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Fire Emblem is a video game series for the Nintendo consoles and handhelds. It's the younger (relatively speaking, they're both geriatric), more popular brother of Advance Wars. Among the tRPG genre, of which it was a fairly early progenitor, it's unusual for its lack of player controlled generic characters: every character the player commands is unique, has a personality, and if they die, they're dead forever. In most games there are finite quantities of both enemy units to kill for experience points and obtainable money while all weapons are finite in use. These collectively render efficiency in combat quite important (though only a handful of titles are particularly stingy about it). It is generally easier to beat a game by picking a handful of your favorite units and feeding them all the XP while kitting them out with all the best swag than to try to share the wealth, though various methods to curb this have been tried, such as encouraging roleplaying via grouping up units using the Support mechanic (allowing characters deployed next to each other to have a series of conversations to flesh them out and then getting stat bonuses for hanging around each other in fights, with repeat conversations potentially leading to them falling in love or swearing eternal friendship and getting unique endings) or simply introducing systems of advantage whereby different sorts of weapons and magic beat each other in ever more elaborate diagrams of rock, paper, scissors.
Officially, we're not here to talk about any of that! Instead we're going to talk about a pair of trading card games based on it. And maybe also editorialize a bit on the game in question.
- 1 First TCG
- 2 Cipher
- 3 Video Games
- 4 Related titles
- 5 Classes
- 5.1 Lord
- 5.2 Archer>Sniper
- 5.3 (Armor) Knight>General
- 5.4 Brigand/Pirate>Berserker
- 5.5 Cavalier>Paladin
- 5.6 Dancer/Bard
- 5.7 Dark Mage/Shaman>Dark Sage/Druid
- 5.8 Fighter>Warrior
- 5.9 Laguz
- 5.10 Manakete
- 5.11 Mage>Sage
- 5.12 Mercenary>Hero
- 5.13 Myrmidon>Swordmaster
- 5.14 Priest/Cleric>Bishop
- 5.15 Pegasus Knight>Falcoknight (>Dracoknight in Archanea games)
- 5.16 Thief
- 5.17 Troubadour>Valkyrie/Paladin
- 5.18 Wyvern Knight>Dracoknight
- 6 External Links
An unusual, poorly supported game. It's best remembered for being the only source of official art for many characters from the first five games, which has made it a prized collector's item and historical artifact, and an important component of many fan-made wikis. Minimal effort has ever been made to translate it, no one cares about it as a game, and nobody plays it on either end of the Pacific.
That said, the classic art, which covers every playable character and many NPCs, is often praised and is commonly used on fan-sites such as wikis. Unlike Cipher, this card game included cards for locations, events, organizations, generic classes, equipment and items from the series, and thus it is popular among collectors for its historic value. Nearly every card has been scanned and can be viewed here or on the wiki.
Cipher is the second attempt at a TCG. While it has not been translated officially, there is a decent-sized English community for simulator play and all cards have been translated for such. It is unusual among TCGs for two reasons.
Firstly, all cards represent characters, with no land, sorcery, spell, energy, item, instant, or trap cards to be found. Instead, deployment is fueled by setting characters down from your hand once a turn as Bonds. To deploy a character you need to spend Bonds equal to their deployment cost and have at least one Bond with the same symbol (or both symbols in the case of cards with both Hoshido and Nohr symbols). Expended Bonds return to normal during your next turn. In addition to spending Bonds to deploy, certain cards also Flip Bonds as a cost. Flipped Bonds can not provide symbols, but can still provide points. Very few effects can unflip Bonds and so far only yellow cards can unflip a net positive number, so this payment is largely final.
Secondly decking out does not lose the game; it only causes the discard pile to be shuffled into a new deck (and this happens instantly so you don't even miss drawing a card) unless you have no discard pile as well, which is extremely unlikely. Pulling cards from the discard pile, known as the Retreat Area, is actually relatively easy and doable by multiple series with low-cost clerics. Exile, known as the Boundless Area, was introduced later in the game's life.
Each deck consists of a minimum of 50 cards (including the main character) with no maximum. Each card (determined by serial number) can only appear 4 times and each deployed character must be unique. Some cards representing generic monsters, faceless enemy units and, in one case, a guy who can multiply have exceptions to this rule. At the start of play each player chooses a character from any card with a cost of 1 and deploys it over a special marker identifying it as the main character (Also known as "Lord" by English fans, since the terms were synonymous when discussing Fire Emblem before Cipher).
The objective of play is to destroy the five cards an opponent has deployed as orbs, either by defeating their main character 5 times or using skills that destroy orbs, then attacking them again. So far, the only other way to win is to destroy all five orbs and activating a skill found on a particular Marth (B13-051SR). When an orb is destroyed, that player adds it to their hand. (The reverse of Pokemon TCG, and a change for the better since in Pokemon you can end up in a death spiral if you're screwed enough to have all your deck's key cards as prizes.)
In combat, an attacking unit's attack is compared to the defending unit's attack, with the defending unit destroyed if the attacker has a higher power. This sounds simple, but it is complicated by a few other factors. Firstly there are two zones, front and rear, for deployed units with most units having limited attack range. Second are supports, criticals and evasion. During combat, the top card of each player's deck is revealed and the support value of the revealed card added to a character's attack and activating their support skill unless the revealed character has the same name as the supported character (in which case the support fails, doing nothing). After this the attacking player may score a critical hit by discarding a card from their hand with the same name as the attacking character, doubling their attack. A defending player may discard a card from their hand with the same name as the defending character to evade and nullify all damage (even critical hits). If the attacking unit's attack is higher and they haven't been evaded, the defending unit is sent to the retreat zone or (if they're a main character) an orb breaks.
Support for the game ended in October 2020.
The 7th title was the first to be officially localized and translated, on the back of a few guest fighters' unexpected popularity in Nintendo's big crossover fighter Super Smash Bros.. English titles for these are the ones used by Nintendo in crossover games. While the earlier games have not been translated officially, fans have translated all of them and as a result many are known to older fans by slightly different translations of their Japanese titles.
Every few games brings a new sub-series with their own separate, unrelated, universes. Fans usually refer to these subseries by the name of the world they take place in while Cipher, the second TCG, assigns each a color and a symbol. These helpfully give us a method of dividing different kinds of characters by both their mechanical gameplay styles and philosophies along with their games of origin.
In Cipher characters originating from these games focus on swarming with cheap units, fitting given how many of these characters lacked solid personalities or dialog after the chapters where they joined the team. One mechanic unique to Red (aside from Lianna and Rowan, the colorless heroes of Fire Emblem Warriors) is the Hero Skill, which changes the main character mid-play.
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (ファイアーエムブレム 暗黒竜と光の剣) on the Famicom (NES), often known by early fans as Dark Dragon and the Sword of Light or just FE1. The pantless prince Marth is forced to flee from his country of Altea after Dolhr, who has obtained supernatural aid from some old artifacts and some evil dragons, invaded it. After his cover is blown in exile, he and his retainers decide to join forces with the other countries of Archanea, including the Holy Kingdom of Archanea, who are trying to fight Dolhr. Along the way he acquires the legendary sword Falchion (which isn't actually a falchion) and the Fire Emblem shield, plus with a pegasus-riding lover, Caeda, who's put more points in Diplomacy than he has. If this sounds like pretty-standard JRPG fare, remember that this is 1990, when most console games rarely had a story more complicated than "save the princess" or "rescue your friends" and even the Final Fantasy titles of the era tended towards episodic and disconnected plots. Being the first entry, it's exceptionally primitive and lacks many basic features of later games, the most obvious three being that healers can't level up by healing and instead can only get XP by being attacked by an enemy and not dying (quite a task given their frailty), or as the joke goes, "level up with an axe to the face," not being able to see the enemy's movement range when selecting them, and the inability to rearrange units in the deployment phase (this can be worked around by removing all units from deployment and re-adding them in a particular order). It has important historical value, as one of the first console video games to try to tell an intricate story and for being a pioneer of many of the mechanics later games would tinker with and improve on. Extremely popular with the nostalgia-blinded Japanese grognard fanbase who keep voting it the best game in the series, but just about everyone else agrees the remakes improved on it significantly and that the NES version, though vitally important and influential to not only the series as a whole but the evolution of video games as a medium, is probably best played by gaming historians rather than people who want a fun time.
- Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (ファイアーエムブレム 新・暗黒竜と光の剣, lit New Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light) on the DS was the 11th game and is a remake of the first game. It makes many basic quality-of-life improvements, fixes several of the original title's most glaring issues and archaic mechanics, and gives Marth some much needed pants. It also introduced both mid-stage checkpoints, foreshadowing the eventual return of Geneology-style mid-stage save points, and the reclassing mechanic, allowing the player to keep a decent pool of any unit type on-hand, though reclassing a physical unit into a magic unit or vice-versa was just asking for trouble, but avoided incorporating popular gameplay elements from later titles like the weapon triangle or Supports, which was and is skub. Story-wise, it's much more of a remake than a true reimagining an old-as-balls game, and few attempts were made to flesh out the often-bland characters or the world more-deeply. This was great for those who'd played the original and wanted to see it scaled-up into modern graphics and interface (see previous entry re: the nostalgia-blinded Japanese fanbase), but didn't impress many newer fans who checked in to see the origins of the series, and were met with dull characters who lacked charisma and a barely-updated script with a bland, charmless localization taken more-or-less as-is from the SNES remake. It also, for some bizarre reason, makes the new content impossible to access by a rational mind by requiring you kill off the majority of your characters at a rate even the worst players couldn't manage without doing it on purpose. This was corrected by a fanmade Full Content Patch, and is arguably canon given the next game has everyone survive and also refers to events from the new levels. It received decent-to-middling reviews in the same way Radiant Dawn did, and sold much better even in the West, recouping that title's historic losses, but it has had a very harsh afterlife, and negative word-of-mouth after the fact is considered an unfortunate factor in the Western fanbase never receiving the superior sequel. It didn't actually cause the financial decline of the franchise prior to the Awakening goldmine (Radiant Dawn bears the brunt of that burden), that is just a diehard fan theory that has little basis in financial reality, but the mere fact that it was "common knowledge" among the Western fanbase that it had speaks volumes about the bad reputation it's gotten since release.
- Fire Emblem Gaiden (ファイアーエムブレム外伝) on the Famicom was the second game and set on Valentia, a continent far to the west of Archanea. It stars Alm, a youth that eventually acquires another, separate, Falchion (that's still not a falchion!) and Celica, a sword wielding priestess. The mechanics actually got weirder here instead of more polished and introduced concepts that would never or almost never be seen in the series again like magic that requires spending HP to use, shields as equipable items, towns that could be walked around and explored, no money mechanics, and infinite-use weapons and items. "Monster" enemy units rather than soldiers have their origin here. The maps in this game are really terrible, open with limited terrain, turning battles into tactics-free slugfests with Kaga himself later mentioning his dissatisfaction with his element of the game. Origin of the weaksauce-rookie with huge growth potential, in the form of the Villager class, who also indirectly introduced the concept of multiple choices after class changing. As its title implies, a weird sidestep more than anything else, but one that cemented the series' knack for innovation and exploration of new ideas rather than resting on laurels forever.
- Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (ファイアーエムブレム Echoes もうひとりの英雄王, lit Echoes Another Hero King) on the 3DS is the fifteenth game and a remake of Gaiden. It's been officially released in English, and whilst unlike Shadow Dragon the story and characters have been updated, expanded, and given a lot more focus, complete with a new Support mechanic to further flesh out the cast, it keeps many of the weird experimental mechanics that most fans and reviewers agree were better left in the past. The maps were barely improved, though it's the first game in the series to have full voice acting, and includes a few methods of reducing difficulty, like giving the player a limited number of chances to turn back the clock. Financially, while not a real bomb, it sold markedly less well (hundreds of thousands vs. millions of copies) than its 3DS predecessors, possibly because Fates cooled player interest, possibly due to word-of-mouth about it being a remake of an old title, possibly just because it was on an increasingly-aging system whose replacement was coming out soon.
- Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem (ファイアーエムブレム 紋章の謎) on the Super Famicom (SNES) was the 3rd game in the series and where it started to hit its stride. Two years after the original game, Marth has found pants and became king of Altea where he awaits his marriage to Caeda, the princess he spent his exile with and who helped him reconquer his homeland. A two-year peace ends when the Kingdom of Archanea forces Marth to assemble his men and crush a rebellion in Grust. It actually featured a full remake of the original game which uses many new mechanics and contains many differences, including removal of several gimmicky filler levels, which was considered definitive until the remakes started up, and which some grognards still tout as a better way to experience the first title than an un-modded Shadow Dragon. Arguably the first modern Fire Emblem, and the template all later games would either use or break away from. Remains a fan favorite in Japan, and its sales record has yet to be topped in that country.
- BS Fire Emblem: Archanea War Chronicles (BS ファイアーエムブレム アカネイア戦記編) on the Super Famicom with the (Broadcast) Satellaview is a sidestory that was only briefly playable. Using the Mystery of the Emblem engine this set of four chapters with an objective to survive as long as possible while collecting as much loot as possible. Each chapter was a prequel or sidestory to Mystery of the Emblem.
- New Mystery of the Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (ファイアーエムブレム新・紋章の謎〜光と影の英雄〜) on the DS was the 12th game and a remake of the third. It generally tightens up the original, expands the personality of the previously bland characters through introduction of the Support mechanic, and introduced the concept of "reclassing," granting each character a pool of additional classes that could be accessed to reset their level and in turn allow for stat-farming and skill-tweaking, the skub that was the self-insert My Unit playable character, who was both grossly overpowered and had little personality beyond utter devotion to Marth, and the equal skub of Casual Mode, where a player could switch off the series' permanent death and instead have defeated characters benched when beaten but not inaccessible for the rest of the campaign. It was, due to Nintendo's plans to wind down the series in advance of putting it to bed for a while, not translated to English, but a fan translation exists. Since Shadow Dragon existed the remake of the original was not included, but a remake of the BS episodes are. Almost always considered quite good, and a significant improvement over Shadow Dragon; the progenitor of the newbie boom that was the 3DS era of the series and therefore one of the most important titles in the series simply because of how goddamn lucrative those games were.
Yellow cards have low support values, but higher than average attack and non-support ways to boost attack. This is fitting, given it was this era that introduced the Support mechanic to the games, originally called Love and War, and much more focused on romance than platonic friendships between multiple parties. They also have a unique mechanic known as Bond Skill, which can only be used when they are set as Bonds. Supporting Bond Skills is that, so far, all cards that restore a net positive number of Bonds to face up status are yellow, though it is by no means a common ability even among yellow characters. So far Leif, Lewyn, Linoan, Ethlyn and Deirdre have cards capable of doing this. Jugdral is actually in the same world as Archanea, located to the south of that continent with its edge visible on Awakening's world map.
- Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War (ファイアーエムブレム 聖戦の系譜) for the Super Famicom (SNES) was the 4th game in the series. Naturally, it opens with Lord Sigurd riding forth to bravely defend the duchies of Grannvale from a sudden invasion by the neighboring Kingdom of Verdane, only to stumble into a huge conspiracy full of evil gods and mystical bloodlines that sees him fighting epic battles and falling in love. It breaks the mold right after Mystery of the Emblem set it: chapters are few but maps are gigantic, easily the size of two to five levels of other Fire Emblem titles, and with multiple objectives per map; to counteract this the game offered mid-chapter saves for the first time in the series, a feature that would not return until Radiant Dawn. The entire army can always be deployed and can pay to have broken weapons reforged, but units can't easily trade items and each have their own money supplies rather than pooling it all together. Class changes require visiting specific buildings and don't reset levels, and many abilities that would normally come standard, like counter attacking or scoring critical hits, are folded into the skill system and made unique to specific units and bloodlines. It also introduced the weapon triangle and Support conversations (here called "Love and War") to the series, both of which would be a part of all non-remake games to come. Eventually, players control a second generation that are the children of the original cast, via a very spoiler-y plot twist, that inherit special stats and skills from their parents, along with "bloodlines" that qualify them to use various OP special family heirloom weapons and items. (Or, if the player ignored the Love and War system, or possibly just shipped poorly, they are left with intentionally-sucky weaklings who inherit nothing useful. Whoops.) A genuinely great game and a quantum leap in terms of the kinds of mature storytelling and colorful, likable characters the franchise would become famous for. That said, if you're playing it for the first time and aren't consulting a variety of guides and mathematical charts, huge chunks of the game's best elements are locked behind opaque bullshit, and the uber-long maps make the series' trademark perma-death even more punishing than usual, on top of unbalancing the game in favor of super-mobile mounted classes over slow, plodding defenders. Tsundere in video game form, and the kind you've got to spend the whole show getting to know before she stops beating you up for just making conversation.
- Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (ファイアーエムブレム トラキア７７６) was the 5th game in the series and the final game ever released for the Super Famicom, coming out three years after the Nintendo 64 was released and mere months before the GameCube was announced after several failed attempts to make an N64 game were scrapped and recycled into it and future titles. The game could only be obtained via a specially-ordered collector's edition (complete with plush pegasus and wyvern!) or downloading it digitally through the Satellaview attachment for the Super Famicom. Predictably, the game is set in the nation of Thracia in the year 776 (during the middle of the previous game), where Quan's (Sigurd's brother-in-law) son, Lief, is running a rebellion against the evil empire. Infamously one of the most difficult games in the franchise, this sucker is stingy with both money and XP, and has map design that ranges from the downright sadistic, cruel, and mean to the seemingly outright inept, though more "normal" for the franchise than the maps from its predecessor. Units have a reputation for generally being pretty weak, but this is tied to the main themes of ordinary people fighting a revolution against hardened soldiers, and its metagame generally favors high customizability over raw stats and weapons. It introduced the Rescue mechanic and differing stage objective, both of which would remain in the series going forward. It was also the first Fire Emblem game to include branching paths and sidequests, Fog of War, hiding terrain as well as enemies, and the Capture mechanic, which would return in limited form in Fates. However, many of its other big ideas are generally seen as failures, like permanently removing everyone who doesn't escape from flee-the-unwinnable-battle maps before the Lord does and making a late-game, difficult side mission the only way to rescue them, or having characters gain Fatigue if deployed in battles to force the player to distribute already-stingy XP inefficiently. The final boss is also hilariously weak, one of the weakest in the entire series, and he's even more of a joke given the brutal difficulty of the rest of the game surrounding him. Also, the story has received criticism for being so shitdark that it's hard to invest... and without the game it's an interquel to, it doesn't exactly have the most satisfying possible resolution. It has its defenders, some of the story ideas are genuinely good, building on the last titles' plots via an interquel and retconning or recontextualizing poorly-written or poorly-received story elements, and while the characters can be bland there's a strong thematic focus on peasants and other common people rising up in revolution to retake their country rather than powerful and blessed nobles and kings (hell, it's even got the very first non-evil dark magic using player character). The most divisive title before the 3DS era, the fandom is sharply divided on Thracia 776 with its fans calling it an exciting challenge, vital stepping-stone to the modern titles, and the capstone on one of the most experimental and important eras in the franchise, and its critics arguing that challenge comes as a result of bad design, seeing the game as a misfired victim of its own troubled production. Sales-wise, it bears the unfortunate shame of being sandwiched between the Tellius titles as the worst-selling game in the franchise, though it's actually rather impressive that it managed even that, coming out as it did for a three-years-dead system with a convoluted purchasing method.
Elibe and Magvel/Legendary Weapons/Purple
In Cipher, characters from these games focus on support skills, which still fits as the modern incarnation of the Support system started here. Characters from Magvel (which isn't actually in the same world as Elibe as far as we know, but doesn't have any other games set there and is linked with them through all being on the GBA) often have anti-monster effects or (in one case) monster tribal, fitting as non-dragon monster enemies were introduced as a major factor in their game. As of this writing only three Purple monsters were printed and only 5 monsters were printed overall, so it isn't utilized all that much. More recently introduced are legendary weapon skills, which activate when a character's other skill is activated multiple times in one turn.
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (ファイアーエムブレム 封印の剣), known by early fans as Sword of Seals (since it is related to a building translated as the "Shrine of Seals" in the next game), was the 6th game and released on the GBA. With his father, Eliwood, ill and the League's official leader, Hector, dead, young Roy is pressed into leadership of the Lycian League after it is invaded by its belligerent neighbor Bern. Very much a back-to-basics title after the wild-but-sloppy experimentation that characterized the Jugdral era, with a simple plot and no map objectives other than seizing the throne/keep or killing the final boss. Map design is unexceptional, but mostly playable outside of a few awful tire-fires involving mounted units and terrain that slows them to a crawl. Units often join weak and have shitty growth rates that leave them open to having the RNG gods bend them over and go in dry without lube, emphasizing prepromoted characters in a way that's an acquired taste at best; this is further complicated by awful weapon hit-chances. Enemies miss all the time too, but they're probably stronger than you, they probably have better crit rates than you, and there're a lot more of them so they'll have more chances to try and get lucky than you will. Returning from the previous game are branching story paths, based on which routes you wanted to take on your quest around the continent, leading to different sets of recruitable characters and treasures, though, unfortunately, it was done sloppily and many of the routes are just better-designed and more-rewarding than others. One new feature that remained with the series going forward was changing hit calculations to be based on the average of two random numbers instead of just one. The mathematical result is that displayed hit rates of 50% or higher are more likely than stated, but those lower are less likely than stated. The practical result is units with high accuracy are less likely to miss on a 90+% chance and units with high evasion can dodge more consistently. Both are great in further games but marginal improvements (if not outright negative) here where most of your units are already struggling to hit and dodge. It's not bad, but it has the misfortune of being surpassed by both its successors on the same system and in the same engine, though some fans who like to play "Ironman" style sometimes prefer it.
- Champion's Sword (覇者の剣) is a manga that set concurrent to this game. It starts as a side-story but eventually becomes an alternate telling of the game's story, and introduces characters and concepts that fit with the game's plot but are never mentioned or revealed within it. Character unique to the manga appear in Cipher as purple cards.
- Fire Emblem (ファイアーエムブレム 烈火の剣) was the 7th game, also on the GBA, and the first to be released in English, sans subtitle. It is known as The Blazing Blade in English releases of spinoff titles and older English fans sometimes refer to it as Blazing Sword or just FE7. The story for this game is unusual in that it not only lacks a full-scale war, but has three main Lords (Lyn, Eliwood, and Hector) rather than one, each of whom gets their own "story," though Hector's is basically a retelling of Eliwood's from his point of view, with a few chapters being radically different and a few exclusive as a result. Lyn's story involves her carving through an army of assassins on the way to her mother's homeland to reclaim her birthright from her scheming uncle, Eliwood and Hector's both pick up a few years later with them setting off to find Eliwood's absent father and elbowing into the machinations of a mysterious mercenary company/crime syndicate called the Black Fang. It also introduced the concept of the player being inserted into the game as a character in their own right whom the other characters converse with, though unlike later incarnations, the player takes the form of a faceless "tactician" who never speaks, doesn't directly fight on the battlefield, and is only minimally customizable. Generally seen as a huge step forward from its predecessor, with a wonderfully-original story (for this franchise anyway), popular cast of characters, fun maps, well-written localization that threads the needle between sounding too modern and too purple, the introduction of static-painted cutscenes to add drama when sprites talking to each other won't do, and great replay value. The biggest black mark against it is that the player has to first clear Lyn's story to access later content, and Lyn's story is an elaborate, ten-chapter tutorial teaching a player who's never touched a strategy RPG how to play Fire Emblem, meaning that while it makes a great gateway drug to the rest of the series, it can feel dull to repeat players who have the basic nailed down. Some have also criticized the plot for being too sprawling and experimental for its own good, arguing that the machinations of the main villain, though compelling in terms of characterization, make little sense. It also has a number of callbacks to the less-interesting and never-localized game that preceded it, but that's what wikis are for.
- Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (ファイアーエムブレム 聖魔の光石) on the GBA was the 8th game in the series. Set on the continent of Magvel, where a long-lived peace is shattered when the Kingdom of Renais is invaded by its former ally, the Grado Empire. Grado's apparent motive is to destroy the Sacred Stones of each country, a disturbing revelation as these stones are all that hold back the banished Demon King from reemerging. The twin heirs to Renais, Erika and Ephraim, embark on separate quests to end Grado's assault. The first few chapters largely focus on Erika, with occasional cutaways to Ephraim, and the two splitting off into their own routes and quests about a third of the way into the game before reuniting for the last few chapters. Notably, a few characters and story beats are slightly different for each protagonist. It reintroduces many lost mechanics from previous games, especially Gaiden, such as a world map, very-limited form of class-based skills (in the last title, only the Assassin class had a skill in the form of the ability to kill any enemy with a critical hit, while here several (though not all) promoted classes have special skills, like Bishops doing bonus damage to monsters), recruit characters that start weak but offer huge growth potential via a whole 'nother tier of levels, unplayable "monster" enemy units on some maps rather than human armies, and dungeons where XP and items can be ground for from respawning enemies. It also expanded the concept of offering multiple options upon class changing to every class in the game, offering huge variety since every promotion can fork one of two ways. Despite being very easy, even without using the ability to grind infinitely, the base gameplay is solid, the story, though full of many series and JRPG cliches, actually has an interesting and complex villain for a change, and the characters are just as charming as ever. A popular source for FE GBA romhacks, given the large ROM size and depth of mechanics.
In Cipher characters from these games focus on leveling up and promoting to achieve high power, with abilities that only work if a character has sufficient cards on its stack. This fits with this series' mechanical focus on easy leveling through post-combat XP and skills gained upon promotion. It also has tribal effects for Laguz characters, who appeared only in this era, sans the dragon-shifting "manakete" that make their way into most games but are a tribe of Laguz here, and the "taguel," "wolfskin," and "kitsune," spiritual successors to the Laguz that appear in the 3DS titles.
- Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (ファイアーエムブレム 蒼炎の軌跡, literally Trail of the Blue Flames), released on the GameCube, was the 9th game in the series (though it began development before Sacred Stones did) and the first console release since the SNES days. When the country of Crimea is invaded by Daein, the mercenary Ike stumbles upon a woman claiming to be the lost princess of Crimea. Their attempts to flee Daein and obtain aid for Crimea take them across the continent and involve them in all kinds of mystical mysteries and political intrigues. It properly reintroduced skills, created the "Forging" mechanic to pay money and custom-upgrade weapons, had a neat shoving/repositioning mechanic that is swiped and reused as a skill in many later titles, and was the first game in 3D. It also introduced the Biorhythm mechanic, which, while artificial complexity bullshit wasn't annoying enough to reach the heights of retardation it would in the next game, offered the ability to level up units between battles via stockpiled XP (meaning level-ups were save-scummable), and introduced the Laguz, beastfolk who could shapeshift between monstergirl/boy and various animal forms, who, rather than using hard-to-replace Dragonstones to shapeshift into OP animal forms instead had a meter that slowly filled in humanoid form and drained while in animal form... and while in human form they could only stand around waiting for enemies to attack them and fill their gauge without attacking back. Despite having a lot of bad ideas, it's seen as a series high point, especially in the West, with a very strong story and cast (Ike is notable for being the first Lord in the franchise who is not a nobleman), fun and well-designed maps, and great overall game feel. Unfortunately, it also sold fairly poorly, with the weakest sales in the history of the franchise, whether due to marketing, budgeting, or just being on a less-popular system.
- Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (ファイアーエムブレム 暁の女神, literally Goddess of Dawn) released relatively early in the Wii's life and was the 10th game in the series. After its defeat three years ago, Daein is occupied by the Theocracy of Begnion. Begnion's occupying forces have proven abusive to the populace, prompting the creation of the rebellious Dawn Brigade, led by the "Silver-Haired Maiden" Michiah, who has mysterious powers, and Sothe, the kid thief from the last game grown into a man. Unusually, the story shifts as the tangled narrative unfolds, with the player controlling different groups for different segments of the tale, often coming to blows with their old PCs. Rushed to market to serve the Wii, the design is all over the place. The shifting focus really makes this obvious, with half the Dawn Brigade being useless and the other half starved for experience, but Ike's forces are capable of destroying everything in their path with minimal effort. On the gameplay plus side, class and skill design is more complex than ever, foreshadowing the high-headroom customization that would define the 3DS era, and the laguz's transformation system has been reworked in an effort to fix some of its core problems. But Biorhythm is such a random bullshit nightmare that later games will eject it outright, the Support system is so shallow it provoked uproar, and they "fixed" the fact that out-of-combat XP spending was save-scummable by breaking it outright, guaranteeing three stat increases on level-up... and making it very easy for capped-out units to improve their bad stats. The story is... well, it's skub. Some like it for being a different set of cliches from the rest of the series, even if it's still pretty damn cliche in its own way, some hate it for retroactively fucking up a good thing in the last game via haphazard retcons to both story elements and characters. Included height difference in maps with bonuses and penalties for attacking from/against higher ground, but this strangely hasn't been seen since, possibly due to the game's grim reputation. While it received warm-if-not-glowing reviews, a mixture of bad marketing and worse word-of-mouth conspired against it. It sold almost as poorly as Path of Radiance on an even-bigger budget, and was one of the biggest financial losses in the franchise's history.
In Cipher characters from this game focus on class change (but not to the extent of Tellius), orb manipulation and have easily swarmed monsters with their own tribal support. Ylisse is actually the same continent as Archanea but in the distant future where technology is exactly the same or worse.
- Fire Emblem: Awakening (ファイアーエムブレム覚醒) was the 13th game and released on the 3DS. It stars Chrom, the prince of the Holy Kingdom of Ylisse (a country of the same name, not the continent as a whole) and wielder of the Falchion (which looks different but is still not a falchion) who finds his costar, an amnesiac tactician, while hunting bandits. The two quickly become besties, come into conflict with the country of Plegia to the east, and meet a mysterious masked man claiming to be the legendary Hero King Marth. During development it was expected to be the last game in the series ever (or at least for a long time) for various reasons you can probably piece together if you've followed the timeline thus far. As a result, it was designed to incorporate a "Greatest Hits" collection of previous titles' mechanics: the grinding opportunities from Gaiden, the second generation from Geneology of the Holy War, the world map and elaborate class system from Sacred Stones, the tactician from Blazing Sword and the My Unit from Heroes of Light and Shadow glued together to form the tactician in that opening paragraph and serving as the character's personal avatar in the in the game, the taguel, reworked Laguz that instead use the same mechanics as the Manakete, the skill customization and weapon reforging from Tellius, the reclassing from Shadow Dragon, the Casual Mode option from New Mystery of the Emblem, and, of course, the solid basic tactical structure from Mystery of the Emblem and the GBA days. Awakening also expanded on the concept of "reclassing" by tying it to the Support system, allowing characters to unlock a deeper pool of possible classes through S ranked supports or parentage, and enhanced Rescuing into the Pair Up mechanic, letting units team-up into a wrecking ball that grants the lead unit stat boosts while the supporting unit doesn't take damage, has a chance to take extra attacks while negating hits on the unit they're paired with, both chances improving with Support level between the two parties, and can freely swap between one another during the player's turn. It succeeded both critically and commercially, single-handedly reviving Fire Emblem overseas (in Japan, Nintendo had already recouped most of their losses with the Mystery of the Emblem remake) and ushered in legions of old, new, and recently-disenfranchised fans, while proving a massive draw for the 3DS as a system. There are a few nitpicks to be had. Some supports aren't written as well as others, some early-game characters are a little thin in characterization and some late-game characters have very-restricted support trees, the player-exclusive Pair Up mechanic is comically overpowered with even moderate min-maxing and trivializes huge sections of the late-game, and the entire middle section of the story is kind of a massive side-step/filler arc. It introduced paid DLC to Nintendo properties, inviting much scorn and much skub. For better or worse, the story is generally fairly light and lighthearted rather than hearkening to the often-gritty realpolitik of the Jugdral or Tellius titles, and Archanea purists sometimes complain that it introduces elements like time travel and the taguel that were never mentioned back in the good ol' days. And the translation is also skub, as it was the first Fire Emblem title with a big enough online fanbase to have changes held up to scrutiny. A good example is the character of Henry, who is extremely popular with general Western audiences for his hilariously-inappropriately sunny attitude and mild sociopathy, but which many purists dislike for being virtually unrecognizable from his smiling-to-hide-how-dour-and-miserable-he-is-on-the-inside original characterization. Basically an inversion of Thracia 776, being beloved by a wide audience but controversial among the grognard parts of the fanbase.
