Gemfire is sort of an anomaly on consoles. At its heart we have a turn-based strategy game. Consoles of the time were home to many attempts at this style of gameplay. Few games were designed for the novice though. This turned a lot of fans off from the genre due to the complexity. Gemfire is the opposite. There are a ton of things you do but they are handled in a unique manner. This is what sets Koei’s fantasy TBS game apart from their historical releases. This is a genre that Koei pretty much owned in the 8 and 16-bit days.
Gemfire is fantasy based and intriguing
The setting is the fictitious Isle of Ishmeria. The land has just undergone an attack by a Fire Dragon. Behind that dragon is a wizard that wants to take over the land. Six powerful wizards from across the land of Ishmeria were able to defeat the Fire Dragon, sealing it into a ruby. This ruby was placed at the top of the crown the king of Ishmeria would wear. The six wizards turned themselves into jewels and were placed at the base of the crown to watch over the Fire Dragon.
Then a new king came to power and sought to rule through power and authority. The princess could not take the cruelty anymore. She broke the six wizard jewels loose and they flew away out into Ishmeria. Those jewels sided with various rulers of the land. King Eselred, furious with his daughter’s actions, locks her up in the tower.
This is all explained through a detailed cutscene at the beginning of Gemfire. Something you did not get often on cartridge games.
One goal with many paths to reach it
Gemfire offers four scenarios for you to start. Each uses the same game map, but the details are different. Scenario one is closest to the end of the opening cutscenes. Scenario four is closer to the end of the game as it could have played out. Scenarios two and three are key points in the battle.
Picking a family comes with preset supplies and such. In scenario one, picking the Chrysalis or Coryll families is a tougher challenge. Mainly because you are locked and have only one way to go – outward. Choosing the Blanche or Lyle families gives more options and more provinces. Those two families also represent a different challenge. You will potentially be fighting on multiple fronts.
Multiple layers of gameplay in Gemfire
Gemfire has many levels of strategy available. One is the map view. Another is the battle screens. Finally, how you advance in each scenario can change from game to game.
On the map view you see your provinces, and those of the other families. Here you will see time of year, each having different effects on the lands. You will also be able to see who is attacking whom from here.
The map view is also where your province level activities occur. You can build up your fame, defenses, through various actions. These things effect your crop growth, troop capabilities, etc.
Battle screens are where the “action” is in Gemfire. Here you see your troops, enemy troops, and obstacles represented by icons. Your goal is to either destroy the army of your opponent completely or take their flag.
Paying attention to who is attacking the other families can work in your favor. If you hold key provinces you can piggyback the attack from another family. The weakened enemy will fall much easier. You can also spy, sabotage, etc other provinces.
Great introduction to the genre
Koei represents a good breadth of turn based strategy games for gamers. Gemfire is on the beginner side of things, sadly not many of their releases are. Romance of the Three Kingdoms (last release on PlayStation 4) and P.T.O.(last release on the PlayStation 2) are on the other end of the scale.
Gemfire saw release on the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and Nintendo Entertainment System, and PC’s in North America. Overseas gamers got FM Towns, Sharp X68000, MSX, PC-98 along with their respective consoles that we had available.
This article was originally published on Retro Gaming Magazine.