Marth returns to Smash Bros., stirs speculation on other potential Fire Emblem reps

Those of us who’ve built our Smash philosophy around speed and swords can breath a sigh of relief: Marth is back in all his blue-haired, head-banded glory. And judging from the early screenshots, so are his Dolphin Slash (Up + B), Shield Breaker (B), and Counter (Down + B) abilities. It remains to be seen if his Forward-Smash will remain the dominant move it once was, but I can’t imagine it any other way (then again, Sheik fought like a flu sufferer in Brawl, so I won’t get cocky).

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Nothing shakes up an intense match like Down + B.

The news comes following fan speculation about Fire Emblem: Awakening’s protagonist Chrom as a potential replacement for Marth. With that out of the way, the question now shifts toward Ike: is he safe? Will Ike remain the “power guy” among Fire Emblem reps?

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Though Chrom (right) is a swordsman by default, Nintendo would be foolish to ignore his game’s Class Change system.

To be honest, I wouldn’t be surprised if Marth, Ike, and Chrom all make it in. That makes for a forest of blue hair, but it’s not unreasonable to include a speedy swordsman, a powerhouse, and perhaps a variety-type character in Chrom. What do I mean by “variety-type”? Well, Fire Emblem: Awakening allows for each character to undergo numerous class changes. If we’re lucky, Chrom could serve as the Zelda/Sheik of the Wii U age.

Are you listening, Nintendo? A swordsman, mage, and archer all-in-one. Let’s do this.

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Top 5 Tuesday: Games of 2003

Soul Calibur II HD Online is set to release in a few weeks, just three months following its ten-year anniversary. Ten years… I feel like a senior citizen looking back on it. If you missed out on SC2 because you were too young or just oblivious, download it later this month on PSN or Xbox Live. It’s both deep and casual-friendly, and the only major letdown is you won’t be able to play as Link (who was an exclusive fighter in the Gamecube version).

As for today’s Top 5, I’m jumping back a decade to recall my personal favorite from 2003. I’ll warn you now: the list is Gamecube-heavy, and unfortunately I missed out on some excellent releases, most notably Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic and Beyond Good & Evil.

5. Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GCN)

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2003: The year of a boy, his talking boat, and an oversized ocean full of pirate romps.

Despite being the weakest of the 3D Zeldas, Wind Waker is still a Zelda experience littered with sharp puzzles, engrossing side quests, and slick swordplay. However, Wind Waker disappointed for two reasons: the monotonous sailing and the lack of gameplay originality beyond the sailing. Notice how I didn’t rip the cel-shaded visuals? Though they don’t suit the tone of Zelda, I’m okay with them if only because they broke the gaming trend of realism that’s been rampant for nearly two decades.

And as for the sailing, it was both good and bad. Good when you were looking for adventure or sidequests. Dreadful when you knew where you wanted to go and had to sit through five minutes of cartoon ocean. In the end we were left with a massive overworld with only a handful of dungeons. Epic final fight, though.

4. Fire Emblem (GBA)

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Oh, you bought Final Fantasy Tactics Advance instead? That’s cute.

I already praised Fire Emblem in a previous Top 5 list, but I’ll say this: Fire Emblem had the misfortune of releasing two months after the inferior Final Fantasy Tactics Advance back in 2003. This was back when Final Fantasy was a juggernaut in terms of sales and popularity. For a lot of gamers, Fire Emblem was an afterthought when it came to jotting down Christmas lists.

At least now we know better.

3. Soul Calibur II (PS2 / GCN / Xbox)

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Many gamers bought SCII solely for Link, only to discover that the game itself was excellent.

Soul Calibur II has the distinction of being the only fighting game I love that’s not named Super Smash Bros. Why the sappy crush? Because it was enjoyable no matter your skill level. You could pick it up on day one, have a blast button-mashing, then spin together some smooth combos by the end of the week. By the end of the month, you’d have a handle on some advanced techniques as well as some serious button combos.

And that’s just the core fighting. Soul Calibur II had a fun single-player mode that involved collecting weapons for each character, arcade modes, 8-character team battles, and more. And I haven’t even mentioned the vivid cast, diverse in both fighting styles and personalities.

And before you ask: my main was Nightmare.

2. Skies of Arcadia: Legends (GCN)

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Ship battles, codes of honor, glass eye-patches: what’s not to love?