Hoshido/White and Nohr/Black
In Cipher this unnamed continent has two symbols, one for each of the two warring nations that dominate it. Japan-inspired Hoshido focuses on swarming while medieval-European Nohr gets abilities that destroy units and bonuses when it destroys units. Shared between the two is the Dragon Blood mechanic possessed by the royal families, which gives every unit with a Dragon Blood skill the Dragon Blood skills of the other units you have deployed.
- Fire Emblem Fates (ファイアーエムブレム if) is the 14th game in the series, and the most... varied in fans and critics. One of the most ambitious Fire Emblem titles in years (and surely no flawed product has ever been euphemistically described as "ambitious"), Fates's story is split into three branches, two of them DLC after buying one of two base games, where you side with one of two warring nations, or strike off on your own to get to the bottom of what's really going on. The customizable player character, who is also the Lord, a manakete-equivalent, and the main character, is a noble hostage, born to the royal family of Hoshido, but raised in the courts of Nohr whose royals treat them like family, while a Nohr princess, a mysterious dancer, is similarly raised as a hostage in Hoshido. After the evil emperor of Nohr unsubtly tries and fails to engineer your death, but does succeed in assassinating the queen of Hoshido in the process, war outright breaks out between the two powers, with the PC torn between the only family they've ever known and the moral high ground of their blood-kin. It sounds like a great setup, doesn't it, and one that offers more moral complexity than the average title? That's what the fans thought too, in the lead-up; reality is often disappointing. The end result was a title that, for a time, was a major divisor and originator of hot takes whether you liked it or hated it, and while by no means a bad game like other disappointments, it has quite a lot of issues that, depending on who you ask, make this either one of the worst installments in the series or are not so awful as to effectively drag all the game's good qualities down into the muck. There're some fundamental differences between the three different versions of the game, which will be spelt out in their own sections, since they went full Pokemon for this sucker and sold them separately. Characters generally have a lot of depth if dug into via supports, and the royal families display an endearing range of personalities, but some make weak first impressions, and the localization team tried to please both sides of the ongoing internet wars between tribes of easily-offended weirdos and instead boiled the entire game's translation in a pot of skub. Gameplay actually carries over the best ideas from Awakening and expands on it with an extensive reclass system divided along national lines, giving the two nations different pools of units and different styles of combat, and each character now has a unique personal skill, making none of them perfect replacements for one another even with stats taken into consideration. It also reworks Pair Up in an exciting new way, with adjacent units able to take advantage of offensive supporting attacks from other units that hadn't moved yet, a la Super Robot Wars, and paired up units able to take advantage of stat boosts and block attacks (based on an increasing meter rather than a random chance) but not able to get supporting attacks. The game also experiments with a bold and well-implemented alternative to the series' traditional breakable weapons, making all weapons indestructible, but causing stronger weapons to impose stat penalties, and therefore creating interesting tradeoffs. And various royal family members can use their "Dragon Blood" to make changes to the map as they play, such as drying up rivers, summoning windstorms to slow aerial units, or raising earth bridges to close gaps. Less well-implemented were the second generation, clumsily crowbarred in out of obligation rather than as a holistic part of the game's design and story, and the "social gaming" features, where the player constructs their own extradimensional town for their characters to relax in between missions, including a bizarre minigame seemingly inspired by Pokemon Amie where the player could touch the faces of their retainers. (This was clobbered for the Western release.) Overall, a mixed bag. It has its ups, and plenty of good ideas, enough that it can't truly be called a bad game when considered as a collective whole... but its downs are glaring and include plenty of bad ideas too. Financially, technically outsold its predecessor, though whether or not that's due to triple-dipping on an existing fanbase by selling three stories separately is unclear.
- Birthright, the Hoshido route, involves the main character siding with the painfully-obvious good guys and their blood family. It's actually reasonably well-written, with an optimistic tone leavened by a few moments of heartfelt tragedy that bite deep, and, humiliatingly, a better halfway-reasonable excuse for the war that never comes up in the Nohr route. The twist that you're not blood-related to these relatives either is spoiled by the Support menu listing that you can S-Support with them, so no judgement. (The fact that they will retroactively have been revealed to know all along you weren't blood related either upon S-Supporting is an unfortunate exception to that "good writing" thing above.) Gameplay follows the Gaiden/Sacred Stones/Awakening mold, with a world map that offers some grinding opportunities between missions. Probably the best of the three, just in terms of having the least wrong with it.
- Conquest, the Nohr route, sees the player siding with Nohr, since the rest of the royal family of Nohr are actually pretty decent people they love and can't bear to fight, and trying to intrigue their way to the bottom of what's going on from the inside. It is easily the subject that comes under the most fire of the three stories, with bizarre and nonsensical plot twists and borderline-incoherent character motivations. Gameplay, thankfully, is much stronger, though, generally seen as the strongest of the three games and further arguably one of the series' highlights, with a "classic" Fire Emblem linear sets of levels with the odd optional detour for a side mission but no between-mission snacking. Difficulty is higher, but in a good way, with intricate and well-designed maps that possess interesting gimmicks. It's also worth noting that while the story is a mess, the characters thankfully are great in this route, and are generally more popular than Hoshido's characters.
- Revelations, the third route, sees the player character running off on their own and trying to piece together what's happening. As a story, it's good but not great. It doesn't have the pathos of Birthright's best moments, but it's also got a better ending than either and is free from the burden of leaving behind unfinished and unexplained clues that both of them have to bear to lead up to a solution to all the mysteries in this title. Gameplay-wise, it is unfortunately the weakest of the three, obviously rushed and with some of the shittiest unit balance in the history of the franchise. We're talking units that show up on maps where enemies can kill them in one hit... while getting to attack twice. It allows grinding, and recruiting almost every unit from both other stories (a few do die in the plot in ways that cannot be prevented).
Fódlan/Crest of Flames/Brown
Brown introduces to Cipher the Crest Power keyword. Certain units (those that have a Crest) have the ability to use their Crest Power skill while they are in hand and sent to the Retreat Area, effectively having them act as spell cards. Many units synergize with Crest Powers, either by them gaining a buff or activating an effect whenever any kind of Crest Power is used, or only allowing the Crest Power of the unit in hand to be used when any copy of that unit is already on the field. Brown units also have much more varied class lines for their characters, to honor the wide variety of classes the characters within Three Houses could obtain.
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses (ファイアーエムブレム 風花雪月, Wind, Flower, Snow and Moon) is the sixteenth game in the series, released on the Nintendo Switch. Strangely the majority of the development for this game came from Koei Tecmo, who have experience with war sims as well as brawlers, with only a few senior Intelligent Systems staff involved. The main character is once again a player stand-in. They're a mercenary who bonds with a loli dragon that allows him or her a limited ability to rewind time. After saving a bunch of students, the player is invited to become a teacher at the prestigious Garreg Mach Monastery military academy. The player picks one of three classes, each representing students of one of the continent's four coexisting powers, the Adrestian Empire, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Leicester Alliance, all under the auspices of the Church of Seiros. Unfortunately, these happy days of peace cannot last, and eventually war flares up, the powers all come to blows, with the player having to pick one of three sides and kill at least some of their former students. Another wildly experimental title, liberally mixing in time-management mechanics from the Persona games alongside an even-more-customizable spin on the class system, where most characters start in Noble/Commoner classes and take exams to be guided into different class trees, equippable battalions of troops, and the removal of restrictions on weapon usage between classes (though some are better with certain weapons than with others). It also (fittingly for a game that clearly takes much inspiration from Genealogy of the Holy War) revives some lost Jugdral mechanics, like Holy Blood (now called Crests) and the Dismount feature, as well as the turn-back mechanic from Shadows of Valentia and special attacks that consume additional weapon durability. Generally seen as a better second iteration of many of Fates's best new ideas (though unfortunately weapon durability makes a return), and has received praise for serious, mature storytelling in a war where all sides have shades to them such that none start as "the bad guys," but that also mostly avoids sliding into grimdark outside of the designated grimdark route. It does the best job yet of marrying together bits from both the classic and modern incarnations of the series, and is a great new step forward out of the 3DS era.
Colorless cards are those of character original to Cipher (though cards of these characters sometimes have the symbols of random existing universes instead), those of characters originating in one of the spinoff titles, certain promotional cards, or the character Anna (who appears in every game in the series but Gaiden). They have no set mechanics and are splashable since they don't need a color bond to deploy, but don't provide a color when played as bonds.
