Review by QuicksandValley

"Radiant in some ways, but not in others"

Introduction

The Fire Emblem series has always occupied a sort of niche outside of Japan. Until the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Smash Bros. Melee, many people had no idea what Fire Emblem was. Not too long after that, the first North American game was released on the Gameboy Advance (actually the seventh game in Japan); a GBA, a Gamecube, and now a Wii game followed that first release. The series quickly developed a hardcore, if small, fanbase that praised the games for their strong story and characters, as well as challenging gameplay.

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii is a direct sequel to the Gamecube's Fire Emblem game, Path of Radiance. While having played the previous game is not a necessity, it will no doubt be of benefit in understanding the story and characters, as well as the general gameplay.

Gameplay

For those new to the series, Fire Emblem is best described as a turn-based strategy game. On each turn, you move your units around a map, and are able to do things such as attack, use items, or occasionally talk to other units. After you have finished moving all your units, it is the computer opponent's turn to move its units. The goals in each battle can vary; you may have to wipe out all the enemy units, survive for a certain number of turns, protect a specific unit, or reach a specific spot on the map.

Unlike other turn-based strategy games like Advance Wars, you do not command generic units; instead, each one is an individual characters with their own strengths and personality. And once they die, they are gone for good -- unlike other fantasy-based games, there are no reviving potions or magic in the Fire Emblem universe. This can be a bit of a shock to those new to the Fire Emblem franchise, and many people decide to replay battles after losing a character they particularly liked.

The core of the battle system is fairly straightforward. Certain weapons are good against other weapons -- for example, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. However, a stronger unit will often beat a weaker unit, even at a weapon disadvantage. Every character in the game is designated as a certain class that possesses specific strengths and weaknesses. Paladins, for example, can travel great distances in a single turn, but they are unable to climb up on ledges or cliffs. Armoured units generally have excellent defense, but low speed. Using each class properly is key to winning the battles.

There is, of course, much more that could be said about the battle system, but the best way to learn it is simply to play the game. Players new to Fire Emblem will find many tutorials early in the game that will explain almost all the concepts they may not understand. While the gameplay certainly possesses great depth, it is also easy for new players to pick up a Fire Emblem game and learn the basics very quickly.

Of course, all of this is all old news for veteran Fire Emblem players. So what, specifically, is new in this game? Well, not too much, really. A battle save feature now allows you to make a permanent save in the middle of the battle (on any difficulty other than hard), making battles a lot less challenging and arguably cheapening the whole experience. Units are now able to promote twice in the game, instead of once as in previous Fire Emblem games. Support conversations no longer happen only between specific units, and each character can only have a connection with one other character. Variations in the height of the battlefield are a new feature, with units above having an easier time of landing a hit than units below. Dark magic has been added, but it plays a very minor role in the game. There are several other minor additions and changes, but essentially, if you played Path of Radiance you will know what to expect here.

The Fire Emblem games have generally been regarded as fairly difficult by most people. Radiant Dawn seems more difficult than the previous Fire Emblem game (and possibly all of the North American games). A warning to new players: you may want to start out on the easy difficulty setting, as normal mode is fairly difficult, even to many veteran players. Hard mode remains locked until the game has been completed once, and that is probably a good thing, as it keeps unsuspecting newcomers from being completely overwhelmed. Radiant Dawn is certainly no pushover in the difficulty department, and those not interested in a real challenge should probably pass on this game.

Story and Characters

Being the sequel to Path of Radiance, it is of course obvious that Radiant Dawn will be a continuation of the plot of the previous game. The game starts out following Micaiah and the Dawn Brigade, as they fight to free their home country of Daien from the oppresive Begnion empire (who essentially won the war against Daien in the previous game). Micaiah is almost worshipped by the people of Daien for being able to perform miracles and foretell the future, and her gifts continue to become more important as the game progresses. This is just the first part of the game, however. The game is divided into four parts of varying lengths, where the focus shifts from one group of characters to another. Going into any real specifics would spoil it, but suffice it to say you see several events from the perspective of many different characters around the world. Almost all the characters from Path of Radiance return, and you get to see what they've been up to and how they've changed.

So, is the plot good or bad, and how does it compare to the previous game's plot? Well, that's all a matter of opinion, of course. It's certainly more "epic", in the sense that it tells a story from a more global perspective than Path of Radiance, and the events that occur later in the game have a more significant impact on the world. Does that mean the story is better? Not necessarily. The fragmented nature of the plot, where you often jump from controlling one group of people to another in every different part of the world, defeats any real sense of consistency the plot may have otherwise had. Path of Radiance didn't have this problem, as you were only in control of one group of people throughout the entire game. Other than this, it's hard to go too in-depth in analyzing the plot, as that would invariably lead to major spoilers. However, one of the most satisfying things in Radiant Dawn is seeing how the plot wraps up, so if you enjoyed the plot in Path of Radiance you will likely enjoy this game's plot (if possibly not as much). Many characters from the previous game return, and it is interesting to see how they have changed and what new roles they play.

