- See also: Archanea Series.
The game takes place on the fictional continent of Archanea. Following the story of Marth, the exiled prince of the fallen kingdom of Altea, it depicts his quest across the continent to raise a resistance army to combat the Dolhr Empire, which currently dominates much of the land, and to find the lost sword Falchion in order to follow in the footsteps of his ancestor Anri and slay the Shadow Dragon Medeus.
There are several nations:
- Archanea: Known as the Holy Kingdom, and shares the same name as the continent. It was founded by King Cartas after the first battle with the Earth Dragons. The Fire Emblem is the kingdom's treasure.
- Altea: A kingdom of knights, founded by the Hero Anri. It is allied with Gra, who share the same ancestry. Marth hails from this kingdom.
- Gra: A kingdom that branched from Altea. After the death of Anri, some members of Altea's royal family left over inheritance issues and founded Gra.
- Talys: A newly founded island kingdom. Marth escapes here after his homeland of Altea is invaded by Dolhrian troops.
- Aurelis: A kingdom located in the plains. It was founded by Cartas of Archanea, and was initially ruled by his younger brother, Marlon.
- Grust: A militant kingdom, famed for its Sable Knight squadron. It was founded by General Ordwin.
- Khadein: Known as the sanctuary of sorcery. It was founded by Archsage Gotoh.
- Macedon: An island kingdom, home to Pegasus Knights and Dracoknights. It was founded by Iote.
- Dolhr: The kingdom of dragons, directly north of Macedon. It was ruled by the Dark Dragon, Medeus. It is inhabited by Manaketes.
Marth is prince of Altea and a descendant of Anri, the warrior who slew the dark dragon Medeus. However, after an attack from the neighbouring kingdom of Dolhr, Marth is forced to become an exile in the neighboring nation of Talys. His sister Elice is taken hostage after his father is killed battling the evil priest Gharnef. With the help of the Altean knight Jagen, the Talysian Princess Caeda, and others, Marth embarks on a quest to find the sacred sword known as Falchion and the Fire Emblem that will allow him to wield it. Only then will he be able to confront Gharnef and the resurrected Medeus, win the kingdom of Altea back, and rescue his sister.
Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light was one of the earliest games in the turn-based strategy genre on home consoles. However, unlike other strategy games, Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light is among the first, if not the first game in the tactical role-playing genre. Later games in the series made numerous changes to the gameplay. The following is a list of gameplay differences that distinguish this game from its sequels:
- There are no colored tiles indicating a unit's movement range, and the player must move the cursor to see how far one of the characters can move.
- Characters can only hold four weapons and/or items at a time. Also, weapons/items cannot be traded between two units. The player can give a weapon or item to another unit if they are holding fewer than four weapons and items, but the giving unit will not be able to move until next turn.
- Weapon and item storage makes use of a tent (similar to the method used in Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade), and it costs ten gold to deposit one weapon/item, while withdrawing items costs nothing. Also, the player cannot purchase a weapon or item at a store and send it directly into storage, meaning that characters carrying full loads cannot make purchases. However, anything dropped by a defeated enemy can be sent into storage directly.
- Healing units (such as clerics) cannot gain experience from using staves. The only way they can earn experience is by being attacked by an enemy (even if the enemy misses).
- Pegasus Knights become Dracoknights when they promote. Fire Emblem Gaiden retained the pegasus mounts when they promote into Falcon Knights, but this was reverted back in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem and the remakes. Ever since Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War, Pegasus Knights and Dracoknights have been completely different classes with separate promotion lines. This was reintroduced in The Sacred Stones as an alternate class change for Pegasus Knights.
- There is no weapon triangle, or rock-paper-scissors relationship between weapon classes. However, weapons still have their own traits. For example, most axes and lances are more powerful but less accurate than swords.
- Many classes, such as Knights, Fighters, Hunters, and Thieves have no promotion. Marth also cannot be promoted.
- Castles only occupy one space, which means that the average boss can be surrounded and attacked by four different characters in a single turn.
- See main article: List of characters in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
- See main article: Chapters (Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon).
- See main article: List of Classes in Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon and the Blade of Light.
The game would get a remake for the Super Famicom known as Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, which also contains a new sequel to the original game (dubbed as Book Two, while the remake of the original game is known as Book One). A second remake titled Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon has been released in Japan, Europe, and USA for the Nintendo DS handheld. The storyline is mostly the same but the graphics and menus are improved, and Mystery of the Emblem removes content, while Shadow Dragon adds content, namely Shadow Dragon features the inclusion of a Prologue and Multiplayer modes, (Shadow Dragon being the first to feature online multiplayer) among other things.
- This is the only game in the series to have two remakes and no enemy-exclusive classes. Even the final boss uses one of the playable classes.