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Fire Emblem and Beyond: The Intelligent Systems Deep Dive

Intelligent Systems is a Japanese video game development house that has enjoyed a long and close relationship with Nintendo. They have a tremendous catalogue of games behind them that they have developed and co-developed, yet they don’t often receive much in the way of overt praise for their involvement in bringing some of the world’s most loved titles to life. So often do they go unnoticed as they trot out grand slam games, that many gamers (from casual to hardcore) are often surprised to discover that Intelligent Systems isn’t a first-party Nintendo developer.

Monolith Soft? First-party as of 2007, with games like Xenoblade Chronicles, Xenoblade Chronicles X, and Xenoblade Chronicles 2 under their belt. Retro Studios? First-party as of 2002, with games like Metroid Prime, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, and Mario Kart 7 to their name. Intelligent Systems, on the other hand… They’ve been involved with Nintendo as early as the days of Arcade Machines, the NES, and Famicom Disc System, with their own site citing an involvement in Mario Bros. all the way back in 1983.

The company was founded as a successor studio to a company that was known as Iwasaki Giken, the group who assisted with the development of Donkey Kong Jr. From their earliest days, post founding, the company shared residence in the headquarters building for Nintendo’s Kyoto-based Research Center. Their close ties to the Nintendo brand are no doubt where a great deal of the “Intelligent Systems belongs to Nintendo” thought comes from. In 2013, however, the company picked up sticks and relocated to their new building, which is closer to the main Nintendo Headquarters.

Now that you know a little bit about the company, and with the recent release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, I ask that you join me on this dive into the catalogue of Intelligent Systems’ most popular games, from Mario Bros. back in 1983, to Fire Emblem: Three Houses in 2019, as a means of celebrating the studio that just keeps on giving.

Mario Bros

What more can be said about Mario Bros. that hasn’t already been said? It’s one of the titles that properly introduced gaming to the masses. And it’s no exaggeration when I say that. Did you know that the original Mario Bros. game was ported to the Apple II, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, Atari 8-bit computers, Atari 7800,[13] Amstrad CPC, and ZX Spectrum with two Commodore 64 builds? One of the C-64 builds, an Atarisoft port, wasn’t released to retail, and Mario Bros. in general didn’t actually land on its feet in North America because of the ongoing video game crash. Despite this, however, the game is often lauded as something as a must-play title, given its enduring popularity and widespread influence. Such is the solidity of its design that it holds up today as an entirely competent and highly enjoyable arcade experience. Now, raise your hand if you though I’ve been talking about this game. Because I’ve actually been talking about this game. Run, jump, bop, and repeat; the formula is simple, but it’s a winner.

Tennis

One of the original 18 games in the launch wave for the NES, Tennis was jointly developed by Nintendo’s R&D1 studio and Intelligent Systems. A terribly archaic game by modern standards, it was one of five sports-themed games in the initial lineup that would go on to light up screens across the world in singles, doubles, competitive, and cooperative matches with five levels of difficulty to choose from. This is also the first game to feature Mario as a referee. Frankly, I’m more of a pong person, but Tennis certainly made its mark.

Metroid

To say I’m a fan of Metroid would be an understatement in the extreme. The title that forever changed the world of adventure games, Metroid was brought to life by producer Gunpei Yokoi and directors Satoru Okada and Masao Yamamoto. It too was jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo R&D1. Leagues above what could be found in most other adventure games of the time, the tale of the spacefaring bounty hunter Samus Aran became the hot topic among gamers, the gaming media, and enthusiasts alike. Appearing exclusively on the Famicom Disc System and the NES, Metroid introduced players to a sprawling alien world with labyrinthian tunnels and challenge aplenty. To this day, the idea of a plot twist in the form of Samus being revealed as female is a legendary moment cemented in time, and the inclusion of a save system was something of a revolutionary move in itself. Not to mention the fact that this game even had different endings, depending on your speed and completion rate, something which contributed to the speed running scene in a very real way. (Fancy reading something about Samus? Check this out!)

