Looking back, Binding Blade marked a massive turning point in the series, as Intelligent Systems were faced with the challenge of continuing the Fire Emblem series without its creator, Shouzou Kaga.
At the time, Binding Blade was first envisioned as a Nintendo 64 title known as “Maiden of Darkness“. However, for largely unknown reasons, development was halted and resources shifted to a GameBoy Advance entry instead.
With such a turbulent development history behind it, just how much has Binding Blade changed since its early days?
Designing the Boxart
To start with, we have three black and white sketches showing how Binding Blade’s box art changed over time.
The first sketch of the box art already looks vaguely similar to the final product, suggesting that the artists had a clear vision. I should also point out how Binding Blade’s box art is visually similar to Shadow Dragon’s box art.
Interestingly, the characters are labelled in this sketch only, possibly as a reference for the illustrators tasked with finalising and colouring the artwork (often, there are separate people doing the sketches and the final artwork).
From right to left: (around the centre) Roy, Lilina, Wolt, Ellen, Zeiss, Dieck, Wade, Marcus, a General, Sue, Chad, (in the skies) Shanna, Zeiss, Zephiel, Idoun.
From what I can read of the comments, Lilina’s initial placement was too small and they didn’t like the thunder coming from her hands. Therefore in the final version, she’s the next largest and prominent character next to Roy.
Meanwhile, it was suggested that Zephiel and Idoun’s colours be toned down to make them blend in more with the background. That way, the pair appear less obtrusive and more ominous, like good villains should.
By the second iteration, Roy’s soldiers have been re-positioned so it looks like they’re charging towards the enemy mage casting magic in the background. By doing this, the boxart gives the impression of a real battle at foot.
Some of the characters were also changed. Poor Wade is nowhere to seen, Ellen got replaced with Clarine (or a lookalike) and there’s a new Cavalier (Allen?) charging forward to the far left.
For the third sketch (close to the final), Roy’s pose was reverted to its original version, rather than the official art pose used in the second sketch. No reason was given, but presumably this setup allowed more space for Lilina.
One more thing: In all three sketches, the game is stated to be “1~2 player” instead of 1~4 player like in the final release. The multiplayer mode in the final game is already very bare-bones, so it’s hard to imagine it being even more limited!
Evolution of Roy
Moving on from the box art, we have three pages showcasing the evolution of Roy’s design.
To the far right of the first page is the so-called “illusive Ike Sketch”. Early on, when voice recordings first started for Super Smash Bros. Melee, Roy was known as “Ike”.
At this stage, “Ike” had no distinguishing features; his collar, shoulder pads, cape and long boots were all fashion assets belonging to other Lords in the series (namely Sigurd, Seliph and Leif).
Presumably the sketch to the top-left is one of the first sketches of “Roy”. Now he has his signature red hair, jeweled chest plate and Sword of Seals in its scabbard.
In the remaining sketch from this page, we see a lot of vigor injected into Roy, with his happy expression and wild, bushy hair. This was done to reflect his energetic appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee, which was in development around the same time.
On the next page, the energetic Roy has been refined and finally coloured in, ready for Binding Blade’s public debut at August 2001’s Space World.
Eventually, days before Melee launched in Japan, the developers decided to adjust Roy’s design, giving him a more serious and taller appearance.
In fact, Roy’s design was finalised a day before Melee’s Japanese release (21st November 2001). However, this design wasn’t shown to the public until January 2002, two months before Binding Blade’s release.
Below Roy’s final design are illustrations showing Roy’s different appearances in the game itself.
No context is given, except for comments about Roy having different hairstyle and clothes. So it’s not clear if it’s showing another evolution of Roy’s designs or scrapped costumes from the game.
Weapon Triangle Revamp
Over on the next page, there are multiple areas of interest tightly squeezed together.
Having appeared in two games prior, there were detailed plans to revamp the weapon triangle in Binding Blade.
The triangle itself was the same (sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword). However, depending on the weapon type with the advantage, the character would receive a special combat bonus.
- If wielding a sword against an axe: guaranteed double attack.
- If wielding a lance against an sword: always strike first
- If wielding an axe against a lance: negates enemy’s Defence
Additionally, if an unpromoted unit was facing a promoted unit, the unpromoted unit’s weapon triangle advantage would be negated because of the promoted unit’s superiority.
