Oh yes, I’m going there. With Fire Emblem Engage out in just a week, I’ve decided that DigitallyDownloaded.net needs a solid flood of very angry people, so I’m going to publish the definitive* ranking order of all the Fire Emblem titles released in English.
(* Not actually definitive. This is just my opinion as a long-standing Fire Emblem fan so please just, you know, chill if you happen to disagree. I know how hardcore this fan base is).
And so, with that plea for calm out the way, here’s the order for the series as I see it. From the weakest right through to the best.
Fire Emblem Heroes (Read Our Review)
Luckily there’s a free-to-play mobile game to drop at the bottom of this list, else I would really offend one section of the fan base or another. I don’t think anyone would disagree that Fire Emblem Heroes is the weakest, though. Surprisingly it’s not all that bad for a gatcha game, and given that it was this game that gave me Lyn in a bridal dress and swimsuit I’m not really complaining about it. It’s just that Fire Emblem games should have stories and stuff, and this one… doesn’t do a great job of that.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon
The only DS Fire Emblem game released in English, Shadow Dragon is a remake of the very first Fire Emblem. It does include some improvements, including a short additional narrative arc that acts as a tutorial, but ultimately there’s not a whole lot that could be done to paint over the fact that this was, originally, a NES game, and the Fire Emblem series has subsequently become far deeper and richer.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light (Watch Our Video)
Nintendo localised the NES original as a special Christmas edition release on the Nintendo Switch, so we can include it in this little list, even though we never got to play it on its original release, way back in 1990. It’s basically the same game as the DS remake, but I’m giving it the slight edge because, much like Final Fantasy 1, it’s fascinating to play the actual original that started it all. But also like Final Fantasy 1, the series has, simply, got better over time.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
As you’ll see later on in this list, the immediate predecessor of Radiant Dawn is one of my favourite games of all time. However, the one and only Wii title in the series was a disappointment. I was salivating at the chance to reunite with a bunch of my favourite characters of all time, only for the game to, ultimately, disappoint me. The characterisation seemed to take a big slide backwards, and the new characters and villains lacked the quality of the predecessor. I don’t know if this game was all that bad, but it was just such a drop that it ends up low on my list here.
Fire Emblem Fates (Read Our Review)
We’ve reached the point where I would enthusiastically recommend any Fire Emblem game, and Fates is, indeed, a game I would enthusiastically recommend to anyone. It’s just slightly lower on my list of favourites among a collection of favourite games, and the reason for it is simple: While it was a really neat idea to give players different versions that allowed them to see a conflict from multiple perspectives, it was handled a little clumsily for my liking. I also had a more difficult time liking this bunch of characters than I do in some of the others in the series.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses (Read Our Review)
Three Houses has so much going for it. Excellent characters (including Pink Miku, Hilda!), an exceptional plot, and a new “unit” system that I loved fiddling around with so much. What lets it down is the lack of focus in driving the narrative forward. In most Fire Emblem games, the focus is firmly on the combat, and whatever you do between that tends to be limited for the sake of pacing. Three Houses goes in a very different direction, with a school setting that you spend way too much time wandering around. I get that Harry Potter is popular (or, at least, back then was), but I don’t really think it belongs in Fire Emblem, and that’s the one thing about the game that holds me back from frequently replaying it.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (Read Our Thoughts)
Coming off the back of the first Fire Emblem to ever be released in English was never going to be easy (and just see where I put that Fire Emblem on this list!). There’s nothing wrong with The Sacred Stones except for one, tiny little thing – you could grind experience. To me, being so new to the series and with the only frame of reference being a game where there was no experience grinding (something I appreciated), this felt like the game was encouraging me to cheat and came across as a little more of a “typical” JRPG from there. I do love Eirika though. So much. That skirt.
Fire Emblem Awakening (Read Our Review)
This game ranks high in part because it was the game to save my beloved series. If Awakening hadn’t sold bucketloads, it would have been the final fantasy that we got to enjoy from Intelligent Systems (hah, see what I did there?). What I think I appreciate most about Awakening now is also the way it so carefully straddles the old and the new. Unlike some later Fire Emblem titles it still feels very traditional to the series’ roots, but it does include a bevvy of features to make it appealing to a broader crowd. As a transition point from old Fire Emblem, to modern Fire Emblem, this is a landmark title. The “no feet” graphical thing is still weird though.
Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia (Read Our Review)
This will be the controversial one on my list, I know, because a bunch of the more hardcore fans really (really) do not like it for reasons I’ve never quite understood. How dare I like a game, and all that good stuff. But I really do love Echoes. It’s a remake of the second Fire Emblem (Gaiden), but a much more comprehensive remake effort than Shadow Dragon was on the DS. This one has dungeons to explore in a third-person view and leans far more heavily into the JRPG side of things, and yes, like Sacred Stones it does feel a little like you can cheat your way through the game by grinding up experience, but I really loved the characters and art in this game and that’s what helped to elevate it to one of my favourites of all.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
It’s difficult to put into words just how much I love Path of Radiance. Before it, Fire Emblem had been exclusively a sprite-based tactics series on handhelds (in the West, Japan had SNES and NES entries, of course). Path of Radiance took the experience and put it into 3D. Primitive 3D, to be sure, but aesthetically gorgeous and dynamic. Watching the combat play out in context (fight on the sand and you’ll see the beach behind you. Attack from the forests to be surrounded by trees) was so very cinematic. The game has an awesome bunch of characters, too, with so few duds I cannot remember disliking a single one (except Shinon, who is just an arsehole). So many of my very favourite Fire Emblem heroes – Brom, Nephanee, Astrid, Makalov – came from this game, and I loved creating my own weapons of legend. As a result, this is still a game I play. Frequently.
Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade (Read Our Thoughts)
My first-ever Fire Emblem remains my favourite game in the entire series. I remember buying this game because I had a long overnight train ride from Melbourne to Sydney (I was that poor at the time I needed to save money on flights), and I needed an indulgence to pass the time. I very nearly picked Shining Force: Resurrection Of The Dark Dragon instead. As fine as that game was, I am glad I didn’t, because from the moment I first saw Lyn I was in love with Fire Emblem. Beautifully deep combat, incredibly fun and varied heroes, and a sheer difficulty curve that meant I needed to restart the game, dozens of hours in, 2-3 times before I even cleared it, all came together to inspire me. I worry to say that Nintendo should remake it (because the remake would almost certainly have an overall to make it accommodating of modern production values that would disappoint me), but I would also love to see this game’s world, characters, and action remade to look like what we get in Fire Emblem Engage. It is, to this day, not only my favourite Fire Emblem title, but my favourite Nintendo game of all.
And there you have it! The comprehensive ranking of the English Fire Emblem titles. I have deliberately left the spinoffs (the Warriors games, and Tokyo Mirage Sessions) out of this list to focus on the tactics JRPGs, but they’re also very good. I don’t think I have ever been truly unhappy with something that carries the Fire Emblem name. Disappointed, perhaps, but never unhappy. Even on its worst day, this series is still better than almost anything else out there.
Now we just need to see where Fire Emblem Engage will fit in.