Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon Hands-On

We check out Nintendo's update of the NES classic that never made it to the US.

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Nintendo's Fire Emblem series was one of the lesser-known gems in the veteran publisher's library of NES games. Although the series was popular in Japan, it didn't make it to the States until recently, when Nintendo brought it to the Game Boy Advance. Since then, the series has made appearances on the GameCube, Wii, and DS and has found a loyal following. Fans are in for a special treat with the upcoming release of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, which is a remake of the original NES game for the DS, with revamped visuals, refined gameplay, and additional content. We had the chance to try out a playable demo.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon will feature an all-new four-part prologue that leads into the main story. In addition, the game will have a host of new wireless modes that include playing with a friend and temporarily sharing units.

The story in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon revolves around the land of Altea, which has seen its ups and downs over the years. The ups have been nice long stretches of prosperity and happiness, while the downs have been rugged brushes with evil that have scarred the land. The game introduces you to Prince Marth, who should be familiar to Fire Emblem and Smash Bros. players. Shadow Dragon fills you in on Marth's history and follows the young monarch's formative years, which, wait for it, are pretty traumatic.

The four-part prologue introduces you to the gameplay mechanics and sets up Marth's quest. His father is betrayed during a military campaign by one of his trusted advisors, who returns to the kingdom intent on taking out the royal family. The early part of the prologue finds you guiding Marth through this introductory story business and trying to get out of the castle. Unfortunately, the bulk of his family gets left behind, including his sister, who is trying to find their mother, and Marth is on his own with some advisors.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon's gameplay stays true to the simple turn-based mechanic that the series is known for. The mechanics have been enhanced for the DS to take advantage of the touch screen. You'll have the option of standard control or simply tapping the touch screen to select characters and pick your options during a turn.

The game is as fun and challenging to play as the more recent entries in the series. As before, you'll have to carefully manage your team of characters, which will grow over the course of the adventure. You'll need to manage gear and weapons as you play, while making sure your characters don't die, because once you lose a character, he or she is gone for good. Though this is a bummer with support characters, especially those you've spent time cultivating, it is game ending when it's Marth or the other main characters.

The presentation has been freshened up over the original game. The main overhead view benefits from a rich color palette and a higher level of detail. The combat view features rendered character models with fluid animation and various flashy effects for spells and critical attacks. The audio is getting a comparable face-lift. The game's score is buffed out with richer audio, and sound effects are sharp and clear.

Based on what we played, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon will be a meaty dose of role-playing action on the DS and should please fans of the series. The revamped visuals are coming together nicely, and the additional features are nice bonuses to the single-player game. Best of all, the game should be the perfect introduction to the Fire Emblem universe for newcomers. If you're looking for a role-playing fix on the DS, you'll want to keep an eye out for Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, which should be out early next year.

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