Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
Review by Dorfl_2
"Disappointing and unnecessary"
I just finished this game. Let's cut straight to the chase.
Radiant Dawn finally puts an end to the whole Tellius saga. Which is fine if you actually wanted to see more of the Tellius universe, but not fine if like me, you thought Path of Radiance was enough in and of itself. By the end of the previous game I'd turned Ike and my favourite party members into unstoppable monsters, I'd gotten revenge on the bad guys who hurt my friends and I'd put Elincia on the throne. Who cares about Sothe and some cryptic comments thrown in at the end of the game?
Regardless, even though there was no need for a sequel, Intelligent Systems went ahead and made one anyway. It does explain a few new things that you may or may not have cared to know, while introducing a few other minor questions (like who blessed the Black Knight's armour and why) to ponder. There are definitely events that made me look back to the previous game and think so what was the point of that? and even now I fervently wish they had just stopped with the previous game, but what happened happened and we got a new game out of it, so... yeah.
I did like what they did with Skills in Radiant Dawn, though. Now you can take skills off a character without having the scroll magically disappear into the blue. A lot of characters are only good for recruiting, stripping their skills off and benching, and it's good to get some use out of even the most useless ones. I've never really though of Fire Emblem as a strategy game, but mixing and matching and selecting the right skills for the occasion (Nihil, anyone) is essential to the successful completion of this game. Okay maybe "essential" is a bit of an exaggeration, but it can make your life a whole lot easier, especially on Hard Mode.
I also enjoyed the new Bonus EXP system. I don't play FE solely for the stats, but Stats Wan--- er Stats Discussion is definitely a fun part of the game for most fans my Jill capped all her stats!! so it was cool to be able to tweak my characters for optimum strength. Bonus EXP in this game works like this: it will always, always bring up 3 uncapped stats, no more, no less. Now characters like to ram their stat caps very quickly, so you might end up with something like a Nephenee with maxed speed, skill, def and luck by level 12. If you let her keep levelling by herself the Random Number Generator will almost always screw you in places you even didn't know you could be screwed. Far better to use BEXP: brings up HP, strength and Res, maybe, or Magic. Reliably, every single time. It's quite entertaining, judging the right moment to pump in the BEXP for the best experience. Pokemon fans will understand.
Radiant Dawn has a couple of flowing, well-animated FMVs that are really nice to look at, placed at important points in the story. The first appearance of the Greil Mercenaries is a personal favourite of mine, I could watch it several times in a row. Unfortunately it seems Intelligent Systems ran out of money later in the story and stopped, so at other world-changing events, all you get is a LOT of feature-obscuring bloom and very little else. There's a part where a character (okay, it's Micaiah) is singing a song that will change the world, and the only animation is BLOOOOOOOOOOOOOM and the camera panning slowly around a stationary room. For five minutes. Oh dear.
It's a 44-chapter game. Half of those chapters have no point in being in this game. The game is divided into 4 parts. You can take out Part 2 without losing a thing storyline-wise. You can shorten Parts 1 and 3 by 4 chapters each without losing anything either. And then maybe you'll have more money to devote to animating important scenes, eh?
To make matters worse, you find yourself switching between parties with no warning at all, throwing off your rhythm completely. You start the game in Part 1 with the Dawn Brigade, made up of weak don't-touch-me-or-I'll-die characters and have to guide them through their adventures as they take back the Kingdom of Daein from the evil Begnion oppressors. You start out with the weaklings, you finally manage to build them up to acceptable (I-can-take-two-hits-tops) level then they're suddenly ripped away from you for the next 10 chapters and you have to start over again with a new group.
It doesn't happen just once, it happens over and over again and it feels weird each time. I see what Intelligent Systems was trying to do here: give you the chance to play with more characters than you'd normally be able to fit in in one playthrough. It's just that they executed it very, very poorly. They gave some characters, including some great ones from the previous game, very little play time while other characters you never really cared about just keep reappearing in every part. It's very disappointing.
