When it comes to the success of a series, fans tend to look see their games in extremes. Fans often see series as massive successes or as colossal failures. That is never more true than with the Fire Emblem series. Since the release of Fire Emblem Awakening, fans have touted that the series is incredibly successful. But I will set the record straight in how successful the series truly has been.
Sales and Regions
First, a disclaimer. Because the original titles were only available in Japan, obtaining accurate numbers is difficult. Furthermore, companies and other sources do not often report on lower selling titles. As such, I have pulled sales data from numerous different sources. The information comes from Famitsu and Media Create, both of which track of Japanese game sales. In some instances, I had to go to unconventional areas (such as NeoGAF) so any kind of data, although the original source is either Famitsu or Media Create. The information on the first five games was taken from a documented related to a court case between Nintendo and game studio Tirnanog over a game similar to Fire Emblem titled Emblem Saga (later renamed Tear Ring Saga). More information is available here. We are not sure if the document is part of the official court records or if it is an article reporting on a court case. Thank to PushDustin for verifying the source.
For this article, the analysis will focus primarily on Japanese sale data. The reason is that Japan is the only region where every Fire Emblem game has been released. When analysing data, you have to establish a trend. This will be very difficult when looking at worldwide sales since the games were only released in the west with the 7th title on the Game Boy Advanced (titled Fire Emblem)
|Fire Emblem: Fire Dragon and the Blade of Light||329,000||NES||1990|
|Fire Emblem Gaiden||324,700||NES||1992|
|Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem||776,300||SNES||1994|
|Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War||498,200||SNES||1996|
|Fire Emblem: Thracia 776||106,100||SNES||1999|
|Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade||345,600||GBA||2002|
|Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flames**||265,200||GBA||2003|
|Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stone||223,200||GBA||2004|
|Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance||156,400||GCN||2005|
|Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn||171,900||Wii||2007|
|Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon||252,300||DS||2008|
|Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem||247,400||DS|
|Fire Emblem Awakening||455,200||3DS||2012|
|Fire Emblem Fates||538,700||3DS||2015|
*Sales numbers are rounded to the
** Known simply as “Fire Emblem” in the US and Europe.
First Fire Emblems
The first Fire Emblem game, Fire Emblem: Fire Dragon and the Blade of Light, was released for the NES in 1990. The games sold modestly, but the series performed well with the release of the SNES game Mystery of the Emblem, a sequel to the original, and Genealogy of the Holy War. Mystery of the Emblem remains the best selling game in Japan. Thracia 776 remains the worst selling game in the series, likely because it released longer after Nintendo had passed over the SNES in 1999. This was likely because of issues developing Fire Emblem 64 which was canceled with very little information about the game.
Gameboy Advance Fire Emblem
After five games on the console, Intelligent Systems released the next game on the Game Boy Advanced. Also during this time, Marth and Roy, star of the upcoming title, The Burning Blade, were included in Super Smash Bros. Melee. The Fire Emblem series was finally brought over to the US and Europe with Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flames.
However, the series sales began to decline. The Binding Blade sold well 345,600 in sales, a 30 percent decline from Genealogy of the Holy War’s sales and declined another 23 percent from The Binding Blade to Fire Emblem (The Sword of Flames). Sales declines, but stabilized, with the release of The Sacred Stone. Since the SNES games, sales have began to consistently decline. The weaker Japanese sales were made up by sales in the US and Europe (see below). It should be noted that these games released almost annually. The Binding Blade, The Sword of Flames and the Sacred Stone released in 2002, 2003 and 2004, respectively. The yearly releases of these titles may have contributed to the steady decline in sales.
