You are more than an hour and a half into your gaming session.
You are a working adult, meaning that is probably more than one half of all the gaming you can actually accomplish in a given day.
There are at least several dozen productive tasks you are putting off to "game."
You are a few quick minutes away from progressing to the next level. Perfect. You need to save and get on with your non-gaming life.
With one tactical misstep, a character you've spent many hours building has perished. They will never return again.
*Sigh.* Time to hit the reset button. All that time you just spent.... wasted completely and utterly.
Welcome to the world of Fire Emblem.
Originally a Japanese only NES game, the Fire Emblem series has gained a rabid cult following in the United States, first from import gaming, followed by Nintendo's decision to localize the games for Western audiences, beginning with the Gameboy Advance Fire Emblem I and FEII: The Sacred Stones.
Featuring finely tuned turn based tactical gameplay, extremely will written character development and the infamous "insta death" (your characters die permanantly, there is no way to revive them once they perish), the FE franchise is deservedly cherished amongst the gaming elite.
However, Intelligent Systems (the in house Nintendo studio responsible for the games) took a strange step in the handling of the franchise. The logical move for the series, having been succesfully established on the GBA handheld, would have been a migration to the Nintendo DS platform. In fact, the other major Intelligent Systems franchise, Advance Wars, did exactly that (producing the excellent Advance Wars: Dual Strike).
Instead of this path, the studio moved the series to the Gamecube with Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. And while the deep tactical gameplay is still very much alive and well, there are various issues with the migration of this game from handheld to console that were not handled well.
First, the dialogue. While still very well written, one expects some voice acting. POR offers very little. Instead of still frames and mildly animated "sprites," gamers expect cinematics. Tantalizingly, some amazing looking cinematic scenes are offered, but they are used extremely sparingly. Yes, yes, certain games (Final Fantasy *cough* Metal Gear Solid *cough*) over-rely on cinematics to the detriment of actual gameplay. But POR swings the pendulum too far in the other direction, creating a narrative experience that hardly seems worth the trouble of putting the game on a console system.
And you will be pressing the A button constantly to get through an endless barrage of text boxes. Certainly acceptable for, say, a 1991 RPG on the SNES, but tedious on a modern console. For those of you who might cry "foul" at this author, since I did defend Twilight Princess' minimal voice acting, I would say that in TP, the voice acting (or lack thereof) is clearly an artistic choice. The written text on screen is fairly minimal, plus the characters do receive full animations on screen as well as emotive vocal gestures.
Also, for a game that is so well renowned for having developed narrative, the game's plot is a bit dissapointing. While there are some high points, I had a certain feeling of "meh" after completing it. There were a number of moments the "coulda" and "shoulda" been highly dramatic, but the lack of polish in the presentation made said moments fall flat. Note: Apparently there are some more satisfying conclusions to be had if you beat the game on "difficult" as opposed to "normal." This doesn't change my opinion, though, as you shouldn't have to do that to get a "good" ending.
Music and sound is handled competently, with the music created by a team supervised by veteran composer Yuka Tsujiyoko. Again, there is something lost in the console transition, as the catchy, melodic music from the GBA games is replaced by orchestral compositions that seem to lack the strong melodic "hooks" that often make "16 bit era" music so compelling. The music for the desert levels is quite nice, however, and the main theme sounds great with orchestral treatment.
There is some minimal voice acting, and while it isn't cringe worthy, it isn't BioWare level, either. However, I really liked the work done by Stephen Weyte, who voices the character of Greil, the main character Ike's father. I hope to hear Stephen's work in more games in the future.
All gripes aside, the gameplay is still there. And it is terrific gameplay. You'll build attachments to certain characters, either through learning their back story or just by having built them from nothing, and you'll cheer their victories and hit the reset button after their defeats. You'll have your favorite formations and favorite classes. You'll develop your own gameplay style, and build your army to meet that style. Rest assured, all of the elements that make Fire Emblem great are here.
But the hiccups in the transition to console hamper this game and make me wish it was on the DS, where the text boxes and lack of cinematics would be balanced by easier touch screen controls and the convienance of a handheld.
So, I'm going to give this a lower grade than most of the critics: B-. It's worth playing (and certainly worth the $12.99 price tag the game now has at Gamestop), but could have been done better. Let's hope that "Goddess of Dawn," the Wii sequel set to come to America some time in 2007, will be a more robust console experience.
The readers post their own reviews.
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