Review by Kevin Cox
"The Radiant Dawn of the future of Fire Emblem is here!"
The tenth game in the series, the eagerly anticipated Radiant Dawn, has arrived. It follows the traditional Fire Emblem formulae, while managing to spice things up and shake the player's thoughts around. A direct sequel to the Gamecube's acclaimed Path of Radiance, the story begins three years after the first game... and Radiant Dawn improves on its predecessor in just about every way.
Path of Radiance's story was mostly completed by its ending, but the ending left a few things hanging up in the air. Radiant Dawn seizes on many of those things, eventually providing a rich history of the continent of Tellius. The story starts off in the occupied country of Daein, where the Begnion troops stationed there are committing grave offenses and getting away with it. Enter the Dawn Brigade: five residents of the capital city of Nevassa who are devoted to doing good deeds and helping out the oppressed poor of the city. Micaiah, their leader and a major character in the game, is a young woman who can randomly see the future. However, her striking silver hair gives her away easily, and the Dawn Brigade has to leave Nevassa... then the game truly begins, after two chapters in the city. Strings are yanked on, unraveling secret after secret, exposing the tortured history of Tellius and why things happened as they did. Also, every single playable character - save two - from Path of Radiance returns and has a role in the story. As for the two who don't return, one looks exactly like another character, and the other one shows up in a conversation or two.
On the topic of characters, Radiant Dawn almost overdoes it. Seventy-three characters can be recruited or controlled over the course of the game, with two of them only available in repeat playthroughs, and a third unavailable for the final chapter. Even with all the returning favorite characters from Path of Radiance, numbering around fifty, there are standouts among the new arrivals. Early on, Edward the Myrmidon - a speedy sword-user - is a lifesaver. Later, Volug the Wolf - a laguz who can remain in wolf form at the cost of 1/4 of his stats, which isn't much of a loss - becomes a star with his wide movement range and powerful fangs. Supports have been redone as well, with practically any character able to support with any other. The only downside to that is that most in-battle Support conversations (thankfully optional for increasing the Support level) are rather generic in-character statements, but a few of the lines are quite a laugh to read.
Which brings me back around to the writing and dialogue. The story exists to tie the battles together, but said story is exceedingly well-written. Confusion is also easily alleviated by the fact that from the pre-battle menu, lists of characters and important terms are accessible for reminders on what's what and who's who. Sure, there are a few mistakes in there, such as Mist's profile showing up for both Mist and Muarim, or the term "Fire Emblem" being translated as "Heart of Fire", but with the sheer amount of text in the game, and the fact that it has to be interesting and engaging on top of being well-translated makes the occasional typo (I spotted at least four) well within normal bounds and probably even into the realm of top-notch proofreading.
The controls are literally as simple as they come. Hold the Wiimote so the Control Pad is in your left hand and the 1 and 2 buttons in your right hand, and the game pretty much has the controls displayed on the bottom of the screen at most times. No motion control is implemented, but really, the game doesn't need it one bit. Only rarely do I press the wrong button, and it almost never has an adverse effect on my playing.
Graphics. The graphics are basically the same as in Path of Radiance, only polished up greatly. Literally the only areas where I can clearly see edges of polygons are on the hems of flying capes and some bending wings while flying characters are waiting around on the battle map. There are also twice as many FMV scenes as in Path of Radiance, with each one looking as stunning as the next. There is some realism incorporated into those scenes, but the anime inspiration is very clear. In-battle graphics are upgraded considerably, with each unit type having more animations, as well as each character having a third level of classes to promote to, meaning more models per character, as each class has its own "look" - the characters are also more distinct this time, with fewer helmets and more facial detail (Calill's elegant hair and Haar's eyepatch are great examples here). That extra class means 20 more levels are available for each character: yes, that's right, beorc can reach the equivalent of Level 60, while laguz can now go up to Level 40. Another wonderful bonus is that meeting a character, or in some cases just hearing about them, unlocks a piece of official art depicting the character for view anytime. With 85 pieces in all, there are naturally several that will be frustrating to obtain - Stefan's in particular. The only little thing is that large numbers of characters in a menu at once cause noticeable slowdown, but there is really only a single situation where that actually happens.
Music is important as well. Some familiar themes return, such as the royal themes and the recruitment theme, while some new characters have wonderful themes as well. Even if the music ends up taking a far backseat to the action, the music almost always fits the mood or the setting.
Fire Emblem as a series is known for its gameplay quirks. When a character is defeated in battle, if they were on the Player (blue) team, they are dead and cannot return (with a few exceptions - some characters just retreat and are unusable though they remain alive). If your "commander" dies (varies by which chapter you're playing), it's Game Over. The two characters that will always create a Game Over with their deaths are Ike and Micaiah. Sothe and Elincia are frequently in that category as well - the first couple chapters even require you to keep everyone alive or it's a game over. MIcaiah is especially frail, with very low health and defense, so she must be protected... yet she must also acquire combat experience if she is to be of any use. That's the strategy of the game: placing characters on the grid so they won't die, but have a good chance to gain experience and get stronger. The final quirk only comes into play in a major way for the final chapter, but given the number of characters in the game, it's tougher than ever. That quirk is that most chapters do not allow you to use all of your characters - you must pick and choose wisely, or you might have all your flying characters in a sea of archers, which is a recipe for losing your flyers. The quirk is slightly remedied by the game's story constantly switching perspectives from one group of characters to another to a third... occasionally intersecting, sometimes even opposing! Thankfully, any character defeated while on the green Other or red Enemy teams, if previously recruited, will have the smarts to retreat and heal up to continue being playable... unless said character is one of the ones whose death triggers a game over on that chapter. Expect to restart chapters NUMEROUS times - thankfully there's a "Battle Save" that allows you to save during your turn and return to that point. Some chapters really do require the use of that new feature on every one of your turns, as four or five battles have your team more than outclassed by the enemies, and one of them literally requires dumb luck to survive with everyone alive.
I think that's everything... wait. Path of Radiance savefiles can be imported from a GCN memory card and used to power up characters that hit Level 20 in that game. Support levels are also carried over in some form - ONE of them, if at A level and repeated in this game, will unlock a purely optional conversation before the final battle. However, I believe that its secritiveness will cause it to be very revealing about the characters involved and the true bond of friendship they share.
Okay, now that's everything. This game cannot be completed in a rental - I only finished it a few hours ago, after buying it on November 6th. That's fifteen days... forty-three maps to complete truly is a lot, especially as the later maps can take almost two hours EACH to complete. For fans of strategy/tactical games and RPGs, this is truly the Radiant Dawn for you. The difficulty level, even on Easy, is quite unforgiving, but that Reset button is your friend, as are all the characters... I grew to care about enough of them that some of the bosses were almost tragic to kill. Amusingly, Radiant Dawn does an excellent job explaining why the subtitles of both Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn make perfect sense... in the Japanese subtitles: Path of Blue Flames and Goddess of Dawn.
Reviewer's Rating: 5.0 - Flawless
Originally Posted: 11/21/07
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)
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