Famicom Wars

For gamers such as myself, Famicom Wars is an important touchstone in Intelligent System’s life time. It’s the first entry into the Advance Wars series and, despite its awful box art, it was still a tremendously important part of Intelligent Systems’ lifetime, as they would eventually become the owners of the Wars series. For the unaware, the Wars series was Intelligent Systems’ first proper foray into the turn-based strategy genre that would later come to inform some of their most popular titles and their playstyles. It’s also possible that the Wars series recently met its end due to the success of the next Intelligent Systems title we will discuss. Despite the Intelligent Systems involvement with Famicom Wars, it wasn’t actually an independent venture, it was another joint effort between Nintendo’s R&D1 and IntySys. The game was designed by the Nintendo R&D1 team, whereas Intelligent Systems were responsible for the programming side of things, thus continuing the friendship between Nintendo and Intelligent Systems with the Wars series, which would go on to have twelve separate entries, all of which were exclusive to Nintendo platforms. If you would like to read more about Famicom Wars, I suggest reading this!

With Famicom Wars behind them, Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s R&D1 went their separate ways, with the Nintendo team stepping away to work on the 1989 Gameboy classic, Super Mario Land. While R&D1 worked on Super Mario Land, Intelligent Systems began working on…

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light

The first entry in what would grow to become the most well known, profitable and respected property to come from Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light shipped on April 20th of 1990 and thus began the fictional fantasy epic that would go on to span more than 15 games while showing no signs of slowing down.

While Nintendo and R&D1 were busy working on Super Mario Land for the Game Boy, Intelligent Systems set about implementing everything they had learned from their previous experiences. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, which was never released outside of Japan, actually had quite a rough start with critical reception being mixed; some called it too difficult and graphically subpar. At home, however, in the hands of gamers, reception was markedly more positive, and as word started to spread, the game’s sales picked up. Sales were also no doubt helped out by a Famitsu column which shone a light on the game. Speaking in a developer interview, Fire Emblem creator Shouzou Kaga said:

Two years ago, when I was making Fire Emblem Gaiden, I had an interview with Nakaji for Famitsu (in his “Fire Emblem Priest” column). We talked a bit then, about Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy. I remember telling him that, between the two, I really preferred Final Fantasy, which felt fresh and new compared to Dragon Quest

When Fire Emblem first came out on the Famicom, the early reviews were really harsh. Every game magazine gave it pretty bad scores. There weren’t really many games back then that combined the RPG and strategy/simulation genres, you see. It stung to see it get so much criticism for being “hard to understand”, or for not looking that impressive graphically… for those reasons, the reviews said it felt like some old game from yesteryear. 

A half year later, though, Nakaji praised Fire Emblem in that column of his for Famitsu… that was really when things started turning around, and the sales gradually picked up.”

With Fire Emblem released, and the groundwork having been laid, Intelligent Systems moved on to another co-development project.

SimCity

SimCity is a well known franchise nowadays, haven risen to glory and then been torn back down into rubble by EA. This was the first was the first game in the long-running series, and it would later be followed up by the sequel title, SimCity 3000. Development was handled by many development teams given the huge array of platforms that the game would eventually be released on, but the Super Nintendo build of the game was jointly developed by Maxis, Intelligent Systems, and Nintendo’s R&D4, now known as Nintendo Entertainment Analysis & Development. With an almost universally positive reception, SimCity went on to exist on many platforms with many sequels, while Intelligent Systems moved onto…

Game Boy Wars

Game Boy Wars was released on May 21st of 1991 in Japan for Nintendo’s Game Boy, a system that had already taken off and found a comfortable place in the gaming market. Jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s R&D1, Game Boy Wars was a followup title to the previously released Famicom Wars game, and it would serve as the very first title in the Wars series to be released on a portable system, something that would happen multiple times across the years.

