#251 – Gemfire

When the going gets rough, light ’em on fire.
Always a quality cover with Koei.
Gonna defend the hell out of this field.




GENRE: Strategy

RELEASE DATE: March 1992

I am awful at strategy games, which means that Koei games and I rarely get along. Quite frankly, I’m surprised Koei’s still going as a developer. If it weren’t for the continued success/milking of the Dynasty Warriors series, I can’t imagine they’d still be around. Who – who, I ask you! – purchased all of the Romance of the Three Kingdoms games? Or Aerobiz? Yes, I’m essentially retreading the opening paragraph of my Bandit Kings of Ancient China review, but let’s face it: it takes a special kind of gamer to embrace all of the depth and trial and error that Koei games have to offer. I will question Koei’s appeal until I get answers, confound it! Answers! As for me and mine, I prefer no-nonsense, button-mashing action that 95% of all NES games provide me. Still, it is my sworn duty to try and review every game in the American NES library. If play a Koei game I must, then play a Koei game I will; even if I have no idea what’s going on.

Let’s start with the story, shall we? In a severe break away from their typical Historical Chinese Warfare Simulations, Koei brings us a fantastical tale of a crown with seven gems. These seven gems have been scattered across the fictional land of Ishmeria, with each gem containing a magical guardian, six wizards, and a dragon (those are some large gems!). Six gems have attached themselves to six different families across the land, for some reason. Only one family can rule Ishmeria, so it’s up to you to align yourself with the strongest family, take out the other five families, get those gems for yourself, and begin a bloody, tyrannical reign!

My sweet heavens, is there ever a lot to do in this game. It’s been twenty years since this game’s initial release and the amount of information crammed into this game is still intimidating. There are four different scenarios in which to play out. To beat the game – to the best of my knowledge – you must defeat all four scenarios. Each scenario requires you to choose a different family to side with. Different families can be easier or harder to play with, depending upon the amount of gems, and thus power, that they already have. In each scenario, there are four different paths to choose, meaning that there are ultimately sixteen ways to play the game. Ridiculous, overwhelming, Koei! When you begin a scenario, you can choose to battle, build up or trade your resources, develop land, ally, negotiate, sabotage, or plunder opposing families, among many other options.

This might be a good game for Koei and strategy fans. What else on the NES, other than maybe some RPGs and other Koei games, offers this much content to wile away your days? Unlike Bandit Kings of Ancient China, however, which eased you into the game, Gemfire throws you into the fray, hoping you have some clue as to what you’re doing. Even a detailed reading of the instruction manual did little to assuage my confusion. That, friends, is poor game making and likely a reason for why Koei games didn’t find more of an audience. Unless you have mountains of time and an inclination for old strategy games, I highly recommend leaving the gems alone in the land of Ishmeria. Let the families kill each other fighting over the gems, and the fire that they apparently leave in their wake. You have better things to do.


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6 replies on “#251 – Gemfire”

This was definitely a dense title to get into. And of the Koei games, one of the shorter ones to beat I discovered, getting through my first campaign in the first weekend I had it. I definitely enjoyed the fantasy scenario – it was a refreshing change of pace from the other KOEI games. I would have scored it a B- probably, maybe even a B but I can definitely understand your feelings on this as it was not an easy one to get into at all.

I agree with the above comment. Besides the fact you need an FAQ to get into it, Gemfire is a very enjoyable game once you get into it. I’d easily rank it a B. D is more like Nombunaga’s Ambition, a real trash KOEI game.

I would disagree with this review personally. I think the main reason games like this never caught on in North America is not due to their confusing nature, but a lack of time kids wanted to put into them. There is a good reason why RPGs had to be essentially dumbed down for western gamers back in the day. Now games are the same across all the regions, but that was not always the case.

KOEI produced games that didn’t cater to the MTV fast paced culture of the Americas. I loved all the KOEI games and this one included. Actually scratch Aerobiz, I don’t know any kid who liked that.

Though if strategy games are not your thing, then it makes perfect sense to dislike these types of games, but I wouldn’t say they are confusing. It’s all about what you are into. I find Football games to be a mess because I don’t know jack about the rules or plays or whatever, but for someone who is into sports, it’s a piece of cake.


This was one of my fav super nintendo games ever. beating it with all the different familes was tough. including the Tordin family.

Wow this is easily KOEI’s simplest game, ever. Once you get the ball rolling it’s hard to lose anything in this game. In fact, the game throws natural disasters at your lands every other month_just_ to give the player something to do other than the land-wide genocide.

I beat this in one afternoon using a SNES emulator to fast-forward to my next turn, every turn. (Yes, SNES….this and ROTTK2 were on both platforms)

Wow… you may not like the genre but this was a dang fine game. Raisng your armies, conquering the other families and gaining their military might… all to rule the world, this was a fine looking and playimg title. The wizards in the battle throw a wrench into strategies too! I beat this in one afternoon (looooong afternoon) shortly after it came out. The rental store clerk tried to talk me out of rentimg it because it was “too hard”, which made victory all the sweeter. I loved this one so much, I kept asking my parents for it but this was one of a few games that retailed for around $70-$80 on day one of release. It had extra memory or something that made the cartridge cost more. I had difficulties convincing my father to buy a $20 budget title… forget a game with this kind of pricetag.

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