the voice-acting, the characters and their animations, the soundtrack, the overall presentation. It just feels like the most pure Fire Emblem experience for me. Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia is the quintessential Fire Emblem experience, which earns it the top spot on my list.