For reasons that I frankly can’t explain (nor find information on), a trilogy of sequels for Game Boy Wars were developed and published by Hudson Soft. Game Boy Wars Turbo 1, 2, and 3 were all entirely handled by Hudson Soft with no involvement from Nintendo’s R&D1 or Intelligent Systems. But all of the games were well received, with each new release improving upon the last, and Game Boy Wars Turbo 3 receiving a 31/40 from Famitsu. Strangely, the first of these three games came out in 1997, and the third title came out in 2001 for the Game Boy Colour. With this in mind, I personally assume that the strides that Intelligent Systems had made in their games in that time is the reason they opted to not return to that particular trio of games.

Fire Emblem Gaiden

Fire Emblem Gaiden, released March 14th of 1992, is the second game in the long running series to have been released on the NES, and it was also the last game in the series to be released on the NES. Taking the systems that were at play in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light and iterating upon them, Fire Emblem Gaiden included the new ability to navigate the game’s overworld. Many of the game’s features would eventually be scrapped, but the concept of evolving a class into something more formidable would remain popular in later titles and would grow to become a feature that was to be an important part of the games still to come. With Shouzou Kaga and Gunpei Yokoi returning as directors and producers respectively, the reception was mixed, rather than overtly negative or positive. The game received a 28/40 rating from Famitsu, with other critics commenting on rapid increases in difficulty, and others citing a simplified formula making in-depth strategic play less viable. While critics were divided, the fan reception was largely positive.

Due to the fact that the game never released outside of Japan, the game was remade for Nintendo’s 3DS and released globally in 2017 under the name, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. While gamers were already used to modern Fire Emblem titles like Awakening and Fates, the Shadows of Valentia remake felt like a breath of fresh air to some, because of its more linear gameplay style, whereas others felt it was too rooted in the past to truly achieve its potential. Despite this, reception was largely positive and the game topped the charts in Japan during its release week, selling somewhere in the region of 80% of the copies that were shipped out for release.

Mario Paint

Also released in 1992, this time in July, August, and December depending on the region, Mario Paint was another joint development between Nintendo’s R&D1 and Intelligent Systems. Perhaps more popular for its musical arrangement capabilities than its actual art capabilities, Mario Paint was one of those strange Nintendo inventions that rolled in around the same time as the Super Scope, making it another title that was almost entirely sold by the gimmick of using a peripheral. This time, the Super NES Mouse was the main component, and while it wasn’t perfect, it was certainly a unique experience on the platform. The Super NES Mouse and the accompanying Mouse Pad has come to become something of a collectable in recent years, with musical compositions regularly doing the rounds on social media channels as small viral hits.

Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem

Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem is the third game to have been released in the series, and it was also the first game to be released on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System out of three that would eventually come to platform. A peculiar move on Intelligent Systems’ part was to have the game take place across two acts, with the first portion of the game actually being a remake of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, which, if you remember, was the first game in the series.

Released in January 21st of 1994 exclusively in Japan, the production for the game had already begun in 1992, while the studio was working on Fire Emblem Gaiden, the plan was to release two separate titles, but eventually the project was merged into one game. With the SNES having been on the market for four years at this point, the general idea was presumably to introduce new fans to the franchise by covering the content of the original and then expanding on it. One way we know this SNES title was designed to entice new players is that the overall difficulty was lowered to make the journey less of a struggle for those who hadn’t previously experienced a tactics-driven game. In 2015, the game was remade and released exclusively in Japan for the Nintendo DS under the title, Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem which included new gameplay content (which summed to four new story episodes) from the Satellaview Fire Emblem game, BS Fire Emblem. Both games launched to a positive reception, with Famitsu awarding it 36/40 and praising the improvements and quality of the game as being the best in the series to date.

Advance Wars

The year is 2001 and Nintendo’s Game Boy Advance was the hot new portable system. Advance Wars is the first game in the Wars series to have been released outside of Japan, arriving in North America one day before the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centers. Due to these attacks, the European and Japanese releases of the game were pushed back, with it eventually landing in European stores in January of 2002. However, it wouldn’t reach Japan until November 25th of 2004 where it would arrive as part of a duo pack under the name Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2. Originally intended as a Japan exclusive, the game was remarkably well received in the west, with what appears to be universal praise, with the lowest influential review being a 7.3 from Electronic Gaming Monthly. Taking the turn-based strategy war game and putting a new face on it seems to have done it a world of good too, as according to Designer Kentaro Nishimura, “Advance Wars‘ success shifted Nintendo’s attitude over western tastes.”

