How it came to be
As an avid TV Tropes reader, I was looking through some pages about Fire Emblem. This time it was the subpage about Early Installment Weirdness: when the early parts of a series or show are radically different from the rest of it. There were entries about Gaiden and Binding Blade, among others, but the biggest section was about the very first game: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
The examples were fascinating; back then there was no magic stat, no silver axe, no steel lance, no constitution, no magic divide into anima/light/dark, no shamans, no sages, no rescue, no canto… It read like a completely different game. I’m not much of a fan of Kaga-era Fire Emblem, but this picked my curiosity. I wondered how such a game would play. I wasn’t interested in getting my hands on a copy of FE1, but there was something else I could do: hack one of the GBA games to mimic FE1’s gameplay.
At first I thought about hacking FE8 because it has the biggest amount of resources, but I realized that game has non-seize objetives, and in FE1 all objectives were seize. I couldn’t think of obvious ways to change the objectives without tearing apart the story, and I wanted to stick to FE1 as close as possible… so I chose FE6. I was aware the game is unstable and doesn’t have as many resources, but all objectives are seize AND the game is heavily inspired of FE1. I would regret that decision later on, but at the time I just got to work.
- There is no weapon triangle.
- Doubling threshold is 1 speed point instead of 4.
- There is only one magic type: anima.
- All units have 0 constitution. This means they can’t rescue (not even mounted ones), and all the weight of a weapon is subtracted from their speed stat like in FE1. Con can’t be increased.
- Magical units have 0 magic. This means that all the attack power comes from the tomes. Each staff heals a different amount of HP (Heal, Physic and Fortify 10, Mend 20, Tina’s Staff 15).
- There is no canto. Mounted units can’t move after an action.
- The following classes are absent: shaman, druid, sage, soldier, brigand, berserker, warrior, trobadour, valkyrie, falcoknight, myrmidon, swordmaster, wyvern rider, nomad, nomad trooper.
- The following classes have been added: hunter, horseman.
- The following weapons are absent: all the blades, slim sword, poison weapons, brave weapons, light brand, reaver weapons, wo dao, steel lance, slim lance, killer lance, silver axe, killer axe, halberd, killer bow, short bow, longbow, fimbulvetr, aircalibur, fenrir, bolting, lightning, divine, purge, flux, nosferatu, eclipse, runesword, spear, tomahawk.
- The following staves are absent: rescue, restore, silence, sleep, torch, berserk, unlock.
- Elixir, Torch, Chest Key, the colored gems and the Body Ring are absent.
- Levin Sword has been added. Unfortunately, it’s not possible to mimic the part where it ignores user’s strength. Now it’s an OP weapon. It still can’t be used by generals, though.
- The remaining weapons now have the stats they had in FE1, except the Devil Sword which has 20 weight to avoid a softlock bug. Dragonstones are also different, only boosting defense.
- Terrain movement costs and bonuses have been adjusted to mimic FE1. It wasn’t possible to replicate the flat HP recovery, sadly.
- Legendary weapons have 30 uses now, except the Binding Blade which has 60. I always thought 20 was far too low.
- Aureola, Apocalypse and Forblaze have been given more might in order to surpass Aura with its ridiculous 20.
- Legendary weapons have halved weight (rounded up) to make up for the lack of constitution.
- Maltet now has 1-2 range like Gradivus.
- Chapter 22 has removed the wall next to the throne room to create a shortcut.
- Fog of War has been removed.
- Chapters 15 and 16 now have Western Isles music.
- Chapter 17 Ilia now has Ilia music.
- Chapter 23 now has “Path to Greatness” playing on player phase.
- Treasure that didn’t exist in FE1 has been replaced with treasure that did exist.
- Resistance cap is 7. Nobody (except a select few) has innate res, and res growths are zero across the board. The only way to increase it is via a talisman, pure water or barrier staff.
- Stat boosters have been adjusted to their FE1 power level (overpowered).
- Stat caps are 20 for every stat and every class, except HP of course.
- Recruitable enemies have randomized stats based on autoleveling, except luck which is fixed (I couldn’t find a way to randomize it without giving every enemy a luck growth).
- Milady is now a promoted Lv 10 wyvern knight with 47 HP, 18 str, 15 skl, 16 spd, 18 def and 9 luck. A rank in both swords and lances. In normal mode. I made this change partly because she’s my favorite character and partly because these stats are more fitting for the bodyguard of the princess of Bern. “But now she’s even more broken!” Deal with it.
- Trial maps have been extensively tinkered with. Enemy composition, levels and inventory have been changed to try and give a challenging experience.
- Garret and Gonzalez are Pirates now (Berserker and Brigand classes didn’t exist).
- Bartre is a Fighter now (Warrior class didn’t exist).
- Rutger and Fir are Mercenaries now, like Navarre (Myrmidon class didn’t exist).
