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Which Console Did You Buy/Receive Over The Holidays?

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Game Profile
Intelligent Systems
October 17, 2005
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem: Sword of the Seal

 Written by Patrick Mulhern  on January 22, 2008

Review: A review that radiates radiance on the Path of Radiance.

Fire Emblem is a franchise with a long, long history. The series began way back in 1990 on the Famicom and was created, and it still developed, by Intelligent Systems. The mind behind the mayhem was Shouzou Kaga, until 2001 when he left the company to create his own independent studio. Controversy and lawsuits flew after Kaga's new studio, Tirnanog, released its freshman entry, Tear Ring Saga which had such similar gameplay that Nintendo believed the title infringed upon their copyright. Nintendo's lost the lawsuit, and Tirnanog has gone on to release a sequel, but you may have missed all of that being on the wrong side of the Pacific.

From the Fire Emblem series' inception till 2003, five titles were released, although the North American market never knew as Nintendo never felt that the franchise would be worth the oceanic trip. It wasn't until Marth and Roy were included in Nintendo 's cross-over beat-em-up Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube that the world received their first impressions of the series.

Stemming from the popularity of the two characters outside of Japan, Nintendo brought Fire Emblem to the masses via a GBA prequel to the Japan-only Fire Emblem: F?in no Tsurugi, that was simply called Fire Emblem here. The excellent port lead to a quick, although completely unrelated sequel, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones that was equally well-received. In late 2005, North America saw the release of the first title in the franchise to feature full 3D graphics and full-motion videos, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for GameCube. In this throwback review we will look at the ninth release in the franchise, the third to have come overseas.

Those who have played the series before will be happy to know that the solid turn-based gameplay has remained as solid as ever in this installment. Unfortunately, this also means the developers took almost no design risks while bringing the game back to consoles from handhelds, where it was for the past two installments. Although the combat remains intense throughout the title there is just little fresh or interesting material for returning players other than the characters and story. One aspect Intelligent Systems should address is the lack of fleshed-out terrain modifiers in the series. Being the same developers responsible for the Advance Wars franchise, we know that Intelligent Systems can make a wide variety of terrain modifiers for added strategic advantages. Instead we have only two options, trees that add a slight evasion bump, and trees that heal a little HP per turn. Despite these issues, the title's gameplay is based in such strong concepts that the staleness a returning player may feel doesn't harm the game beyond recovery.

As with all Fire Emblem titles, the player has access to a vast amount of characters broken up into various battlefield roles. Players can access character classes such as mages, fighters, priests, knights, Pegasus knights and an all new breed, the laguz. The laguz are a new race to the Fire Emblem universe and posses a shape shifting ability to go from beast form to a more humanoid form and back. Keeping an eye on their transformation is crucial in many cases because the powerful animal race cannot fight when in their less powerful humanoid form and they become more vulnerable. The addition of the new race adds the only interesting twist to the gameplay dynamics, while also being an integral part into the title's main storyline. The laguz contains three different character types that are further broken down into nine species total. The Bird tribe is represented by hawks, ravens and herons, the Beast tribe by cats, lions and tiger, and the Dragon tribe by red, white and black. Sticking with Fire Emblem tradition, each faction is held accountable to the game's paper-rock-scissor combat system, causing them to be weak to specific attack types.

Intelligent Systems stuck to their guns in PoR by not enabling the player to assign attribute points upon leveling up. After a character receives 100 experience points, their stats are boosted randomly to ensure that no character becomes too overpowered. Upon reaching level 21 most characters will be promoted to a new class, and begin back at level 1. Reaching the new class grants an enormous amount of attribute changes as compared to any other level, and can even enable them to wield new weapon types. Weapon skill also increases with usage, and can have a huge impact on the ability of a unit to be effective on in battle.

Most maps allow roughly a dozen characters on the battlefield, making it a wise decision to allow each character to get into the action at some point. Seeing as there are over 40 playable characters, the task of keeping everyone at a good enough level to be effective in battle can become a strategy on its own. For those who want a serious challenge, try the game on "Hard mode." Although its not nearly as intense as the Japan-only "Maniac Mode," which was replaced with "Easy Mode" for the North American release, keeping all your characters alive throughout the story is incredibly difficult and worth bragging about if you can pull it off.

Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Girl gets kidnapped. Boy has to rescue girl. This is the old game cliche, and thankfully it has absolutely nothing to do with the story laid out in Path of Radiance. Instead we are introduced into a world thrown into turmoil as a neighboring country's king, Ashnard King of Daein, murders our homeland's royal family and their retainers, and places himself in our capital. Shortly afterward, Greil, his son Ike and the rest of the Greil mercenaries stumble across an unconscious girl in the forest that turns out to be Elincia Ridell Crimea, the last remaining member of the royal family who was in hiding and heir to the throne. From here on the main tale revolves around regaining control of Crimea through politics and force, although the tale is far from one dimensional. Woven throughout the plot are acts of atrocity by Beorcs against their laguz counterparts such as kidnapping and experimentation and deep back story to many of our mercenary brethren including our own family. The plot pacing is spot on, with added playable characters sprinkled throughout the game, each with their own interesting stories that add and extend the overall story arc.

The struggle to regain control of Crimea will also lead Ike and company to investigate into the past of Greil and his links to Ashnard and the Black Knight, the stories two main protagonist. The arc progresses mainly outside the battle, with almost no voice-overs. Instead, for some reason, the designers feel that text box upon text box is acceptable in this day in age, which is the main flaw to the story and sound aspects of the title. Although well translated, and well written, one certainly wonders the emotional impact that is lost due to the lack of competent voice acting. Luckily, the title is bumped by a few full motion video sequences, complete with voice overs, although these largely focus on the family dynamics of Greil, his two children and his wife. All of the FMV sequences are well done, although they also make one wonder why the rest of the game doesn't have this much production value put into its story telling.

As mentioned, most of the story progresses through before and after dialog on each map, however, the title does offer optional information via the Greil mercenary camp. Between each battle the groups return to base camp where the player can stock up on weapons, forge new customizable items, sell old junk and investigate relationships between selected mercenaries. Conversing with other units not only adds even more back story to the universe but can even provide in-game bonuses to stats with select characters. In speaking with the towns folk, one may even learn some light reconnaissance for the upcoming mission. Speaking of missions, it is refreshing to see a title with a good selection of mission completion states. No longer does one have to simply mow down every single opponent, instead the objective may be to simply kill one unit, capture a certain point, or defend yourself while reinforcements are en route. The diversity throughout the missions keep the strategy fresh and keeps one thinking.

Audio & Visual
Sadly, the visuals in PoR are pretty bland compared to what was out at the time, let alone now. The overall art direction sticks with the tried and true anime-esque character models, complete with highly detailed outfits. But the only time one can really appreciate that superb art is during the story progression between battles and in the full-motion videos, although the videos also lack the detail of their 2D portraits. Seeing as the majority of the game is spent on the battlefield, or inside the fight sequences, one would hope that these aspects held the best eye candy. Instead the 3D aspects of the title are no where near as fleshed out. From the uninspired and plain battlefields to the under-detailed and repetitive battle sequences, the visual transition to the third dimension just can not hold a candle to the rest of the series' visuals due to lack of detail and inspiration. Aside from being able to take in all angles of the battle via the swiveling and tilting camera, the only enjoyable thing about the move to 3D are the nicely animated battles. Although highly repetitive the animations of the dull art are nicely done, and shine when the character manages to get a critical strike, maybe that is just an effect the added damage has on one's brain though.

Although sound in a turn-based strategy title is never the defining feature of the title, the soundtrack in Path of Radiance quite fantastic. If it wasn't for such masterful scores throughout the title's story telling, battle sequences and general gameplay, the sound features would be completely flat due to the lack of full voice overs. The soundtrack is a gem of a creation and is composed by a veteran of the series, Yuka Tsujiyoko, and much like the 2D visuals did for art, the soundtrack really saves the day for the sound department. Despite the lack of innovation in the graphics and sound departments, the overall technology package is adequate for the series' first entry into 3D turn-based strategy although it would benefit from having some more passion instilled upon all of the aspects save the musical composition.

Bottom Line
For all of its shortcomings Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is a solid game that stands on the legs of the series' praised gameplay and an epic story that is not seen in every other video game of its kind, which sadly is an accomplishment these days. The polish behind these two key game elements along with solid controls and interfaces keep the title from falling into the average pile due to the uninspired graphics and little innovation. As evidenced by Resident Evil 4 the little Cube can pack a punch in the graphical department, so any videophile may want to veer away from this title, but if you can handle the dated art assets and enjoy turn-based strategies this would be a perfect title to pick up from last generation. Add to that that it is fairly cheap nowadays, offers approximately 40 hours of gameplay (although little replay), easily playable on your shiny new Nintendo Wii, is the prequel to the recently released Wii title Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, focuses on a character, Ike, in the upcoming Super Smash Bros. Brawl and you should have plenty of reasons to join Intelligent Systems in Fire Emblem's jump to full 3D.

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