Indiewatch: Vestaria Saga is as classic as Fire Emblem can be
Fire Emblem has gone through many changes throughout the years. What started as a fairly barebones turn based military sim has gotten a million bells and whistles added on, from complicated class systems to dating game elements. It is a far cry from its original NES debut.
And this has divided the fanbase. Some people still love classic Fire Emblem and feel that titles like Fates or Three Houses have strayed too far from the classic formula. For those people, there is Vestaria Saga, the new indie title made by the father of Fire Emblem itself: Shouzou Kaga.
The best way to describe Vestaria Saga is to take Fire Emblem at the point in which it split from the classic formula into its more modern incarnation and evolve it in a completely different way. Instead of introducing complex class trees or dating sim element, Vestaria Saga simply takes everything from the first few Fire Emblem games and turns them up to eleven.
This means you still have the same stats, unit types, terrain bonuses, and village visits in the middle of battle that early Fire Emblem titles had, but you just get more. You get a lot of units with many different recruitment requirements and tons of unique skills. You get lots of different unique weapons right at the beginning of the game, each with a different use in battle. You get huge complex maps with neat puzzles to solve in order to guide your units to victory with little to no casualties.
You also get a lot of quality of life improvements, but only improvements to the original formula. For example, it comes with an easy and hard difficulty but none of these difficulties remove permadeath. They just affect how quickly you level up.
You can save in battle but only once every five turns. This prevents save scumming but also makes it so that you don’t have to restart battles when units die. It’s a very different solution than the “turnwheel” ability to turn back time in modern FE games.
Heck, the very ability to play the game with a keyboard and mouse is a huge quality of life improvement. Instead of fiddling with control sticks and d-pads to move cursors around and select units, you can just click them. You can even have your cursor snap to menus so that you can reduce travel time. It’s an almost absurd attention to detail in the way you control the game, informed by years and years of working on strategy games.
Unfortunately, this also means that Vestaria Saga ignores most of the modern day improvements that Fire Emblem has already made. The graphics, for example, are absurdly primitive. Battle graphics in particularly feel like they only have 3-5 frames of animation, a far cry from the spectacular sprites of the GBA era of Fire Emblem.
In fact the game’s entire presentation is off. The sound effects are muted, the fonts are very basic, and the menus look drab. It looks like a fan-game, not a game made by a respected member of the game design community.
The story is fantastic, filled with all the fantasy tropes that you are used to from classic FE games, but it’s told through massive blocks of text. You don’t even get cut-in character portraits. You just have to sit there and read, which is fine for a lot of gamers but will probably turn anyone used to Fire Emblem’s high quality anime cutscenes off.
Even the interface just isn’t up to snuff. Modern day Fire Emblem games have detailed outlines of every move you make, telling you what bonuses you get from what sources and whether or not you will kill an enemy. Vestaria Saga does have action preview windows but they are far less detailed than even Fire Emblem games from 20 years back.
This begs the question: How much do you really want a “classic” Fire Emblem game, because if that’s what you really want, you got it. Vestaria Saga will have you reloading over and over again, dying to randomness, losing units out of nowhere, and really taxing your brain for creative solutions to losing battles. If that’s what Fire Emblem means to you, then you will adore Vestaria Saga despite its flaws.
However, if Fire Emblem is just a pretty waifu simulator with some battles tacked on, or a way to watch anime characters flip out and kill people on a critical hit, or a tactical battle simulator that you can sometimes turn your brain off for, letting the computer play for you, then you will hate Vestaria Saga. It is a game of numbers and spreadsheets and it is not ashamed of it. It asks for your full attention and does little to grab it aside from giving you tactical military scenarios that you have to solve. In a way, that’s about as classic as Fire Emblem can get.
And to be honest, it’s pretty amazing to see this come out around the same time as Fire Emblem: Three Houses. Because this is what the format, the genre itself means to Shouzou Kaga. It’s a look into the mind of the person who gave us Marth, a look that only costs $20 and some mental effort. That alone makes Vestaria Saga worth checking out, even if you don’t stick with it. It won't be the next game you spend 300 hours on, but it will be a neat way to study how the turn based strategy RPG has evolved over the last few years.