When Kenta Nakanishi lost his father at a young age, among the possessions left behind was a copy of Fire Emblem Gaiden, the 1992 sequel to Intelligent Systems' tactical role-playing game. The save file was still intact, although the manual was missing. Understandably, the game would go on to be of special importance for Nakanishi.
"Back then I'd be playing it and thinking of him. Fire Emblem Gaiden means a lot to me because of this, and I've played it through many times," he recalls. Fire Emblem Gaiden is, for many, a curio thanks to its never having been released outside of Japan. It's also an offshoot - the word Gaiden is often taken to mean side-story in Japanese - that featured systems and ideas never to be repeated in the series. For Nakanishi, though, it's something much more resonant.
Which might be why Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia, a revisitation of Gaiden that's been directed by Nakanishi in his role at Nintendo, feels like more than a remake. It's an embellishment, working in new artwork, new systems and an exquisite level of production to the Famicom original, yet it's also remarkably faithful to a game that still stands apart from other Fire Emblems. For Nakanishi, it's a chance to go back and fill in some of the blanks.
"Despite playing it so much, the story and the characters' personalities didn't leave much of an impression on me - at that time a game's story was mainly included in its manual, and I didn't have the manual for Fire Emblem Gaiden when I was playing. With more recent Fire Emblem games, more and more people are playing because they enjoy the stories and the relationships between the characters."
Shadows of Valentia folds in many of the mod cons introduced by the likes of Fates and Awakening - it's fully-voiced, while character art is expertly handled by anime illustrator Hidari - yet does away with many of the core features. There's no romance, and the weapon triangle that's been at the heart of Fire Emblem's combat for so many years has been completely excised.
"One of the goals with this game was to let people who were only introduced to Fire Emblem from Awakening onwards enjoy the older games of the series, so basically we made the game without changing the core mechanics of Fire Emblem Gaiden. The weapons triangle actually doesn't match well with the design of this game, and if we were to do it," explains Nakanishi, "we would have needed to do things like add axe characters to Alm's army, or give some types of soldiers the ability to have multiple weapons. If we did that though, it would end up being too different from the original Fire Emblem Gaiden, so we decided not to implement it.
"As for the support system, if we allowed marriage then it would affect Alm and Celica's story, so we didn't include that system. However, the support conversations themselves are helpful for learning more about the relationships between characters, so we have implemented that in this game."
It's very much a more vintage flavour of Fire Emblem, then, so the timing is curious - coming towards the end of the 3DS' lifespan and just as Nintendo's Switch makes it first strides, Shadows of Valentia is both a brief pause to look back at the series' history and a chance to clear up some unfinished business before Fire Emblem takes its next big step.
"There were still things we wanted to do on Nintendo 3DS," says Hitoshi Yamagami, Shadows of Valentia's producer at Nintendo. "At the point we started development for this game, it was still too early to start development for Nintendo Switch, and yet too late to make a brand new game for Nintendo 3DS considering we would later be working on a game for Nintendo Switch. That makes the choice pretty clear, right? [laughs]"
"After development on Fire Emblem Fates finished, Intelligent Systems came to us saying that there were a number of things they weren't able to do in Fates, and that they wanted to make another game for Nintendo 3DS. Unfortunately, this was right around the time when we were starting to think about the new game for Nintendo Switch. We discussed what would be possible to make in the short time until the development of the new game for Nintendo Switch really starts, and we decided it would be best to work on a remake instead of a brand new title."
It's a swan song of sorts for Fire Emblem on the 3DS (although it's worth remembering that Fire Emblem Warriors, the musou spin-off, will also be releasing on the handheld later this year), and a chance to say farewell to the hardware that helped revive the series. As famously noted in an Iwata Asks interview between the late president of Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem was considered a series on its way out before Awakenings revived its fortunes. After Echoes, though, there's set to be a retooling of the series when it lands on Switch next year.
"I'm very happy that we were able to announce a new game for the home console, Nintendo Switch," says Intelligent Systems' Masahiro Higuchi. "I'm confident that the gameplay of Fire Emblem hasn't lost anything by being on handhelds such as Game Boy Advance, Nintendo DS or Nintendo 3DS. By returning to a home console though, we can deliver a title with a level of quality higher than on a handheld not only in terms of game system, but also in terms of graphics and audio too."
"Personally, I want to play Fire Emblem games on a TV screen, because I want to enjoy the impressive graphics and audio," adds Yamagami. "I have a bit of a thing about making the games for home console; it was actually me who got the Fire Emblem series to make the jump from Game Boy Advance to GameCube and Wii! But modern players are busy, and it's hard for them to play strategy games, where you need to think carefully, if they have to do it at home and in front of the TV. So for 10 years we have made the games for handhelds.
"In that sense, by developing for Nintendo Switch, we can give players the option to enjoy playing on a home console on a big screen, as well as being able to play anywhere they like on a handheld, which is great for today's busy users. I think it's the ideal console for the Fire Emblem series."