Fire Emblem: Rekka No Ken (Blazing Sword) may have dropped its subtitle for stateside release, making it seem like the first title in the series, but in fact it builds on a long and proud tradition. In this adventure, players assume the role of an unseen strategist who must guide Lyn in her quest to claim the throne of Rikea, and defeat her conniving uncle.
Although the Fire Emblem series has defined strategy RPGs in the past, newcomers will find the game quite similar to Advance Wars (also by developer Intelligent Systems), except that the units gain experience in Emblem. Battles take place on an overhead grid, where units can move around and, when appropriate, use items, trade, visit towns, and of course do battle. The player chooses an attack on the field, and the resulting exchange of blows (attacker goes first) plays out on the nifty battle screen. Different weapons work better or worse depending on the target's own weapon: swords beat axes, axes beat lances, which in turn beat out swords. The opponent's weapon, happily, is discernible from the field. Units can carry up to five items and armaments, and weapons can only be used a certain number of times before they need to be replaced. Both the mini-battles and the movement along the field are pleasantly fast paced.
There are several important things to remember during combat. One is to protect the Lords (main characters, like Lyn). If they perish, it's game over. Less important characters stay deceased forever. Another is to take advantage of the field, and the protection it offers. Units can hide out in the tall grass or in fortresses, and even recover health in the latter. Typically, the player earns a victory by taking over the enemies' strongholds, rather than defeating all the opposing units.
Fire Emblem seems to have undergone a drastic change of diffilculty during the development cycle. Earlier accounts make the game out to be too easy, but when RPGamer's own Mikel Tidwell played a recent version, he found it quite challenging. Certainly, it would be superb if Nintendo kept the challenge level high for its North American audience. Either way, the title features an in-game tutorial that simplifies things for the beginner. This tutorial reportedly takes up ten of the game's 20-30 chapters.
Fire Emblem makes excellent use of the GBA's graphical capacity. Like most strategy RPGs, the story scenes use two-dimensional portraits. Unlike most games, Fire Emblem's portraits are animated with and impressive amount of detail, right down to the facial expressions. The battle and field movements are smooth and fluid, although the minute units could have appeared in a much older game. The soundtrack includes tunes from older Fire Emblem games, but this title's music nonetheless has a unique, light-hearted feel to it. Together with the simple and clear sound effects, the music makes for a quality soundtrack.
The newest Fire Emblem fits in nicely with the GBA's current line-up of strategy games. All the more so because a link cable allows four players to play at once. Fire Emblem is a new serving of the old for the new generation.