- Tokyo Mirage Sessions ♯FE (幻影異聞録♯ＦＥ, Illusory Revelations ♯FE) started life as a title that was announced as a crossover between Fire Emblem and Shin Megami Tensei. After it was revealed following years of unnecessarily secretive development to be a Persona-themed game about various young folks in showbiz battling monsters with Fire Emblem characters as Stands, resulting in absolutely thermonuclear levels of fanbase drama, it bombed, and by the time that calmed down while the game was nearing western release, said release was censored to the point the Japanese dialog was rerecorded to match the changes, flopping overseas as well. Not a bad game; the story's fine if somewhat vanilla, the gameplay is well-designed with that traditional Atlus brand of challenge and satisfaction, and its sad history means it's generally available quite cheap.
- Encore: An enhanced Switch port that was hoped to provide a good afterlife for the game, but itself resulted in thermonuclear drama after it was revealed the censorship of the Wii U version was now in the Japanese version too, because this poor game accidentally swallowed a cursed amulet or some shit and cannot get a fucking break to literally save its life or legacy, and only sold marginally better, very likely killing off the creators' stated hope of a line of Persona-themed collaborations with other game franchises permanently.
- Fire Emblem Warriors (ファイアーエムブレム 無双, Fire Emblem Musou) is a big cross-over spin-off done by the Dynasty Warriors guys, in the style of those games (level-based hack and slash). Twin siblings Lianna and Rowan are living out the very-standard Fire Emblem plot of having their peaceful nation invaded by a greedy neighbor who wants to loot their holy artifacts for an evil dragon, only to end up ripping open a hole in space-time and letting the cast of Fates and Awakening, as well as a few characters from other Fire Emblem games, tumble out to join them or their adversaries according to alignment. The gameplay isn't bad, if, you know, you're into these sorts of games, and while moveset-cloning is a problem, it's generally limited to a relatively small pool of other characters. Compare what those lazy fucks at Koei-Tecmo would do to their flagship series just one installment later. Just like the contemporary Hyrule Warriors, a number of mechanics make their way over from the games they're crossing over with, like weapon triangles and a surprising amount of unit interactions. Supports make their way in as reskinned versions of the character interactions from Warriors Orochi. The game's focus on mainly Awakening and Fates as well as overuse of sword users in a game with the weapon triangle received negative reception, and in general it's seen as an alright, if vanilla, Dynasty Warriors clone released in a time when a better class of clone (if not of mainline series entries) has become more standard.
- Fire Emblem: Heroes is a mobile gacha game with stripped down Fire Emblem-style grid-tactics gameplay on fairly-small maps. Variations on characters from across the series can be summoned (introducing many classic characters to an English audience for the first time in an official release) with voice acting and everything. It has a story focused on a pair of twin Lords, Alfonse and Sharena, from a nation that summons heroes from across space and time, and currently at war with another that enslaves them. There's a bit more to it than that, especially if you're really into Norse and Finnish mythology, but it takes its sweet time getting good. Notable for retaining triangle mechanics, but reducing them to red/blue/green colors specific to units. Decent enough gameplay, for a cut-down free-to-play mobile game, and like many such titles has improved with time.
- Fire Emblem Cipher is the card game you're reading about! There are (so far) 7 original characters created just for it. Their class changes every appearance, and, unlike other spinoff characters, they typically aren't colorless but a random color. The original characters that existed at the time could be recruited in DLC for Shadows of Valentia.
TearRing Saga Utna Heroes Saga
Legally distinct Fire Emblem clone made by the series creator, Shouzou Kaga, for the PlayStation 1. After a falling out with Nintendo related to the nightmarish production of Thracia 776, he wanted to do his own shit and proceeded to take many FE people with him to create a company called Tiranog. It has had two sequels, TearRing Saga: Berwick Saga and Vestaria Saga, which are generally big critical hits and modest commercial successes to gentle commercial failures, and their gradual alternate evolution represents a fascinating alternate branch of the Fire Emblem family tree.
Very influenced by Gaiden and Mystery of the Emblem, TearRing Saga is basically a Fire Emblem game in all but copyright. Several Fire Emblem characters show up or have substitutes within the title, if only as cameos in some cases, most notably the series mascot, Anna is in the game. The player commands two armies, led by Runan and Holmes, who occasionally cross paths and can trade items. Amusingly, Runan's story plays like a traditional Fire Emblem game, with a strict and linear set of missions, while Holmes is free to grind for XP and treasure, which you may recognize as the divide between the "classic" games and the post New Mystery titles.
Nintendo is so mad about TearRing Saga they went to court over it and almost won (Kaga better thank his lucky stars his new partners at Enterbrain didn't let him go with his original title of Emblem Saga), Kaga's success in the case paved the way for future spiritual successors to big name games such as Castlevania's spiritual successor Bloodstained. As a result of the case, to this day Nintendo refuses to mention Shouzou Kaga. This infamously extended to leaving out out all mention of him or the development of the first six games in the series in a book on the history of Fire Emblem.
In Fire Emblem each character, friendly or enemy, has a class that determines what weapons they can use and at what point their stats cap. High-level units of most classes can class change (also known as promoting) and gain new abilities and weapons on top of a nice array of stats boosts (including an increase to movement in most cases); though the exact mechanism varies by the game it almost always involves using some kind of item or other limited resource. Typically, doing so resets their level to 1 without reducing any stats, offers some flat stat bonuses and increased stat caps, and levels typically cap out at around 20; this means that a player must weigh the advantages of powering up a character by promoting them sooner versus the long-term costs of promoting a character before they've gotten as many level increases as possible. Later games introduce other decisions, including reclassing to fish for choice skills and stat tweaks or forking promotion paths where the player may select between two possible choices at every step of promotion.
In Cipher, classes tend to have a few consistent abilities and, for heavily-armored, flying, or mounted units, offer certain affinities beyond their listed weapon, game of origin, and sex. Every card has a class listed, but this has no direct mechanical effect. Class changing is represented by being able to deploy more-powerful versions of units on top of base models, which have reduced cost and grant a card draw. Cards without a class change cost can still be added to existing units as a "level up" but this doesn't draw a card. Tellius cards in particular depend on having a large number of cards stacked in this way to achieve their full potential.
The class of most main characters, with only a few exceptions. Since the class is unique to each game, it varies wildly between titles. Stats wise they tend to be above-average in most areas, with a few trading speed for defense or vice versa, especially in titles with multiple Lords. They tend to promote later in the game as part of the story. Lords typically start the game with a special weapon that deals super effective damage against heavy armor and cavalry units and/or end it with a special weapon that does super-effective damage against all of the above plus monsters and the final boss. This mechanic frequently shows up in Cipher on one of their lower cost cards as a damage bonus against these unit types.
In games with one Lord, the Lord is usually a sword-wielding infantryman with very well-balanced stats, comparable to a Mercenary. In games with multiple Lords, the individual Lords tend to carve out niches as their own custom variants on existing classes; refer to The Blazing Sword, where Eliwood begins the game as a traditional Lord, Lyn as a faster, crit-focused variant comparable to a Myrmidon, and Hector a bulky axe-wielder rather like a Fighter. Their promotions diverge further, with Eliwood's Knight Lord, Lyn's Blade Lord, and Hector's Great Lord promotion variants essentially representing a souped-up Paladin, Swordmaster, and General, respectively, with different weapon proficiencies compared to their inspirations.
Basic ranged attack unit, classically promotes to Sniper. Can hit targets two squares out (sometimes three with special and limited weapons), but are helpless against adjacent attakers. Tend to get regarded as low-tier, since they compete poorly against both mages (who share their fragility but can effectively fight at range and counterattack in melee) and melee units using thrown weapons that also work in melee. Later games in the series have attempted to patch these problems with mixed results. Their main selling points are their high Skill (meaning they enjoy good crit ratings and can almost always hit even in situations where mages and thrown weapons have accuracy issues, the latter being a traditional weakness of the weapon type) and getting a huge damage bonus against flying units. They work better in "dungeon levels," where they can attack enemies over walls without fear of being torn apart on turns they can't secure kills. They can also man siege engines in games that use them for wacky range and high damage. Snipers sometimes gain skills that give them a chance to always hit a target.
