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Let's attempt to play Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War
Posted: Posted June 17th, 2017 by Famov

Hello folks! Knuckles gave me all of the encouragement I needed, and so I will be attempting to do something approximating a let's play. Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War is the fourth of fifteen entries in the long running series (as of June 2017), released in 1996 for the Super Famicom and as such does not have much of an international presence. It is the second to last game Shouzou Kaga developed for Nintendo and the last game Gunpei Yokoi ever produced before his death.

The goal of this project is not to neglect housework, though that is indeed an unfortunate side effect of what’s going on here. I happen to enjoy the occasional written let's play and I think that this game specifically lends itself well to the approach I'd like to take. If you bother to read this and come away not thinking that Intelligent Systems created something truly compelling then I will clearly not have done a very good job. This is the first of what I intend to be eleven parts. Constructive criticism is appreciated!

This Prologue is titled Birth of a Holy Knight.


The first thing we're introduced to when starting a new game is the Judgral Chronology. Judgral is the name of the fantasy continent where the events of the game will take place. The significance of these facts are not immediately evident, but it is worth pointing out that (at year 440) "Galle" refers to a man and "Loptyr" is a dragon god of sorts. There are a lot of dragon gods in Fire Emblem, and few are benevolent. Possessed of Loptyr, Galle overthrows the existing republic in favor of his own evil empire, only to be defeated by the twelve crusaders. The descendents of these heroes still rule Jugdral some one hundred years later, and that is when the game opens.

The heart of Judgral is Grannvale, and incidentally I should take this opportunity to mention that the names you occasionally see onscreen (usually on the map) will conflict slightly with the spelling I end up using. Nintendo of America has official names for most of these places, and the patch I'm using mostly reflects this.

In any case, Grannvale is home of six duchies that kneel before King Azmur in the conspicuously named Belhalla. Azmur is descended of Saint Heim, one of the crusaders. Each duchy is likewise each headed by one of these descendants.

From left to right we have Lord Ring, Lord Vylon, and Prince Kurth. Kurth is Azmur's son, and the effective king since his father is at an advanced age. It is said that Ring and Vylon are Kurth's closest advisers.

Naturally this doesn't sit well with everyone. Reptor is the lord of Freege, and both he and Langbart are political opponents of Ring and Vylon. The remaining lords of Grannvale include Arvis of Velthomer and Father Claude of Edda. Arvis is said to not care much for politics, and Claude is said to fear that something has gone amis throughout Judgral. He's not wrong, naturally.

The setup is this: Barbarians from the kingdom of Isaach, north-east of Grannvale, traveled across the Yied desert to lay siege to a Grannvalian town near the border. Reports of savagery led to a public outcry, and so the Grannvalian army mobilized to liberate the town and take the fight to Isaach. Most of the fighting men, along with their respective lords, are therefore not in Grannvale.

Sigurd is the son of Lord Vylon, and the player character. He was left home, and as such we don't get to see any of that action.

Sigurd will have his opportunity soon enough though. Verdane is yet another nation of so-called barbarians, and Prince Gandolf is leading the armies of Verdane up into the southwest corners of Grannvale. Having laid seige to Jungby castle, the nearest house of any significance is Chalphy. With Vylon gone, Sigurd is the lord of the castle.

He's obviously not having any of it, and hearing that his friend Lady Adean, the daughter of Lord Ring, is in trouble he sets out with what few men remain in Chalphy.

Adean is the one on the right, and the really pretty one is Midayle, her knight. Midayle is a man, not that you were able to tell.

Here the game is trying to tell you to save villages from roaming bandits, which is worth doing. Exactly why Alec here, the knight on the right, thinks it's incredibly insightful to suggest that they protect the citizens of the realm is anyone's guess. You can tell Sigurd is Sigurd because this is classic Fire Emblem and he has an amazing head of blue hair.

