Story & World
While Fire Emblem does have the typical "kill the foozle" plot, it also has many smaller threads involving different nations and their relationships with each other. Some nations are already allied with Mediuth's Durhua empire at the beginning, some are fully on Marth's side, others decide to betray Aritia, and some are conflicted as who to support. These relationships are only lightly touched on during the sparse dialogues of each chapter, but it does give a sense of something more than just good versus evil. What FE could have really benefited from is an overview of the entire continent of Akaneia between chapters to show these relationships better. As it stands, it feels more like just moving from one map to another instead of stemming the tide of the rampaging Durhua empire.
Character interaction is limited during a full scale battle (as one might expect), but what is there is appreciated. The developers could have easily just stuck with the strategic side of the game and just have the two sides belt it out. Instead, they decided to lean more on the RP side of things and allow certain characters to talk to each other during battle. A good effort overall but it just can't compare with the immersiveness of a regular RPG. This may be limitation of the SRPG genre, mayhaps — only time will tell. 8/20
All characters gain a level after achieving 100 experience points and are capped at level 20. Experience is gained by either participating in combat (small amount of XP) or dealing the killing blow whilst in combat (large XP). Certain classes can promote and reset their level back to one, allowing for even more stat gains. Distributing experience intelligently is core to doing well in the game and adds a whole other layer to the strategic cake. Want a weak unit to level but know that it won't be able to get a kill on its own? Have a stronger unit beat down the enemy a bit and then send in the wimp for an easy kill. Oh, whoops, the stronger unit was actually too strong and killed the enemy in one hit. Try a not-so-strong unit next time.
There are two flaws with this system. One, not all units can promote, which means promotable characters are obviously going to be favoured. For example, I really wanted to be able to use Doga and Roger, both of them Armour Knights. Without a promotion on their horizon, they just can't compete with the Social Knights (promotes to Paladin), who end up not only being more powerful, but also having a sick movement rate. The generals in the game are basically tankier versions of Armour Knights; why couldn't they promote to that? The other issue is that clerics (who cannot deal damage) only get experience by being attacked. Granted, they get about the same XP as if they had made a kill, but that's only if they survive. I was far too scared to put any of my clerics in harm's way, so I was unable to get any of them to the prerequisite tenth level needed to promote them to Bishop. Why couldn't they just get experience for casting their healing spells? (Note: both these flaws are addressed in most of the other FE games)
Also have to mention that there are items that will boost particular stats, so that adds another level of customization. I found just a handful of these items during play, but I also missed the secret shops in the later maps where I could have bought a pile of them. Yeah, there are four secret shops throughout the game and I missed every single one like a tool. Sometimes reading a walkthrough after I've completed a game really FAQs me over. 15/20
Combat & Monsters
As a fan of strategy games, I'm always going to be awarding mucho points to anything more than selecting the Fight option from a menu. Fire Emblem serves up the standard fare with terrain affecting movement rates and defensive values as well as certain classes having an inherent weakness to certain weapons (e.g. flying units are easily plucked out of the sky by any missile weapon). The map levels themselves are varied enough to require having an array of stratagems at the player's disposal. What I would have liked to see, though, was some three (or more) kingdoms fighting on the same map instead of heads-up all the time (adding more depth to the world as well). Though the first few chapters allow for Marth to bring all his companions to the fray, soon he must makes choices as to who will accompany him onto the battlefield. FE allows the player to view the map, including the stats of all enemy units, before deciding who to select. Even with the amount of characters that died under my leadership, I still had a decent amount to choose from by the end.
Both sides have access to all the character classes, so there aren't really any monsters, per se. Though it would have been cool if there was a "monster kingdom" that had its own unique set of units and just attacked whomever. For the purposes of this category, I'll judge based on the variety of units and how distinctive they are from one another. 16/20
Graphics & Sound
Map terrain and character icons are very distinctive and stand out nicely, although the terrain lacks detail. All main characters have their own character portrait (indeed, that's how one can tell that it's a main character), although some are merely palette-swapped versions of another. It's cool that each character class has their own battle animation (even changing depending on what weapon type is wielded); it's too bad that they always fight with nothing but the cruel, black void in the background.
The music, while decent enough, lacks in variety. For the vast majority of the time, it'll just be that one map tune, over and over and over. Sound effects are used to good effect, punching up the battle animations nicely. 10/20
There were a few times when money was tight, most notably when I found the first shop that sold silver weapons. For the most part, however, Marth never had to worry about his coffers getting too low. As long as Marth visited the major settlement in each map, and the thief snagged any chests available, money was never a big issue. I had enough golds by the end that I bet I could have bought out at least two of the secret shops (dammit!). In addition to having characters visit a shop to purchase an appropriate weapon for them, FE allows characters to transfer items to one another. This, combined with the storage facility in each map, allows the player to set up a weapon and items transportation network. For example, as soon as I found a shop that sold silver weapons, I spent some time after defeating all the enemies to stock up on weaponry. During subsequent maps, I could easily replace a front line soldier's failing weapon with a quick trip from one of the expeditious pegasus knights.
Challenge and replayability both score high. The overall challenge can be adjusted during play by doing things like using the nosebleed classes more often. Who knows? Maybe by dumping a lot of experience into them, they may blossom into a force to be reckoned with (pretty big maybe, though). Even within a single map, the replayability level is high as there are a multitude of different paths to victory (and even more to failure). 17/20
Final Ranking: 66/100