Fire Emblem Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn
Both of these games were the weakest selling games in the series selling 156,400 and 171,900 respectively. So it begs the question: why did Nintendo localize these game. A significant issue that the Gamecube had was that it lacked RPGs and, as of 2005, third party games were few and far between. Despite poor Japanese sales, Nintendo likely localized the game for strategic reasons. RPGs are important to a system’s success. With the exception of the Wii, most consoles that were successful had a large library of RPGs. The NES, SNES, PS1 and 2, Gameboy Advanced and the DS all had a strong library of RPGs. Console manufacturers are responsible for the sales and progress of their systems, so when it comes to a niche RPG, a genre that the system needs, it falls on Nintendo to bring the game to the market. Radiant Dawn was likely for the same reason; however, the games released far closer to each other than other games in the series have. Nintendo, again, wanted to make sure that RPGs were available on the Wii, so Nintendo made sure to provide this niche game. This strategy was not unique; Nintendo worked to have a plethora of different titles on the Wii which appealed to different people. Games like Super Smash Brothers Brawl, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess and Super Mario Galaxy all tried to appeal to the core gamers (as opposed to the new market). Systems succeed when they are able to provide variety, and Fire Emblem did just that.
Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem
Shadow Dragon and New Mystery of the Emblem were both released for the DS, Nintendo’s best selling systems selling over 150 million units worldwide. Furthermore, the system was all the rage in Japan having sold over 32 million units as of March 31, 2013. However, the game didn’t perform much better than the previous two games in the series. Furthermore, these were remakes of the first and third game which were two of the the best selling games in the series. So what happened? The best guess would be fatigue. Since Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade, sales have become stagnant without much improvement. Despite being on a best selling system and a remake of popular games in the series, consumers were not interested in these entries. It signaled that, perhaps, the market was tired of Fire Emblem.
New Mystery of the Emblem wasn’t even released outside of Japan although these games performed better than Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. So why was Nintendo done localizing the series? In order to answer this, we need to look at western sales. Now, sales aren’t tracked in the US if they are too small and companies only report on big titles. Thus, we have to turn to VGChartz. VGChartz’s data is only estimates, and, as such, they have been criticized for occasionally having inaccurate information. However, this will be our best source for trying to pin down any sort of info on these games. Here is more information on the method the site uses.
|Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stone||420,000||160,000|
|Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance||290,000||80,000|
|Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn||280,000||30,000|
|Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon||300,000||30,000|
** Title in Japan is Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame
Comparing VGChartz sales to the sales in the table above (for Japan) shows Japanese sales are slightly higher. Keep in mind my sales are from a specific point in time, so final sales may be slightly higher as VGChartz notes. Thus, the sales for US and Europe should be fairly representative to actual sales.
Looking at US sales, they show a similar trend to what was happening in Japan. Sales were stagnant in the US with no real improvement, but sales continued to decline in Europe. In much the same way, consumers were getting tired of Fire Emblem. Another reason for not localizing the title was because of the volume of RPGs. The Gamecube and the Wii did not have a lot of RPGs, yet the DS was a Mecca of RPGs during its time. In many ways, the DS did not need the second Fire Emblem game and sales were not sufficient to justify its localization.
Fire Emblem Awakening
At this point, sales were declining and weren’t improving. To no surprise, Nintendo threatened to end the series if sales did not exceed 250,000. Given the trend in sales, this may not have been too far off. However, Intelligent Systems came together to make the best selling game in the series. During an Iwata Ask interview, the team said they wanted to make the game a culmination. As Hitoshi Yamagami states “I proposed to Higuchi-san and Maeda-san that instead of a complete departure, we could make a culmination of all the Fire Emblem games so far—and their eyes lit up. (laughs) The idea that resulted became the basis for this game.” There is a saying “Make every game as if it were your last. One day, you’ll be right.” The success of Fire Emblem Awakening was that they designed the last game as if it were the last, as it literally could have been. Sean Malstrom, author of Birdmen and the Causal Fallacy, has often said that you should design a game as if it were your last. Talking specifically “Bad game design is designing your current game as if there are multiple sequels ahead. Always design your game as if it will be your last. One day, you will be right.” Intelligent Systems took this to heart as Fire Emblem Awakening is almost a “best of the best” style game. It takes many of the elements of other Fire Emblem games and combines them into a single game. In the end, Fire Emblem Awakening sold 1.79 million units worldwide. Using this figure, worldwide sales would account for approximately 75 percent of total sales.