About the return of the Greil mercenaries, I have decidedly mixed feelings. On one hand it's nice to have them back. On the other, bigger hand I already did everything I wanted to do with them in the last game. There was really no need to bring them all back, especially since most of them don't develop any further because of the lack of a proper Support system (covered later). You start out the game with a fresh batch of characters then boom, here comes King Kong and his band of Scene-Stealing Monkeys to take over the game and all the glory. They get all the best scenes, all the relevance and all the best growths, hands down. If things were going to work out that way, why bother wasting my time with the Fail Brigade? Hmph.
Another sore point for me: Laguz are back, and more useless than ever. They're strong, certainly, but apart from laguz royals you're going to have to connect an IV line full of Olivi Crack to their veins to stop them from untransforming at the most inopportune moments. You can get better and more reliable results with a properly trained human unit. Luckily you can bench most of them for the majority of the game, but the very fact that they're still around is a great annoyance for me.
Furthermore the whole laguz vs beorc thing was played to death in the previous game, I don't need to go through the whole prejudice storyline all over again, having it beaten over my head at every opportunity. I certainly don't need to have 13 solid chapters of the game (a flimsy, poorly-disguised excuse to bring back the Greil Mercenaries) devoted to it. After all, the overarching story had nothing to do with all that nonsense in the end. You already had one game to moralize, Intelligent Systems, now get to the point already.
Last thing that pissed me off: how big a HYPOCRITE Micaiah is. So it's not okay for another country to oppress your citizens but it's fine to abuse the love your soldiers have for you and use them to commit atrocious acts of war upon a non-aggressor nation? I'd go into details but that would lead to spoilers. But Micaiah is currently at the top of my list of Characters Who Need to Die in Painful Disgusting Humiliating Ways as a Lesson to Other Would-be Videogame Scumbags.
The story reeks of fail. I'm not going to call it cliched, because it's practically demanded nowadays that if any band of heroes sets out to prevent a Sealed Evil from being resurrected, that Evil will inevitably be resurrected and they will have to fight it anyway. It's a given. But it's been done so many times I'm starting to get sick of it all. What I'm even sicker of is plots driven by feelings. No logic, just I feel we should go here I feel we can trust X I feel we should commit war crimes and everybody is like Okay because feelings are never wrong. To paraphrase a movie critic, the whole game is wired to Micaiah's backside, and I hate it.
What's really ugly about this game, though, is the messed up Support System. Not enough bad things can be said about this thing, so I won't even try. I'll just say this: they picked the responses out of a hat. You can support every body with every body which doesn't make as much sense as you might think it does. Just because you see someone every day doesn't mean you want to get friendly with them, as anyone who's ever been to school can tell you. But fine, support everyone. Put some effort into it, then! Instead all Support Conversation are reduced to pointless one-liners that often feel completely out of place. Almost all of them go like this: Hi, how are you? Hey there, fighting is cool! and poof, that's all the support conversation you're going to get. Even if you create a support between characters that should have a lot to say to each other, like Jill and Haar, or Shinon and Gatrie, or Aran and Laura, it's still the same old Gee, this battle is fun! Hello, nice to see you! picked-out-of-a-hat responses!
When you consider that even the shortest Fire Emblem games can have up to 50 playable characters, you'll realise that not all of them can be intimately connected to the plot. Support Conversations are vital to giving you a sense of their thoughts and personalities. More importantly they're just pleasant to read. Think back to Fire Emblem 7: would you ever have known anything about the relationship between Dart, Rebecca and Wil if it wasn't for support conversations? In Radiant Dawn you end up with characters like Nolan, Edward and Leonardo who seem like they have a wealth of interesting back story to them, but you never get to find out a single thing. Where they met Micaiah, why they care so much about Daien, where they learned to fight, why they joined the Dawn Brigade nope, nothing. What a waste of potentially awesome characters.
Here's to hoping Intelligent Systems never does anything as ridiculous and rage-inducing as this ever again.
When all is said and done, Radiant Dawn is a Fire Emblem game. That means if you're a Fire Emblem fan, sooner or later you're going to play it. Whether you will like it or not is a completely different story but you will play it. And if you're a Fire Emblem fan, you will at least enjoy the battles and character-levelling, even if the story is, quite frankly, a bit of a wash, and the support system should be taken out behind the building and shot.
If you're not a Fire Emblem fan at all, don't bother with this game. At the very least don't make it your first game.
Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 07/18/08, Updated 07/29/08
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)
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