Review by Big Bob
"Fire Emblem veterans MUST pick this up, though I recommend newcomers dig up Path of Radiance first."
Ever since Fire Emblem came out on the Game Boy Advance, I've been a HUGE fan of the Fire Emblem series. The strategy RPG series has always felt absolutely perfect for me. I've beaten it just like all the others now, and I can safely say that veterans of the series will love it. However as I said in the tagline, if you haven't played any of the other games in the series yet, I suggest you seek out the Gamecube's Path of Radiance first. However, if you can't find it, I'm sure you'll enjoy Radiant Dawn as well anyways.
Naturally, I have to explain what this game is like for the newcomers. Fire Emblem is a strategy game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics. It has a medieval storyline with political conflict, and battles are fought out primarily with swords and magic. Weapons and magic tend to have a rock-paper-scissors battle system, where certain attacks may be more or less effective when fighting someone with a different weapon equipped. Probably the most important and unique part of Fire Emblem is that when your units die, they're dead. No Phoenix Downs can bring them back, and you have to decide if their death was a crucial sacrifice, or if it's worth the effort to go back and save them. Aside from that, characters are more unique; instead of creating soldiers to use as you please, you are limited to the characters that you come across during your journey. While this may sound bad, the characters that you recruit each have their own backstory and personality, adding a deeper level to the game's storyline. These are unveiled in Supports, which allow characters to talk to each other, but also give them stat boosts when they are near each other on the field. Units also have "skills", which are certain characteristics unique to each class. Mounted units can move after they have already attacked, Swordmasters have a higher chance of getting a critical hit, etc. Also unique to Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn are laguz; characters who can transform into animals to fight instead of using weapons. Additional touches like assigning "bonus experience" to characters who seem underleveled, and the customization of items also helps the game. Also, when characters reach a certain level, they "promote" into a different class, increasing their stats, allowing them a wider use of weapons, and adding more skills to use.
The changes between Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn are not hugely noticeable, but still present and significant. For one, it seems like laguz characters tend to be less effective in general, thanks to the fact that they tend to level up slower than in the first game. Graphics have gained a huge improvement; the field and battle scenes look much better in Radiant Dawn, though traditional cutscenes still have that cardboard-cutout look. However, the biggest change from Path of Radiance is support conversations. While in the first game, supports for each character were limited, but allowed them to have much deeper and more meaningful conversations. However, Radiant Dawn changed it so any unit can support with anyone else, and as a result, these conversations were turned into boring, generic battlefield chat. Aside from that, another large change is the ability to save your game mid-battle. Yes, in Path of Radiance you were capable of suspending play, but it was only a temporary save that was gone when you started the game back up. RD lets players save before making crucial decisions, which while reducing stress, also makes the game less strategic; you're more willing to take wild risks if you know you can undo them with ease.
Aside from issues about the support conversations, my biggest beef with the game lies not in its gameplay, but its storytelling. I really enjoyed the game's story, and thought it had interesting characters and motivations. However, the vast majority of the game's cutscenes are speechless, relying entirely on text with cardboard cutouts doing the talking. Even what little voice acting there is could have gone a lot better. Even the character portraits aren't as mobile as one would like; everybody only has one, basic pose, and aside from their lips moving, they don't do anything at all. This is especially frustrating considering the fact that low-budget games like Disgaea have great voice acting and varied and interesting portraits, so why can't a game published by a big company like Nintendo do the same? Fire Emblem may not be as high-key as Mario, Zelda, Metroid, or Pokemon, but it's still an excellent franchise, and higher production values can really gain it a larger audience.
Still, don't let all this worry you. Radiant Dawn is a game I thoroughly enjoyed, and highly recommended for any Wii owner starving for a deep experience. I'd say it's one of my favorite games on the console (just like all the other big-name Nintendo games...come on, third-party developers!) What I keep saying is absolutely true; Fire Emblem fans should pick this game up, as it is fantastic. For those curious about the series (such as those who wonder what Ike's like thanks to his appearance in Super Smash Bros. Brawl), I recommend you find Path of Radiance first. It's more newbie-friendly, and since Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to it, playing the first game will help a lot.
Reviewer's Rating: 4.0 - Great
Originally Posted: 01/22/08
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)
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