Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War was released in 1996 for the Super Famicom, the Japanese counterpart to the SNES. It is the fourth entry in the Fire Emblem series created by Intelligent Systems, one of Nintendo’s second-party developers. Genealogy and its infamously difficult midquel, Thracia 776, would wind up being the last entries developed by the series’ original creator, Shouzou Kaga. The Fire Emblem series was never localized outside of Japan outside of a two-episode OVA, which was localized in 1997, a year after its domestic release. In 2001, Super Smash Bros. Melee, a fighting game featuring various Nintendo characters, included two characters from the Fire Emblem series: Marth and Roy. The former was the protagonist of the very first game in the series, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, while the latter was included to promote the then-upcoming installment, The Binding Blade. This was a major catalyst for the series finally getting a worldwide release in 2003 and 2004 with its seventh entry, simply localized as Fire Emblem (called by its Japanese name, Blazing Sword, by fans to differentiate it from other entries in the series). Because Genealogy was released seven years before Blazing Sword, not that many people outside of Japan have played it. However, despite the lack of an official localization, many Fire Emblem fans outside of Japan have often expressed that this game is the pinnacle of the series.
Playing the Game
Like every other game in the Fire Emblem series, Genealogy is a tactical role-playing game. Each unit is defined by their class, which determines their abilities, including what weapons they are allowed to use and how their stats improve. Some fight with melee weapons, some use magic, and still others ride on a flying mount. Each character also has a name and unique personality (although there are some reoccurring archetypes). If their health reaches zero, they die and, in most games in the series, there is no way to bring them back to life. This gives players an extra incentive to be careful with them. This could be quite jarring to anyone who has played Shining Force before Fire Emblem where it’s both possible and easy to resurrect dead characters.
This particular entry added many gameplay elements that would become iconic to the rest of the Fire Emblem series. First of all, this was the series that introduced the weapon triangle. There are three types of melee weapons: swords, axes, and lances. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. When melee units use different weapons, the one using the advantageous weapon receives a 20% bonus to their accuracy while the other unit receives a 20% penalty to their accuracy. In previous games, magic was a single weapon class. This game divided magic into five different types: fire, thunder, wind, light, and dark. Similar to the weapon triangle, fire beats wind, wind beats thunder, and thunder beats fire while both light and dark magic have an advantage against all three. Both tactical triangles were excellent additions to the series’ formula; in previous games axes were practically worthless because nobody that could use them were capable of promoting. Speaking of magic, this was the first game where characters actually had a magic stat. In previous games, strength determined physical and magical damage. Mages had lower growth rates for strength, but the tradeoff was that most enemies had little to no resistance.
Another improved aspect from the previous entries is that when you select a character that can use a healing staff, the option to use the staff appears first in the command menu. In previous games (and the next one bafflingly enough), the first command was “Wait” even if they’re standing next to an injured character. This would invariably lead to a lot of frustration from anyone who has played any of the later games when they end their healers’ turns prematurely.
Despite being an earlier game, there are many aspects about Genealogy that make it stand out from other games in the series. For starters, the game only has twelve chapters or levels whereas most games in the series have twenty-five or more, not including bonus chapters. There’s a good reason for that too; this is what a large level in Blazing Sword looks like…
…and this is what the first map of Genealogy looks like.
Quite a difference, isn’t it? In fact, every chapter after the prologue in Genealogy is twice as large as the first one. You might be wondering how anyone could possibly complete these levels in one sitting without making a fatal mistake. The answer is that unlike most of the other games in the series, you can save at the beginning of every turn (and it’s a permanent save, you don’t simply suspend the game). Another thing that makes Genealogy unique is that you can repair your weapons. This means that, as long as you have the money, you don’t have to worry about constantly buying new weapons, nor do you need to hold back using your strongest ones. Also, broken weapons don’t disappear; instead, they lose all of their might and weigh the user down considerably until you either switch weapons or repair it.
The entirety of this game takes place outdoors and the goal of every chapter is to conquer every enemy castle on the map. Your units are blue while the enemy units are red. For every turn, you are allowed to execute one command per unit. The color of the shield on the bottom-right corner of each castle corresponds with that territory’s alignment. If the enemy reaches your main castle, you automatically lose. You use the cursor to select a unit. When you do, a range of green squares appears – this determines how far they can move. Any enemy unit within a red square can be attacked by this unit. When you end your turn, the other factions are allowed a turn with each castle functioning separately (in other words, there could be more than one enemy phase). This game also introduces green and yellow units. Green units are allies and they assist the player against enemy units. Yellow units are neutral and their actions either indirectly help or hinder the player depending on the situation. In any event, you are not allowed to attack them or go into their territory. Amusingly, in previous games, every character that you don’t directly control was red, meaning that you could even attack unarmed, non-hostile neutral characters you were meant to talk to instead.
