Prior to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, the Fire Emblem games that came out before it — Fire Emblem GBA, The Sacred Stones, Path of Radiance, and Radiant Dawn — had characters with basic personalities that in a wartime setting and the idea that you can’t bring them back into battle made you care enough about them that you had to keep them alive. Even if it was someone like Fiona.
I’m guessing this was also the case in prior Fire Emblem games, or the ones stuck in the Land of the Rising Sun. You know, Gaiden, Genealogy of The Holy War, Thracia 776, and The Binding Blade. Heck, even Ankoku Ryuu to Hikari no Tsurugi and Monshou no Nazo valued the idea of saving your characters, even if it wasn’t as fully released as the games after those two.
Shadow Dragon teaches you death is a legitimate strategy, and fuck keeping your characters alive, in the prologue.
It’s not exactly something you notice immediately, because of two reasons. The first is it’s the prologue, and intended to be a guide on how to play Fire Emblem. After that, you can forget some of the stuff you learned and just play. The second is the prologue doesn’t exist in the other modes. I.e, Frey is only available in Normal Mode, and while he may be better than your two generic red and green cavalier units, you can’t get him anywhere else! So, in truth, you’ll never notice Shadow Dragon sending the message of sacrificing units.
You do end up learning this fact by research. Or by accident.
As was brought up by gunlord, Shadow Dragon is the only game in the franchise where death, ultimately, is what I would call “a requirement.” It’s a different sort of requirement from other FE games, as in every FE game, you’re not required to keep your characters alive. This mentality can be the same in Shadow Dragon. But that’s only if you don’t want to gain access to the Gaiden chapters, or extra chapters, in this game. That’s if you don’t want to see who these other characters you can recruit are (I still have yet to get to these extra chapters). And if you want to increase the difficulty of beating this game.
Oh, and training your units. As in, all of your units.
I’m now casually playing Shadow Dragon, as I’m focused a bit on now playing Shin Monshou no Nazo again, but I took a note that there will be only 15 units you can carry at the endgame. That leaves everyone expendable. Simply, I have to designate characters I do want to have a vital role at the end at the start of the game.
So, how has that gone so far? Well, two chapters in, it’s resulted in me wanting to keep 4 characters — Cain, Marth, Caeda, and Ogma. The last three are probably set; Cain, on the other hand, might ultimately be replaced with Hardin, who shows up later. Now, I use strategy in order to survive the map. In Chapter 2, Darros is an enemy on the top right, with the forts. I end up eventually not recruiting him. Yeah, he’s not in my plans, so I just see him as being able to get experience for Ogma.
Obviously, we have a sense of attachment towards characters, even if we never use them in the game. That’s the mythical power of Fire Emblem. Thanks to Shadow Dragon though, you’ll have to get used to it, for better or for worse.