In Cipher they tend to get the ability to attack anywhere, regardless of battlefield position, attack boosts when attacking, and anti-evasion skills. The adjusted combat mechanics in Cipher mean their issues with being counter-attacked aren't as big of a problem.
Heavily-armored but slow-moving foot knight, classically promotes to General. They are excellent defensive units and can hold down choke points with their heavy defense and good attack, but tend to suffer from bigger maps where their reduced movement speed becomes a bigger weakness, and their generally-low resistance makes them easy prey for enemy mages, on top of taking bonus damage from anti-armor weapons. Typically get skills that reduce or negate weapon damage, and associated with lance weapons.
Often Knights tend to struggle between their low speed, low movement and poor resistance, the movement being a particular issue in games with huge maps that lack chokepoints. Like archers, they do better in indoor/dungeon maps where narrow corridors play to their strengths, and the Rescue/Pair Up/Defense Formation mechanic was a godsend for them, since it meant they could partner with and tag in and out with a mobile unit to deploy them where they needed to go. If you're wondering why random armored guys become generals despite not holding that rank, the armor knight class couldn't promote in the original game but a late joining character, who was a general in story, got the class as "armor knight but better". Future games linked the two classes and didn't bother renaming general.
In Cipher they get bonuses when under attack by non-magic units.
Burly axe-toting men who're basically Fighters with even more HP and Strength, but with even weaker defense and/or speed to compensate, both classically promote to Berserker. They typically show up as early-game bandit enemies with the ability to destroy villages if they reach them before you do, and thus preventing you from getting the gifts the locals grant you for warning them to shut the gates and keep them out. Since most Lords are swordsmen and women, this also lets the developers put out a scary-looking boss on earlier levels that your main character nonetheless enjoys triangle advantage against. They show up less frequently once the enemies start being professional soldiers, with a handful appearing to loot during the chaos of fights. Brigands can cross otherwise-impassable mountains and easily pass through hills, and pirates can cross otherwise-impassable seas while easily moving over rivers. Berserkers combine the two and can cross both with relative ease on top of getting a bonus to their critical rate. Playable Brigand characters are extremely rare, with only two in the entire franchise, while playable pirates or prepromoted berserkers are just generally uncommon, with only a few at a time in each game. Almost exclusively male until Fates, where Berserker was a possible promotion path for the Fighter class, and Three Houses surprisingly made Brigand a possible starting class anyone could access.
In Cipher they often have the ability to flip bonds for temporary attack increase, representing their pillaging.
Mounted knight, classically promotes to paladin. Typically are excellent bread-and-butter units with well-rounded stats, high mobility, good equipment selection, and, in later games, the ability to spend any remaining movement after ending their turn with a non-attack action. Their many strengths are kept in check by taking greater movement penalties in rough terrain and complete inability to pass through super-rough terrain like mountains, plus the odd anti-horse weapon that can fuck them up from here to Advance Wars. Some games also give them penalties for indoor maps.
This set of classes has two recurring archetypes associated with it: first, a pair of cavaliers, one red and one green, one serious and professional and the other laid-back and eccentric, tend to join early in most games. This duo is known known as Cain and Abel after the pair from the original game; a few later titles played around with this, such as Awakening making one of them female and Fates instead using the archetype for a pair of ninja brothers. Second, an old Paladin that has great stats early game but terrible growth rates that cause him to fall off later tends to join early game with a goal of helping you survive early levels but potentially stealing experience from units that need it if used carelessly. This character is known as a Jeigan, a spelling that persists in fandom even though the character has been officially romanized as Jagen since the release of Shadow Dragon. Some later games instead make this character usable all game long if properly handled, this variation is known as the Oifey.
In Cipher, all cavaliers get movement bonuses. Cain and Abel archetypes get combo bonuses from both being on the field at the same time as their counterparts. Jeigan archetypes have good stats but suffer from penalties like being unable to move or not being usable as a Bond.
Infantry units who can reactivate an ally that's already moved and acted that turn to do so again. Even a cursory knowledge of the game should easily reveal why this makes them some of the best units in any given game, with reasons including duplicating your most useful unit, having their own experience pool while doing it, and allowing unique tactics. Don't tend to get promotions, but they sometimes have increased level caps to compensate. Some games also give them the power to apply powerful combat buffs instead of or while reactivating them, further increasing their potency as supports and force-multipliers.
In most appearances they can wield swords, though don't necessarily have the statline to really kick ass with them. This is not universal, as the GBA trilogy didn't give them access to any weapons, and their rough equivalent in the Tellius duology, a specialized form of laguz, can't attack, though they make up for it by being arguably the most powerful variant in the series via their ability to simultaneously refresh multiple teammates while transformed.
In Cipher dancers and bards, unsurprisingly, have the ability to untap tapped units in exchange for flipping Bonds.
Dark Mage/Shaman>Dark Sage/Druid
Users of dark magic, usually not necessarily evil. Don't have a "classic" promotion; the class was only made playable in later installments and its upgrades have not been consistently named, or even shared consistent themes and mechanics. Some modern games, like Path of Radiance, even lack dark magic mechanics or spellbooks altogether; others allow only certain classes that can also use "normal" magic to use them. Dark magic is generally heavier, slower, and more powerful than "normal" magic; the Elibe titles used this to link it together with Light and "Anima" magic into a second triangle roughly analogous to the axe, sword, spear triangle. Some dark tomes have extra effects attached to them, like allowing the caster to regain some of their damage dealt as health or penetrating enemy defenses to inflict flat damage.
In Cipher this class focuses on destruction of the enemy hand or deck and getting bonuses from it.
Axe user with high strength and HP, but generally average or worse at everything else, classically promotes to Warrior. Warriors get the ability to use bows upon promoting, but since flying units tend to use lances anyway and handaxes exist, this is more of a curiosity than a big power boost. They usually show up in pairs, with differing stat and growth spreads; depending on metagame for individual titles this can make one better overall than the other. Was a total sausage fest of a class until Fates introduced the first female fighter in the series.
Gameplaywise, Fighters are extremely scattered in quality, with many being terrible and a handful being awesome. That said, even when they're bad, Fighters are often the primary playable axe class player, especially in earlier games.
In Cipher this class focuses on forcing the enemy to discard cards or mill their deck, and on getting bonuses from doing both.
Beastfolk from the Tellius games, divided into various tribes (wolf, lion, tiger, hawk, raven, dragon, etc.) and typically not promoting the same way as beorc (plain ol' humies). They have the power to shift from 10-20% furry at most into gigantic animal forms that gain big stat boosts. Unlike manaketes, they don't rely on a finite item, but on a meter that builds up slowly while they stand around, and faster if they get attacked, yet are helpless and cannot fight while untransformed in Path of Radiance and suck balls at it in Radiant Dawn. And while transformed, they lose meter every battle and every turn. Their defensive stats are generally such that they can take a few hits, and doing so means they can build meter, but they're not tough to the point that fighting untransformed is a good situation to be in. Also, the meter worked somewhat differently for each laguz type/unit, with some outright starting battles transformed in Path of Radiance or just building meter really fast in Radiant Dawn.
There were various items and consumables available to decrease the inherent wonkiness of this mechanic, such as equipment that halved the stat gain but let the laguz remain transformed indefinitely (and cheesy strategies involving timing their use for juuuuust before they were about to transform back), and Radiant Dawn tried to tweak the mechanics so that both transforming and untransforming happened quicker, but it was never quite able to get up to the point that people were truly happy with it, and the class was removed following the Tellius titles. Spiritual successors exist in the form of the taguel, wolfskin, and kitsune classes from the 3DS titles, all animal-themed shapeshifters, but they instead use "beaststones" to transform and fight and mechanically bear much greater similarity to the manakete class than their clear inspiration.
In Cipher they typically gain bonus attack and reach when sufficiently stacked, representing their transformation and tying with the Tellius faction mechanic of stacking and promoting to high power as a whole.
Winged humanoids who can use the powers of "dragonstones" to transform into powerful dragons to fight; doesn't promote but sometimes gets a higher level cap to compensate. Very strong, but they typically join late in the game, and their dragonstones are usually limited-use and either one-of-a-kind or ultra-rare, meaning that worst-case scenario, there's a pretty hard cap on the number of fights they can afford to get in. Playable ones are almost always lolis of the "much older than they look" subvariety, some of which are still given romantic support options. Enemy ones are almost always grouchy old men.