I have yet to play an RPG with a better atmosphere than Skies of Arcadia. Sailing the skies with ships is every bit as engrossing as it sounds, and the towns, locales, customs, and myths of the game lend to a sense of place that is rivaled by very few games I’ve played. Though Skies offers an admittedly cliched story, the presentation is top notch, and the characters are infectious, particularly Vyse (He never gives up, dammit!).

Battles run lengthy, but the combat is a fresh take on turn-based, elemental fights. Certain ship battles end up feeling particularly grand due to the length and scope of the duels (some require you to chase down titan-like Gigas or set up a beast for a harpoon takedown). When you grow battle-weary, there’s always Suikoden-style recruiting to look forward to. If you’re going to save the most vivid world in JRPGs, you might as well stock an army for the job.

1. F-Zero GX (GCN)

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You vs. 29 other racers. Wouldn’t hurt to ram five or ten of them off the track…

Milliseconds.

That’s often the difference between 1st place and 6th in an F-Zero GX race. Nintendo’s best racer is intense, maddening, and delightfully masochistic, but the game shines due to its unrivaled blend of fun and difficulty. Track memorization is key, as one slip off the edge means game over. Oh? Think you can stay on board? Try doing it while ramming your booster, which juices your speed up at the expense of your vehicle’s damage threshold. Boost too much and you’re one wall-nick or driver collision away from breaking down. And you have to boost. A lot.

Not only is F-Zero GX intense, but the tracks weave, drop, and roll like poetry. If you haven’t driven Aeropolis – Multiplex or Lightning – Thunder Road, do yourself a favor an score a used copy of GX. It’s the best racer out there in this blogger’s humble opinion, not to mention my favorite game of ’03.

Top 5 Tuesday: Games on Nintendo Handhelds

The next couple of months are going to be huge for handhelds, particularly the 3DS. Zelda: A Link Between Worlds and Pokemon X/Y are the obvious headliners, but don’t sleep on Phoenix Wright: Dual Destinies or Batman: Arkham Origins Blackgate. And on a personal note, I just received the Radiant Historia (supposedly one of the best handheld RPGs ever) in the mail.

Needless to say, there may be some shakeup among my top favorite handheld games. Before the storm hits, I thought I’d churn out a top five list of my favorite games on Nintendo handhelds. The list’s only requirement is that the games had to originate on a handheld (otherwise the list would reek of SNES ports). The top 3 were easy picks, but any number of games could’ve snagged #4 or #5.

Honorable mentions: Metroid: Zero Mission, Metroid II: Return of Samus, Castlevania: Order of Eccelesia, Castlevania: Circle of the Moon, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins, Mega Man Battle Network, 999: Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors.

5. Pokemon Red/Blue/Yellow

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Professor Oak’s Lab: Where life’s biggest decision goes down.

Why it made the list:

It was a tough call, but I gave Pokemon the nod over Metroid: Zero Mission and Mario Land 2. The fact is, Pokemon was a colossal part of my childhood, not to mention the first RPG I ever played. And while its story and characters pale in comparison to those of most RPGs, the quest is a total joyride. 151 party members, eight gyms, and all kinds of elemental weaknesses made the game perfect for multiple playthroughs. Then there were the Missingno glitches, surviving the Elite 4, farming Rare Candy, mashing A until you could afford Porygon, cloning Pokemon via link cable, battling friends at recess, tapping B at the right time to catch Mewtwo in a Great Ball, accidentally using a Master Ball on a stupidass Voltorb… the memories go on and on.

Best Part:

That big decision at the beginning. Squirtle, Bulbasaur, or Charmander–who ya got?

4. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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You say there’s a better case than 1-4? OBJECTION!

Why it made the list:

There’s honestly not a funnier game out there that I’ve played. The cases may be completely ludicrous at times, but the all five of them offer compelling plotlines, nifty courtroom logic, and some of the best characters in all of gaming. Edgeworth’s character development is downright brilliant, Phoenix manages to be a noble truth-seeker without descending into goodie-goodie territory, and the villains and countless supporting characters (Dick Gumshoe, Larry Butz, Wendy Oldbag, the list goes on) complete one of the most lively casts in gaming.

Best Part:

Case four. Without question the best case in the series. After Phoenix and Edgeworth duel out cases 1-2 and 1-3 in the courtroom, the tables turn on Edgeworth. He finds himself facing the the very thing he spent his entire career dishing out: a guilty verdict. I won’t spoil anything. Just play it.

