Review by Rozenritter
"When will IS stop murdering the series?"
One of the most popular tactical RPGs to date, the Fire Emblem series, which spans 11 games, is beginning to show its age. The latest installment, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is just the latest example of this. Compared to the classic Super Nintendo Fire Emblem games and the critically-acclaimed Game Boy Advance games, the latest set of games can't be called anything more then "average".
The Fire Emblem formula is a tried and true system which constantly delivers great games. However, even if it's not broken, it couldn't hurt to upgrade every once in a while. One of the biggest flaws of the series is that the system rarely changes between each game, save for some new faces and a minor adjustment or two. The basic system from the original FE is almost identical to the latest game. You take command of a team of characters (which in this game number a grand total of over 70 units) and guide them across a map to defeat your opponents. Select a character, move them to a space within their range, and attack or heal your allies. When a character gains enough experience points, your character levels up and receives a set of stat bonuses random generated by the game. This can either be a blessing or a curse, as a character can be extremely lucky and receive multiple stat bonuses, or be extremely unlucky and receive none. The game's classic permanent death also returns; if a unit dies, it's gone for good, no exceptions. This add a degree of challenge to the game, especially in the early chapters where your characters are weak and vulnerable. Unfortunately, this system is almost unchanged from previous FEs, which results in a "haven't I done this before?" effect. The basic units of your army are almost exactly the same as previous FEs, and new ones ar emsotly worthless.
Sadly, the story isn't nearly as interesting as I make it sound. For the most part you'll be uninterested in the plight of the soldiers you control; the only thing you'll care about is keeping them alive during the difficult first few chapters. And speaking of characters, you probably won't care about them, either. The characters in this game receive only minor development; the main development comes from optional supports which take a good deal of time to unlock, yet they barely contain any substance. Most characters only ever appear once in dialogue and then are lost, never to appear again except in battle. And when you're controlling over 70 characters, having almost half of them be completely irrelevant to the plot makes you wonder if they would be better off as generic soldiers. Compared to other tactics series where you actually feel for the characters, this is a major flaw.
Presentation and Sound:
Shadow Dragon boasts decent 3D graphics and fluid animation that will make any graphics-lover happy, especially during the battle sequences, which have much more dynamic character movement compared to previous FE games. However, you'll most likely find yourself sick of watching the battle sequences and end up turning off battle animations midway through the game. The game also contains several full motion videos (FMVs), which are a nice bit of eye candy despite having less-then-stellar voice acting. The game boasts excellent orchestrated music in addition to decent graphics. Unfortunately, outside of a few familiar tunes and some new ones, the soundtrack is mostly forgettable.
Fire Emblem games don't possess a ton of replayability, and Shadow Dragon is no exception. One playthrough of the game is essentially all you need, but the addition of an alternate story in the second playthrough may lead some people to play again (note that when I say 'alternate", I mean some important changes to the story but not enough to consider it an entirely different story.) Besides that, there's no real incentive to play again besides to try the higher difficulties and various challenges, but those aren't for everyone. And even those get boring after a while.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon isn't a terrible game by any means, but it's not stellar either. Fans of the series may be able to tolerate the aging system and lack of story, but for those who are new to the series, the sharp difficulty in the early game and lack of a decent story may put them off of the series. Those who are new to the series and wish to get into it may want to try the GBA Fire Emblem games before they tackle Shadow Dragon so they can become familiar with the system. Overall, despite some minor changes, Shadow Dragon is just another example that Fire Emblem needs some work if it wants to continue being a memorable and well-loved series.
Rent or Buy?:
If you're a fan of the series, you should probably buy it. If not, you probably shouldn't play this game, but it's a rental for sure.
Reviewer's Score: 3/10 | Originally Posted: 12/11/08
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (EU, 12/05/08)
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