Fan translations of beloved Japanese games have been landing left and right recently. In early February there was Goemon 3 (opens in new tab), a classic SNES game. Last week I wrote about Animal Forest e+ (opens in new tab), a Japanese-only enhanced Animal Crossing, getting close to a finished English patch. And now there's another big one: Berwick Saga (opens in new tab), the little-known-in-the-west successor to Fire Emblem.
Long before Keiji Inafune left Capcom to make Mighty No. 9, a blatant Mega Man knock-off, and long before Koji Igarashi left Konami to make Bloodstained, a blatant Castlevania knock-off, there was Shouzou Kaga. In the '90s, Kaga was the lead designer and writer of the Fire Emblem series. He made the first five Fire Emblem games before leaving developer Intelligent Systems to start his own studio where he started working on a game called... Emblem Saga. As you might guess, Nintendo wasn't super happy about that, or Kaga's brazen decision to actually include story references to Fire Emblem and characters from his past games. Fast forward past some legal drama, and it was actually released as TearRing Saga, while the more ambitious sequel, Berwick Saga, came out a few years later.
So what's the deal with Berwick Saga? If you look at it, the Fire Emblem legacy is immediately obvious. It's a tactical RPG with anime-styled characters, a classical fantasy setting, and little 2D cutscenes for characters duking it out. But there are some key differences, too. That's right: I'm talking about that hex grid, baby!
For 30 years Fire Emblem games have been played on a square grid, but Berwick Saga switched things up with hexes. It also handles getting new characters differently, requiring you to hire mercenaries and then fulfill certain conditions to recruit them permanently. Stats have some significant differences, too. You can read more about it here (opens in new tab).
Berwick Saga came out in 2005, around the same time the Fire Emblem games were finally being released in English on the GBA. It looks pretty advanced next to its Fire Emblem contemporaries, even if the graphics are dated today. Sadly it was a flop, and the end of Kaga's development studio.
Since then, Fire Emblem has grown far more popular in the west, so it's really cool to be able to play Berwick Saga today thanks to this fan translation (opens in new tab) and look back at the alternate path the series could've taken. Used copies of the game are about $20 on Ebay (opens in new tab), and PS2 emulator PCSX2 (opens in new tab) is easy to use and can run old games at far above their native resolution.
If you love tactical RPGs, definitely consider it—and also look at Vestaria Saga (opens in new tab), an amateur game that Shouzou Kaga and a group of volunteers made and released for free. It's the only game he's made in the 15 years since Berwick Saga, and the official English translation is on Steam for $20.
That's two not-quite-Fire-Emblems to tide you over until Nintendo makes another one.