The Fire Emblem franchise is a series of strategic video games that have players fight in turn-based combat on a grid. The series as a whole is known for its great gameplay, in-depth stories, permanent character death, and challenging difficulty.
Yet the series has had its ups and downs as the developers tried new things, struggled with the early limitations of technology, or just plain made mistakes. Many of the games on this list are great games, but there are some that are definitely better than others in this great franchise.
12 Shadow Dragon & The Blade Of Light
The very first game of the series came out in 1990 after three years of development for the Family Computer console in Japan. The main problems facing this game was an ambitious development team limited by the technology of the time.
To deliver the great gameplay, they had to dial back the graphics and even the story to pull it off. This left a game that was ugly and incoherent at times but had lots of potential. Even for its flaws, this was a great proof of concept that kicked off a fascinating series.
11 Mystery Of The Emblem
A follow up to the first game, Mystery Of The Emblem sought to update the first game via a remake in the first half of the story and then deliver a sequel in the second half. Unfortunately, the developers seemed more intent on delivering the sequel and the remake was largely botched.
It’s understandable they’d want to do the first game justice with better technology, but it was jarring for players to have no music in the first half (remake) only to have music suddenly appear in the second half (sequel). The company should have done a remake or left it alone and then created a separate sequel instead.
10 Thracia 776
This entry into the series is notorious for being one of the hardest, if not the hardest, games in the franchise. Even some long-time veterans felt the difficulty had been ramped up to such a degree that it was unnecessary at times.
Many players lament the creation of this game for the fact that it spawned a wave of casual-friendly inclusions to make the series more newcomer-friendly. It’s a decent enough game if you had the skills—it just did a great disservice to the franchise and was a little too hard to enjoy fully.
Gaiden was a fun game that delivered the class evolution mechanic that would become a staple in later games. Unfortunately, this was the only innovative decision that paid off, as many of the other gameplay mechanics were abandoned in later on.
It also had some trouble with difficulty pacing, as the game started out very easy and then suddenly dropped grueling challenges in the players’ laps. It’s obvious they were experimenting with the concept to see what worked, but not enough of the game worked to rank it higher on the list.
8 The Binding Blade
Following the outcry from Thracia 776, The Binding Blade lowered the difficulty a bit without delivering a game that was too easy. In fact, the overall pacing was well done and the story had a better flow.
The only downside was that the main hero Roy was a rather weak character throughout the game. Perhaps the developers were trying to make a point that a hero isn’t always going to be a god on the battlefield but just an ordinary man trying to make a difference. Nevertheless, they could have made Roy just a little stronger.
7 Genealogy Of The Holy War
Entering into the top half of the list is Genealogy Of The Holy War, a great game with a unique story compared to the others in the series. Here are heroes that find themselves facing a cult that's trying to resurrect an evil dragon. It was much darker in tone than other games and had some of the most interesting villains in the series.
It also had a huge map with lots of objectives to complete, and the changes made to trading were a vast improvement. The fact that this great game doesn’t rank higher on the list says a lot about the games that did.
Fates tried something a little different and released multiple versions of the game. The Birthright version was made casual player-friendly and Conquest was a brutal campaign for veterans. Each version had the main hero allying with different factions in the game, with Conquest proving most popular among fans.
The game had great party management, and Conquest was challenging but fair and very rewarding. It was also really fun having a character that could transform into a dragon to fight your enemies.
5 The Sacred Stones
The Sacred Stones took a considerable risk by stepping away from the familiar settings and characters to tell a story set on an entirely new continent called Magvel. The gamble paid off and The Sacred Stones had an incredible story with great new characters.
It didn’t branch out with the gameplay or step away from tropes that much, no doubt to placate any fans that would be upset about the change in setting. It was nevertheless a wonderful breath of fresh air to the franchise that many fans weren’t aware they needed.
Ranking Awakening this high was a difficult choice, considering how much of the die-hard fan base absolutely hated this game. The problem is that the developers created Casual Mode to bring newcomers in and get some needed skills to explore the rest of the series. Many fans were convinced they had also made the standard game too easy for the same reason.
Ultimately, it’s a wonderful game that was a return to the proven formulas of the series' earlier years. This simplicity and lack of innovation actually work in the game's favor, as they allowed the developers to flex their muscles and deliver a solid game all around.
3 Fire Emblem
This was the first game to enter the U.S. markets for the Gameboy Advance. It’s the familiar story for American gamers of Lyn, Eliwood, and Hector on their adventures to bring balance to the kingdom and find Eliwood’s father.
The first part of the story was more of an adventure tale that descended into a gritty tale of war and conspiracy that made for a great story.
2 Path Of Radiance
This game is unique from the others in that you start the game as a mercenary, rather than a member of royalty. This unique perspective makes for a darker story than many of the other games. Path of Radiance thus acted as a standalone, rather than a continuation of the series.
It also introduced the Laguz people, and these shapeshifters made for some interesting allies in battles later in the game.
1 Radiant Dawn
This game tops the list for having some of the best gameplay that was challenging, but fair, and rewarding in the end. It also contains one of the longest stories in the series, a whopping four-part tale showing different sides of an epic conflict.
There were 72 characters to use in battle, which enabled a staggering number of strategies and tactics to be employed by the player. Perhaps the only downside to this game is that you needed to be a well-skilled veteran of the Fire Emblem series to enjoy this game, but if you're ready for the challenge, Radiant Dawn is easily the best this franchise has yet to offer.