Advance Wars would go on to have one more entry on the Game Boy Advance in its lifetime, with Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, which would make up the “+2” part of the Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2 game bundle that would arrive in Japan in 2004.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

The Mario Kart series is long-running, and quite literally a flawless series of video games, with each and every entry building upon previous experiences and improving game mechanics, often taking advantage of new hardware. From the SNES to the Switch, Nintendo is rarely seen without a Mario Kart game on their hardware, with the exception of the Game Boy and Game Boy Color. The series has even appeared in arcades around the world, with the Mario Kart Arcade GP series of cabinets, which are fantastic by the way and very much worth your time.

Mario Kart: Super Circuit was the first, and unfortunately last, Mario Kart game to arrive on the Game Boy Advance. Following on from Super Mario Kart on the SNES in 1992, and Mario Kart 64 on the Nintendo 64 in 1996, both of which were developed by Nintendo Research & Development 4 Department which is now known as Nintendo EAD, Mario Kart: Super Circuit was developed by Intelligent Systems. It was released to universally positive reception. As of 2014, the game has sold more than 5.9 million copies, making it the best-selling game on the Game Boy Advance that wasn’t a Pokémon title.

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade

Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is the first of three games in the Fire Emblem series to appear on the Game Boy Advance. It’s the sixth installment in the series and was the first entry to have been portable, with Fire Emblem having skipped the Game Boy and Game Boy Color entirely.

Developed by Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade was originally intended to be released on the Nintendo 64’s ill-fated expansion unit, the 64 Disc Drive (64DD), under the title Fire Emblem: Maiden of Darkness. This was originally announced by the one and only Shigeru Miyamoto in 1997, but as development continued on the game, there was an internal reshuffle at a development level within Intelligent Systems. This reshuffling of staff, coupled with the less than impressive sales figures for the 64DD, resulted in IntySys taking the game back to the drawing board, with development being brought back to the table in 2000, when they game was shifted over to the GBA. Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade was well received upon release, but it wasn’t exactly a massive hit, selling in excess of 345,000 units come 2002. When it first released, it reached the number four slot on the charts selling over 101,00 units, sliding down to number seventeen a mere three months later but with sales having reached 220,000.

Fire Emblem

The second of three Fire Emblem games to appear on the Game Boy Advance, this game serves as a prequel to the aforementioned Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade. It’s important to note that the simple name, Fire Emblem, was likely chosen because this was the very first Fire Emblem game to have been localized for release in the west, releasing in November of 2003 in North America, as well as on February 20th and July 16th of 2004 in Australia and Europe respectfully.

Originally developed as a companion game for Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, the development process began in 2002, and the initial predicted development time was extended as more and more features were added to the game. This game was localized thanks to the success of the Advance Wars game on Game Boy Advance a year earlier, disproving the Japanese assumption that the western audience didn’t desire a tactical game. In fact, this game’s success in the west was so impactful on Intelligent Systems, that it’s responsible for the development of the highly sought after Gamecube title, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.

Reception to Fire Emblem was seemingly universally positive, with Japanese sales starting strong and staying strong post-release week and the game staying in the best 100 selling games for 2003. Unfortunately, no sales figures were released regarding the west, but as mentioned above, the game was successful enough to bring around the development of Path of Radiance. All we know for certain is that the developers have said that the game was a commercial success.

Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising

The second game in the Wars series to be released outside of Japan, Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising is the second and last game in the Wars series to be released on the Game Boy Advance. It released throughout 2003 in North America, Australia, and Europe, not actually releasing in Japan until November of 2004, despite having been developed there, where it shipped as the second half of Game Boy Wars Advance 1+2. While some new features were added to the game, they were mostly in the form of new units and terrain types. Otherwise, everything else maintained the same top-down, grid-based, turn-based gameplay. The game was first announced on January 15th of 2003 under the title Advance Wars 2, a mere five months before the game was released, with screenshots first appearing in April which confirmed that the old art style would remain in place, albeit with some very slight alterations and new assets from the new features like the NEOTANK and new COs. Reception for the game was positive, often scoring highly across various media outlets and maintaining an 88/100 score on metacritic. Upon release, IGN said that “Black Hole Rising doesn’t have an overwhelming sense of newness,” but then went on to call it “one of the finest games to hit the Game Boy Advance.” It went on to win the award for best handheld game of the year at the European Computer Trade Show in 2003.

WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Games!

A game that was jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s R&D1, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Games! was actually a remake of the Nintendo R&D1 developed Game Boy Advance game, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! which was released throughout 2003, arriving first in Japan, before heading to Europe, North America, and Australia. Maintaining the rapid fire gameplay found in Microgames, WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Games! took the experience to the Gamecube where it was given a notably more multiplayer-focused gameplayer experience. The overall reception of the game was generally positive, with the multiplayer focus being one of the strong points, but the reliance on pre-released game modes like those found in Microgames is what was often brought up as a negative.

Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door

Another Mario-themed product that Intelligent Systems were trusted with handling, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was developed by IntySys and published by Nintendo as a sequel to the N64 title, Paper Mario. The game was first announced following an announcement from Nintendo at GDC 2013 where it was revealed and tentatively named Mario Story 2 in Japan and Paper Mario 2 in North America.

The game was very well received upon its release, with some complaining that it was perhaps a little longer than it should have been. But the plot, art style, gameplay progression and cast of characters are praised so frequently that most seem to just think of the game as being as close to perfect as it can be. The implementation of interacting with the in-game paper as one would expect to interact with it in reality (folding and tearing etc) was a well received gimmick and gameplay mechanic, and the battle system, while relatively simple, offered depth and options that aren’t often found in such simple appearing games. In its initial release week, Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door was the number one best-selling game, shifting somewhere in the region of 159,000 copies, a number that would eventually swell by 409,000 with another 1.23 million copies selling North America. As of 2006, Nintendo entered the game into their Players Choice line of goods. In 2005, it won the Role Playing Game of the Year award at the Interactive Achievement Awards.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

The third and final Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem game from Intelligent Systems, co-produced by Nintendo’s R&D4, currently known as Nintendo Software Planning & Development. The second game to have been released outside of Japan and localized for a western release, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones arrived in North America and Europe in May and November of 2005 respectively, where it was immediately met with a warm reception with the only consistent complaint being that it was too similar to previous Fire Emblem games, which wasn’t something that could realistically be changed at the time, given the limitations of the hardware.

The game was developed alongside Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance in a parallel development, which reportedly came as something of a shock to the staff who hadn’t been expecting to develop another Fire Emblem game for the Game Boy Advance. Given that both games were being developed at the same time, the teams were stretched a little thin, so Intelligent Systems brought in freelance staff members to help with the development, some of whom were former Capcom developers. It was announced in 2004, a few months before its release, and heavily promoted by Nintendo to the extent that when it was released in October, it sold over 230,000 units before the year was out, with North American sales contributing another 90,000 units to the sales. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones would be the last original concept Fire Emblem game to appear on a handheld system until 2012, with the release of the immensely popular Fire Emblem Awakening for the 3DS.

WarioWare: Touched!

