Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade (lost early builds of Game Boy Advance tactical role-playing game; 1997-2002)
Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade is the sixth installment and the first handheld title of the franchise, first released in 2002 as a Japan-only title. Months prior to its release, its protagonist Roy makes his first overall debut in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and he, alongside fellow Fire Emblem protagonist Marth, sparked international interest in the franchise, resulting in later titles (Save New Mystery of the Emblem) to be released worldwide instead of Japan-only. It is also known for codifying gameplay elements that were present in previous games, most notably the Support Conversation System, which, if two characters acquire enough points and talk, their support level increases. The game served as a full departure from the first five games, having zero relation to said games whatsoever.
Development and Release
Development for the game has been very rocky; following its initial cancellation as the ill-fated Fire Emblem: Maiden of Darkness, development had started over from the beginning, and as it moved to the Game Boy Advance, the story was rewritten from the ground up. Two known characters, Roy and Karel, were carried over from it. Development for this game had only lasted for over a year. It utilizes a completely new and simplified engine designed for the console, and would continue to see use until The Sacred Stones.
The then-new version of the game (still known as Fire Emblem: Maiden of Darkness at the time) was first announced on August 2000 as one of the many titles to be released on the Game Boy Advance. Around the time of Nintendo Space World 2001, it would eventually be renamed to its final title. It was initially going to be released sometime in July 2001, before it was finalized to March 29th, 2002.
Known early Builds
Build as Fire Emblem: Maiden of Darkness
The game originally started development on the Nintendo 64, and was first announced on July 1997. However, it suffered multiple delays, before this version was shelved for good on September 24th, 2000, causing development to start over. So far, only a single screenshot, several concept art, and a script serve as proof of this build's existence. Little else is known about it.
January 2001 build
After its initial announcement, no further news were made until January 19th, 2001, when an article about it was published by Famitsu. Included with the article is the first known screenshot of the game. The screenshot depicts a very early battle screen, featuring a female mage casting thunder onto Shanna. The health bars in the screenshot look very dynamic, heavily resembling swords. The battle sprites also look very different to the ones that were used. In the final game, the only unpromoted female mage to appear is Lilina herself, but the screenshot shows that there were supposed to be enemy variants at some point.
Another screenshot, depicting a conversation between Alen and a villager, first appeared five days later. This screenshot was published in an issue of Nintendo Power, but the issue that first included this screenshot is unknown. Though the only prepromoted female hero in the Game Boy Advance games is Echidna, the same screenshot also has the female mercenary sprite, which never saw any use throughout the Game Boy Advance trilogy. However, said sprite can still be found in the files of all the Game Boy Advance installments. Outside of these two screenshots, little else is known about this build, and is never shown to the public.
Space World 2001 and subsequent builds prior to 2002
The most well-known early build is the one shown in Nintendo Space World 2001. The only associated material that have been known to survive are a promotional flyer, a magazine photo, screenshots, and a pre-release trailer, albeit in low quality. Standalone reuploads of said trailer exist on YouTube, but are muted. A standalone version that includes the audio can be watched below. This is by far the only build to have surviving video footage in any form.
From the available footage, the UI is drastically different from previous builds, beginning to look identical to the one that appears in the final game. The Battle screen was also heavily simplified, with the health bars becoming more simple and the names of the combatants located in them. The character Lilina was going to be recruited in the very first chapter, but instead, she joins in the eighth one instead. Weapon icons from the previous game Thracia 776 were also used as placeholders before new ones were created. During enemy phase, player units were on the left side of the battle screen, while the enemy's were on the opposite.
On July 25th, 2001, Famitsu posted another article that included two screenshots; one that involves a berserker performing a critical hit on a fire dragon, and another featuring Roy and Damas, the first boss of the game. These screenshots seem to have less saturated colors than in the final. Additional screenshots were also featured on a flyer from an unknown date, but only a select few have resurfaced in better quality.
Differences between Roy's design
This build is notable for featuring Roy's infamous prerelease design, where he is depicted with a more youthful and adventurous appearance than his final one, akin to the likes of most Shounen protagonists. Notable differences include the following, all of which Roy's final design either toned down or didn't have:
- His hair was a lot more distinct and messy, while the final design has the hair toned down to look more realistic.
- His armor looked a lot heavier; having large, bulky pauldrons, and a smaller breastplate. His breastplate also has a red gemstone embedded in it, which didn't appear in the final, but given the fact that Roy's color scheme is an inversion of Lilina's, it was probably likely that it would've represent the opposite of Lilina's blue one.
- He also wore a long-sleeved black shirt and large white gloves, but the final has him wear a blue jacket over the same shirt albeit short-sleeved. and blue fingerless gloves.
- The headband has a slightly different pattern between the two versions.
- Roy's boots had cloths wrapped around, with the kneeguards attached. The final has them removed.
Despite Roy having his design altered a few months before Binding Blade's release, both his battle and map sprite still use his old one in the final game. His ingame portrait, however, did get updated to reflect the change. According to an interview, he was designed to appeal to younger audiences, specifically children.
Early Chapter 2
Early screenshots from the second chapter of this build also exist, both on the prerelease flyer and as standalone, high-quality images. The UI seems to be slightly different, so it could be possible that these screenshots belong to a later build. The following differences between this version and the final include the following:
- The mountains have brighter colors with purple shading.
- The top left corner where the village can be found is guarded by three soldiers, a fighter, and an archer. They were removed from the final version, possibly to make reaching the village easier to do.
- The village background, used during conversations between characters, had smaller houses, less visible mountains, and a slightly different tree. The girl that appears in the village also looks slightly different.
- The top portion of the mountains looked slight larger than in the final.
These screenshots do not appear on the prerelease flyer, but because of the coloration of the mountains, they possibly came from this build.
