Fire Emblem Fates comes out in just a little under four weeks from today. To get back into the “flow” of the series, I decided to take my copy of what is often considered one of the best Fire Emblem games to date out of the old collection/backlog. Well, best one that got localized, anyways. The Japanese exclusive Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, aka Fire Emblem 4, is the most commonly regarded pinnacle of the series. I don’t understand Japanese, so instead I speak of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.
Being the sole entry on the (commercially failing, bless its poor soul) Nintendo Gamecube was likely enough to get the developers to give it their all in the creation of this title.
The game started out with a sort of… early-3D anime opening. It may have looked cool in 2005 when the game first released, but I’m not going to lie, it definitely looks out of place now. Thankfully for us in 2016, the animations are short. The voice acting in the animations is also worth noting, as it really isn’t too good. Between general poor voice work and even worse sound balance, I found myself turning my TV up quite a bit to hear what was being spoken. (This issue came up even worse in a later cutscene that tried to be serious.)
Graphically, the game gets the job done. It’s pretty muddy, and going from 2013’s Fire Emblem Awakening (or even the Gameboy Advance titles with their beautifully animated pixel art) to this may feel like a drastic leap. But it’s honestly not offensive. I am also playing on a large flat-screen HDTV; something I’m sure will take a toll on the video quality since the game wasn’t made when such things were relatively common. On an older (smaller) CRT television I’m sure it would look a bit nicer.
Visuals and opening out of the way, the gameplay is exactly what one would expect from the Fire Emblem series: A fun turn-based strategy RPG, controlled via grid. Though if you’re like me and the only experience you’ve had with the series is with Awakening, you’re also in for a treat known as game diversity! The very first mission of Path of Radiance introduces you to a ‘Seize’ mission — Something that you would never even know existed if you only played the latest in the franchise! The goal of this particular mission type is to defeat an enemy sitting on a particular tile and then seize control of said tile by moving your commander onto it. It isn’t until the second mission that you are introduced to the mission type “Rout the Enemy.”
(Quick diversion here: Fire Emblem Awakening was roughly 90% ‘Rout the Enemy’. The map design was also littered with open fields, making for a game experience that had some series veterans up in arms. As a newbie with nothing to compare to, I quite enjoyed my time with Awakening. It remains one of my favorite 3DS titles. But after just a short amount of time spent with Path of Radiance, a game that was only two titles before Awakening, I can see where the complaints came from)
Seizing and Routing aren’t the only missions, either. Thus far there have also been two other modes: ‘Escape’ and ‘Defend’. In the former you must get your Commander to specific tiles where you can select the option to Escape the field and complete the mission. ‘Defend’ is rather self-explanatory, you defend specific tiles (typically the entrance to a building) from enemies for a set amount of turns.
With all of these different goals, the game feels consistently varied and is more fun for it. Makes me even more excited for Fates next month knowing that the developers put more variety back into the game’s missions!
The story is… okay? It’s not top-notch, but I am at least invested in the characters enough that I know their names after I’m done playing for the day. The over-arching plot boils down to bad guy sends army into good guy’s territory unprovoked, and now good guys mercenaries have to help good guy princess get to another kingdom but oh no bad guys are also in the other kingdom in an attempt at world domination! Or something of the sort. The characters holding their own stories, struggles, and personalities carry the narrative part of the game far more than the story at large. And that’s fine with me, but I suppose it depends from person to person on what is passable.
Let’s talk game balance here for a second before I finish. I hear that it’s a common thing for these games to hand you one unit in the beginning that is basically god of the battlefield. These characters are, I presume, a way to give new players a taste of what’s to come as well as an ace up their sleeves. The boss is about to kill your team? Send in your trump card and wipe them in a single hit, easy. The tradition has held true for the three games I’ve played, but I don’t think they even tried to balance their super-unit in Path of Radiance. For a game so commonly praised (and for good reason) I’m astounded that I didn’t hear more about this game’s battlefield Queen: Titania. Let me say this in terms that anyone can understand: if your starting team is Level 1 and the enemies are to match, Titania is something like Level 20. But Fire Emblem is (was) unique from other RPGs in that you can’t really grind units. Experience points are limited, as you jump from each battle to another with no real breaks in-between to just level people up. With that said, it is insane how easily you can break the entire game AND ruin your other characters by using this unit since they will hog precious experience from the others. I know better — that she’s a “trap” character — so I haven’t used her for anything more than a meatshield, soaking hits all day while taking no damage in the process. But I can only imagine how annoyed I would be if I got, say, four hours in and suddenly realize everyone on my team but Titania dies from a single hit of any enemy. You’re sitting at a pretty poor balance when the best way to work things is to purposefully go out of your way to ensure you play “the right way.”
But I speak too much on an issue that is easy enough to avoid if you know beforehand. As a whole, Path of Radiance has been a joy to play. A game getting me to play over seven hours in a week as well as pull me away from my mildly obsessive play of Splatoon? Now that’s a winner. It’s just such a shame how expensive a copy is online, as well as the hardware to play the game on being rotated out from many homes. (Though it is funny to think just how many Nintendo Wii’s you could buy for the price of one copy of this game!) as I would suggest it to a lot of people otherwise.