Before the re-awakening of the series we know as Fire Emblem, it’s easy to forget that it was at one point almost fated to die. Low sales had basically doomed Fire Emblem: Awakening to be intended as the final title. But something happened: Awakening became a hit, partially because it changed things up a bit from the Nintendo-hard permadeath formula it once had. And thus, there was, pun intended, a radiant dawn for the series, bringing Fire Emblem back from the shadows and beginning a conquest of the world, becoming a major Nintendo series as if it were its birthright. A spinoff and mainline game have already come out this year alone, with a second of the former to come out this fall, something inconceivable just ten years ago.
You might wonder, rightfully, what any of that has to do with Metroid. That was just a history lesson for a completely unrelated series. Truth be told, though, it has more in common than you realize.
Metroid has gone through near death states twice at this point and somehow lived to tell the tale. From the eight year gap between Super Metroid and Prime and Fusion, and then the six year one from Other M to Federation Force. The former drought was from a lack of developers to tackle the extremely tough act to follow that was Super Metroid, and the latter was due to very controversial reception to a single title, with a revival title that received just as much scorn. Both would sell pretty badly in contrast to the highly successful titles that preceded them, making many a fan think that Metroid was about to be shelved (or, if you believe absurd conspiracy theorists, that Nintendo was actively trying to kill it).
In a sense, the above can somewhat describe Fire Emblem pre-Awakening, but replace questionable reception with low sales, which had plagued a lot of games in the series, to the point that mainline Fire Emblem titles could sell less than spinoffs in other franchises (as per this article’s topic, consider if you will that Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn couldn’t even outsell Metroid Prime Hunters of all things). But that had a reason: Fire Emblem was niche, despite being received well. What it really needed was a major boost, some smash hit to breathe life back into the series.
Time went on, and one major misstep in Metroid’s lineup reverted the series to being niche in the early to mid 2010s. Meanwhile, Fire Emblem enjoyed a resurgence due to one well made, well marketed title – Awakening – and then had the honor of receiving not one, but three newcomers to the next Smash game. Talk about a revival. On the other side of things, Metroid began struggling heavily, much like Fire Emblem once had, from the much maligned Federation Force, making it look like the tables had turned, as one series became popular and the other faded.
So it almost seems amazing that Metroid took a few cues from Awakening’s success 5 years ago in making one big push to make a well revered series mainstream again. But instead of changing up the formula, it responded to what fans clamored for, giving us Samus Returns, due September, and Prime 4, due…who knows. In this case, though, it’s Samus Returns we’ll focus on right now. A 3DS title comes out of nowhere with a big push from the start and aims to draw in as many buyers as possible.
Basically, what I’m trying to say here is that Metroid is pretty much undergoing the same process that Fire Emblem did. Support is what keeps a series alive; and Samus Returns is being made in spite of two previous contentious titles, much like Awakening got made in spite of their poor sales. The latter effectively shared its tactics for drawing in a playerbase and thus franchise interest, and time will tell if it succeeds with Samus Returns.