Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade

released on Mar 29, 2002

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a Japanese tactical role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. The game was released on March 29, 2002 in Japan, is the sixth game in the Fire Emblem series, and the first of three games in the series that have appeared on Nintendo's Game Boy Advance handheld. It was the last Fire Emblem game to be released exclusively in Japan until the release of Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem. The Binding Blade was followed by a prequel, Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, set twenty years earlier.

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I can't....I'm not....strong enough.....

At multiple points in my playthrough Gonzales had sub 20% hit rate but he's still my GOAT

I struggle to call Binding Blade a bad game, but I can’t really call it an amazing one either. I have both a lot to say about this game alongside absolutely nothing unique to remark on it. Maybe. I’ll do it anyway though.
Compared to the other FE reviews I don’t have much of a personal history with this one aside from knowing Roy as “the guy from smash” and trying the game on an emulator once. I dropped it after Bors died in less than one minute of gameplay because I was like “oh wow oh gee oh golly oh gosh this game really is as hard as they say!”
That’s not a hyperbole btw.
Anyway I gave the game a second chance after finishing FE7, this time with the Project Ember patch (which was a mistake) (don’t do that). Dropped it at Chapter 12 because I kept dying to the overpowered enemy units before eventually learning that PE copy pastes minibosses across the maps compared to the original. Oops! Started playing Genealogy of the Holy War instead and Binding Blade remained in the back of my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about that desire to finish it. Yeah ik the game kinda sucks but at the same time I want that satisfaction of saying I finished it alongside the fact I kept gatekeeping my FE pfps to exclusively games I finished/currently playing to completion (weird mind rabbit hole ignore it). So after I finished Genealogy I hopped on Engage while letting Binding Blade, this time the vanilla version starting up in the back burner. Yes I am clinically obsessed with Fire Emblem. How could you tell?
I finished this game before Engage too lmao. Ok let’s talk about the game now. Binding Blade is rough. This game barely functions correctly but that sort of gives it appeal. Maps are ok/mediocre/annoying, player units are ass, hit rates are less accurate than the Percy Jackson movie adaptations, the story is just ok blah blah blah. But also like, this game loops back into being entertaining because of it’s faults. Why out of all of these games, it’s FE6 that takes swordmasters, a class of dubious quality in basically any other FIre Emblem game, and transforms them into crit spamming dodge tanking Gods among men. Rutger is already a pretty good boss killer at base but the second you get him promoted his crit rate is increased by a guaranteed 30% which makes him nigh unstoppable for most of the game.
I’ll just use this to branch discussing player units into it’s own little paragraph here. FE6 player units are laughable. Like, hilarious. It’s not that this game doesn’t have good units but the bad units are just… really, REALLY bad. Both of the fighters you get early on are bad, the two unpromoted archers are bad, Gwendolyn (sadly) and her armor knight besties are bad, and don’t let me get started on Sophia. At the same time though…. that actually kinda adds to the density of this game, albeit unintentionally on the developers’ part. Because it’s entirely possible to make these trashy units viable if you try hard enough. Sophia, despite being one of the worst units in the entire franchise, CAN become actually adequate if you train her up and get stat blessed enough, which is insane. Same deal with Gwendolyn (see: Mekkah FE6 HM Ironman). Like, bad units in Fire Emblem games are fun because I like seeing how players can push them to their limits. This game is probably one of the best examples. I don’t have much to remark on the good units in comparison, but I do recommend Milady, Perceval, Rutger, Lilina (normal mode) etc.
Like for example Lilina is considered an ok-ish unit to many, but in my normal mode playthrough she became so incredibly stat blessed and dodge tanky that she was decimating most of the enemy spawns late game, to the point where I used her so much she hit the level cap after promotion. I’m sure other fans have had similar experiences, which adds to the discussion in a good way imo.
One major point of contention I have with this game is the ending system. To my knowledge this is one of the very few if not the only Fire Emblem games to have a secret hidden ending route with several chapters, and unlocking them here…. is not fun. At all. PLEASE use a guide when doing this. I’ve never seen an ending system that feels so counterintuitive to what the design philosophy of the series is. Requiring the player to keep so many specific units alive in a game where you can lose these units forever is bad design especially if they are required to see the ACTUAL ENDING OF THE GAME. On top of that, the gaiden chapters you unlock after fulfilling the requirements for each one aren’t good either. They’re long and boring. Despite having their own unique gimmicks they are probably the most uninteresting chapters in the game. To make matters worse, simply completing all these gaidens STILL isn’t enough, because if you break a single one of these (very limited usage) legendary weapons obtained from these chapters, that’s it. No true ending for you. Try again. Awful.
If you know about these requirements and use a guide beforehand, it’s manageable, but still really annoying. And that’s sorta just what this game is in general. Annoying. Enemy spam? check. Large maps? check. Same turn reinforcements? right here. Actually I’ve already said enough about the maps for now let’s talk about ambush spawns (same turn reinforcements). This is an awful mechanic. Adds nothing to the game. You could remove them and nothing of value would be lost. There’s no fun strategy or fun engagement to the concept of ambush spawns, simply having random enemies appear out of nowhere and immediately move the same turn is something completely out of the player’s control unless you know about them beforehand. It’s possible to mitigate many ambush spawns if you have prior knowledge (use a guide for chapter 21 I am begging you), but for the average player they don’t see any of this shit coming, It just happens. Thracia 776 also has many ambush spawns but that’s in a game where your player units are actually pretty durable and enemies are really weak so it somewhat balances out.
Difficulty. Chances are if you are involved in FE6 discussion online you’ve probably heard how this is one of the hardest games in the series. Uh… not really? Ok well the game certainly isn’t easy but it’s not necessarily impossible either. I think the game is moreso difficult at certain points, like chapters 7, 14, 21, 22 etc. A majority of the chapters post 7 are honestly pretty tame, annoying at worst. Chapter 24 can be kinda tough, but it’s also the best chapter in the game probably and it actually uses ambush spawns in a clever way for ONCE. I’ve also seen people call this game a “budget Thracia” or whatever, and I really have to ask: what? Thracia 776 is a hard game, sure, but that game is difficult for different reasons. Pardon if I’m incorrect on this because I haven’t played that game past chapter 2 currently, but Thracia is a hard game that gives you multiple tools to deal with it’s nonsense, which gives the game a sandboxy, creative appeal. You can’t really do that in Binding Blade. The game is hard because the enemy units are very strong while the player units aren’t. Even the most durable units can only withstand so much, they aren’t invincible. You really just have to hope for the best. Once again, there’s appeal to how imbalanced FE6 is, but the difficulty comparison to Thracia 776 is nonsensical.
That’s mainly what I wanted to talk about with this game. I know it was mostly negative but I still think the game is alright, but easily my least favorite in the series so far. It’s worth playing at least once to see the beautiful mess that was IS having their first go at a Fire Emblem game without Kaga, but the other GBA games are much better. I still like the game for it’s positives (graphics, music, character designs, the actually good maps), but I’m probably done with this game unless I play the “Plus” hack which actually looks pretty enjoyable. Also don’t be like Mister Magical Mage and play this game 776 times despite saying you hate it. I know what you are.