Notably, the Tellius titles broke with tradition and instead made "dragon" a tribe of Laguz, none of whom were loli, and the first game released in America was one of the few to lack a manakete outright. (Though you can visit the house where the one from The Binding Blade is hiding out as an Easter egg on one map.)
In Mystery of the Emblem, the concept of Manaketes using different Dragonstones to turn into different dragons for different stat spreads was introduced; a wyvernstone gives its user the highest possible speed build and high movement, whilst a Magestone gives the highest possible resistance build. Surprisingly this concept was never reintroduced except in its direct remake, apart from the token ability for Divine Dragons to use standard Firestones in the Shadow Dragon remake and Binding Blade, the latter only through a glitch. Though Awakening and Fates did bring it back in a very limited fashion by having a regular common dragonstone and a rare more powerful dragonstone. In Fates, the main character can use dragonstones, however swords will still be their primary weapon in the majority of circumstances.
In Cipher they are weak out of the gate but get large temporary bonuses from flipping Bonds and/or large always-on bonuses from having a large number of Bonds out.
Offensive blaster magic user, with weak defenses and hitpoints, but good speed, good attack, and the ability to target the Resistance stat rather than Defense, classically promotes to Sage. Since most classes that are neither magic users nor pegasus knights tend to skimp on Resistance, they can be quite deadly, and they can use magic to attack both adjacent enemies and those two squares away. When they promote, they gain the the ability to use healing/utility magic staves as well as blast, greatly enhancing their flexibility and making splitting the group easier. Magic triangles aren't as set in stone as the sword/spear/axe triangle, but common incarnations include both making fire/wind/lightning into their own little triangle and dark/light magic into their own special thing, or lumping together all elemental spells into "anima" magic, and making a light/dark/anima triangle, with anima magic as the balanced alternative to light magic being fast-but-weak and dark magic slow-but-powerful.
In Cipher they specialize in conditional effects, either drawing extra cards or gaining bonuses dependent upon allies.
Sword-carrying infantry with balanced, above-average stats, classically promotes to Hero. Extremely well-rounded and reliable, like a discount Lord, whose only weakness is the dearth of swords with ranged capability. (And magic swords that offer ranged attack options are some combination of rare, restricted to specific characters, or coming with built-in penalties like an inability to score critical hits.) When they promote they gain the ability to use axes (so they can grab handaxes for ranged attacks), and their high skill and speed let them counteract the low accuracy that is that weapon's traditional drawback.
In Cipher they get or give bonuses when enough other allies deployed.
Light, agile sword user who trades high Speed and Skill stats for weaker Defense to serve as a Dexterity-based crit-fisher, classically promotes to Swordmaster. Sometimes even come with unique skills or equipment to promote critical hits. Often, an early game myrmidon begins a level as an enemy, armed with a powerful crit-fishing weapon and must be persuaded to join by another unit; this presents the player with the challenge of trying to get someone (and often a weak and squishy staff-user at that) close enough to talk to them without one of the two dying. A popular solution is to take the Jeigan's weapons and use him as a meatshield lure. Added in later titles; the class as a whole was based on the Mercenary character Navarre from the first game whose unique stat build was so popular that an entire offshoot class was created in later titles to imitate it. (And the remakes outright make him a myrmidon.)
In Cipher they have anti-evasion abilities and abilities that support critical hits and evasion. Bonuses for other sword using allies pops up as well.
Staff-user, granting access to healing and utility magic, but carries no weapons and cannot defend themself at all if attacked, classically promotes to Bishop. Bishops gain the ability to use magic and hit back, though in games with Light magic they're restricted to it, and it tends to be either the "fast but less powerful" magic, or derive benefits primarily from being outside the strictures of the triangle altogether. Some games, notably Awakening, which lacks Light magic, have instead given them weapons to use. In the original Archanea games, the Bishop was instead the shared promotion of both the mage and cleric classes, and gained the strengths of both.
In Cipher most basic healers have the ability to flip bonds and tap themselves to return a card from the retreat zone to your hand.
Pegasus Knight>Falcoknight (>Dracoknight in Archanea games)
Lance-using flying unit with awesome movement, the ability to ignore terrain movement penalties (though this generally means they also ignore defensive bonuses), high Speed, and the only non-magic using class to gain good Resistance, classically promotes to the Falcoknight, though the Archanea games instead had them become Dracoknights. On the downside they tend to have bad Defense, have mediocre Strength, and a crippling vulnerability to bows that sometimes extends to wind magic. Their promotion usually gains the ability to use swords. Playable examples were exclusively-female until Fates, though some seemingly-male generic enemies showed up. Tend to come in groups of three, either sisters or friends, which can, in an easter egg, initiate a special ability called a triangle attack, which has a 100% chance of a critical attack, if all three are lined up when one of them goes in for the kill. This has its uses, but is generally more of a cool party trick than an effective tactical maneuver.
Coincidentally, Pegasus Knight is the only class name Intelligent Systems owns the trademark for.
In Cipher their triangle attacks are more useful, given how attacking works and the ability to untap partners so more than one of them can benefit, and they have abilities that can move allies.
Squishy but fast and evasive guys armed with swords that aid the group with a dizzying array of utility powers. These include the ability to open doors and chests without using keys (though sometimes by spending charges off a special class-exclusive Lockpick item), see further into fog/darkness than anyone else, and attempt to steal unequipped weapons and items from enemies, even if they otherwise wouldn't drop them upon death. Some Thieves are actually decent fighters as well as utility players; these tend to act like even-squishier Myrmidons. If they can promote and what they can promote into varies wildly between games; the two most common examples are Assassins, who lean into the killy side of the class and gain special powers to kill enemies outright upon scoring critical hits, and Rogues, who instead lean even harder into the class's utility powers, like no longer needing to use Lockpicks to open doors. Sacred Stones used both as the two branches the class could take upon promotion. The GBA games infamously had Thieves and their promotions wield knives in their battle animations, despite using the same swords as the rest of your army. The Tellius games rectified this by making knives and daggers their own weapon class, and later games just gave Thieves normal swords.
In Cipher they have abilities that can reveal and/or discard the opposing player's cards, and/or let the player draw more cards of their own.
Rather than, as their name suggests, an iteration of the bard/dancer class, mounted staff users, classically promote to Valkyries. In exchange for higher movement and (in some games) the ability to move after healing, they typically join after unmounted healers, and at lower levels to boot (a big deal since staff users are a pain to give XP to), and being mounted can be more of a problem than walking through some terrain heavy maps. Introduced in Jugdral, which also gave them the ability to use swords, though only the Tellius incarnation of Valkyrie has kept this. Another mono-gendered class, being all-female until Fates (where the Japanese version calls the class "Rod Knight" instead), which should really make them Trobairitz. Their Valkyrie promotion grants the ability to use offensive magic, usually elemental rather than Light.
In Cipher, they are largely the same as their unmounted counterparts, except for having a horse affinity marker.
Mounted flying units who ride unintelligent dragons, classically promote to Dracoknights, though the class names are all over the place from game to game. The Fighter to the Pegasus Knight's Myrmidon, Wyvern Knights are better brawlers than their cousins, with good Strength and Defense and average to above-average stats in most other places, but pay for it with a wretched Resistance stat even by the standards of non-magic-using classes; this is particularly deadly in games where they are vulnerable to wind magic as well as bows. Their weapon of choice was originally the lance, with promotions gaining or losing the ability to wield swords, until Radiant Dawn gave them axes instead to further differentiate them and their role on the battlefield. Typically an "antagonist" class like the Dark Mage, with most heroic examples joining the team later in the game and defecting from the other side.
In Cipher they don't really have any consistent abilities and the few represented characters draw from their own characterization rather than their class's. Also, on top of already being Flying and Mounted, they also count as Dragon units, meaning there're a lot of units that can pump out special damage against them.
- Official Japanese website: Helpful if you know Japanese, useless if you don't.
- Serenes Forest wiki: The wiki of the primary English fansite for the series, is considered the main source for card translations as well as maintaining the rules list and instructions for simulator play.
- Emma and Shade's Cipher Classroom!: Translation of the official tutorial.
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