While these proposed changes were very novel, they were perhaps too radical and unbalanced. For instance, a bulky lance-wielding General could be toppled in seconds with an axe.
On the same page is an early flowchart used to plan Binding Blade’s story.
The developers open by describing Binding Blade’s story as a “monomyth”, which is a form of story where a young hero travels to another land to overcome an ordeal and eventually returns as a great man.
In order to express this theme, the story was divided into two distinct parts; Chapters 1-12 focused on the hero’s “adversity”, while Chapters 13-24 moved towards the “counter-offensive”.
Within these two parts were multiple sub-phases. Chapters 1-3 were the “introduction” phase, where the hero escapes captivity and crosses the national border only to find his hometown in ruins.
Chapters 4-8 detailed a “life on the run”, with the hero attempting to gather support for his cause, eventually culminating in Chapter 8 where he has a fateful reunion with his allies.
The hero finally overcame the “adversity” in Chapters 9-12, the “search for a new home”. In this phase, it seems the hero travels to new lands and, after many battles, becomes crowned king.
So far, this version of the story closely follows the monomyth. Although it’s worth noting that many of the details are different to the final product, like the hero’s town in ruins and his early coronation.
That said, some of the details are vaguely similar, such as the reunion (with Lilina) and the expedition to new lands (the Western Isles).
After some thought, the escape portion from Chapters 1 and 2 may have been attributed to Guinevere instead and the “town in ruins” in Chapter 3 is thematically similar to a certain character’s death.
The latter half of the story, the “counter-offensive” part is largely familiar territory and leaves less room for imagination.
Chapters 13-16 featured the restoration of Etruria and the fall of the first enemy general, Chapters 17-20 covered the liberation of Ilia and the demise of the second enemy general, while Chapters 21-24 heralded the end of Bern.
Next is a chart showcasing an early version of Binding Blade’s chapter structure. Together with the flowchart, a great deal of things can be deduced.
Note: Kirokan’s version of this analysis can be found at Kantopia.
|1||Dawn of Destiny||Valley||Lord, Cavalier, Paladin, Archer, Knight|
|2||Escape||Checkpoint||Priest, Thief, Myrmidon*|
|3||To the West||Flat town (ruins)||Cavalier, Fighter*, Fighter|
|4||Under Bern’s Reign||Coast||–|
|5||(A Mysterious Girl)||Mountain with many forests||Mage|
|6||Battle for Whose Sake||Plains with many forests||Nomad, Nomad|
|7||The Price of Betrayal||Within a large town||Troubadour, Myrmidon|
|8||The Reunion||Castle interior (many chests)||Priest|
|9||In Search of New Land||Coast (landing battle)||Mage, Knight, Pegasus Knight, Nomad|
|10||Legendary Berserker||Search for enemy (fog, river)||Fighter|
|11||For Independence||Town||Dancer, Cavalier|
|12||Birth of a King||Castle interior||Myrmidon|
|13||The Rescue Plan||Island||Paladin, Shaman|
|14||The Sword that Vanquishes Darkness||Desert||–|
|15||Whereabouts of Truth||Oasis town||Wyvern Rider, Hero, Archer, Cavalier|
|16||Restoration of Etruria||Castle interior (big castle)||Manakete, Bishop|
|17||Challenging Bern||Coast||Pegasus Knight|
|18||The Winter General||Forest and frozen river||–|
|19||Snowy Mountain Ascent||Snow mountain||Sniper, Sage|
|20||The Liberation of Ilia||Castle interior||General, Falcon Knight|
|21||Decisive Battle||Plains (all-out war)||Wyvern Lord|
|22||Final Gambit||City interior (town surrounded by city walls)||–|
|23||The Dragon Temple||Temple interior||Sage|
|24||Beyond the Darkness||Last boss map||–|
* These units have an arrow between them indicating they were swapped.
Looking at the chapters, only Chapters 1, 8, 13, 16, 20 and 24 retain the same name in the final version. Of these chapters, all except Chapter 24 (which is off by one) have the same chapter number as well.
From this, we can infer those six chapters were probably the most vital chapters–the ones that form the backbone of the game–and thus were changed very little.
Despite the different chapter names, the general flow was very similar to the final release going along the A routes (Lalum and Ilia). You can even check the chapter maps to see how they compare.
