Genealogy of the Holy War Is a High Point in the Fire Emblem Franchise

Welcome to Save State, where we like to fire our emblems. Fire Emblem Engage, at the time of this writing, is releasing very, very soon. Engage almost seems to be the series 30th anniversary game that had its development thrown out of whack by COVID, and what’s most interesting about Engage is that it’s a celebration of a series that didn’t even release outside of Japan until its 7th major entry. Marth, at least, would be known in the West from his appearance in Super Smash Bros, or the remake of the first Fire Emblem that released on the Nintendo DS. Sigurd, on the other hand, is a much lesser-known character from such a big Nintendo franchise, and is also prominently featured in many of Engage’s promotional materials.

Due to this fact, I felt the urge to replay the Japanese Fire Emblem title in which Sigurd was the protagonist. Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War released on the Super Nintendo in 1996 and was never officially released outside of Japan. Translation patches for it exist, as do multiple ways to utilize said patches with a legitimate cartridge of the game (a Sanni cartridge reader, in my case), but there exist a number of ways to enjoy this veritable classic of a strategy RPG should you be intrepid enough to try. Of course, an official remake would have been ideal, but alas.

Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War was a very ambitious Super Nintendo game. This is the title that introduced the weapon triangle that the series is known for, where using swords gives an advantage against axes and so on. The story of Genealogy portrays a conflict on the continent of Jugdral that spans two generations of heroes and was considerably ahead of its time for a game from 1996. The game begins with you controlling a powerful prince named Sigurd, who gets blamed for a murder he didn’t commit and is also exiled from his country. This, coupled together with a violent cult whose goal is to resurrect an ancient dragon, forms the backbone of Genealogy of the Holy War’s tale.

The gameplay and controls of the fourth Fire Emblem game should be immediately familiar to those with any experience playing strategy RPGs. You select the unit you wish to move and move them all along the square tiles of the maps. Your units are broken up into classes that all have a variety of features- some are mounted on horseback, giving them a larger movement range than infantry. There are units that use bows, some can cast powerful magic, while others can steal items from enemies or even give one of your units an additional turn. Much of the surface of Genealogy will be familiar, but what really makes it special is its ambitious story, gameplay mechanics, and impressive maps.

Genealogy’s maps play like large scale battles in a war, or at least the best anime approximation they could do on the Super Nintendo. Most Fire Emblem afficionados probably expect 20+ chapters of strategy RPG goodness, but Genealogy of the Holy War has only 12. This doesn’t mean that the title is short in duration, in fact, far from it. The maps in Genealogy are massive, with varying terrain and enemies as you rout the enemy forces across an entire country in a single chapter’s map. The maps on which you wage war are the largest in the series, with many of them being over twice the size of the largest maps featured in Fire Emblem games from the last decade. Also, maps featured in Genealogy can be laid next to one another to show players the full map of Jugdral, which gives the game an incredible sense of continuity.

In terms of depth, Genealogy has loads to offer here, too. The weapon triangle may have been introduced in this entry, but the title also has a robust skill system that includes a love system and a hidden jealousy system that are used for pairing characters together and determining the second generation’s characters. There’s even a leadership system that provides bonuses when nearby the leader of the army. Weapon durability still exists in Genealogy, which sounds like it’d be a nightmare with the longer maps, but players can get weapons repaired (so long as they’re not completely broken) at any castle on each map, and weapons can gain fantastic bonuses if they score a high number of kills.

Another fun difference in Genealogy of the Holy War compared to modern day Fire Emblem games is that in this entry, you bring your entire army with you to each map. None of this, “Should I use X, Y, or Z?” The answer is always yes, so you’ll be rolling into new locations with twenty people in tow, all ready for combat. This, of course, lets you even the odds, because the bosses do this too. I didn’t count, but there’s at least a couple dozen bosses on the last map as you work your way to your final objective.

The single largest strike that can be made against Genealogy of the Holy War is that its item and money management system can be pretty time consuming, bordering on tedious. Each unit has their own inventory and money reserves, and money can only be exchanged by the characters that are couples. You’ll wind up making liberal use of the pawn shop to exchange items across characters by selling and then re-buying the same item with another unit, and then will likely go get the said item repaired. It’s an unnecessarily convoluted system that mostly forces you to plan out who gets what item drops and when, so you don’t have to make additional stops at the pawn shop. While this system does introduce a stronger element of player planning, the tedium it creates is orders of magnitude greater than it honestly should be (which is likely why there’s nothing like this in modern Fire Emblem titles).

That being said, fans of Fire Emblem Awakening or Fates may greatly enjoy the fact that the game begins with one group of characters who then are forced to pass the banner of war to their children to finish the conflict. It’s an extremely interesting, and very ambitious game mechanic in changing your player characters that wasn’t utilized a lot in the mid-90s. What really sells Genealogy of the Holy War is that the pairings you made will affect the stats of the second generation’s characters, as well as their inventories and how much gold they have access to.

Genealogy of the Holy War is a Fire Emblem title that offers deep levels of customization, and it is one of the finest entries in the longstanding SRPG franchise. Of course, it can be difficult to play officially seeing as it never had a release in the West. Genealogy is one of those games that could easily stand up against the GBA Fire Emblem titles without a second thought, and a remake that reconfigures some of its mechanics to become more transparent, would easily make it a new favorite for a lot of players.

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