The gameplay is leaps and bounds above any of the previous entries and is well-polished for such an old game. The only real complaint I have is that the weapons are not well balanced. Like most other Fire Emblem games, all weapons have their own weight. Weight lowers the unit’s attack speed and ability to evade enemy attacks and there is no stat that mitigates it in this entry. The general idea is that axes are the strongest martial weapon, but units can only attack once with them, the lighter swords enable their wielders to attack twice, and lances take the middle ground, being more powerful and heavier than swords, but lighter and weaker than axes. This doesn’t quite work in practice because strong characters can use swords as well and when they do, they inflict more damage and have a greater chance of dodging attacks on the enemy phase, which a majority of the combat takes place on. It doesn’t help that axe users are surprisingly rare while there are both more varieties of swords and sword users in the game. Because of this, lance users are the bane of your existence. When it comes to the magic triangle (fire, thunder, and wind), the only difference between them is their weight. Because wind magic is the lightest of the three, it’s by far the best school of magic in the game while fire magic, being the heaviest, is the worst.
Other than that, the game is fantastic. It’s easy to complain about how the enemies have an advantage over the player with their weapons being indestructible (even their long-range weapons, which have five uses in most games). However, that’s counterbalanced by the fact that, if you play your cards right, your characters can be insanely powerful, with some individual units being able to take on entire armies without breaking a sweat.
My favorite aspect about Genealogy’s gameplay is something that’s difficult to talk about without spoiling a major part of the plot. I promise not to give too much away even in the following section, but feel free to skip to the story analysis if you want to play the game blind.
|The game takes place across two generations, ending nearly twenty years after the events of the first two chapters. The best thing about this is that you can pair a male and female unit together in the first generation and their children become playable in the second half. Each woman gives birth to two characters – a son and a daughter. Both inherit all of the citizen skills that their parents possessed while the gender determines their growth rates. The only downside is that certain combinations of pairings result in useless characters or missing out on some of the holy weapons. This is a very easy mistake to make – especially if you’re not familiar with the game mechanics and don’t realize that soldier skills can’t be passed down; they’re tied to that unit’s class. For example, all sword fighters have the Pursuit ability, which allows units to attack twice if they’re faster than their opponents. If you pair up a sword fighter with someone that doesn’t give birth to kids in classes that have Pursuit as a soldier skill or their lover lacks the ability as a citizen skill, neither kid will get the ability.
For your first playthrough, I recommend making these pairings:
Midayle with Adean
Lex or Holyn with Ayra
Finn or Beowulf with Raquesis
Lewyn with Ferry
Lex, Dew, or Jamka with Briggid
Claud with Sylvia
Azel with Tailto|
Analyzing the Story
The story of Genealogy takes place on the continent of Jugdral. The continent was liberated in a holy war that saw the fall of the oppressive Lopto Empire. The exploits of the twelve crusaders who led the rebellion became the talk of legends. Their leader, Heim along with six of his fellow crusaders formed the country of Grannvale, which would become the most powerful country on the continent. The remaining five crusaders founded their own countries: The Kingdom of Silesse, Agustria, the Dominion of the Lords, the Manster District, the Kingdom of Thracia, and the Kingdom of Isaach. An era of peace and prosperity soon followed.
However, in the year 757, nearly one-hundred years after the empire’s fall, the flames of war stirred anew when the Kingdom of Isaach suddenly attacked the Holy City of Darna. The nobles of Grannvale reached an agreement to go to war with Isaach. With the main force of Grannvale’s army occupied, the city of Jungby is besieged by the forces of Verdane in an attack spearheaded by Lord Gandolf of Marpha. After Gandolf takes Lady Adean hostage, her lifelong friend, Lord Sigurd of Chalphy, vows to gather what little troops remain and rescue her.
What I like about the story of Genealogy is that it starts out simple enough, but progressively builds into one of most unique video game plots of all time. It gets really good around the halfway mark and there’s never a point where the plot gets boring or dragged out. My favorite aspect of Genealogy’s narrative is that it always feels like there’s something going on behind the scenes. This is exemplified with the war between Grannvale and Isaach progressing while you guide Sigurd and his ragtag bunch into Verdane. The narrative lends itself to making the world feel alive and active by developing the plot outside of what is presented to the player. Another nice touch is that some of the chapters have scripted events that drive the plot forward. Occasionally, you’ll see two armies independent from your own or your current enemy fighting against each other with the winner being predetermined, cleverly telling a story with the game engine.
The only real problem I have with the storytelling is that it feels like certain events are glossed over. This has more to do with the large maps than anything else. Because the sense of scale is so large, the narrative has to explain what’s going on with the citizens of these countries rather than showing the player. Luckily, I don’t think this is a particularly glaring flaw; all of the important details are explained to you (though the characters sometimes have a weird propensity towards explaining things the person they’re addressing already knows) and it’s easy enough to fill in the blanks.
Drawing a Conclusion
The previous installment in the Fire Emblem series, Mystery of the Emblem, is beloved in its native Japan and is commonly cited as the definitive entry. I have the feeling that this is because of nostalgia and having played Mystery of the Emblem myself, I can safely say that Genealogy is the superior title. If you’re a fan of strategy RPGs, find a way to play this game because it is a classic of the genre. That said, if you are unfamiliar with the series or have never played a strategy RPG, don’t try this game yet. There is no tutorial and even the prologue doesn’t pull any punches. Blazing Sword is a much better introduction to the series for the uninitiated. If you already like the Fire Emblem series, this will likely become one of your favorites. I like to think of Genealogy as Civilization if it had an actual storyline and with preset countries and military units. It can be every bit as addictive if you’re not careful. Because you’re allowed to save every turn, it takes a tremendous amount of willpower to resist taking another turn between castles when you should be making dinner or going to bed.
Final Score: 8/10