Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Review by CanuckGamer04
"It's a pity not many know about this series."
Welcome to my review of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the Gameboy Advance. Now, you're probably thinking, "What the hell is Fire Emblem?", and if you are, shame on you. Fire Emblem is a wonderful Strategy/RPG series that started in Japan in 1990. Sacred Stones is the 8th game in the series, the second to be released in outside of Japan, and came out in 2005. Now let's crack this baby open.
The amazing thing about the Fire Emblem series is how easy, yet incredibly deep and difficult to master the battle system is. In it, you control a set number of troops, each with their own name and individual class (although some may both be of the same class), and must set them up strategically on a grid map in places where they can effectively defeat opposing troops. The game uses a very basic Rock, Paper, Scissors battle mechanic, where Sword beats Axe, Axe beats Lance, and Lance beats Sword. This may sound easy enough, but for an experienced player it only gets deeper and deeper. In addition to the weapons, you must also take into account the terrain you are standing on, the stats of your fighter, and what they use to transport themselves, among countless other things.
Only after mastering all the different minor details can you successfully win a level without any characters dying. "Why would that matter, don't they just come back?", you may ask. Well, that's another thing that makes Fire Emblem so delightfully unique: Once a character dies once, they're dead forever. So if you want to keep your precious strong characters, you are forced to think many steps ahead with each of your moves, which makes this system absolutely brilliant. It gives you a real connection and care for each character, and at the same times gets your brain working overdrive to devise the best strategy to keep your favorites alive. Although, like all wars, there come sacrifices. The thing is, you can't get a dead character back without restarting the level, and if you're close to the end (all levels take quite a while), this can be infuriating, and possibly worth killing off someone just to not have to play it again. A little more on classes: To recruit a character, you need to either have them join the party in a cutscene, or have one of your troops who has a storyline connection to the person talk with them. Usually, your characters will start at the lowest class, giving you free reign over which upgrade you wish to give, allowing you to sculpt your party however you please. To upgrade them, you need to wait until they're Lv. 10, then give them a certain extremely rare item, depending on which class you wish to upgrade to. I loved how creative this system allowed you to be with your party.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones centres around the prince and princess of the Kingdom of Renais, Eirika and Ephraim. They are caught up in a cliche story of magic and sorcery when the Kingdom of Grado invades Renais and kills their father, wishing to destroy the 5 Sacred Stones and revive the Demon King. They seek help from their allies in Frelia, and then set off to warn the remaining nations about the danger to their Sacred Stones. It's not ground-breaking, but it gets the job done, and keeps you guessing in terms of plot twists.
The battle map graphics in Fire Emblem are nothing too amazing, but during cutscenes and while troops are fighting are when they really stand out. The character sprites are not great, but they don't impair your ability to see what's going on, so I have no problem with them. The music in this game is not as good as the rest of the series, in my opinion. If you want really great FE music, I suggest you check out the FE Theme, or some of the main character themes from Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword.
The funny thing is, even if you don't want to replay this game, you will be replaying it lots. Why? Well, remember what I told you about characters dying for good? That's the the reason. Most of the time the characters who are in high traffic areas are the good ones, and that's where they are most likely to die, and if all your best characters die, good luck with the last few levels. Although that's not necessarily a bad thing. It teaches you how to plan out your turns in advance, and will make you a master of the enemy AI (One little hint: The enemy will always attack the weakest character they can reach within their given steps).
If you are a fan of strategy games, this is a must buy. It defined, and continues to define the genre even to this day with it's amazing yet simplistic gameplay. It really is a pity more of the series never got released outside of Japan, this is a series that seldom gets tiring and can always offer new stuff to do, because you can really solve a mission however you like, and there are multiple routes to do so. The key, in the end, is strategy, and this game will make you a master of it.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/12/08
Game Release: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (US, 05/23/05)
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