WarioWare: Touched! Is the fourth game in the WarioWare series and one of three games to arrive on Nintendo’s (at the time) somewhat revolutionary DS system. Jointly developed by Nintendo’s Software Planning & Development team and Intelligent Systems, WarioWare: Touched! is more of the same from the series, a focus on Microgames that come and go quickly opposed to a longer form structured game. Released in Japan on December 2nd of 2004, and then releasing in North America, Australia, and Europe through early 2005, WarioWare: Touched! makes heavy use of the DS’s touchscreen interface and on-board microphone to help sell the game as an interactive experience. The game was developed alongside a Game Boy Advance WarioWare title called WarioWare: Twisted! which led to the development team being split into two groups, one for Touched and one for Twisted. The first time anyone saw WarioWare: Touched! was at the first Nintendo DS Public Demonstration Event. As can be expected from the WarioWare series, the game was well received upon launch, with players enjoying the new interactive style of Microgames, but the main drawback was that there wasn’t a tremendous amount of variety in the Microgames, so things got a little repetitive quickly. As of June 2007, WarioWare: Touched was revealed to have sold some 2.15 million units worldwide according to a report from IGN.

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is the ninth entry in the mainline Fire Emblem series. It was released throughout 2005 and first launched in Japan on April 20th, before reaching North America, Europe, and Australia on October through December. It was developed by Intelligent Systems, but co-produced and supervised by Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development Studio.

Development for the game began after the Game Boy Advance game, Fire Emblem, was well received in the west, inspiring some faith in the potential of an overseas big-budget Fire Emblem game. Not only that, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was the first time a Fire Emblem game had appeared on a home console since Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 which was released on the Super Famicom in 2000. The jump to the Wii brought some hurdles for the development staff, most notably the fact that this was the first game in the series to go full 3D with graphics, cutscenes, and voice acting, Path of Radiance was many steps above the Fire Emblem games that had come before.

The game was released to widespread praise, selling 100,357 copies in its launch week, which was 64% of the initial shipment of games. Come the end of 2005, that number had ballooned to 156,413 copies sold, while in the UK it debuted at the top of the charts for Gamecube sales. The jump to 3D, while somewhat late, was an important step for the series in some regards, though it came at the cost of looking somewhat unimpressive, given the hardware. Because of this, the visuals are one of the things often criticised about the game.

Advance Wars: Dual Strike

Advance Wars: Dual Strike, Famicom Wars DS in Japan, is the third entry into the Advance Wars series of games and also the first to have appeared on the Nintendo DS. It was developed by Intelligent Systems, while being Co-produced and supervised by Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development team.

It was released exclusively on the DS through 2005, first launching in Japan, before moving on to North America, Europe and Australia, from June through to October. Set to launch as one of the first-wave games on the DS, Advance Wars: Dual Strike was announced by way of a Nintendo press release which confirmed that it would be released as one of the first 10 to 12 games made available for the system within 30 days of its launch, and this no doubt helped it successfully launch. The game was very well received at launch and sold somewhere in the region of 35,000 copies in its first 10 weeks. The executive producer on the game was none other than the late and great Satoru Iwata, who was the CEO of Nintendo.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

Radiant Dawn was the 10th game to be released in the mainline series of Fire Emblem and it was the first Fire Emblem to be released on the Wii. It’s a direct sequel to the previously mentioned 2005 title, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, which was a Gamecube title. The game was jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s Software Planning & Development team before it was released throughout 2007 and 2008, first arriving in Japan and North America in February and November 2007 respectively, before reaching Australia and Europe in April and March of 2008.

Following the successful establishment of a Fire Emblem fanbase in the west by way of Fire Emblem for Game Boy Advance and Path of Radiance for the Gamecube, Intelligent Systems set about continuing the Path of Radiance story by way of a direct sequel, but opting to release it on the still-in-development Wii, viewing the Gamecube as soon to be redundant hardware, which was all too true. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo made the rare and wise decision to omit the motion controls that made the Wii so popular, as they were deemed unnecessary, and the amount of staff working on the game doubled from around 100 to around 200, with CGI cutscenes being developed out of house by Digital Frontier, a company with a well regarded library of work behind them. The game was well received upon its launch, with an odd divide between critical opinions. Some praised the game for its punishing difficulty, whereas others considered this to be a weakness in the game.

