Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a tactical role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance (GBA) handheld video game console. It is the sixth entry in the Fire Emblem series, the first title produced for the system, and the first title to appear on a handheld console. It was released in Japan in March 2002.
The Binding Blade is set on the fictional continent of Elibe, which has been dominated by humans for centuries following an ancient war between humanity and dragons. The story follows Roy, a young nobleman from the small independent nation of Pherae as he leads a growing army against the forces of King Zephiel of the kingdom of Bern, who is gradually taking over Elibe with the aid of a mysterious power. As with other Fire Emblem games, battles take place on a grid-based map, with player units assigned character classes taking part in single combat with enemies and being subject to permanent death if defeated.
The Binding Blade began development as a Nintendo 64 title called Fire Emblem: Maiden of Darkness, but internal changes caused the project to change its platform to the GBA, scrapping nearly all of its original content in the process. One of Intelligent Systems’ main goals was to make the game more forgiving to newcomers than the notoriously difficult Fire Emblem: Thracia 776. Upon release, it was praised by critics and sold over 345,000 units. Despite never releasing overseas, Roy’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee contributed to the localization of its 2003 prequel, The Blazing Blade, released overseas as Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is a tactical role-playing game in which players control main protagonist Roy and his growing army as they take part in battle across the land of Elibe. Gameplay is broken up into maps bookended by story sequences, with the completion of each map advancing the storyline. When the game is completed for the first time, a new difficulty level is unlocked.
Battles take place on grid-based self-contained maps and are governed by a turn-based system where units on both sides are given their chance to move and act. Once a unit has moved, depending on their position relative to allied units and enemies, they may perform actions such as attacking or supporting allied characters through statistic-enhancing abilities, or they can wait until the next turn. When attacking, the game transitions from the top-down view of the map to a side-view battlefield, where a cinematic battle plays between the player and enemy units. Each unit has access to different weapons and items, but these will break after a number of uses and must be repaired in between missions. The effectiveness of melee weapons is dictated with the series’ recurring Weapons Triangle mechanic: axes are strong against lances, lances strong against swords, and swords strong against axes. Villages found during map battles will be attacked; if defended by the player, non-player characters within the village will give hints about future objectives. A map is cleared when the boss is defeated and Roy seizes the boss’s location. If characters fall in battle, they are subjected to permanent death, removing them from the rest of the game. If Roy dies, the game ends and the map must be restarted.
Each unit has their own character class, with that class determining a unit’s range of movement, weapon, and strengths and weaknesses. Classes range from on-foot units like swordsmen and knights, mounted units such as the series’ recurring Pegasus Knights, and magic-wielding units such as Mages. Each class also has its own battle animation. Upon performing an action in battle, characters are awarded experience points (EXP). Upon gathering enough EXP, the character levels up, and its statistics such as defense and critical strike rate are raised randomly. Using special items, a unit’s class can be evolved into an Advanced Class, changing their class and altering their statistics. A Support system exists where characters who remain next to each other for a number of turns talk to each other, gaining Support Points and earning stat boosts. A limit is placed on the number of Support Points that can be earned when completing a single map.