All Fire Emblem Games Ranked From Worst To Best


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Fire Emblem Engage's cast.

Fire Emblem is a lot like Pokémon: After you’ve played one main title, you’ve more or less played them all. But some anime chess simulators are more robust experiences than others.

We’re not ranking all the Fire Emblem games. Some titles in Nintendo’s tactical RPG series never made it out of Japan (RIP Binding Blade and Genealogy of the Holy War). We’re also excluding the odd spinoffs and musou titles. Comparing wildly different styles of gameplay feels unfair. And it feels kind of unfair to include the free-to-play mobile game Heroes, which has gotten years of constant updates. We are ranking mainline Fire Emblem games only.

And look, I would have loved for this to be an all-inclusive list of staff opinions. It turns out, only Ethan Gach and I are masochistic enough to spend countless hours moving anime soldiers back and forth across dozens of maps. But we also have the best tactical RPG opinions at Kotaku, so you’re still in good hands.

So here’s the list, from worst to best:

Marth, Ogma, Caeda, and Minerva fight against an army.

Originally released in 1990 for the Famicom, series progenitor Blade of Light wasn’t localized until decades later when it was finally ported to Switch (for a limited time only, cause Nintendo gonna Nintendo). Following Prince Marth’s journey to reclaim his throne, it’s where the Fire Emblem games and their fantasy worldbuilding got their start, but as an NES game it remains a pretty barebones experience overall. No weapon triangle. No side relationships. A charming retro curio and interesting historical artifact, but definitely the weakest game in the series.

Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood.

2003’s Fire Emblem (or The Blazing Blade in Japan) for the Game Boy Advance was the first title that was officially localized for a western release. And that’s where I have to knock it. We’ve let our nostalgia-colored lenses obscure the fact that it’s just a decent game. Later entries would go on to massively improve the gameplay systems and give us more memorable characters. I completed Blazing Blade after playing the modern games, and it’s hard to get over how stubbornly linear the experience was. This game was difficult for reasons having to do with resource management rather than tactical acumen. Blazing Blade is a title that I seldom revisit.

Ephraim and Erika stand in front of a backdrop of Lyon.

Another GBA entry that followed closely after The Blazing Blade, The Sacred Stones has all of the strengths and weaknesses of that game, but the plot feels more cohesive. I found the relationship between central royals Eirika, Ephraim, and Lyon to be far more compelling than the protagonists of the previous game, since it builds up to a betrayal with intimate and personal stakes. Infinite skirmishes also ensure that none of your weaker units are accidentally left behind. The game also introduces the concept of shopping from the world map, rather than forcing you to send a unit off to shop in the middle of a grueling battle (no thank you, Blazing Blade).

Micaiah blasts a dragon rider with a spell.

The blockbuster sales of the Wii made it the perfect platform to introduce Fire Emblem to a whole new audience, but rather than give folks a nice, accessible entry point, instead Intelligent Systems delivered one of the more brutal games in the series history. A direct sequel to 2005 GameCube entry Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn follows three separate groups of fighters and, in trying to cover so much ground, never quite finds its footing. The good: Path of Radiance’s mercenary hero Ike returns and dark magic is back. The bad: no real support conversations and lots of junk characters. There’s still plenty to love in Radiant Dawn but it’s too big and unwieldy for its own good.

Alears stand in front of their allies.

The series’ most recent entry for Switch boasts solid gameplay, but it’s hard to give Engage that much credit when there’s not really a Fire Emblem game with bad tactical gameplay. The characters are incredibly dull. The designs raise some eyebrows. The stories are so nonsensical that Ethan just told me to “put on a podcast” while I play. The customizability of the Engage system and the fun break system are really the only things that keep this game from being at the bottom of the barrel. But I implore you to love yourself: There are better Fire Emblem games out there.

Azura holds up a trident in the middle of the Nohr and Hoshido families.

2012’s Awakening for the 3DS was the game that saved the Fire Emblem series from being canceled by Nintendo. So it makes sense that with its follow-up, Fates, Intelligent Systems would want to build on elements that helped make Awakening such a success, extending the customizability of individual units and drastically expanding the marriage system. Unfortunately, they went too far. Characters had so many potential supports with one another that each one felt less impactful than the conversations from Awakening. Characters also felt less mechanically distinct, since the relationship system allowed you to reclass them as almost anything you wanted—or affect their stats in certain ways. Fates gave us absolute gameplay freedom and interesting maps at the cost of a coherent story. And for the love of god—please no more child marriage.

Alm and Celica stand in the center of Valentia's army.

Another 3DS entry, 2017’s Valentia doesn’t get much credit for the contributions that it made to future Fire Emblem games. This is where 3D exploration was polished up to what we would eventually see in Three Houses, and the increased base range for archers allowed them to have a more defined niche that set them apart from spellcasters. Mostly, I adored the painterly style that lent a fairytale quality to the story that Valentia was trying to tell. A remake of 1992’s Fire Emblem Gaiden for the Famicom, this is old-school Fire Emblem with modern polish, and it really deserves a Nintendo Switch rerelease (please).

Ike, Elincia, and Greil's Mercenaries are caught in a war.

The first console-based Fire Emblem in the U.S. and a GameCube game to boot, 2005’s Path of Radiance has a special place in fans’ hearts. The tale of Ike and his mercenaries fighting for justice on a continent at war is fully voiced and includes cutscenes. The transition to 3D graphics isn’t without its rough edges and pain points, but there are some nice features like bonus XP pools and automatic promotions that streamline the character progression. It’s well-balanced and one of the most complete packages in the entire series.

Dimitri, Claude, and Edelgard are centered with the Byleths.

Released in 2019 for Switch, Three Houses has the best storytelling and worldbuilding in the series. Rather than relying on tropes that have been established in Fire Emblem, this game is thoughtful about the history and politics that shape the continent of Fodlan into what it is. This entry introduced the ability to rewind time, but otherwise reused familiar mechanics from the series. What most players remember are the Persona-like social elements, which allow players to bond with characters in ways that go beyond merely partnering with them in battle. These small touches help expand Fodlan beyond the scope of the war, and reminded players that the child soldiers they sent into battle were individual human beings too.

The Shepherds attack downwards and "Marth" attacks upwards.

Over a decade after it was originally released, I’m confident that 2013’s Awakening for the 3DS is the best Fire Emblem game of all time. When I think of this series, there’s no other substitute to its thirteenth entry. Fates tried to emulate it by borrowing similar mechanics, but didn’t fully commit to the emotional stakes of its realms-traveling bullshit. Its main cast are so well-fleshed out in the main story that I still get emosh whenever I see the familiar outline of Arena Ferox, where our hero faced off against his mysterious and heroic “ancestor” for the first time, or when the melancholy chorus of the “Id (Purpose)“ track which accompanies the final boss battle rolls in. Awakening was originally meant to be a swan song for the series, and so the developers created a game that wouldn’t leave them with any “regrets.” And they succeeded. Unlike the grittier Three Houses, this 3DS title is unapologetic about fairytale idealism and its humanistic themes.

Unlike Three Houses, Awakening doesn’t try to reinvent anything. It’s unapologetic about the fact that Fire Emblem is a fairy tale at its core and tries to play to the traditional strengths of the series. Tragedies are married with triumph. Awakening introduced child units and the ability to choose who their first-generation parents were, which added a tactical dimension to the normally emotional affair of choosing which characters should marry. It’s also a tightly focused game, lacking the systems bloat of later titles that tried to stuff their worlds with ever-increasing amounts of content. Awakening was exactly what it needed to be at exactly the right time, accomplishing what it set out to do so well that it quite possibly saved the series in the process.

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