From the moment you sit back and watch Fire Emblem’s opening sequence you know it’s going to be something epic. Sure it’s only visual claim to fame is that it now displays in 16:9 widescreen, but the anime-inspired cel-shaded full motion video is all the better for it (especially on my huge plasma); stunning imagery and a haunting melody combine to draw you into the tantalising world of Tellius before said melody bursts into a tribal war-inspired piece begging you to hit the start
button and begin playing.
Intelligent Systems may not make the prettiest games in the industry, but they sure know how to suck you in, and with their latest Wii offering, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, that statement is truer than ever.
As a direct sequel to the GameCube’s Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn has more than its fair share of story and action to offer, and those who never played its predecessor needn’t fret as Intelligent Systems have been smart
, ensuring newcomers are able to pick this up and jump right in, and believe me, once you do, it’s difficult to put down.
Set some three years after the events of the first game, Radiant Dawn flips the dealings that transpired in Path of Radiance upside down. Originally players were controlling a band of mercenaries-turned-freedom fighters as they worked towards restoring the rightful ruler of the nation of Crimea to her throne, which had unjustly been taken by the Mad King Ashnard of Daein.
A lot can happen after a dictatorship, apparently, as rule of Daein – post Ashnard’s death – was handed to the rich nation of Begnion (Crimea lacked the resources or size to engulf Daein), who, from the first game, weren’t all that trustworthy anyway. Over the course of their occupation rule has gotten out of hand with Begnion troops ransacking towns and oppressing its people. A young freedom-fighting force has been borne of this oppression though, calling themselves The Dawn Brigade. Made up of a handful of hopeful warriors and lead by the uniquely powerful “Silver Haired Maiden”, Micaiah, The Dawn Brigade set out to free the people of Daein from the tyrannical rule of Begnion and restore peace and order to their broken land.
One of the most alluring factors of these games is the richly detailed stories and equally deep and involved characters. Path of Radiance had an incredibly cavernous narrative that followed countless arcs, twists and revelations; a facet that kept this reviewer playing until the bitter end. Here, it’s not at all about the visual splendour of next-generation graphics, but about being sucked into each of the characters’ individual plights that found the overall make-up of the game’s complex and intricate plot.
The absolute same can be said of that game’s sequel, the subject of this review: Radiant Dawn. The sheer concept of the game’s narrative start-point should be proof enough of that. But the way in which this game manages to set itself up as something of a stand-alone title alongside a predecessor is a thing of brilliance and beauty – something that goes beyond eye-candy (though there’s plenty in the game’s myriad of pre-rendered cut-scenes). But enough gushing. The story is amazing and immersive – ‘nuff said.
Beyond the curtain of character theatre, Radiant Dawn (and Fire Emblem in general for newcomers), is a deeply involving gameplay experience based loosely on the RPG genre with some turn-based strategy thrown in for good measure. What emerges from the coalescence of these two play styles is a tactical game where you care
about each and every one of your units (a rarity for the TBS genre). As each character throughout the game has a back-story to pursue or a grand place in the overall scheme of things, having them die on the battlefield is simply not something you want to happen. Moreover, each unit accrues skills, abilities and experience points for every battle they perform in, offering up a balanced idea of character management and advancement against safety and stability. It’s a simple enough line to walk, but one you’re constantly aware of.
Each map you encounter is made up of grids. Characters advance along these based on how far they can move (dependent on unit type) and coming to an adjacent grid facing an enemy means you can attack, wait or use items. Some units are ranged attackers and can engage the enemy from safety, but enemy units are equally crafty and can – and will – do the same thing.
The baseline fundamental for battle in all Fire Emblem games is as simple as rock, paper, scissors. Here, swords best axes, axes best lances and lances best swords. As you progress through the game you’ll find other, more powerful forms of these (for example, a hammer is part of the axe family, but is less weak against swords and even stronger against lances), while magic works in a similar fashion and the various races throughout the game come across strengths and weaknesses based on the same foundation. It’s simple at its core, but deep in the variations of weapons, magics and unit types you’ll accrue and face.
Each map also comes with different conditions for winning, from beating the opposing force’s boss, to destroying absolutely every enemy on the field. Other conditions may see you having to escape the bad guys and immediate area or even having to claim a stronghold. This concept keeps the game from becoming tediously repetitive and in the context of various chapters and story arcs, pushes the narrative forward in an interactive sense.
The gameplay and story all progress in chapter form and it’s not until the fourth chapter, that you’ll have a big enough army to allow for a base of operations. Base operations happen in between chapters and allows for micromanagement of your forces. Here you can trade, equip and use items with your characters, organise support teams (basically two characters who, if in correct proximity on the field, can offer each other support bonuses based on a support rank of C, B or A – A being the best), buy, sell or forge new equipment and gather new development arcs for various characters and events. Each chapter will also give you bonus experience points that you can manually hand out to anyone in your outfit, giving you the option to strengthen weaker characters out of harm’s way. Skills and abilities are also managed from here.
Where most Wii titles on the market are doing everything in their power to chime in on the IR success of the platform, Fire Emblem completely ignores it.
Controls here are so simple, you need only turn the Wii Remote on its side and us it like an old NES pad. This makes this lengthy game journey all the more exciting for those of us not afraid to lay back on the couch, put our feet up and settle in for the long story ahead.
Beyond the micromanagement stuff, you can also view the Library
, which has a glossary for all the important bits linking the two games and the world of Tellius together, as well as a character tree that highlights everyone’s relationship with one another. Records for each battle are also kept here for anyone keeping score of their achievements.
Despite having a tremendously deep story, rich and vibrant characters and involved gameplay, Fire Emblem does suffer from both being too good at what it does and not living up to the new visual standard.
I’d be lying if I said I was happy with the overall presentation. Sure it’s in widescreen, but the stunning pre-rendered cut-scenes just aren’t enough to sate my thirst for vibrancy (it’s almost a tease to watch the game’s characters come to life in the beautiful CG sequences). A game this strong in gameplay and narrative deserves a better look, and unfortunately it really just looks
like its GameCube predecessor, which itself lacked visual prowess in that generation of games, also. It’s not paramount to the overall experience, but more detailed backgrounds, better (more varied) animations and a greater emphasis on utilising the Wii’s hidden graphical powers (which really do
exist) would have gone a long way to making this an absolute must-own.
Visual concerns aside, Radiant Dawn is also the sort of game that will keep you playing for a long, long time. More than 50 hours long. Which could equally be a down point for anyone with a short attention span. It’s also kind of difficult to put this down and come back to it later given the complexity of characters and narrative. For me it’s great, but the Wii has opened up the Nintendo audience ten-fold, and I can’t see too many casual gamers wanting to read the copious amounts of text or plot out their army’s moves every single turn. That said, if you’re any kind of strategy/RPG/story/fantasy fan, Radiant Dawn is well worth the investment. It’s not necessary to have played the first title on GameCube, but if you’re interested, you can always pick it up cheap and play before this (the Wii is
backwards compatible, after all), and a cool feature for Radiant Dawn means you can transfer your Path of Radiance save to the new Wii title where your previous actions will reflect in the new story as it unfolds.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is an incredibly rich experience lacking in visual flair but offers unparalleled depth in gameplay, story and character. It may not be for everyone, but those who’re intrigued by it most likely won’t look back.