The toddler lying about his age is Oifey, who mostly exists to be a character you can't get killed. The thing with Fire Emblem is that any player character aside from the designated "lord" can die, and so it's not wise to make their participation in the story necessary. Oifey therefore gets immunity as an NPC, and can exposit on vital story information whenever he feels like.

Lastly we meet Ardan, who the game tries to recommend we leave atop the castle for defense. Unique to this entry in the series, every game map is set outdoors, and you always have a home castle to defend. It's pretty rare that your castles are ever in any real danger, but when it happens it helps to have someone there. Dragging Ardan along with the army is a huge chore, but he manages to not be a liability in the first few maps and as such I will be ignoring the game's advice and leaving my castle undefended. Later on I'll be leaving him there just so I can avoid having to ever waste time by clicking on him.

The last living soul in Chalphy is Noish, but he's so aggressively boring I didn't bother getting a screencap of anything he had to say.

Now, finally, we can play! Blue units belong to the player, red belong to the enemy, and green are (usually) neutral.

But I wouldn't be doing this very well if I didn't quickly introduce you to our "units". We start with four. Sigurd here is a Lord Knight, and as such he is actually already in an advanced “promoted” class. Fire Emblem always gives the player at least one high level character he can rely on, though it is very interesting that they would make Sigurd this character. There's no need to break down the significance of the stats too much, but just know that these are great numbers in every category that matters. He's strong, fast, and durable. Only recklessness can get Sigurd killed, and even then he’ll probably survive anyway.

As a Lord Knight he can use swords and lances. With swords as the weapon type of choice, he might use that lance once or twice throughout the whole game.

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This second screen tells us all sorts of miscellaneous information. It's probably better to address these things as they become relevant, and what's relevant right now is his "special skill". Skills are a staple in modern Fire Emblem, but they get their start here. Pursuit is a skill that allows for double attacks, provided Sigurd has a sufficient attack speed advantage over the enemy. Since he primarily uses a light weapon type (swords) and is reasonably fast he will get a second attack against most enemies. Pursuit is such a good skill that units without it are rarely any good at combat.

Take Noish, for instance! Anyone that has played a Fire Emblem game knows how cavaliers operate, but Noish isn't a very good one. Decent strength and defense, mediocre everything else that matters, Noish would still be okay if he had Pursuit, but he doesn't. His skill is Duel, which allows for an extra round of combat on proc. These sorts of skills read from the Skill stat (unsurprisingly), and since Noish's is low it’ll hardly ever happen. Additionally, the extra round of combat allows the enemy to attack again as well. Noish is lame, but still useful early on.

Alec has different problems. He's kinda weak, but he has Pursuit which makes him better than Noish by default. He also has Awareness, which is a skill that allows him to ignore most enemy skills. Occasionally useful, but most enemies with skills are too dangerous for Alec anyway.

And now I get to go into the tragedy of Ardan. Fire Emblem 4 is a game about waging war across large, open maps. Traditional Fire Emblem knights are usually bad, but Ardan has to contend with a game made to accomodate units on horseback. Since he's set on foot he'll always be falling behind. If he were good in combat it still wouldn’t matter much, but since he isn’t it’s not difficult to write the guy off completely. His high defensive stats make him adequate defending a castle, but the only reason you'd have him do it is because everyone else has something better to do. Ardan's skill is Vantage, which allows him to attack first in any encounter when he is low on hit points. A good skill, but wasted on Ardan.

Fire Emblem wouldn’t be much of a wargame if you didn’t get to kill a lot of people, and to that end we make the first logical move. We have Sigurd attack and kill the enemy in his range on screen.

Sigurd is a powerhouse, and with the requisite weapon triangle advantage (don't worry, the game will explain it later) we have overwhelming advantages over anyone wielding an axe.

All there is to do at that point is line up Alec, Noish, and Ardan behind Sigurd and wait for turn 2, which once agains wrests control from us to show us a story scene at Jungby Castle.

Incidentally, the map at the top of the page will be updated at the start of each new chapter to show just how much ground Sigurd will cover over the course of the campaign. Jungby is our first stop.