- Clarine is a Curate now (Troubadour class didn’t exist).
- Sue and Shin are Hunters now (Nomad class didn’t exist).
- Karel is a Hero now (Swordmaster class didn’t exist).
- Dayan is a Horseman now (Nomad Trooper class didn’t exist).
- Niime and Cecilia are Bishops now (Druid and Valkyrie classes didn’t exist).
- Raigh and Sophia are Mages now (Shaman class didn’t exist).
- Juno is a Wyvern Knight now (Falcoknight class didn’t exist).
- Zeiss is a prepromoted Lv 1 Wyvern Knight now (unpromoted Wyvern Rider class didn’t exist).
- Pegasus Knights promote into Wyvern Knights.
- Mages promote into Bishops.
- Knights and Pegasus Knights can use lances AND swords.
- Generals can only use swords.
- Hard mode bonuses have been reduced.
- Fae and some playable bow users have more strength now in order to make up for their weaker weapons.
- Roy doesn’t promote.
- Because some units have a different class, their palette can look… weird. Sorry if they make you cringe. I tried to improve some of them, but I’m not good at it. ^_^’
- Garret’s group spawns 1 turn later in chapter 15.
- The desert bandits spawn 1 turn later, including all waves of reinforcements.
- Breakable walls have 50 HP instead of 100, except for the ones in the Maltet gaiden which always had 40.
Features from FE1 that couldn’t be implemented
- Thieves not being able to steal from enemies
- Randomized luck on recruitable enemies
- 4-slot inventories
- Give command instead of Trade
- Healers not getting exp from healing. I decided that it would be awful gameplay-wise because they wouldn’t gain staff rank either and could never use the better staves. This doesn’t happen in FE1 because staff rank is gotten through combat, randomly.
- Skill adding itself to hit rate (in FE6 it’s mutiplied by 2)
- Speed increasing avoid by 1 point each (in FE6 it’s 2 points)
- Luck not increasing hit rate or physical avoid, instead increasing crit rate
- Weapon Level stat
- Enemies displaying how much EXP they’re worth
- Recruited enemies starting with the experience they had
- EXP earned from non-kills being determined by how much damage the player dealt
- EXP not scaling with unit level
- Universal 52 HP cap. I set it to 52 for all classes, but for some reason neither enemies nor playable units respect it. They go over it.
- Units entering the arena with their equipped weapon, and this weapon degrading there
- Arena payout being 10 times what the player bets
- Enemies gaining 3 HP, 1 str, 1 skl, 1 spd, 1 def, 1 weapon level every odd-numbered level after the first. This was mimicked by giving them a 150% growth in HP and 50% in everything else.
- Physic, Warp and Fortify staves having infinite range. I set them to infinite range, like Latona, but the game restricts them to 5 range. (Instances with 7 range have been seen, possibly as an effect of Apocalypse.)
- Unique animations for Swarm, Aura, Thoron and Bolganone. I assigned new ones, but the patch that allowed this created a battle softlock occasionally, so I sticked to vanilla animations.
- The storage system. In FE1 there’s a shop in some maps where you can store and withdraw items for a fee.
- Promotion gains. In FE1 the unit gets as many points in a stat as needed to reach the promoted class base stat, which means you gain 0 if your stat is that high or higher. In this hack (and vanilla FE6) the promo gains are equal to the difference between the two classes. This means Shanna and Tate lose some Skill and Speed upon promotion.
I played two full runs in Normal Mode, and balanced enemies on those experiences. Hard Mode is untested, so it might be horribly unbalanced. The last two trial maps are also untested because I couldn’t unlock them. Feedback is welcome.
I should have used FE8 as a base. With it the Levin Sword strength ignore and the universal HP cap would work, and perhaps other features could have been supported as well. I shouldn’t have gotten so caught up on the map objectives not being all seize, but when I had the realization, it was too late to quit. Oh well.
I have learned a lot, though. The simplicity of FE1 makes me appreciate how far Fire Emblem has come since 1990. I started with GBA where there’s a plethora of classes, weapons and mechanics that I took for granted, and to play something where they’re all absent is… well, weird! But charming, in a way. I’ve also realized how hard it is to balance a game and make it fun. It’s super easy to criticize Intelligent Systems when the game isn’t fun, but when you’re trying to fix it, it’s not as simple as it looked.
Special thanks to the folks at Discord who helped me iron out some bugs and features.
- Yoder, Zephiel and Idunn now have 7 resistance. Yoder to mimic Gotoh, the other two to provide a bigger challenge.
- Excalibur is Lugh only and Aura is Sophia only, instead of men only and women only. I was thinking of FE11, LOL.
- Devil Sword has a custom icon and not just the lancereaver’s.
