In the Shadow of the Scouring Long, ago on the continent Elibe, dragons and man coexisted in peace. They lived in harmony for many years. All that was lost when mankind disrupted this balance in a sudden attack, a brutal slaughter that bathed the land in blood. Each fought for domination of the land in a savage war that shook the foundations of nature itself. This war was called the Scouring. Defeated and humbled, Dragons vanished from Elibe. Over time, man rebuilt and spread his dominion across the sea. Now, a millennium after the Scouring, a young girl has found an apprentice tactician unconscious on the rolling plains of Sacae. Young Lyn tells the traveler that she wants to become a master swordfighter, and the two travel together, honing their skills in battle. Along the way, they meet a Lycian noble named Eliwood. None of them suspected that this was a mere prologue to the adventure that awaited them all. For Lyn, the tactician, Eliwood, and his friend Hector, the wheels of fate have already begun to turn.
--From the GBA Fire Emblem instruction manual.
Fire Emblem is a turn based strategy game with deep RPG elements. It has an almost stunning number of unit types, consumable items and strategic elements.
The game opens with a complete tutorial detailing the journey of a young girl named Lyn. The tutorial touches almost every element of gameplay and there are a great number to consider. At the very beginning the player is introduced to the different weapons and how they interact as well as the terrain mechanic. As the tutorial progresses more and more elements are added. There are so many that a list will have to suffice in this overview rather than a full explanation.
The major elements are: Back story for each character and overall story arch, Chapter goals that very from one chapter to another, Individual experience for each unit, RPG like unit stats including hit points, A weapon and magic triangle where one weapon or magic bests another, Terrain modifiers, Summary sheet before each attack detailing what unit has the advantage, Trade items and equipment between units, Mechanic for using one unit to "rescue" another, Units strengths and weaknesses against other unit types, Mounted and flying units, Armories and Vendors selling weapons and items, NPC characters with helpful advice or items, The ability to convince some enemies to join the party, Destructive and healing magic, Unique units that have very specialized skills, Special on-map weapons that can be utilized. Weather effects that change elements of the battle, The ability to upgrade units with an advanced class.
Believe it or not this list is not complete. There are even more features than I have touched on here. Fortunately the game walks you through all of this so that you never feel lost. One of the more interesting additional features are the side quests. There are actually side quest rewards that change certain aspects of gameplay. For example, at one point you will be able to get an equipment tent to take into battle. This makes inventory management much easier and helps ensure that you won't run out of weapons.
What I find truly remarkable about Fire Emblem is it's deep and compelling story. There are actual cut scenes that lead from one chapter to another detailing why it is you are doing what you are doing. The chapter goals are focused on the story and "kill all the red guys" certainly isn't your only motivation. On many maps you only have to eliminate a certain enemy or take control of a certain position on the map. If a unit falls in combat they are taken out of the story and you miss any elements that would have been centered around them. There are also a number of optional units that you will not get unless you pay close attention and make sure to talk to every character that might come with you. The NPCs in the game help fill the story out and give you a more complete back story on the current political situation. There are even villages that may be attacked and sacked by enemies unless you intervene. You may have to change strategies in order to protect a village or rescue some NPC. All this gives the game replayability because there is so much to see and do that you may not be able to hit everything in the first pass.
All things considered Fire Emblem is a truly remarkable game that both RPG and Turn Based Strategy fans are almost certain to enjoy. If you haven't played it yet I suggest you give a try. I'll be surprised if you're not hooked by the third map of the tutorial.
The tutorial will give you all the practical directions you need on how to move and utilize your units. So, I am going to use this section to give a little bit of advice.
Kill all the red guys! I know I said in the overview that you don't have to and, strictly speaking, you don't. However, each successful attack, each dodged attack, every single combat move gives you experience one way or the other. With regard to experience Fire Emblem should be treated as an RPG rather than a TBS. As you progress through the game enemies are going to get more and more difficult. You can take short cuts to beat chapters quickly, but it's a matter of pay now or pay later. You want to get every possible bit of experience off a map before you leave it.
Don't waste the good stuff! Some of the more powerful units start with very powerful equipment. If you burn through that to get easy kills and experience you will be kicking yourself later. The best member of your party should probably be using the worst equipment. You really want to save the good stuff for fights you are having real trouble winning. It's nice to be able to break out a super sword to kill off a troublesome boss that is slowing down a win.
Save up! The tutorial suggests that you never spend more than half your money. Listen to that advice! It may seem tempting to buy everything you feel you need to keep you inventory nicely rounded, but 'Bring only what you need to survive' - Lonestar. You may very well reach points in the game where you find something you really want to buy. It's very frustrating to find the store you want only to find that you don't have the money you need.
Heal even if you don't need it! There are two reasons for this. First, you never know when some sorry punk is going to hit you with a critical and kill a unit you felt was absolutely safe. Second, your healers get a VAST majority of their experience from healing other units. If you don't heal constantly they are going to fall behind. It is very frustrating to have an enemy slip through your ranks and one-hit kill your cleric because she is three levels behind everyone else. Healing is cheap, invest your money in it early and it will pay off big later on.
Never leave a man behind! There are actually two sides to this. First, never let a unit die for any reason. It's honestly better to restart a map than to leave one of your units dead. This is because of the heavy RPG elements in Fire Emblem. The unit that just died might be required on the next map to convert an enemy into an ally. Second, don't ever let any unit get too far behind on experience. You may think a unit is useless, but it isn't and the guy you leave at level three may be critical to holding the enemy hordes back later in the game. In general it's best to put your units into battle from the lowest level up. That way no unit gets too far ahead or behind.
Parley! Whenever possible talk to an enemy. It's usually obvious if one of the enemies on the maps knows one of your current units. Try to get them talking. If you're successful you'll bring another unit into your pool. It also takes an enemy off the current map and gives you an unexpected ally. It's win/win.
These are just a few hints to help make you more powerful as you play. You will certainly develop your own play style as you uncover even more details than I have mentioned here. Fire Emblem is a rich deep game with hours of gameplay in each play through it. The only way to fully understand it is beat it for yourself.