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin

Advance Wars: Days of Ruin, also known as Advance Wars: Dark Conflict in Europe, is the fourth and final game in the Advance Wars series and the second of two Advance Wars games to appear on the Nintendo DS. It was developed by Intelligent Systems and released throughout early 2008, arriving first in North America and Europe in January before reaching Australia in February. The game was originally slated to launch in Japan under the title Famicom Wars DS: Ushinawareta Hikari (Famicom Wars DS: Lost Light) but after several delays, the Japanese release was canceled, despite having been developed there. The game brought across a much more grim atmosphere by changing the aesthetic from one of brightly coloured chunky soldiers and vehicles to a much more grounded and “realistic” art style, a move that not many supported. Speaking about the change due to a different perception of war from the Japanese perspective, Localization expert Tim O’Leary said, “they discovered that they, as Japanese people, have an idea that is different from what other audiences were looking for — and this is all based on comments that I’ve heard from them — a lot of their view of war, based on their previous games, was that they had a very light-hearted take. You know, pastel colors, quirky characters, and what-not; and they basically said, ‘Well, let’s take that and re-envision it.’ You know, it’s dirtier, it’s darker, it’s more somber.”

Ultimately, this didn’t really work for the series. Despite the game’s positive reception and very solid sales, changing the art style wasn’t what people wanted. Speaking about why we haven’t seen an Advance Wars game since then, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows Of Valentia producer Hitoshi Yamagami said, “Personally, I’d love to do Advance Wars… but since it’s harder to create relationships between its characters compared to Fire Emblem, I don’t have a clear idea of what kind of setting it could have.” Elsewhere, Shadows Of Valentia producer, and former Advance Wars contributor, Masahiro Higuchi has also said, “The Advance Wars series is one that I personally have a lot of interest in.” He also confesses that some of his staff is interested in a new Advance Wars game and that, “if we have a chance it’s something I’d like to do.” However, with the runaway success of the Fire Emblem brand with its most recent releases, it seems unlikely that we’ll be seeing a new Advance Wars soon. But I would love to be proven wrong.

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is an Intelligent Systems developed remake of the above mentioned Famicom title Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, which is the first game in the Fire Emblem Series. It was released throughout 2008 and 2009, launching in Japan and Europe in August and December respectively before arriving in North America and Australia in February of the next year.

Development on the remake began in 2007 as Fire Emblem Radiant Dawn neared completion, and it was developed with returning staff members from previous games, including the original composer who, with the help of another team member, reworked the score and in places expanded it. Character artwork was redrawn by returning artists with some special contributions being made by Masamune Shirow, of Ghost in the Shell fame. Further graphical asset assistance was offered up by Alvion, a Japanese video game developer and publishing house. Despite being a remake that lacked much in the way of new content, the reception was good, with fans welcoming a competent remake of the original game. The game sold some 180,697 copies in its first week, where it entered the charts at number two, selling through 90% of the stock. And sales continued to please Intelligent Systems. When released in North America, it jumped to number two again in the DS charts, and as of 2013, sales are in excess of 250,000 copies in North America.

Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem Awakening was the modern turning point for the Fire Emblem series, it’s the thirteenth entry in the series and it was the first game to arrive on the Nintendo 3DS where it was developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development Division team. Released in Japan on April 19th of 2012, then throughout North America, Europe, and Australia from February through to April, the game started it’s development in 2010 when multiple veteran developers were assigned key developmental roles in the production.

Fire Emblem sales had been solid, but not impressive or significantly improved despite high scoring reviews and popular opinions. Fire Emblem Awakening was developed with the possibility being that it would be the last game in the series. Nintendo had approached Intelligent Systems and told them that this would be the last Fire Emblem game if it didn’t sell more than 250,000 units. So the game was brought to the table with the idea of including many features, old and new, while affording the player new options in the game, such as building relationships with their favourite characters, something that would go on to be one of the most popular aspects of the game and fuel a frenzy of fan-art creations and communities.

When the game was released, it was to a thunderous applause. Fire Emblem Awakening was the pinnacle of the series, the shining gem in the crown. In its opening week, Awakening sold 242,600 units, stores were selling out as they blew through 81.63% of the shipped copies and the numbers just kept going up. As of early 2013, 455,268 units had been sold, with North America selling 180,000 units. But come September, that number had reached 390,000 units. As of December 2014, Fire Emblem Awakening shattered all of Nintendo’s expectations by reaching 1.9 million copies. Finally, they had done it, Fire Emblem was on the map of most anticipated games in the west.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M.

Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo’s Software Planning and Development Division team. It was to be a new IP that would push tactical combat in a new direction on the 3DS, and it received much in the way of promotion and highlighting by Nintendo, announcing it at E3 2014. Unfortunately, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. was also ugly, clunky, and nobody asked for it. It was the directorial debut of Intelligent System’s Paul Patrashcu who had been with the company for eight years, and it wasn’t the debut anyone would have wished for. Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. received middling-to-good reviews and most people just didn’t bother. When it launched in Japan, Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. sold less than 2000 copies.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Following the breakout success of Fire Emblem Awakening and its followup game, Fire Emblem Fates, which comprised a trio of titles (one of which was DLC) the hype was high for the next Fire Emblem title. Fire Emblem: Three Houses was jointly developed by Intelligent Systems and Koei Tecmo Games, and it’s the first Fire Emblem game to appear on a home console since 2007, despite the fact that some argue the Nintendo Switch isn’t in fact a home console.

Semantics aside, the game was brought to market on July 26th of 2019 where it was met with nothing but positive feedback and praise. Intelligent Systems credit Koei Tecmo Games for their success along with Three Houses because they were able to bring new systems and game modes to the game that were previously beyond the scope of the veteren developers. Development began in 2015, following the completion of Fire Emblem Fates. The game was, at the time, intended to launch as a 3DS title, but this idea was scrapped when the above-mentioned Shadows of Valentia remake began, which saw the development of Three Houses put on ice. Once the Nintendo Switch was announced, IntySys knew that this is where they wanted their game to be, and so they set about working towards that goal.

Around this time, Intelligent Systems approached Koei Tecmo Games, a studio they were already working with on Fire Emblem Warriors, full production began in 2015 once Shadows of Valentia had wrapped. Upon its release, the reception was glowing, with high praise raining in from big media outlets and fans alike. Critics praised the scope of the game and admired the renewed aesthetic that breathed more life than ever into the characters and world. In its first week in Japan, the game sold 143,130 copies, making it the best selling game at retail. Likewise, in the United Kingdom, it was also the best selling game, pushing numbers twice that of its nearest competitor, Wolfenstein: Youngblood. In North America, it was the second best selling game for the launch month, and the single largest Fire Emblem launch in the region with sales figures three times that of Shadows of Valentia and only being beaten by Fire Emblem Awakening. 

Congratulations! You made it to the end!

Why not take a break, you’ve earned it. Hopefully you enjoyed this deep dive into the games that have shaped Intelligent Systems. Thanks for stopping by. Peace!

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  1. This is one of my favorite developers of all time. They really nailed down the strategy world. I’ve been playing Fire Emblem since 2004! The series has had some ups and downs (looking at you Fire Emblem Fates!) but as a whole I appreciate the games that they release. This new release of Three Houses really fulfilled my dreams as a fan of the Fire Emblem series. I hope that all future games will be of this quality or better. I also hope that they hurry and remake the Tellius games (Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn) for the switch! Also worth mentioning, many people consider Fire Emblem Genealogy of the Holy War to be the best Fire Emblem game ever released. It’s worth including in this list!

  2. “Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light, which was never released outside of Japan, actually had quite a rough start with critical reception being mixed; some called it too difficult and graphically subpar. At home, however, in the hands of gamers, reception was markedly more positive,”

    What does this even mean? That the gamers first playing it gave it a mixed reception while a later group of (also) gamers had a better reception to it? What’s the difference between the two groups? Location? Age? Occupation? Where’s the home you’re referring to here?

    • @JimBob69
      The game was poorly understood. Once a critical mass of gamers in Japan understood the mechanics and thus appreciated the design, public acclaim shifted. The risk when trying something that hasn’t been a commercial success before is that consumers will reject it for its novelty.

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