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Another decent Tactical RPG for the GBA
I doubt few people would argue to be a gamer these days is an expensive hobby. As a result I have found myself a Nintendo follower almost by default. I can not speak for the quality of Sony and Microsoft and their respective machines, although I am sure they provide the utmost pleasurable gaming experiences. However, with Nintendo, I have come to realize that they have really led us into a Golden Age in handheld gaming in terms of affordability, and selection. The GBA has proven time and time again that it can not be beaten for the price, and it has also shown its power through its vast library. Among this library of games is an RPG selection that is truly remarkable. Through the GBA we have been introduced to new RPGís (The Golden Sun Series as an example) and we have been able to revisit the all time classics (Lunar Legend, and the soon to be released Shining Force Title). All of this brings me to the game I will be reviewing today: Fire Emblem. For a long time the gamers of Japan were the only ones privileged to play anything from this heralded series. But in this so-called "Golden Age" of handheld gaming made reference to earlier Nintendo finally realized that perhaps such a gem of a series did not simply belong in the hands of one particular region of gamers. So in late 2003, through the GBA, the US was treated to its first taste of the Fire Emblem series outside of Super Smash Brothers Melee.
Fire Emblem is another game that belongs to one of the most popular genre of RPG's as of late: tactics based gaming. Fire Emblem; however, does differ from a game like Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. Fire Emblem takes your battles, keeps the same strategic aspects of a tactics game, but brings it to you on a larger scale. As you progress through the game you will meet many people who will join up with your army. You play the part of the tactician in the game, and as such you control the army on the battlefield, and depending on the battle you are in you can have as many as 15 or more characters on the field of play at once. Each character has their own particular job class if you will and certain weapons will trump other weapons. If you are using a swordsman at the moment, then he would have a distinctive advantage over an ax-wielder. A knight that has a lance equipped in turn would have an advantage over a swordsman, and so on and so forth. There are also different magic types that are effective against different kinds of magic users, and weapons specially designed to deal with certain characters that appear on horseback, or with heavy armor, etc. Overall, the customization and strategy involved in Fire Emblem is set at a very high level, even if the game does not present the most difficult challenge.
Fire Emblem also differs in the aspect of buying weapons. In Fire Emblem there is no "safe" town outside of the battles that you can stop at and re-supply. You have to buy your weapons right on the battle field, because your weapons will break after a certain amount of uses. In addition to this twist, when in battle, if one of your characters (outside of the main three) dies, then that's it for them. Their dead and they arenít coming back. This threat isnít as bad as it seems through. With some decent strategy the enemy troops are not hard to overcome at all, and you can "rescue" characters on the verge of death and safely move them away from danger. Other than all that the only other quirk in the battle system of note is promoting your characters. With certain seals and other items you can promote a character from their current class to the advanced level of that class. There are only two levels to each class, and they can only reach level 20, so generally it pays to wait until the first class is maxed out before promotion for maximum stat gain. In the end Fire Emblem provides a gaming experience that has a decent twist of originality and time tested methods that produces a very pleasant game.
Visually, Fire Emblem is a very good looking game in terms of the cut scenes and one-on-one battle scenes. The cut scenes showcase great artwork for each character that you come across in your travels, and the backgrounds really make the game come to life a bit more as your read the conversations that help the plot unfold. The one on one battles are equally impressive, as your characters and key enemies as well have great detail put into them, as well as their attacks. However, due to the nature of the game, the battlefield itself is nothing more then a map with tiny people representing your characters. However, it is unreasonable to hold that against the game, since this really is a necessity due to the sheer amount of characters that are on the battlefield at any given time.
Musically, Fire Emblem isn't all that bad. The themes are not unpleasant, and rarely did I find them repetitive and overused. I thought that most of the time they fit the mood of the game at whatever point it was at. Iím sure some would disagree with that point, but the most important aspect of the music here is that it doesn't annoy me, and it doesn't bore me. In a GBA game if it accomplishes those two things then you won't hear any complaints from me. Sound effect wise I think Fire Emblem is equally as good. It is what you would expect from combat based on medieval weaponry and magic.
The story; however, does leave a little to be desired. It's a RPG by numbers when you boil it down. The main villain is power hungry beyond belief, and your objective is to stop him and save your world from being overrun by him and the dragons he plans on unleashing from another world that they were sealed in long ago. As the tactician you really observe the story unfolding from the perspective of the three main characters: Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood. Without giving anything away, each has their own part in the story, and all three have their good points and bad points on the field of play. Now with that out of the way, there is one part of the plot that I really did enjoy: The sub-plots of all the different characters you encounter that join your army. By keeping certain characters alongside other characters while battling you will unlock support conversations between those two characters that will unveil more about the characters in question, adding some depth to them making them more real in my eyes, and not just another soldier that helps you win the battle. Getting all these conversations is impossible in one game, since everyone can only get five per person per game, so this also lends itself to the replay value of the game.
Fire Emblem, at the end of the day, is a mildly challenging game that will give you a good 20-30 hours of fun. The game does have a hard mode that becomes available after you played through it once which adds a little more challenge to it overall. While this game is certainly not revolutionary in any sense of the word, hopefully it will pave the way for more Fire Emblem goodness. Since Nintendo has announced a Game Cube Fire Emblem I think itís safe to say we will be seeing more of this series as time progresses. And that is nothing but a good thing.
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