3. Fire Emblem

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Fire Emblem’s title screen. I’ve come to associate it with character deaths, botched strategies, and soft resets.

Why it made the list:

What makes Fire Emblem amazing is that it’s so easy and hard to play. I don’t think there’s another strategy-RPG out there that can be so welcoming and so vicious all at once. FE operates with a simple, accessible system where two squads take turns moving characters across a grid and attacking. Even the battle system is just rock-paper-scissors with swords, axes, and lances. So how can a game built on such simple gameplay be so challenging? Because death means death to the characters of Fire Emblem. For real. There are no Phoenix Downs or Life Bottles or resurrection spells. If a character’s HP hits zero, you hit the reset button if you want him back.

FE’s take on mortality takes strategy to its peak. Whereas a lot of strategy-RPGs offer mildly strategic battles, FE’s death system forces players to treat every battle like a grand-scale puzzle. It’s not simply about executing a plan; rather, FE demands you make dozens upon dozens of correct moves–with minimal room for error. If your paladin’s wounded and surrounded by enemies, can you really afford to send your weakass cleric into that frey to heal him? Do you dare to send your axe-wielding lord into battle against the lance-wielding boss when there are swordsmen all around him? Those are the decisions that make Fire Emblem so compelling.

Best Part:

Nothing beats learning the ins and outs in Lyn’s ten-chapter-long prologue, then seeing just how damn serious the game is in Eliwood’s main story. The game is a love note to the masochist in all of us.

2. Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening DX

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Nintendo: Enacting capital punishment on shoplifters since 1993.

Why it made the list:

It’s the best 2D Zelda in my book. Take Link to the Past, toss out the annoying light/dark world hopping, and behold the masterpiece that stomped every other handheld game of its time.

Link’s Awakening is bigger than the Game Boy deserved, and the deluxe edition added another dungeon on top of it. The game itself is dark, conveying a grim, lonely atmosphere that begins with Link trekking down to the southern tip of the island for his sword. From there, it’s a journey through eight phenomenal dungeons that bestow bangin’ weapons like Roc’s Feather, the Hookshot, the Pegasus Boots, and the Flame Rod.

What really made Link’s Awakening a standout title for me was the fact that it took me four years and two playthroughs to complete. The eighth dungeon, Turtle Rock, had one bombable wall that escaped me until I discovered GameFAQs.com as a teenager. I took one look at a map and smacked myself so hard across the forehead that I was concussed for days. Four years and it was staring me right in the face.

Best Part:

Stealing from the shop. Pick up the overpriced bow, walk around in a circle, carry it out the door, and it’s yours. The catch? You get branded as THIEF and you learn a pretty stiff morality lesson the next time you enter the shop.

Also, I love Dungeon #6: The Face Shrine. The dark atmosphere and music rock, and there’s something special about throwing around coffins with the Level-2 Power Bracelet.

1. Fire Emblem: Awakening

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Henry has the right attitude for a game this brutal.

Why it made the list:

Because sequels are never supposed to be this good.

I bought a 3DS to play Fire Emblem: Awakening, but I never expected it to be anything more than another great game in the series. What I got was chess on crack, a thinking man’s masterpiece, a masochist’s delight. Over the course of one playthrough spanning 140 hours, I watched the series take its brilliant strategy formula to the next echelon with support pairings, double-teams, and a truly addictive breeding system. Throw in some stellar battle design, crisp visuals, over two-dozen side missions, and an army of characters with vibrant personalities and hilariously memorable battle quotes, and you’ve got yourself the best thing on a three-inch screen.

Best Part:

Nearly every level in the game. It’s that good.

If you need a specific answer, I’ll say Chapter 17: Inexorable Death. It’s the level taking place at the castle with two entrances. You end up sending two teams through, and if they make it (big “if”), you have to worry about blocking a dozen staircases so enemies can’t respawn. It must’ve taken me twenty tries to get my strategy right–and even then, I got lucky when my whole crew survived the battle. If I remember correctly, it’s the first chapter that really throws Valkyries (mages on horseback) at you. They’re a nightmare since you can’t attack them without getting counterattacked. Plus, their only weakness is physical weapons, and it just so happens that most of your weapon-wielders are weak against magic. Yikes.

Also, I loved Chapter 14: Flames on the Blue. It’s the level with the three ships where your squad is stuck fending off enemies who try to cross planks onto your ship. Makes for some great lane-clogging battles and panicky moments once the Pegasus knights arrive by air.