Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Score: 8.2 / 10
Fire Emblem is one of Nintendo's longest running series, yet it's only within the past few years that the Western audience has been exposed to them. While the previous releases were relegated to the Gameboy Advance, Nintendo has finally brought the series into 3D with its latest installment, Path of Radiance, for the GameCube.
you're familiar with the GBA installments, you should know what to
expect right off the bat. Fire Emblem is a grid-based strategy RPG,
with fast gameplay and a simple interface. It's the usual game of
running up to enemies and swatting away, but paying attention to
weapon types (both yours and your opponents) as well as your terrain
is necessary to succeed. It=s deceptively straight-forward, but quite
challenging and incredibly addictive. Battles seldom last more than
twenty minutes, so the game flows quickly and never suffers from any
patches of boredom.
Compared to Final Fantasy Tactics or any Nippon Ichi games, Fire Emblem comes up a bit light on character customization. In that, there really isn't any. Each character has a set role in combat, whether they be fighters or archers or magicians, and can only wield certain weapons. Upon reaching a certain level, they can be promoted and additional skills can be assigned, but that's really about as close as you'll get. However, there are tons of characters that will join your party, and there are plenty of optional ones to recruit along the way. And you're probably going to need them. You see, one of Fire Emblem's hallmarks has been the dreaded "perma-death" - that is, once a unit is slain, they're dead for good. While there are enough fighter-type characters that you can spare to lose a few here and there,
magicians are not only
much rarer, but much more susceptible to attack. It's not uncommon make
a tiny misjudgement and have your one cleric totally mauled in a single
attack - at which point, the only real option is to get up off the couch
and hit the "reset" button. Completists will be further irked
at the constant danger of death. Nintendo has heard the complaints of
some fans, and added in a difficulty level select, so the
"Easy" mode softens the blow somewhat. Still, tragedy can
befall you anytime if you're not careful.
the basic gameplay is exactly the same as the Gameboy
Advance versions, there are a few refinements here and there. Most
battles will yield "bonus experience", which can be
distributed amongst any party member as you see fit. It's great to level
up healers or rookie characters, so they don't lag behind the rest of
your crew. You can forge your own weapons, manipulating its statistics
and even its name and color. There=s also an option hold conversations
with any of your party members in between battle, if you're inclined to
get a little more backstory And if you've got a GBA link cable and the
other GBA Fire Emblem games, you can hook them together to unlock some
extra artwork. Though these are nice additions, it would've been nice to
see the relationship system from Fire Emblem IV on the Super Famicom.
The plot is full of fantasy cliches, so you can expect your fair share of dragons and lost princesses and Black Knights. As a young boy named Ike, you and your squadron are mercenaries are caught on the losing side of a bitter way, and it's only by allying with the fearsome beastpeople - known as "laguz" - can you expect to be victorious. It's all a bit long winded, especially with the huge cast of characters, but the game manages to keep it under control without becoming too confusing. There are the usual overused themes of promoting racial harmony, but fans of fantasy fiction will probably enjoy it, and those that don't can easily skip all of the cutscenes with a hit of the "Start" button. In spite of its overwrought premise, the translation is excellent, as with most first party Nintendo titles.
jump to the current generation consoles hasn=t been too kind to Fire
Emblem. While the graphics on the tactical screen are crisp, the art
direction suffers from an unfortunate bout of dullness. All you'll find
are forests, dungeons, towns and occasionally deserts - all well
rendered, but not particularly interesting. The characters in the fight
cinemas also look somewhat underwhelming, although most players will end
up turning them off anyway to speed up the game. Still, even though the
graphics are nothing special, it's still a fair bit better than the
competition, considering many games in the genre haven't moved past
low-res sprites. There are some cutscenes that use computer rendered
graphics with some nifty cel shading, although they're few and few
between. These are also the only segments of the game that are voiced -
the rest of the story is told with long text crawls and some gorgeous,
high-res character portraits. The GBA Fire Emblem games always had great
character designs, but it was a bit hard to appreciate them on the small
screen. Even though the graphics have only ended up being average, the
high quality synth of the Gamecube creates an excellent orchestral
soundtrack, which is only spoiled by the sparse number of themes.
Even though it's only the third Fire Emblem title to come out in North America (and ninth altogether), the formula does already seem to be wearing a bit thin. Compared to other strategy RPGs, it's not particularly in-depth, and it's also bit short - the average playthrough should take less than twenty hours. Still, it's a fast-paced game that demands solid strategical thinking without the need for constant level grinds, which will definitely be appealing to those that don't have whole months to spend maxing out their characters.
- Kurt Kalata
(December 1, 2005)
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