Review by bluesky

"A fun but very frustrating game"

Fire Emblem comes from a series of Japanese games which never reached the United States. Since I've never played those games, I have few games to compare it with inside its own circle (I've heard, though, that this game is actually supposed to be the EASY game in the series, which is a bit disturbing). Close relations include other strategy RPGs, but also Advance Wars and Advance Wars 2: Black Hole Rising, which are both made by Intelligent Systems, which made Fire Emblem, and they're both highly regarded. And, Fire Emblem stands up fairly well in most categories in comparison with other strategy RPGs.

When I first got the game, I was immediately thrilled with the game's style of presenting what happened. No doubt about it, the game makes a good first show. The story seems compelling, the graphics fit pretty well, there's lots of music that seems okay, and basically it seems to be one of those games which isn't quite at the top of the line, but is very good nevertheless.

And, this description fits for the most part. The graphics are certainly nice -- most of the sprites (battlefield sprites) are of course very small, but still manage to clearly show what they are, which is an accomplishment in and of itself. Speech is indicated by character portraits (which look really impressive, and most of the portraits, excluding townspeople and a couple others, are completely unique looking) with moving mouths and speech bubbles, and in fact looks pretty impressive, what with the portraits and moving portraits and all, and they convey action very nicely. All the backgrounds and cutscenes are very well detailed. All the animations, especially the battle attacks, are well animated (though a bit unrealistic), and basically the graphics fit the game for the most part.

The game's sound is okay. Regarding sound, there are generally two opinions of all Gameboy Advance music. There are those who dismiss all of it as highly repetitive, useless trash, and others who are willing to let it examine a little scrutiny. Although most of the tracks aren't top quality (I mean, there are 94 of them, obviously not all of them could be perfect), most of them are, in fact, pretty good, and I wouldn't call any of them actually anywhere near bad. Most of them are quite short, but still don't sound much the worse for it, because they're mostly only up for a few seconds apiece anyway, so before you discover that they're repetitive, you will have moved on. The tracks that last longer (like the battle theme), are longer and a bit less repetitive. After a while I tend to get a little sick of them, though. The really nice thing about the music is how well it interacts with the story. The music's mood almost always seems to fit with what's going on. It's something that rarely happens in games, but it works well here. As for the sound effects, they're typical for RPG games. Nothing really special with the sound effects.

The story itself is interesting and somewhat compelling, though a little lame because of the whole thing about dragons and so on. The story in fact helps the game a lot, as I'll comment on more later, because you end up just wanting to play the game to get through the story, as with other games like Jet Grind Radio. Basically it has two parts, the tutorial (the first 10 chapters), in which you help Lyn, a nomadic swordfighter, obtain her rightful place as heir to the throne of the territory Caelin, and the remainder of the game, in which you guide over Eliwood's quest to find his missing father and do quite a bit more. By and large the story ends up being a typical save-the-worlder, but this is an RPG, what do you expect? The only quibble I have with the storyline is that you have tons of party members, but unless you count the hard-to-find "Support" conversations, they don't say much, or basically anything at all. You have your first three lords, the mystical Nils and Ninian, and a few other characters who have brief periods of saying a lot, but basically, as far as the main storyline counts, most of the characters seem to have their mute buttons pressed.

So you must be wondering, why a 7/10, rather than 9/10? The game comes with its downsides. The most obvious is that characters die. That's right, actually die. If anyone dies in the 10-chapter tutorial, they come back later on, but in the main part of the game, if they die, they don't get back up. So you'll find yourself going through levels numerous times, just to have one character die accidentally and then you'll have to start back from the ground up. Which introduces me to the other main problem. At first the game actually seems quite easy. But as you progress, it becomes harder. It happens pretty suddenly. About the first 19 levels are quite easy, then, BAM! At chapter 20, you become introduced to a concept, called the impossible boss. And the theory, which lasts for many of the levels afterwards, is that you spend hours trying to get through a level without losing anyone, you come across the impossible boss, who kills one of your weaker units, or just scores a critical hit on your attacker, and you have to start over again. It gets so maddening, you'll want to throw the game out the window, and the Gameboy Advance with it. I recommend buying the GBA game, but playing the game on the GameCube so you don't get the urge to take advantage of the aerodynamics of rectangular, slightly bulky objects with game paks in them, and their behavior in flight.

And those are just the two main problems. Another is that the game is completely storyline-based, COMPLETELY. There are a few side quests, but what I really mean is that there is no no-danger zone. Either you're in a cutscene, or at the equipment preparation screen, or you're on the battlefield. You never leave those locations. Visiting houses, buying equipment, talking to people... it's all done on the battlefield. While that itself is awkward, there's another, far more awkward feature. And that is that there are a limited number of levels. Add it up. Because there are a limited number of levels, and you never leave the battlefield, that means NO EXTRA TRAINING. In almost every other RPG I've ever played, you can train your units at any time (even in Onimusha Tactics, though at first it doesn't seem like it). But because you can't do that, that means that you have a limited number of levels in which to train your units. A limited number of opponents to defeat. A limited number of experience points to gain. Which means that you'll either end up with a few very strong units (when they grab all the experience points), or a whole band of weak units, if you space the EXP points out more evenly. You'll have to take the halfway point, and dump most of your units if you want to have any at all that are powerful. You see the obvious awkwardness. And, if you come to a level where you face, say, tons of Shamans, and your only Monk was left behind and is very weak, you're at something of a disadvantage. That's what you're up against. It can be pretty annoying, and the only way to solve it is to get into arenas early, but they're very frustrating because you often get killed unless you give up and weaker units won't stand a chance.

But despite a number of serious faults, Fire Emblem still manages to be a fun gaming experience. You'll want to try to bear with the constant redoing of levels, the incredibly strong bosses, and the weak units you yourself possess just to get through the storyline. The progressing storyline is what holds the game together, and tries to tie up the holes in the fabric of the gameplay. And luckily, it possesses pretty strong string.

Reviewer's Rating:   3.5 - Good

Originally Posted: 08/23/04

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