- Fixed the Levin Sword ban on generals. I set it long ago but somehow the ban got lost, possibly during a bug fix.
- Excalibur is now unrepairable. Aura can still be repaired.
- Removed luck from the wyvern knights in Chapter 7 and the remaining generic enemies of the game.
- Removed the gems that some enemies have on them (gems didn’t exist in FE1). Stealable gems have been turned into gold that’s added to the player’s wallet when they open a chest in the same map or a nearby one. For example, the Red Gem is worth 3000 gold, so a chest can have 3000 on top of the money it already contained. Elphin has a Blue Gem and Lalum does not, so I halved the value in gold and added it to a chest in Chapter 12.
- Horsemen and Horsewomen no longer give absurdly high amounts of EXP (often 90+ points!).
- The Ridersbane is no longer effective against paladins. Just FE1 things.
- Fir now comes with an Iron Sword besides the Killing Edge.
- Gonzalez now comes with an Axe besides the Devil Axe.
- The mercenary with a Levin Sword in Chapter 18 Ilia is now 5 levels weaker.
- Roartz is now a Lv 17 Knight with a Levin Sword.
- The heroes with a Levin Sword in Chapter 22 are now 5 levels weaker.
- Karel now comes with a Wyrmslayer besides the Killing Edge.
- Scollan now has a Steel Axe instead of an Axe.
- Klein now comes with a Bow besides the Silver Bow. No White Gem; the 10,000 gold has been moved to a village.
- Chapter 17 Sacae: the wyverns have weaker weapons, the initial thief spawns closer to Roy’s army, and all thief reinforcements spawn 1 turn later. This is to make it easier to save the northeastern village, which has another Excalibur.
- Fixed the mages and bishops that had an unusable Excalibur or Aura. Now they have a proper tome.
- Hugh now comes with a Bolganone instead of an Elfire.
- Randy, the boss of Chapter 14, now has 3 less points of speed so that he doesn’t double with the Levin Sword as often.
- Fixed the bug where the arena pits bow users against melee users, with the latter not being able to retaliate.
- Fixed the text description for the Ridersbane.
- Fixed pegasus movement sounds.
- Bors has 5 more HP. He also comes with an Iron Sword as his second weapon.
- Shanna has 2 more points of strength.
- Buffed Wendy. Now she has 22 HP, 7 str, 7 skl, 6 spd, 11 def, 8 luck.
- Buffed Cecilia. Now she is Lv 5 with 30 HP, 15 skl, 15 spd, 10 def, 12 luck.
- Sophia has 5 more Skl to improve hit rates and make her easier to level up. She also now has Fire as her second tome.
- Barth has 7 more HP.
- Buffed Juno. Now she has 40 HP, 15 str, 14 skl, 16 spd, 15 def, 14 luck.
- Merlinus can move 1 tile farther every turn.
- Replaced a few of the bulkiest generic enemies in the Lycia arc with classes that have less defense. This is intended to make hard mode more tolerable.
- Severely nerfed hard mode bonuses. With a 150% HP growth and 50% in every other stat, enemies used to be absurdly OP. Now the bonuses are 2 for chapters 1-3, 3 for ch 4-6, 4 for ch 7-9, etc.
- Curates gain as much experience as vanilla FE6 again. I decided there was no point in gaining 1 exp per staff use when it’s impossible to mimic how curates work in FE1 to begin with. It was very slow to level them up for no gain.
- Lugh now comes with Fire as his second tome.
- Hugh now comes with a Thunder as his second tome.
- Removed Elphin’s 2500 from the chest in Ch 12 (from the 1.2 release) and instead added 5000 to the village in Ch 11 Bartre.
- Removed the Delphi Shield from the game. Turns out this kind of flier-protecting shields didn’t exist until FE3. Narcian now has a Dracoshield, like Michalis did in FE1.
- Support bonuses have been removed. The conversations remain, but stats aren’t buffed anymore.
- Removed the shortcut on the eastern part of Ch 3. It only benefited the enemy reinforcements and made it a slog to enter the castle. Now there’s a door that can be opened close to Lugh’s village, just like in Project Ember.
- Added breakable walls on Chapters 8, 11 Echidna, 12, 16 and 22.
- Replaced some of the desert tiles with sand tiles in Chapter 14, which have less movement cost.
- Replaced the cliffs on the center of Chapter 18 Ilia with woods and plains for easier traversal.
- Added a shortcut for non-fliers in Chapter 19 Ilia next to the western village.
- Added shortcuts in Chapters 8x and 21x, although they’re guarded by strong enemies.
- The enclosed bishop south of the throne room in Chapter 22 now has a stealable talisman.
- The Bowgun has a new icon, representing a crossbow.
- Oates has Forblaze, Windham has Aureola, and Tick has Maltet.
- Some classes had the sprites of another class when moving through the battlefield. Fixed.