Of course, the plot must also be judged in terms of the characters that play a role in it. There are many characters in this game, certainly more than in the previous game. However, this fact would be misleading if one were to not mention the fact that almost all the characters in this game are, in fact, returning characters from the first. This is undoubtedly a disappointment, and some may look at this as evidence of the developer being lazy. What makes this worse is that the new characters in this game don't seem to be nearly as interesting or likable as the ones from Path of Radiance. One reason for this is the lack of real support conversations that were key to fleshing out the characters in the previous Fire Emblem games. Instead, units can now have support conversations with any other unit, but these conversations only end up being the most generic and dull exchanges, to the point of it being laughable. The couple of sentences in these dialogues do nothing to help develop the personalities of the characters or help the player to learn who they are.

Presentation

If you've read some of the reviews of Radiant Dawn on the major gaming websites (I won't name names), you'll have undoubtedly seen heavy criticism of the game's presentation. Honestly, the game is not a technical marvel, and none of the other Fire Emblem games have been either. The graphics are not even remotely close to pushing the Wii to its limits. Some of the animations look awkward, and the general graphical presentation of the game could use some serious improvement. However, the graphics are certainly an improvement, if a modest one, over the previous game's. The animations are better, the environments are more detailed, and the various special effects are more impressive. The largely mediocre graphics should not be excused, but at the same time it should be noted that graphics have never been a focus of the Fire Emblem games. The only truly impressive visuals one will see in the game are the occasional CG movies, which are truly stunning. However, there are not many of them, and a good deal of them are fairly short (it should be noted that this game has slightly more of these movies than Path of Radiance).

Merely saying that the graphics are technically unimpressive would not be doing the presentation of the game justice, however. The character art is very well done and pleasing to look at, and the hand-drawn backgrounds through which the story are told are quite impressive. This game, like all other Fire Emblem games, has a very distinct and appealing sense of style that you won't find in any other games (even if they are more technically impressive).

One aspect of presentation that is often overlooked by people when rating a game is the quality of the writing. Obviously, this is much more important in story-intensive games than others. It's safe to say that Radiant Dawn, and all the localized Fire Emblem games, have some of the best writing seen in any videogame period. The writing is amazingly sharp, and each character comes across with a distinct and believable personality. Long gone are the horror days of localization and phrases such as "all your base are belong to us." This game could almost make you believe that it was originally made in English, such is the quality of the writing and localization.

The music in Radiant Dawn is fitting and generally good, if not as good or memorable as the music from Path of Radiance. It's certainly not even close to being one of the best videogame soundtracks of all time, but it gets the job done. The sound effects are likewise decent and serve their purpose. Some have complained that most of the text and dialogue in the game is not voice acted. That is a valid opinion, but at the same time, it would be unrealistic to expect all the dialogue in the game to be voiced. The amount of text in this game is absolutely massive, and the number of distinct characters is well over 40. Trying to get voice acting done for all of that would be a massive challenge, indeed. The CG movies do posses voice acting however, and while not all the characters sound great, the general level of quality is good, with a few standout performances. The only voice acting in the rest of the game is the narration at the beginning of each chapter, which is something that Path of Radiance did not have. It is certainly nice to actually here some voice work in the game, if only occasionally, although the narrator occasionally delivers his lines in an awkward way.

Length/Replay Factor

This is a long game. With around 40 chapters, the game will probably take the average person around 30-40 hours to complete. The replayability of the Fire Emblem games depends almost entirely on how much you like the gameplay and how involved you get in it. Replaying the game allows you to use characters that you didn't use before, try to find new and better strategies to winning each battle, or just try to find characters or items you missed on the first time through. In addition, there are a couple of things that are different in the second playthrough, such as a few new recruitable characters and slight changes to the story. The different difficulty modes also extend replayability, as you may want to play the game on a harder difficulty after completing it on an easier one. Once you've seen the story, there's really not much more to see. The exclusion of real support conversations in Radiant Dawn removes the only real story/character related reason there was to replay the previous Fire Emblem games, as depending on which character talked to which character, you could learn more about their personalities or histories.

Conclusion

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a Fire Emblem game through and through. Little has changed or improved from previous Fire Emblem games, which can be good or bad depending on how you feel about the games. If you're a fan of the Fire Emblem games, then picking this one up is a no-brainer, and you'll likely enjoy the long and challenging experience. You'll likely find some things to be better and some worse than the previous Fire Emblems, but overall it's still a worthwhile experience if you're a fan of the games.

Some things may begin to wear on you if you've played several of the previous Fire Emblem games, such as lack of real graphical improvement and extremely limited voice acting. If you're already pretty put off by these things and are getting tired of the "same old" stuff, it may be better to avoid this game and wait for real changes and improvements in a future Fire Emblem game (although you'll probably be waiting a while).

If you haven't played any other Fire Emblem games and are wondering whether to pick this one up, it depends almost entirely on how much you enjoy strategic gameplay. If you've played turn-based strategy games like Advance Wars or Final Fantasy Tactics and enjoyed them, you'll most likely enjoy Radiant Dawn. However, it is probably best to buy one of the earlier Fire Emblem games first if you can find them (preferably Path of Radiance), as they are more accessible to newcomers (for various reasons, such as not being as challenging). Absolutely don't buy this game if you want or expect impressive graphics, as you won't find them here. Likewise, don't buy this game if you want Wii specific features, because there are none. There is no online mode, and there is no use of the Wii remote's motion sensing capabilities. Buy this game if you enjoy deep and challenging strategic gameplay, and don't mind some technical shortcomings and faults in presentation.


Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 11/15/07

Game Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)


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