If you're a fan of JRPGs and tactical strategy games, you've probably come across the Fire Emblem series before.
This franchise was relatively obscure in the West until Marth showed up in 2001's Super Smash Bros. Melee, and since then Fire Emblem has been a mainstay of every Nintendo console generation.
There are more than a dozen titles in the Fire Emblem series, but not all of them achieve the same level of greatness.
Whether you're a new fan trying the franchise for the first time or a returning player looking to catch up, here are my picks for the best Fire Emblem games that are absolute must-plays.
5. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Despite being the eighth game in the series, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was only the second one to get an international release.
It follows twins Eirika and Ephraim as they fight to protect their homeland from invading forces. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was the last Fire Emblem game on the Game Boy Advance and has one of the best protagonists of the series to show for it.
Though it didn't make any real changes to the tried-and-true Fire Emblem formula, the characters remain strong enough that it's in my top five. Watching the royal twins get separated for the first time and seeing how their time apart plays out is a great story to experience.
4. Fire Emblem Engage
Fire Emblem Engage is the most recent entry in the Fire Emblem series as of this writing. This one puts the focus almost entirely on the tactical combat aspects that Fire Emblem is known for.
While many fans might be disappointed that the "support conversations" feature from recent Fire Emblem games were pared back in this one, it makes up for it by having some of the most challenging tactical combat of pretty much any other game on the Nintendo Switch.
The wrinkle in Fire Emblem Engage involves the Emblem Rings at the heart of the plot. By equipping them, characters can call on powerful warriors from previous Fire Emblem games to give them new combat abilities.
Series favorites like Ike, Marth, and Roy all show up to help the newest Fire Emblem protagonist save the world from the Fell Dragon, making this game feel like a grand great celebration of the franchise.
3. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
After Marth, Ike is easily the most famous face in the Fire Emblem franchise, and his story is one of the deepest in the series.
He's the leader of a band of mercenaries, fighting whatever battles will get him and his people paid. There are dark moments in this one, but it's ultimately about finding hope in a hopeless situation.
The wonderful story is mostly what carries this game because the lack of casual mode makes the gameplay difficult to recommend to new players.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is from the era of Fire Emblem games that have permadeath: any character who dies in combat is removed from the story forever, making every move stressful and every battle tragic.
Later games would offer a casual mode without this punishing mechanic to help entice new players to pick up the series.
2. Fire Emblem: Three Houses
Most Fire Emblem games have a very linear story, but Fire Emblem: Three Houses took a different—and far more ambitious—approach.
At the very beginning, players choose one of three houses to join, becoming the head instructor of the students in that house and leading them into battle.
The different choices drastically changed how the game's story played out and offered a total of four different paths to follow (which increased to five when the Ashen Wolves DLC was later released).
Despite being so open-ended, the characters in each of the houses are full of depth and personality. Everyone has a story to tell if you spend enough time with them, with dozens of potential romance options as well.
Fire Emblem: Three Houses might not make the very top of our list, but it's easily the one with the most replayability.
1. Fire Emblem Awakening
Back in 2012, the Fire Emblem franchise was in danger of being cast aside by Nintendo. Sales had always been just "all right," with no big hits coming out of the series.
Fire Emblem Awakening was developed as the potential final entry, but it ended up being the best one ever made up to that point.
The inclusion of a casual mode made this one far more accessible to newer fans, while existing fans found improvements and refinements to everything they loved about the series.
Following a group of soldiers who try to prevent the kingdom of Ylisse from falling to undead invaders, Fire Emblem Awakening features the best cast of characters the series has ever seen.
Chrom and Lucina's relationship steals the show, but it's worth spending time with everyone to get the wider story. Fire Emblem Awakening's cast is what made this Fire Emblem game a bona fide hit outside of Japan and helped keep the series alive.