Midayle is guarding Jungby castle, but Gandolf is there and one shots him with a hand axe. That's how it goes sometimes!

We learn from this that Verdane has more men on the way, and more importantly they may even have ambitions on the capital of Grannvale. He leaves DiMaggio in charge.

...And then falls back to Evans castle in Verdane territory. It's there that we learn he intends to marry Adean, who he considers his prize for the conquest of Jungby. Gerrard is left to captain Evans as he falls further back into Verdane to presumably meet with whoever Kinbois is.

Fire Emblem 4 has plenty of secrets, but generally progression is a matter of conquering one castle after the next in the prescribed order. Gandolf orders the bridge to Evans taken down, effectively barring our passage that way should we try to assault over there first. Gerrard, underestimating the threat we pose, will put the bridge back over and send men through after we liberate Jungby.

After that sequence, Lex and Azel come from the north in order to tell us things we know and aid us in battle. Azel is the younger brother of Arvis, and Lex is the son of Langbart. We’ve got important nobles all over the place.

Lex is perceptive enough to know why Azel dragged him here. He has a thing for Adean. On the second status screen for Sigurd you may have noticed a "Lovers" category. When two opposite sex units on your team like each other enough, usually by spending time around each other, they can fall in love. This provides certain advantages in combat, and will lead to more far reaching consequences down the line. That's not to imply we'll one day have Adean on our team but... this is Fire Emblem. Of course we will.

Azel is a Mage. Like Ardan he travels on foot which sucks, but he has good stats and can attack with various types of magic. All he has is a Fire tome, but it's good enough for now and can kill some of the bandits in one round of combat. It helps that he can attack at range (in order to avoid counterattacks) and he has Pursuit which is always good.

His promotion puts him on a horse, but for the life of me I’ve never actually managed to do it. Being on foot severely limits the amount of fighting he can realistically participate in, or at least that’s the case for my playstyle.

Lex is an Axe Knight. He's basically like a cavalier except he can only use axes. Axes are heavy, but since Lex doesn't have Pursuit it doesn't matter too much. What he does have is Vantage and Elite. Elite allows him to get double experience in combat. Elite is a very good skill, but Lex isn't much better at combat than Alec or Noish at this stage. Unlike those two however, he will get his redemption in the next chapter.

These enemy brigands have poor resistance to magic, and with the help of Pursuit Azel can kill them in one or two rounds.

Meanwhile this is all Noish can do, as a point of comparison.

It takes help from Alec to take him down. The red and green cavalier duo is classic Fire Emblem, but these guys are just not very good and they never get better.

Getting a screenshot of Ardan fighting because I feel obligated to.

The start of turn three gives us a few more units, all of which are thankfully on horseback.

The gentleman on the left is Quan, the Prince of Leonstar. Leonstar is located in Judgdral’s southeast peninsula, in the Manster District. He is married to Ethlin, Sigurd’s sister. As you might expect they are already considered “lovers” and cannot therefore be paired up with anyone else. They arrive with one retainer at their side, a young knight named Finn.

Posted June 17th, 2017 by Famov

Quan, like Sigurd, is promoted. As a Duke Knight he can only use lances, and his Javelin allows him to attack at range. Lances are heavy (but not has heavy as axes) and so his attack speed takes quite a hit. His skill is Adept, which allows him to occasionally get an extra attack on proc. It’s a poor man’s Pursuit, but it doesn’t rely on his attack speed.

His stats are strong, but he faces a disadvantage against the axe users which populate this map. As such, he will get hit far more often than Sigurd and generally deal less damage, though his high strength coupled with the Steel Lance allow for stronger single hits than Sigurd can manage. Quan is an asset in any case, and our second most reliable unit.

