Earlier in December, we finally learned the true nature of the cancelled Fire Emblem 64, courtesy of the Making of Fire Emblem.
However, as it turns out, there was another Fire Emblem game that never left development–one that we didn’t know existed up until now.
After Radiant Dawn, Intelligent Systems began prototyping another Fire Emblem game for the Nintendo Wii, simply referred to as the “Illusive Wii Title”.
What made this game stand out was that it was not a straightforward strategy RPG like previous Fire Emblems, but instead something closer to a traditional RPG and RTS (Real-time Strategy) game.
To start things rolling, the design documents for the game included illustrations of fantasy era backdrops; the first depicts a large, seaside kingdom and what appears to be a giant tree canopy in the distance.
The second illustration appears to show the tree canopy up close. It’s difficult to tell due to the low resolution of the image, but are those buildings or ruins spiraling around the central, larger tree trunk?
In any case, the presence of the giant trees is quite different to anything seen previously. Past Fire Emblems, despite being fantasy-based, were relatively down-to-earth with their locales.
Awakening fans, however, may recall the existence of the giant Mila Tree on the Valmese continent; is it possible the concept for the Mila Tree originated in this game?
Besides the illustrations, there were a handful of gameplay screenshots too; the above is taken from a market-like area in a location known as “Imperial Capital: Grisstal”.
Those who played Radiant Dawn have probably already noticed the familiar-looking trio present in the screenshots. Although we can only see their backs, those are clearly Ilyana, Stefan and… a generic Priest?
That said, it’s likely the character graphics are placeholders from Radiant Dawn, rather than the game being a follow up to Radiant Dawn.
For one, it’s easier to recycle assets for prototypes than create new ones that may not be used. Secondly, Grisstal doesn’t exist in Tellius and it’s extremely unlikely Ilyana and Stefan decided to abandon Tellius at any point in time.
Moving on, there are sketches of various city locations, with a strong emphasis on the design of the buildings and architectural details, such as the stone statues.
Other Fire Emblems focused primarily on the layouts of the battle map and rarely included concept art for cities and other civilian locations, outside of animated cutscenes.
Also factoring in the close perspective, all of this suggests that these locations could be explored by the player like in a traditional RPG.
More gameplay clues can be found in a diagram explaining the game flow.
During the “field” or “exploration” part of the game, players could freely explore, converse or battle with enemies.
Initially the camera follows behind the characters like a third-person action game. Players can adjust the viewpoint, zooming in close to the character’s head or zooming out to a distance standard to most RTS games.
Battles would occur when players came into contact with an enemy symbol, similar to traditional RPGs without random battles.
During battles, players could apparently control “multiple characters” like in Nintendo’s own Pikmin, hence the comparison to a RTS. Would characters attack automatically when in range of the enemy just like a RTS?
Oddly, the Wii remote is only shown featuring directional controls, despite Pikmin’s excellent use of the Wii remote’s pointer to control troops.
Then again, the controls for battle may be different to on the field; but at the same time it would strange to force the player to flip the Wii remote’s alignment mid-game.
Finally, we have a delightful example of a field. Within each field, there would be places such as villages, buildings and caves (dungeons) that players could enter.
Of note, it was expected that players would take 5 to 10 minutes to traverse the field from beginning to end, not factoring in battles. Perhaps fields would become longer and more complex as the game went on?
Although all of this sounds very exciting, it’s a sad–and likely inevitable–fact that the game was cancelled before it progressed any further.
At the time, Nintendo expressed disappointment with Radiant Dawn’s sales; in Japan, sales were below Path of Radiance, which itself sold a worrying amount by Nintendo’s standards.
So much that Nintendo outright told Intelligent Systems to stop developing Fire Emblem for home consoles.
The staff at Nintendo and others were saying things like “With such results, do not release another title on a home console.”
— Tohru Narihiro from the Making of Fire Emblem.
While this may sound harsh, the truth of the matter was that development costs–especially for console games–were soaring and Nintendo no longer needed Fire Emblem to be a system-seller.
Despite this, Intelligent Systems had their own interpretation of Nintendo’s warning. With the illusive Wii Fire Emblem, they attempted to “simplify” Fire Emblem to gain mass appeal.
It was true that the game did not sell too well, but I’m not quite sure what was meant by “do not release another title on a home console.” But, it changed our way of thinking. And so from then on, we assumed that it would be necessary to simplify the game on a home console in order to gain wider appeal.
— Tohru Narihiro from the Making of Fire Emblem.
In the end, a lack of motivation and aim caused the Wii project to be shelved in favour of other projects.
Update: The original article suggested that the Wii project was replaced by Shadow Dragon, but it turns out development was still proceeding up until around the time of New Mystery of the Emblem/Awakening.
As an aside, although Nintendo cautioned Intelligent Systems not to develop another console Fire Emblem, I personally don’t believe we’ll never see another one.
In the past, Intelligent Systems stated for the record that they believe Fire Emblem is best suited for home consoles and their only obstacle is convincing Nintendo and themselves that they can reach profitability.
This may become a bit of a long winded explanation, but the Fire Emblem games were originally released on the home consoles, right? Even though there have now been games released on the GBA, from our point of view, we strongly feel that the games are ideally enjoyed at one’s own pace, in front of the TV screen.
— Hitoshi Yamagami from an interview with Nintendo Dream in 2007.
Nowadays, the difference in performance between home consoles and portables is becoming increasingly harder to notice. In addition, there are rumblings that Nintendo’s next console, the NX, may be a console and portable hybrid.
With Fire Emblem as popular as it is now, a Fire Emblem for the NX is nigh guaranteed. So if the NX is indeed a console and portable, there’s still a glimmer of hope for fans awaiting a triumphant return to the big screen.