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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Truly baffled as to why this was recommended to me so highly. I love the other GBA FE games, as well as Tellius and FE4, and I heard so many people gas this game up and recommend it as the peak of this era of FE. On the contrary, this is my least favorite FE game that I have played. Painfully bland characters, mediocre maps, absurd requirements for actually fighting the final boss, horrible ambush reinforcements and worst of all are the bosses. Too many instances of bosses with 30+ crit rates, making them effectively a coin flip at the end of the chapter. Having your ooin flip to combat them with Rutger is very little consolation, I had to reset at the very end of a chapter due to the boss getting a lucky crit too many times. Just obnoxious while offering nothing to bring me back to it over another FE game. Do not play this on original hardware like I did, at least not on a first playthrough, because this game is so full of garbage, unfair bullshit you could never properly prepare for without prior knowledge of the game forcing you to reset. Play on an emulator and savestate every turn. I am not joking, it really is that bad.

I liked this game a lot except for the hit rates, that’s about it

i'm at the last few chapters of my current replay, and i'm not too sure i'm going to finish it so i'll just log it now.
the binding blade is an oddity. it's the first fire emblem after the departure of series head shouzou kaga as well as the 2nd version of what would eventually become fe6 and both facts seem very apparent. the map design is either bland and empty, cluttered and awful, or an odd mix of both and the only map in this game i can actually say i had fun playing was chapter 17 on the sacae route. between the engine for the gba titles not being as refined as in 7 or 8 and the entire game just being seize chapters playing the game is entirely an act in tedium and time wasting. i know the sacae route is worse than ilia but i really did want to give it a shot if only because not a single map in the game is appealing to me and i at least wanted something new to keep me occupied.
something especially frustrating/silly about binding blades maps has more to do with blazing blade, which on one hand realizes that the sacae maps in 6 weren't that good and avoided redoing them at all costs just for one of the worst ones to rear its ugly head again in engage but also brings back some of the least interesting maps with either minor/no iteration, and in the case of the laus chapter iteration that makes it even less fun to play. no idea how that happened.
well if the actual gameplay part is unsalvageable, at least a good narrative can make something at least somewhat worthwhile. too bad binding blade decides to just give us neither!
the story is mostly just the broad strokes of interesting ideas that had a lot of potential, but the execution makes it all so painfully boring. in a game with some of the absolute best side characters and even main characters, there is absolutely zero excuse for the main story to be taken over almost entirely by roy and fucking merlinus, neither of whom are very interesting and compelling within the main narrative of the binding blade.
characters like elffin and guinivere and lilina are either good and interesting or at least have the potential to be, but outside of a few chapters around their introduction lines that could've gone to them just go to merlinus unless the devs actively thought "it would be weird if merlinus knew/said this so let's have one of the other guys do it" and it is so deeply frustrating. despite the story starting out as roy retaliating against potential bern invasion to lycia, it quickly becomes much more about roys army assisting etruria on the western isles and ultimately the story that takes up the most of the games chapters is the etrurian army vs bern army, which makes the fact that elffin and guinivere don't get much very frustrating. i would've loved a fire emblem game focused on these two if only because i enjoy their characters and a refresher/mage lord duo is a really cool concept, and more fire emblem games focused on both sides of a warring continent is something i'd love done well more often. i'd hate to see games like genealogy or thracia skipped in terms of remakes, but i hope that when/if we get around to binding blade that they can take what's here and iron out the issues because between a theoretical main cast of roy/elffin/guinivere (with more of a grasp on writing) and the entire conflict with zephiel could be really good, but part of me doesn't think they'll do an echoes style overhaul for a story that was held back for reasons other than hardware.
the binding blade is a game that ultimately has a lot of potential, but falls short of reaching most of it. the cast is stellar once you get past 80% of the early game characters, but it makes such little use of it that you'd be forgiven for thinking it had one of the weaker groups. gameplay isn't much better either, with it hands down having my least favorite maps in the series to the point where i'd take cindered shadows or celica's route in echoes over them any day. i mostly just went back to this one because elffin is in it and he's my favorite character in the franchise and as of now he isn't really recognized as important enough to get any content outside of his game, and i can't really say i feel like i used my time well. i know a lot of people like this one, but in pretty much every aspect you'll find that other games in the series do it much better.

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.