Update: Nintendo sent out new screenshots to go along with the conference call report. You'll find them in the gallery.
Last night, we had the rare opportunity to take part in a conference call hosted by Nintendo, featuring members of the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon team including producer Tohru Narihiro and directors Masaki Tawara and Masayuki Horikawa. The developers discussed the changes found in the new version of the ancient Famicom game and the motivations behind them, and answered questions from press about the new game and future plans. We've done our best to summarize the discussion without leaving anything out!
The discussion began with an outline of the new features in Shadow Dragon: an enhanced tutorial system that "gets the player so they're ready to play" and get into the main game more quickly; a battle forecasting system, brought in from the second game, that allows players to predict the outcome of battles given the units involved; six difficulty settings; and mid-map save points. As the developers mention later, these changes are intended to increase the accessibility of the game.
New online features include, of course, local wireless and online play, in which up to five units "raised" in single-player can be used online; the "rental" system, in which players can rent or borrow units from each other; and an online shop that sells special items for (in-game, not real) currency.
The developers then began the Q&A segment of the call. The first question was about further Fire Emblem remakes. The team responded that there are currently no plans, but if Shadow Dragon does prove to be a "very large hit", their options will stay open.
Narihiro (admittedly) broadly generalized the interests of players in different regions, in response to a question, saying that American players tend to focus on the gameplay systems, Japanese players, especially women, focus on the story, and that the area of interest varies in Europe by country.
Tawara discussed the concessions made to help new players get into Fire Emblem: systems like the "rentals" and the Wi-Fi store are designed to help new players, who may be starting in video games with the DS, get into strategy games for the first time. It is now possible to change units' classes to help make up for the loss of certain important units (like, for example, a healer). In addition, extra "Gaiden Missions" help players acquire strong new units and items.
Horikawa said that the story of the original Famicom was intentionally left simplistic, also to help new players. "There's nothing wrong with a smooth and simple story," he said. It's pretty interesting that an aspect of the game originally motivated by hardware limitations is now considered a feature.
The discussion then turned to the group's dreams for a new Fire Emblem: would they want to remake another old game next, make a new one, or make something else? Tawara said he would prefer to make a new Fire Emblem, adding something like Brain Age elements (but not Brain Age elements) to make the game even more accessible and more likely to draw in the Brain Age-only DS owners. If he were to remake a game, he would choose Seisen no Keifu, which feature a relationship system and the ability to pass stats and abilities to future generations. He'd be "very interested in seeing how I could update it for the DS".
Horikawa also expressed a preference in making a new FE, because there would be "more room for innovation". Were he to remake one, it would be Fuuin no Tsurugi, which starred Roy, who went on to Super Smash Bros. Melee fame. Narihiro said that he wanted to take Fire Emblem "all-stars" and pull them together into a new title.
Horikawa said in response to the next question that he didn't believe the new touch-screen controls or dual-screen presentation affected the pace of the game. The touch controls are totally optional and don't require mixing buttons and stylus, and the top screen is used for UI and status information. He finally decided that it "does change the pace of the game in a positive way".
Finally, all three offered their favorite units from the series. Tawara chose the Myrmidon, Horikawa the Pegasus Knight, and Narihiro chose the Sniper.