A month or so ago I described the time I spent with a tool called FE Builder. It is an accessible software for making your own hacks of Fire Emblem Sacred Stones on the Game Boy Advance. I played around with FE Builder some for myself but what originally led me to discover it was actually one of the fan games that someone used it to make. I had seen a Twitter mutual posting screenshots from their playthrough and wanted to try the game for myself. But between getting distracted by my own FE Builder shenanigans as well as other games I was playing, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the game at first. Recently though I picked it back up and now I’m finally ready to share my initial impressions of Fire Emblem: Vision Quest.
Vision Quest was created by FE Universe user “Pandan,” who in their bio describes themselves as a fan of Fire Emblem since FE7 after learning about the series through Super Smash Bros Melee. Pandan set out to create a Fire Emblem hack that best captured the elements of the series they enjoy. Mechanically Vision Quest is meant to include a skill system that adds slight character variance but where none of the skills feel too overpowered. The large cast of characters allows for multiple playthroughs and from a difficulty perspective Pandan wanted enemies to feel more dangerous. That danger is balanced ideally by a greater variety of weapons that are effective against specific unit types, and swords in particular have been modified with this intent in mind. Storywise the game is meant to be focused on commoners rather than nobles and for the events of the narrative to be smaller scale – no world-conquering dragons in sight. While my first impressions are based only on about six chapters and three hours of play, I’ll be considering the creator’s intent in my impressions to help add context to my feelings on the game.
Vision Quest tells the story of a young man named Storch as well as some of his friends and family who have come together to form a group of bandits. Wait, bandits? Aren’t you usually the good guy in Fire Emblem? Storch and his crew are bandits in the Robin Hood tradition, well-meaning common folk who steal to feed their families in a world where powerful, cruel nobles control the majority of the wealth and resources (gosh, that sounds familiar…). While you will sometimes battle against other bandits who are more extreme in their methods, generally the game’s early battles take place against the soldiers of the very country in which you live. The first chapter in particular really rubs in your banditry by having the homes you enter with the “visit” mechanic be houses you are raiding for valuables. It’s certainly refreshing to spend your time with characters who are quite different from the typical princes and princesses of mainline FE titles.
Mechanically Vision Quest is built off of Sacred Stones. You have a party of units of different classes who you control on a grid battlefield. In addition to enemy units, the battlefield also features walls, building, and various types of terrain to work around as you determine your positions each turn. Combat takes place in phases: first the player phase and then the enemy phase. During the player phase, you move all of your units and can take actions like attacking, healing, visiting buildings, or using skills to change positioning on the map. When your whole phase is done, the enemy phase begins under the same terms. Play goes back and forth until the win conditions are met by one of the teams. Often the goal is for the protagonist Storch to reach a specific point on the map, though other objectives are possible such as surviving a certain number of terms or defeating a boss.
Combat is the driving element of Vision Quest. Units are made up of a number of stats which determine their combat potential. Health determines how much damage units can take before dying, strength or magic determines their hitting power while defense and resistance protect from physical and magical damage respectively, speed determines whether or not a unit can attack twice, skill contributes to accuracy and critical hit chance, and luck mildly influences your hit rate, avoid rate, and the chance to mitigate a critical hit. Units also have a constitution stat that determines how easy it is to pick up or push around other units as well as determining what weapons inflict a speed penalty. Movement rate also varies by character and class, with mounted units having a larger movement range than characters on foot.
In addition to stats, units also have skills, which are unique abilities that grant passive bonuses or sometimes a new active ability. As described in the creator’s intent, these skills aren’t meant to significantly break the game but rather to give mild bonuses to characters. So far I would definitely say this is accurate, with most of the characters having skills which aren’t particularly noticeable unless you are really going out of your way to make sure they activate. This keeps the emphasis on stats and weapons while still offering you bonuses for understanding the circumstances in which your characters are at their most effective. Often the skills are directly suited to the character’s class – for example, the healer Dewi restores health of nearby allies by 10%, while the thief Esfir can pass through tiles that are occupied by enemy units.
Fire Emblem’s weapon triangle is in full swing here. For those unfamiliar, there are three main weapon types in Fire Emblem: swords, axes, and lances. Swords have an advantage against axes which have an advantage against lances which have an advantage against swords. Weapons are typically determined by the character’s class, so choosing which enemies to attack based on their class makes a meaningful difference to your ability to succeed in combat. Attacks from an advantageous weapon are more accurate and powerful and can absolutely mean the difference between a victorious exchange and a disastrous one, though stats still play a role. This game has weapons which subvert the triangle similar to other Fire Emblem titles but also weapons that amplify it, doubling the bonuses a character receives to make them particularly powerful against foes with disadvantageous weapons.
Additionally, as promised in the creator’s description of their intent, there are quite a few new weapons in Vision Quest which help to emphasize the significance of effectiveness against special unit types. One of the most interesting ones available in the early chapters is a sword called the Lady Blade which deals special damage to brigands, pirates, and thieves. Brigands and pirates normally have a disadvantage against swords because of their axes but have large pools of health to absorb those hits; this weapon helps to mitigate that issue and allow a weaker sword unit to quickly blow through bandits. Another one I really like is the Mooncleaver, an axe that deals big damage to dark magicians. It isn’t a ranged weapon so you have to plan your approach carefully, but one good swing of this special axe will quickly take these dangerous enemies off of the field before they can present a serious problem for your team.
These new tools for gaining the advantage against foes may sound like they make the game easier, but the more powerful tools actually give you a needed boost against more difficult odds. Because you represent a small, underfunded group of bandits standing against an army of state-sponsored soldiers, you are frequently outnumbered and trying your best to hold out against an army flooding the field with reinforcements. Additionally, these specialized weapons are often heavy and awkward against opponents they are not designed for, meaning that you have to position carefully so that only the enemy type you are equipped for approaches your unit. It is easy to overcommit, play too aggressively, or fail to realize that a group of reinforcements is about to charge in and ruin your day. For this reason, I highly recommend anyone trying Vision Quest remember to make a save state at the beginning of each turn so you can double back if you need to correct some mistakes. Alternatively, if you want the old school FE experience in all its glory you can reset when you make a mistake and repeat an entire level from the top.
So far, Vision Quest has been a neat game built from familiar building blocks but with some new tools added to give an experience that feels fresh. The elements I have seen so far line up nicely with the creator’s vision (ha!) and I’m looking forward to seeing more of the game and digging into elements I haven’t gotten to see much of yet like supports, class changing, and the game’s major story beats. While it may still be awhile before a new Nintendo-made Fire Emblem game is released, I am excited to see what creative fans are building. Just as plenty of indie titles like Celeste, Hades, Into the Breach, Spiritfarer, and so many more have brought new ideas and great refinement to familiar genres, I am open to the possibility that this fan creation may very well stand its ground with “official” entries into the Fire Emblem series.