Fire Emblem Fates
Thanks to the success of Fire Emblem Awakening, Nintendo greenlit the next Fire Emblem title, Fire Emblem Fates (titled Fire Emblem: If in Japan). This game was split into two separate stories: Birthright and Conquest. Based on sales figures, Fire Emblem Fates sold 18 percent more than Fire Emblem Awakening. Based on this, it appears that sales are improving for the series. However, the numbers may be misleading as sale of Fire Emblem Fates include sales of two games. As such, the sales figures may be inflated. A sales, in truth, represents a person who purchased your game. It gives a financial measure of interests in a game. Thus, sales of a game like Fire Emblem Fates may be misleading because a person could buy two copies, and while that counts as two sales, sales only increased because someone bought the same product twice.
As such, sales have to be adjusted to return to a representative number in order to compare trends. However, there is one caveat; when someone buys one of the two games, they can buy a copy of the other games for a steep discount. So it is assumed that the majority of purchasers would buy the second game through Nintendo’s eshop, which is not included in the numbers provided above. Nevertheless, we can assume some consumers, though not many, would buy both titles for other reasons. This includes having a tangible, physical copy of the game and because Nintendo does not have an account system to keep the downloaded copy secure. Given this, we can estimate about 90 percent of consumers bought just one physical copy. Given that, sales for Fire Emblem Fates would be 484,800, representing only a 7 percent increase in sales. Although sales appear to be improving, the improvement is marginal at best.
Future of the Series
So it appears we can close the story and give Fire Emblem a happy ending. Sales are improving and the series is now a mainstream Nintendo title. But not so fast. Based on Fire Emblem Awakenings sales, sales of Fire Emblem are highly dependent on overseas sales. If Fire Emblem Fates doesn’t perform well in the US and Europe, the games could return to the dark days of near cancellation. Although this analysis has looked almost solely at Japanese sales, Nintendo is an international company. Moreover, the majority of Nintendo’s sales comes from overseas. Based on Nintendo’s September 30, 2015 earnings release, US sales and Europe sales comprise 43.4 percent and 23.6 percent of net sales respectively. Japanese sales comprise only 29.1 percent of net sales. No surprise, this conforms with sales of Fire Emblem Awakening where Japanese sales comprised 25 percent of total sales. So the future of the series depends heavily of the overseas market buying Fire Emblem games.
And that brings us to the localization of Fire Emblem Fates. In one scene, the main characters gives a girl a powder that makes her think guys are girls. Part of the confusion is the gap between the B and S support conversation. Without context, it looks like one of the main character drugged her to make her straight; nevertheless, In the west, the ramification of this scene is one that appears homophobic, as if the main character was “curing” the characters homosexuality. There was also a “petting” element in the game as well that has been removed in the western release. There is a clear concern that Fire Emblem wants to appeal more and more to “Otakus” which will ensure the title stays niche. Based on the data provided, Fire Emblem is very dependent on western sales in the series is too continue, yet these inclusions could significantly impact the sales of the game in the west.
Another reason Awakening performed well in the west was due to a lack of RPGs. As a discuss above, RPGs are crucial to a system’s success. The 3DS, however, did not have many RPGs when Fire Emblem Awakening launched in 2013. In many ways, the success of the game was a result of a lack in RPGs with Fire Emblem Awakening filling the void. However, that is not the case now. In fact, Nintendo even held an RPG showcase to highlight many of their RPGs headed in 2016. With even more RPGs to choose from, Fire Emblem Fates may find it difficult to stand out.
It remains to be seen how the series will continue. Speaking on Fire Emblem: Fates, the game has received high marks from the press and from fans based on Metacritic scores. I think it’s fair to say the series is not a blockbuster success, but it has found its niche (see here and here). So we’ll have to wait and see if Fire Emblem: Fates exceeds Awakening and if the series will improve or return to the chopping block.
 The quote had a typo which was fixed for this article.