While the first female character in our army is already spoken for (much to Ardan’s dismay, no doubt) Ethlin is a big deal. Troubador is a great class and it allows her to use staves and swords alike. The Slim Sword is pretty pointless though and she’s bad at combat, but the ability to heal more than makes up for it. Vulneraries and other healing items don’t exist in this game, and so we either have to spend money at various churches found on the map or have our staff users keep us alive. Ethlin is the first of these we get, and my favorite on account of her high move range.

Another benefit of riding a horse is an ability that Path of Radiance would later call “Canto”. Essentially, our mounted units have the ability to use their remaining movement after performing an action. This can, for instance, allow me to move Sigurd four squares forward, attack an enemy, and move up to five squares to either fall back in line or go wherever else he pleases. This makes it much easier to form a defensive posture with my cavalry, and it allows someone like Ethlin to run into the fray to heal someone, only to retreat behind the lines and stay out of the enemy’s range. Speaking of, the enemy can also use tactics like these, though generally not intelligently as we will.

Ethlin also gets the skill Critical. This allows her to naturally get critical attacks, which is generally not something that happens in this game. Critical attacks do double damage, but since Ethlin does so little to begin with it really doesn’t do anything for her.

Finn is a Lance Knight and the unpromoted version of Quan’s class. Middling stats and no access to swords kinda sucks, but every little bit helps. He has Pursuit and Prayer. Prayer is a terrific skill, allowing Finn to potentially survive a fatal attack if he is already at or below 10 hit points. The likelihood of this happening is actually pretty high, and it helps him survive encounters that would have otherwise likely killed someone like Noish or Alec. Like Quan, however, he wishes he had something to fight other than axe users.

I send Quan and Finn in the direction of some of my less essential units to help them clean up the brigands in the center of the map. These are the ones that would have gone in the direction of the castle if given half an opportunity.

Sigurd meanwhile I send south on his own. He’s going to soak up the experience from all of these kills, but I don’t mind the favoritism. He has no reason to fear these guys and I want to save the village south of Jungby as fast as I can. There are two villages in the western reaches of the map, and two more near Chalphy that we’ve already liberated and about to reap our reward from.

We have Noish do it because he’s beat up and can’t afford another fight. Each turn a bandit has to attack a village the monetary reward received for its liberation goes down. This doesn’t matter much, but there are often secondary rewards and important world building that will be lost forever if the village is totally destroyed.

Most of the rest of the army is about one turn behind Sigurd, who is in position to liberate the next village. The three brigands in a triangle formation won’t move to attack until we engage them first.

Azel heads out west on his own, and Noish remains on village duty.

Sigurd is able to move, kill the brigand, and then move again onto the town to visit it in a single turn. He is rewarded with both money and the Speed Ring. This increases the Speed of units by five, and I’d probably have wanted Sigurd to get it anyway.

Unlike other games in the series, units cannot simply trade items between each other. Everyone has their own money, and can buy and sell items to various shops found in the liberated castles. For this reason most veteran players tend to send specific characters to villages in order to get valuable items on those that will make best use of them. Unfortunately I don’t have these things memorized and I have no intention of playing with a guide. So this means Sigurd gets the Speed Ring whether or not I wanted it on him, and if I really want it on someone else I’ll sell it to them later. If nothing else Sigurd can use the money from it to keep his weapons repaired.

DiMaggio’s defense is not strong, and with most of my guys in range I begin my assault. Ardan is the stout little sprite with a sword at the top of the screen, and I don’t think he was in range to make an attack. In any case he wasn’t needed.

Here Ethlin takes the opportunity to talk to Sigurd before she heals him. Sometimes characters will have the ability to talk to each other, which gives us a bit of character development and sometimes a valuable item.

We can infer from this that Sigurd is impulsive, which is supported by his decision to engage the Verdane army to begin with. Ethlin concludes the conversation by comparing him to their father, Lord Vylon. He doesn’t seem to object to the comparison.

Meanwhile Noish gets another village.

Here we learn about the weapon triangle. Magic experiences a similar relationship. Wind > Thunder > Fire > Wind, and Light and Dark Magic share an advantage over all of the Anima schools.

