Review by Phediuk
"Great, but Path of Radiance is better."
Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to Path of Radiance. The gameplay engine is almost identical and all the characters return (to the point of overkill), so if you liked PoR, you'll like Radiant Dawn. On the other hand, if you're not a Fire Emblem fan, Radiant Dawn won't do much to change your mind. It's not the best game in the series by a longshot, but RD is still a really addicting game.
Remember the epic storyline of Path of Radiance? That game had it all; dramatic plot twists, a huge cast of characters, all given their own unique personality and backstory, and superbly-written dialogue. Hell, I'd go so far to say that PoR has one of the most engaging plots of any video game. Radiant Dawn's thread, in comparison, is lame. The first part of the game centers around Micaiah, your typical white-haired magical girl, as she fights to liberate the kingdom of Daein from the clutches of the Begnion Empire. This is about the only interesting twist in RD, since Daein were the bad guys last time. After 10 chapters, Micaiah's story abruptly ends and you control the newly-crowned Queen Elincia of Crimea for a few chapters. It's nice to see what's happening in Crimea, since you spent the whole of Path of Radiance restoring Elincia to the throne, but the conflict in these chapters is boring. It's complete filler. Part 3 marks the return of Ike and his mercenary company as they join up with the half-human-half-animal laguz and fight against Begnion. Micaiah and her entourage join the war on Begnion's side. So there's two sets of playable characters that have to fight against each other. Sounds like it should be interesting, but it falls way short of its potential. None of the playable characters on the enemy's side die if you defeat them in battle, so what's the point?
The whole plot of Radiant Dawn feels rushed. The war in Path of Radiance took the entire game; 30 chapters. In Radiant Dawn, the war between Ike's crowd and Micaiah's crowd takes 10. There's not much dramatic tension; no character deaths will pull at your heartstrings like in Path of Radiance. I realize that I've been comparing these two games an awful lot, but that's because Radiant Dawn is tied at the hip to its predecessor. Every characterno, seriously, every character--from PoR makes a return, no matter how contrived it may seem. A few characters who were thought dead miraculously come back to life.
The plot's saving grace is the dialogue, which, as usual, is sharp as a tack. Conversations flow naturally; the dialogue has just the right fantasy flair without being cheesy. Characters are likeable; everyone has their flaws, except for perhaps Ike, who's been elevated to a Jesus-like figure. Also, the FMVs are frigging amazing, though the voice acting is still meh. Excellent job on the localization, at any rate.
Fire Emblem is a series that lives and dies on its storylines. The fact that they have an addicting battle system is merely a plus. Radiant Dawn continues the tradition, and has the series' best game engine yet. Gameplay fits into the plot rather than the other way around, which is highly unusual for any genre. This approach works extremely well. Like previous FE games, Radiant Dawn is a strategy RPG which emphasizes the strategy part. Character customization is limited to choosing a character's weapons and items, as well as the occasional special skill. Battles take place on a big grid, and from there, the gameplay is as simple as it gets; move your guys, beat up the other guys, beat the boss. Bring along a healer or two to patch up your guys, because if they die, they die. As in, they're dead. Gone for good. Yes, this mechanic leads to some frustration. But it adds to the game. When a character dies and you see their last words, you feel sorry for them. You feel like a jerk for letting them die. You'll want to restart the mission so they can stay alive, even if you're not using them. For the first time, you can do a hard save in battle, so if someone dies you can just reload a few turns back. If you remembered to save, anyway.
It's a bare-bones formula, and it works. A Fire Emblem with a lackluster plot will still keep you glued to the TV because the battle system is so refined by this point. And thank God for that, because the presentation won't win any awards either (except the FMVs.) The graphics are better than Path of Radiance, and that's the best thing I can say about them. The battle animations have gone from bad to just mediocre, character models from ugly to barely adequate. You know something's up when 2D portraits are the best-looking parts of a game. That artwork is very well-drawn, though. Oh, and the music's worse than in Path of Radiance. Significantly so. I can't remember a single new song.
A pity about that storyline. Combine Path of Radiance's plot/music with Radiant Dawn's gameplay/graphics and you'd have a serious contender for best game in the series. It's still a great game, and Fire Emblem fans should be playing it, but if you're new to the series, start with Path of Radiance or the GBA games. I liked the game a lot, I was never bored, and it had me hooked for four days straight. But I'm a bit disappointed.
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/14/07
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)
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