By Sean Booker
Mar 16, 2009 - 16:50
You will begin Shadow Dragon by choosing one of two difficulties. The Normal difficulty setting will force you to play through the tutorial mode and is for newcomers to the franchise and that style of gameplay, while the Hard setting will pit you against enemies that are as much as five times stronger than the enemies you'll find in Normal. The good thing about the tutorial is that it is set up as a prologue to the game’s story. This does a good job of not making the game’s learning process too boring for veterans of the Fire Emblem series.
The prologue sets you in the castle of Marth, a young and innocent prince, as it is being overrun by enemies. Marth is forced to leave while his sister stays to try and slow
Shadow Dragon is set up as a tactical strategy game in which the gameplay only takes place while you are on the battlefield. During each of your conflicts, you will need to station your team around the area while you make your way toward the level’s boss. The levels are set up in a grid and each of your units can move a certain number of spaces in a horizontal and vertical fashion. Horse, Pegasus and Dragon mounted units can move much more father than free walking ones. On the other hand, characters wearing heavy armor will have reduced mobility compared to a light weight character. Each character can only move once a turn; then the enemy makes their progression towards you.
You begin combat when you move close enough to an enemy so they are within striking distance. Most weapons/characters need to be directly beside the enemy while archers and mages can attack from afar. This, along with your limited movements, requires you to strategically plan just where you should be placing your party so that they won’t be in the attack range of approaching foes. A new improvement to the franchise introduced in Shadow Dragon is the ability to see the accumulated walking and attacking distance of all the enemies at once. Hitting the X button will cause a red section of the map to appear. Any of your units in this area are open to an attack from the opponent. You need to find out when it’s okay to advance, and when you should be playing it safe.
Fire Emblem also does a good job of making sure the combat phases are both an important and enjoyable part of the game. The majority of the weapons are swords, axes and lances. Shadow Dragon teaches you that in a fight, an axe barer will have the advantage over a lance wielder, a lance wielder beats a sword barer and swords are
The combat in Shadow Dragon is probably the most important part as it can have a long lasting effect within the game. Any time one of your party members dies, you will lose them for the rest of the game. This is probably the feature that is best known about the Fire Emblem series. Unlike most Role Playing Games, in which you can revive a character by using of an item, spells or certain points on the map (for example, in Final Fantasy you can bring dead allies back to life by using a Phoenix Down), in Shadow Dragon, a lost ally means it’s game over for them. This can cause quite an issue as you will miss out on story related scenes since they can no longer take place without the correct units. What makes this worse is, because every unit is different and special in their own way, you could have grown attached to them. You may have spent the first three quarters of the game leveling up one specific character to make him/her very powerful, and then lose all of that hard work in one minute. However, this also adds to the games replay value, as perfectionists will want to restart the specific chapter so they can finish the game with everyone. It may add to this game’s difficulty, but it gets you thinking more strategically, as you need to plan two or three turns ahead.
To help with this, Shadow Dragon adds the use of mid-chapter save points. Instead of always having to start at the beginning of the level, you can make a hard save somewhere within the chapter and begin again each time from that point. Though, in order to activate these mid-level saves, you need a character to stand on a specific spot which can cause you to waste a turn with them.
When comparing the graphics of Shadow Dragon to the Game Boy Advance versions of Fire Emblem, you won’t see too much of a difference. The maps and the characters look almost exactly the same. The only new addition is the way the combat now shows
The sound in Shadow Dragon is also a great asset to the game. When acquiring a new team mate, you will hear fast-paced, heroic music playing in the background, while the loss of an ally plays soft, slow paced music to drive home the depressing nature of the event. The overall music adds to the game quite nicely as it matches the story`s atmosphere. Also, hearing lively up beat music as you make your way through the battlefields and mow down the enemies makes you feel like quite a powerful army.
The caveat for Shadow Dragon is that it doesn’t introduce many new or innovated features to the franchise. It has brought in the choice for some online modes and the idea of mid-chapter save points, but apart from this you are getting the exact same game play you’ve come to expect. In each game you need to keep the same things in mind and you need to know who is good against what. If you have played any of the other Fire Emblem games, you probably already have a good idea of all these and even which type of units you should put your time into when choosing who to level up. The levels and characters are different, but with only a couple of new classes to play around with, you’ll be playing the same game you played a few years back. This can be a downside to anyone getting tired of the game’s hardcore and tense nature, but if you haven’t played titles from this franchise in a while, Shadow Dragon will satisfy you quite nicely.
What hurts it even more though, is the online modes aren’t the best, or even close for that matter. Your main options are an online store and the multiplayer mode. The online store is a fine addition to the game since finding some powerful weapons mid game can
The multiplayer mode is the most disappointing of all. Playing against your friends and seeing how well you can outsmart other people online sounds like a great idea on paper, but it doesn’t pan out well once in use. When playing against random people, you will almost always get matched up with someone either incredibly powerful or very weak. There is no system in place to match you up with people who are around the same level as your in game team. Finding an opponent with a powerhouse team or someone just starting out is no fun for either party. Though if you find someone of equal skill level, it can become quite fun.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon does what every game in the franchise has done before: make you strategise more than almost any other game out there. If you are a gamer that plays games on a more casual level, this game isn’t for you. It’s designed to make you think and even second guess every move you make. You have to really know the game in order to be able to play it perfectly on it’s harder levels/difficulties. That being said though, it does a great job of introducing you to the franchise. With the addition of the online store and mid-chapter save points, it’s one of the most accessible games in the franchise, and its visuals and fitting sound, which accompany its wonderful story telling, make for great experience. And if you are a perfectionist when playing video games, this will lead to countless hours of replay value. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is a wonderful addition to the Fire Emblem franchise, and is a welcome addition to the Nintendo DS library.
Verdict: Buy It
Rating: 9 /10