Memento Mori build
Status: Existence Unconfirmed
On July 2008, Fire Emblem Universe owner General Archibald acquired information of this build from his friend, Memento Mori. It is believed that all of the information originated from an alleged Intelligent Systems employee's daughter, who compiled notes regarding the build. However, all of the notes provided by her are poorly written in English. Few years later, on January 2nd, 2011, Arch compiled all of these notes on a now-defunct website.
The only known information about this build includes the following:
- One of the bosses, Galle, was originally going to be playable in the main story, and his personal weapon would've been the DragonSpear. The spear had a function similar to that of a Brave Lance's. He can be recruited by Melady and Zeiss. In the final version, while he does not join Roy's army, he can still be talked by the latter two wyvern riders. Guinivere was also going to be playable in the main story as well, serving as the second lord character.
- Thea and Lilina were supposed to be cousins.
- Lilina was also wielding a tome called "Storm", but no such weapon exists in the final game.
- The titular binding blade could only be obtained by defeating Zephiel. However, one of the game's manga adaptations, Fire Emblem: Champion's Sword, has Zephiel wield both it and Eckesachs.
- Igrene was initially going to possess dragon blood.
- Another weapon, the Sea Sword, was going to be a brave weapon that can only be used by mercenaries and heroes.
- Zephiel and Murdock were siblings in this build. In addition, Zephiel was also in love with Brunnya, but in the final, this is only implied.
- Jahn survived Chapter 24, and can be fought in the endgame alongside Idunn. There were also going to be unrelated dark dragons that would've dropped dark dragonstones in the latter.
The build itself is shrouded in mystery, and It is currently unknown if the Memento Mori build is legitimate, as there were no screenshots provided.
English localization build
Status: Existence Unconfirmed
Following the release of the game, Nintendo of America confirmed that Binding Blade will be released internationally, but it ultimately didn't happen, making it possible that it was quietly shelved. Its prequel, The Blazing Blade, was the first in the franchise to be released internationally instead, creating a huge localization gap. Very little information of this build have been provided, and no screenshots or evidence of its existence have been found.
Various other builds
Aside from the first three mentioned, there are multiple other builds that are proven to exist through available screenshots. Most screenshots depict how much the battle screen has been altered throughout the game's development. Some showed that the battle screen looked more similar to those from the Super Famicom games albeit with the names of the units omitted, while a few others looked slightly more detailed and had the name bar at the top. One screenshot that depicts Wolt firing an arrow from a ballista looks almost identical to the one from the final, except the Hit rate, Damage, and Critical values were located at the top.
A screenshot of an older version of the game's world map and narration sequence appeared as early as February 27th, 2002, and it was believed to be posted on the Korean video game news website Ruliweb, alongside other additional prerelease screenshots, but the article that contained these screenshots had not been archived. Two additional screenshots from one of the builds are found in a website that contained interviews regarding the game. One of them featured an early version of the trading system that features what appears to be item icons that looked different from the final version.
So far, only screenshots from these builds exist, and little is known about them.
All of Binding Blade's early builds have yet to be leaked in any capacity. It is unclear as to how many prototype builds were made before the final version was released, or if at least one had a playable demo. However, given the fact The Blazing Blade and The Sacred Stone had their prototypes leaked a few years after their release, there is a possibility that at least one of those builds will ever make a resurgence in the near future.
January 2001 build
Space World 2001 build
- Fire Emblem Wii (lost tech demo; late 2000s)
- Fire Emblem: Archanea Saga (partially lost original Satellaview version of "Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem" bonus content; 1997)
- Fire Emblem: Three Houses (partially found Cristina Vee voice recordings from English dub of Nintendo Switch tactical role-playing game; 2018-2019)
- Fire Emblem: The Binding Blade promotional trial maps (lost promotional DLC of Game Boy Advance tactical role-playing game; 2002)
- Fire Emblem (partially lost early 4-koma manga anthologies based on tactical role-playing game franchise, 1994-2002)
- Official website of the game.
- NIWA Fire Emblem wiki article detailing pre-release information.
- An archived RPGamer page with many prerelease information about the game.
- The Q&A page of the official website. Retrieved 19 Jul '21
- The 4th page from a Binding Blade interview website. Retrieved 19 Jul '21
- Andrew Long - Fire Emblem Information Unveiled. Retrieved 19 Jul '21
- An archived IGN article on Fire Emblem and Mario Paint 64 being revealed through an interview with Shigeru Miyamoto. Retrieved 18 Jul '21
- Article from GameIroIro confirming the cancellation of the game. Retrieved 18 Jul '21
- First Famitsu article about Binding Blade. Retrieved 11 Jul '21
- Screenshot gallery on TheGIA containing screenshots from January 24th, 2001. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- Serenes Forest article that details every known prerelease information of most of the games. Retrieved 11 July 2021
- Famitsu article detailing Binding Blade and other then-announced Game Boy Advance titles Retrieved 13 Jul '21
- Screenshot gallery on TheGIA containing screenshots from March 5th, 2002. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- An archived link containing Arch's notes about the prototype. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- Serenes Forest article about the Memento Mori build. Retrieved 13 Jul '21
- RPGamer - "Magical Vacation and Fire Emblem GBA Confirmed for North American Release" Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- IGN - "Fire Emblem Hits Japan Airwaves" Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- Third page of the "What is Fire Emblem?" article from the official website. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- "Special Terrain" article from the official website. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- Screenshot gallery on TheGIA containing screenshots from February 27th, 2002. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- The 6th page from a Binding Blade interview website. Retrieved 14 Jul '21
- Serenes Forest article for Blazing Blade's prototypes. Retrieved 10 Jul '21
- Serenes Forest article for Sacred Stone's prototype. Retrieved 10 Jul '21