I had battle animations turned off for this fight, but thought it was worthwhile to show Alec struggling.

It doesn’t matter though, because Sigurd, Quan, and co. are still better than these jokers.

On the next turn I take most of my cavalry and send them with Quan westward. Azel is still headed northwest towards a village, but there is another one he can’t get to in time. More than that, I want Quan to form a defensive position near river defending Evans castle, as that bridge is about to go back up with reinforcements. Foreknowledge is helpful in this regard, and I leave the liberation of Jungby in the capable hands of Sigurd and Ethlin. Ardan is there too, but that’s only because he’s slow.

Posted June 17th, 2017 by Famov

DiMaggio is so weak that I realize Ethlin isn’t needed, and I send her westward to catch up with the main group.

This is Sigurd’s third level up already, and DiMaggio is no more.

The hardest to reach villages offer the most interesting information, and we’re treated to this thanks to Azel. Each of the holy crusaders passed down a sacred weapon. The Chalphy’s are descended of Baldo, and their weapon is the Tyrfing. Vylon is presumably making good use of this weapon out on the Isaachean front.

The last village, liberated by Finn, tells us about the projeny of Ulir. We learn that Lord Ring has three children. Andrei is fighting with his father out in Isaach, and that is why Lady Adean was left in charge of Jungby to begin with. There is said to be friction between father and son, but it’s left at that. This unusually well informed villager also tells us that Adean had a twin sister that was long ago abducted by pirates. Pirate abduction is the sort of thing that would be truly horrible in real life, but we’re playing anime chess so she’s probably already managed to become the teenaged leader of this pirate gang... or you know, something like that.

We’re not so much capturing as liberating, but whatever. Another story sequence ensues.

This line makes me smile for some reason.

The knight on the ground is Midayle! Unique portraits are too precious a thing on SNES era hardware to waste on a single story scene, and so the uncomfortably attractive knight gets a second lease on life.

Midayle is a Bow Knight. As such he’s another cavalry unit with okay stats in the vein of Alec and Finn. He gets Pursuit and Vantage, which are both good, but he probably will not be using Vantage much since he attacks from range. Bows are light which means he will get plenty of use out of Pursuit.

Meanwhile Gerrard makes the biggest mistake of his career. By putting the bridge back up we now have access to Evans, and I’ve got Quan commanding an ambush on the other side of the river. This will give us the toughest fight of the map, and Sigurd’s about two turns away from the rest of the party.

But that’s not all. A neutral party has now joined the map. This is Arvis, the Duke of Velthomer. He is not easily impressed.

He’s no joke either. As the rightful heir to Velthomer he has inherited Valflame, the ultimate in fire magic. Those stat bonuses you see are granted by Valflame, and he wears a ring that replenishes his health to full at the start of every turn.

He will fight any enemy he encounters, but that’s not why he’s here: He wants to talk to Sigurd. We’ll make sure that happens.

Now is probably a good time to talk about the third status screen. This tracks the holy blood possessed by each unit. Most don’t have any, and those that do invariably have ties to a major house. Holy blood can be in “major” or “minor” concentrations. Only those with major crusader ancestry can wield the corresponding holy weapon.

For instance, Sigurd and Ethlin have major and minor Baldo blood respectively, and Quan has major Noba blood. This means Sigurd can wield the Tyrfing while Ethlin cannot, suggesting that Ethlin’s ancestry hasn’t quite asserted itself as strongly as it has in Sigurd. There’s a bit of fantasy math involved with this, but it mostly works. Looking at the holy blood chart for various characters, including enemies, can give us valuable information. Azel, being Arvis’ brother, has minor Fala blood. Lex has minor Neir blood. They will never inherit holy weapons, but they do benefit from statistical advantages when they level up.

Forest and town terrain squares provide significant bonuses to evasion and defense, which makes our positioning very advantageous. Forrests also limit the movement range of non-flying units, which means they’ll have to go south to go around and get my weaker guys in the back. As defensible as this is, I just let them come to me.