Starting my commitment to experiencing more FE with one of it's more challenging entries did a lot to help me appreciate the games more, as well as giving me fodder for why it needed to tone it down a couple hundred notches. This game will beat you into remembering it's systems. Every wrong move it's catastrophic, since party members are fragile and die for good. This is a playstyle I never even considered in new entries. The idea of losing out on the social element felt like ripping out a chunk of the game itself. That isn't how this game works, and it's honestly a great challenge and feels incredibly rewarding. That is when it isn't yanked away from you over and over again.
I know there are old FE heads who would like for the series to go back to it's brutal roots, but I just ain't one of them. Besides the aesthetics of the GBA, I felt absolutely fatigued from a lot of how this game manages itself. Hit rates are abysmal and just waste so much time. Having every single board sucker punch you with an ambush at the eleventh hour lost all effectiveness when it wouldn't have even been a problem had I not failed to hit the boss 3 TURNS in a row. Pair all that with the enemy incredibly effectively dogpiling a single unit like a school of piranha, and you just feel robbed over and over. Having to restart chapters that take well over an hour to get through, I just couldn't be bothered.
I've been saying this about a lot of series lately, but playing newer entries makes it real hard to go back. This game helped me internalize a lot of good habits with these games going forward, while giving a strong apprehension in going back.

