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Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light holds up beautifully and has some of the best levels of the series.

Firstly, sorry if this is skirting the edge of what is an acceptable game here. While this version of the game did release quite recently it is effectively a faithful remaster of a game from 1990. I hope that counts.

Secondly, my perspective as a fan. I've played Genealogy of the Holy War, Blazing Blade, Sacred Stones, Shadow Dragon, Path of Radiance, Echoes and Three Houses (Also I main Ike in Smash). I liked all of them well enough but assumed I wouldn't enjoy the nes games. Echoes exists, why play Gaiden? Shadow Dragon exists, why play FE1? I was wrong.

Now to the good stuff. The first thing that struck me was that the UI is not nearly as bad as I feared. It's a tad clunky and I miss being able to see my unit's move range but everything else is quite clear and accessible. It's a simple, straightforward game and the menus do a good job of not getting in the way.

Speaking of straightforward, FE1 does not wait to give you the good stuff. You get a pegasus knight (air unit) at the start of the game, a pirate (amphibious unit) near the beginning of level 2 and a cleric with the freaking warp spell (teleports a unit basically anywhere on the map) on level three. Later games drip feed you special units and abilities to either to make them feel special or to prevent a new player from being overwhelmed. This has it's pros and cons, but I'm always going to prefer being treated like I know what I'm doing. Furthermore, it allows you to go for interesting builds and strategies from the get go. I go for a fast, cavalry centered blitzkrieg style, but I could just as easily try a slow but unstoppable knight/archer combo. I can flank vulnerable positions over air and sea. I can even just teleport the MVP megachad gilf Jagen (or later Hardin) on top of the enemy commander, slaughtering the poor guy with two pokes of a silver lance. Not only does this make me feel very clever, it also impressively does not break the game. If you have a favorite strategy there will be plenty of levels that complicate it and a few levels that straight up counter it.

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That brings me to the best part of this game: some of the best maps in the entire series are here. From level 2 onward each map manages to pull your brain in at least three different directions without being overwhelming. There are always enemies on multiple fronts, different paths with different degrees of risk, out of the way villages with important information in rare shops, forts that protect and heal you but can also spawn enemy units Gauntlet style if you leave them alone too long and, perhaps most importantly, recruitable units buried in the enemy ranks.

Compare this with Fire Emblem Three Houses, a game that I adore and beat twice but also a game with a very small number of tiny generic maps with AI that just stands there and lets you kill them. I feel that Three Houses will feel dated long before Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light does.

So in short, if you enjoy Fire Emblem for the gameplay (the story of FE1 is as basic as it gets and the characters are rarely more complicated than "loyal to Marth" or "has a crush on Caeda") I strongly recommend Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light for an impressively tight and well crafted experience.

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