Last time, we saw how the nascent Intelligent Systems made a tactical role-playing game. Now, we will see where Intelligent Systems took its sleeper hit.
1992-93: The Side Show
Throughout 1991, Shouzou Kaga planned for a sequel to Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light. This time, he not only wrote the script but also served as the game’s director. Kaga focused on the problems with the first title. Namely, he wanted to address the pacing, the AI, the memory issues, and the player’s relationship with the characters. He specifically wanted to deepen the bond that the player had with the characters and incorporated different gameplay and story elements to achieve that.
Kaga intended for this sequel to be a side story; hence the name Fire Emblem Gaiden (gaiden being Japanese for “side story”). Only a handful of characters from the first game returned for the sequel. With nearly unlimited control, Kaga innovated and expanded on ideas from the first game. A new memory chip was used specifically to tackle the memory shortage problem, which gave Kaga more flexibility. Though the basic battle engine and formula of the first game was reused, Gaiden went in a distinctly different direction. The most obvious change was the presence of an overworld map. In addition, magic depleted spellcasters’ HP, a support system and branching promotion trees were introduced, class changing happened in special locations rather than with items, and only special weapons needed to be equipped.
Fire Emblem Gaiden came out in early 1992 to mixed critical reception on the Famicom. Presumably for that reason, Intelligent Systems ditched many of the game’s innovations. At the same time he worked on Gaiden, Kaga also oversaw the development of a remake/expansion for Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
1994: Mystery and Intrigue
Kaga’s team sharpened the graphical quality of its next project. Kaga’s team also returned to the familiar setting of Archanea and the story of Marth. Initially, Kaga wanted to make a completely new game with exclusively original content. However, Intelligent Systems ultimately adapted most of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light into the first half of the new game. This remake of Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light lost content along the way but served as an introduction for new players. In addition, Kaga scaled back the difficulty of the game to entice new players.
The original content of the new game continued Marth’s saga from the first game. Kaga’s team struggled to plan how to release the game most effectively. At one point, Intelligent Systems planned to release the game in two halves, much like Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. The final project, Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, therefore needed to cut content from Book 1 (the half dedicated to the Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light remake) in order to make space for Book 2, the new content. Mystery of the Emblem came out in 1994 on the Super Famicom to much better reception than its predecessor, probably because of its strange commercial:
Admittedly, Mystery of the Emblem‘s commercial had more of a hook than Gaiden‘s more straightforward commercial:
Just after completing Mystery of the Emblem, Kaga and his team had little rest. Nintendo commissioned another sequel. Kaga really wanted to shake things up, and oh how he succeeded…
To be continued…