Since the B routes (Elphin and Sacae) do not appear in the chart and appear in the game code after the final chapter, it’s possible they were thought of afterwards. Same with the sidequest chapters.
In terms of units, sadly no names were given, simply classes. Presumably, the developers thought of the classes they wanted in each chapter first, before designing the characters.
Numbers-wise, there are a lot less units to recruit (40 versus 54) and a lot less promoted units (9 versus 15) compared to the final release.
In the Q and As section on the Path of Radiance official site, the developers explained that they were aiming for female units for every class, which likely increased the unit total.
As for the actual units, there are too many changes to list, so I’ll just mention the most notable ones (you can compare with the recruitment list for the rest).
Firstly, the protagonist’s initial entourage only had one Cavalier; the second Cavalier may have joined in Chapter 3 instead.
Speaking of things missing, there were no Mercenaries, but three Myrmidons. However, there was still a recruitable Hero, so maybe Myrmidons promoted to Heroes?
Similarly, there were no Bandits and instead a third Fighter who joined in Chapter 10, possibly Geese or Gonzales.
Besides this, there were three Nomads (instead of two and one Nomad Trooper) recruited as early as Chapter 9.
Then we have two mysterious Sages who joined in Chapters 19 and 23. In the final release, no Sage joins your party except in the Trial Maps.
Judging by the joining time, the Chapter 19 Sage was most likely Niime (a Druid in the final version), but who was the Chapter 23 Sage and why did they join so late?
Since the draft version of Chapter 23 was where you fought the King of Bern, the final Sage must have been a Gotoh-like character like Athos. Of the known characters, only Yodel (a Bishop in the final version) seems to fit the bill.
Lastly and perhaps most significantly, there was a Wyvern Lord who joined in Chapter 21. Like above, no Wyvern Lord joins your party during the campaign.
However there is an enemy Wyvern Lord, Gale, who would’ve been a prime candidate to join Roy’s army. Not to mention he’s also encountered in Chapter 21.
Below the chart is a very cryptic footnote that, to the best of our knowledge, reads:
If the girl “Aigir” is left in Chapter 8, [she] appears as the Chapter 12 Paladin.
Unfortunately, with the limited context, it’s very difficult to figure out what the footnote means, let alone suggest.
Looking at Chapter 12 in the chart, no Paladin is listed, so the footnote is probably not referring to a playable Paladin–is it referring to a boss then? Or a NPC?
Moving backwards to Chapter 8, that’s the chapter where Roy retakes Ostia in the final game and possibly in the draft as well.
This is just my wild guess, but could Aigir be the predecessor of Lilina and a NPC Paladin? Perhaps it’s a throwback to Nyna the Paladin? Actually, there’s a recruitable Paladin in Chapter 13, which could be Aigir joining the party if she survives Chapter 12.
Map of Elibe
At long last, we come to the world map for Elibe (Ereb in the Japanese version). By this stage of development, the map strongly resembles the one we know and love.
Note: Kirokan’s version of this analysis can be found at Kantopia.
The only difference is the existence of the island of “Cos” south of Lycia, before Blazing Sword introduced it as “Valor”.
Of note, like the first boxart sketch, a lot of character names are labelled on specific locations of the map. Because no explanation is given, it’s hard to say whether the locations are where the character are recruited from or where they hail from.
However the three Pegasus Knight sisters all located from East Ilia is just one of many signs that the locations indicate the characters’ homeland. Under this assumption, there isn’t much that looks out of the ordinary.
Although for some reason Bartre’s name seems to appear in both the Western Isles and Sacae. It’s not known if Bartre possessed dual-nationality or if one of those names is simply one that looks very similar to “Bartre”.
There are also a few unknown characters, such as “Jan” and “Bor” from Central Ilia, a vaguely scribbled name in Fibernia and another blurry scribble in Roy’s entourage.
Otherwise, it’s interesting to note that Douglas originally came from Bern, Oujay and Lalum from North Nabata, Chad from the Western Isles and Garret from Cos.
In addition, Lilina was apparently known as Lilia (later reused for Reyson and Leanne’s deceased sister) and Elphin and Mildain were separate characters.
To finish off this surprisingly long article, enjoy some artworks of Roy’s Sword of Seals and three dragon designs.