Okay, I'm done with the unfunny one liner meme reviews since I actually finished the game on hard mode, and I have a fair bit to say.
FE6 hard mode is in a weird position. On the one hand, it's one of the most satisfying and rewarding experiences the franchise has to offer, but on the other, it can be an absolute nightmare. While the early game consists mostly of using Marcus to set up kills for your weaker units, it's also the part of the game where unit placement is most important. Even after you get Rutger, a trained Alen or Lance, Shanna and Dieck, most of your units are still going to be squishy, and unable to take too many hits. Unless you know the intricacies of the enemy ai, you're going to be playing extremely defensively and carefully if you want units to stay alive. Hard mode bonuses in the earlygame are absolutely monstrous and most of your characters will get doubled, one rounded, have a chance of being crit or go down in two hits. On top of this, hit rates are at their shakiest at this time, and only grow marginally better as the game progresses, so you need to make a lot of risky moves. Chapter 7 on hard mode is probably the hardest map in the game, possibly one of the hardest in the series, and you need to keep Zealot alive (who, by the way, is the literal king of Ilia but the game never alludes to their importance until literally right before the chapter you need to have them alive in if you want to access its gaiden) if you want the good ending, unless you hate yourself and plan on going the Sacae route later on.
The balance is absolutely all over the place, but once your units start snowballing, the game is mostly smooth sailing, debatably easier than normal mode in some cases. Normal mode puts you into a mindset where you can train just about anybody and so you focus on building on all-rounded team. On hard mode, you need to prioritise specific units so that you have any chance of clearing waves of enemies naturally, I promoted Alen at level 15 in chapter 8, and wounded up with a Paladin with better stats than Perceval at base with hard mode bonuses and better weapon ranks after a few chapters of tossing iron and hand axes around, 10 chapters before their typical recruitment time. Needless to say, he carried hard. He got a bit blessed with his growths, not straying too hard from the averages, however. I elected to build his axe rank, and eventually I had an Armads wielding mounted unit. FE6 hard mode does give you ample opportunity to fight back against its unreasonable difficulty, whether it be intentional or not.
Map design generally isn't as bad as some make it out to be. There're absolutely some stinkers, like the infamous chapter 14, the gaiden chapter right after, a few early game and late game maps, but it's ultimately not too offensive. There're times that I feel the devs were trying to make a Thracia map, with a ton of enemy status stave users, but without there being enough restore staves or status staves at your own disposal to fight back with. It's evident that IS was a bit lost without Kaga, as FE6 ultimately feels like Thracia but heavily pulled back to accomodate a handheld experience, lacking what made the former game so great to begin with - stuff like the aforementioned abundance of status staves, capturing, skills, etc.
I like the story far more than I remember, though it definitely feels unfinished. Calling it "archanea again" feels like doing it a disservice, as there's quite a bit that differentiates it and gives it its own identity, in spite of the borrowed tropes, as a well as a bit of role reversal. Zephiel is actually a really interesting antagonist with a backstory that justifies his motives and actions. He's an utterly mentally broken man who, in his many attempts to appease his father in his youth as a hard working, caring boy, was only met with disdain and attempts on his life, and grew into a nihilistic misanthrope as a result. He's not necessarily evil, but he's definitely far gone, and there are at least moments where a little of his remaining humanity is able to shine through. It definitely feels like a bit of a rough draft for Lyon's character in Sacred Stones two games later, and fleshing him out in a potential remake could elevate him to one of my favourite antagonists in the franchise. I won't go into too much more detail, but the general issue with Binding Blade's story and characters is that while what's there is good, there simply isn't enough of it. Characters who should have great agency in the plot remain totally silent after they join you, save for Elffin. At least a quarter of the cast actually has some story revelance, but they're unfortunately relegated to being mostly total nobodies unless you read their supports, or go off what the game tells you about them prior. The Etrurian generals, Lilina, Melady, Fae, Zealot, Zeiss, Sophia and Igrene all should have had at least a little to say given their connections to either Bern, the ongoing war, or the relationship between humans and dragons, and the Scouring. Like, why the hell is Merlinus the one who talks the most in cutscenes? Sure, I guess he's Roy's only advisor until Elffin shows up but he ultimately comes off as a comic relief character. Brunya gets criminally little screen time, too, despite coming off another interesting character with alliegence to Zephiel.
Anyway, the game is actually alright. It's not amazing, and there's honestly quite a few bullshit moments that make you want to like it considerably less, but it's totally serviceable at the end of the day. This was the game to establish GBA FE's animations and presentation too, which is a pretty big thing going for it. I'd probably sound like a parrot talking about how good the animations are though, since that's been done to death already.

Some maps are complete ass but overall a really cool experience, really wish we had another game taking place in Elibe