I have Quan and Lex form the southern part of the wall for the time being, but Alec here is set out as the real bait. They target him because he has low-ish defense, but thanks to being on a forest tile and having weapon triangle advantage they have a difficult time hitting him. The archers fare better than the axe users, but I still get a couple good turns out of this strategy.

It’s enough time for Sigurd, Midayle, and even Ardan to catch back up to the main group. The point of this screenshot is to show Ardan’s strange looking movement range. Units actually get move bonuses while traveling along roads, and Ardan here can get a full seven tiles out of one direction. This sort of encounter should theoretically be his bread and butter, but he’s fallen so far behind that I barely get any use out of him. Azel has a similar problem, still walking back from the excursion he took northward ages ago.

You can’t quite see it, but Arvis is just offscreen, also to the north. He will reach Sigurd within the turn.

I hacked up their conversation a bit, but the general idea is this: Arvis is here on behalf of His Majesty the King, and he presents Sigurd with a Silver Sword. It’s a very good weapon for this stage of the game, and Sigurd is much stronger with it.

We also learn that Azel and Arvis are only half brothers, and that they don’t get along very well.

Edited June 17th, 2017 by Famov

That sword gets put to immediate use., and I really need to take out those archers before they kill Alec.

Indeed, there are three archers focusing him down right now. They have about a 50% chance to hit each turn, and he goes down in four shots. I can’t play the odds for long, and I am not a betting man by nature.

Luckily Azel returns from his extended vacation to obliterate one of them, and gets a level up for it.

The battle was always in my favor though, and to add insult to injury I let Ethlin get the last kill.

Victory is nearly ours, but there are a number of people still itching to get a word in with Sigurd. A quick check to the status screen with a character will tell you if they have someone they want to talk to.

First we allow Sigurd and Quan to reminisce about their days at the academy. Sigurd shows some concern that Quan is here when his home of Leonstar is on the verge of war with Thracia, and Quan assures him it was the only thing keeping him from arriving in Grannvale with a whole host at his command.

Quan and the as-yet-unseen Eldigan are Sigurd’s best friends, though I’m sure this conversation makes that obvious.

Azel goes on to say that he feels like he is a burden on Arvis, and falling short of the expectations his older brother has for him. From what little we’ve seen of Arvis none of this is overly surprising.

There’s not a whole lot of depth to Lex, but this does further establish that Langbart and Vylon are not friends.

Evans castle is unprotected, save for Gerrard. It’s worth noting that once we cross the bridge we’ll be in Verdane territory.

Gerrard’s a lot tougher than DiMaggio was, but after a few rounds of combat (and some healing from Ethlin) I get him down to his last hit point. Alec takes that opportunity to snag the kill.

Gerrard tells us what we already know before he dies, and then we capture the castle and credits roll on this, er... prologue.

Sigurd informs us that this isn’t over yet. Lady Adean is still captive, and he intends to mount a rescue.

But wait, someone is approaching the castle!

An envoy from the king! Kinda makes Arvis seem redundant, but what do we care? We’re congratulated on defending Grannvale from invasion, made a holy knight, and given latitude to continue doing what we’re doing.

As I said before, Evans is in Verdane territory. You might write this off as a gameplay conceit, but we went beyond our own borders and took an enemy castle in pursuit of a lone woman. When next we return to this game we’ll see the truth behind Sigurd’s declaration of intent. Defense of the realm is all well and good, but if Adean is in Verdane then we’ll go as deep into Verdane as it takes to get her back. If only politics were always this easy.

That’ll be for next time though. No one told me LPs took so much time! Thanks for reading, if you did, and I’ll probably return within a week for Chapter One: Girl of the Spirit Forest.

Edited June 17th, 2017 by Famov


Although I did think it would be long I didn't think it'd be quite this long. I'll have to see if I'm feeling up for reading more later.

Posted June 19th, 2017 by KnucklesMK9
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