Review by Arkyron
This Dawn's Not As Radiant as the Path
If you played Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for the Gamecube, then you probably had pretty high hopes for its sequel, Radiant Dawn. You probably wondered how much more broken Ike could get. Rest assured, he IS much more broken. You probably wanted the endings that everyone deserved at the end of PoR. You'll get them. However, you also get a few... rather irritating flaws. First off, save for a few conversations at the base, a few different scenes, and a few unlockable conversations, you'll notice right away that most characters have NO PERSONALITY WHATSOEVER. Now, if you're like me, this will irk you right away, as a big part of the Fire Emblem games is getting to know a character's back-story, why they're doing what they are, relationships they have with other people you'll meet, etc.
However, it doesn't end there. They made it so that each and every character can support with one another. You may be thinking, "AWESOME!" No, not awesome, as in doing so, they butchered support conversations. One of Soren's supports with Ike is, "Hey, Soren, will you watch my back?" "Yes, Ike." Yes, you read that right. That is the poor quality that support conversations have been reduced to. Sickening, no? At the very least, it helps you from a strategy perspective, being able to align your characters with the most favorable affinities. Support affinities determine the bonuses given out, covering a wide area of effects. Some grant evasion or hit bonuses, some defense and attack. Obviously, some will be better for other characters.
The base also makes a return. While there, you can buy a variety of weapons, rare items, and sometimes skills, forge unique weapons with powerful attributes, assign a variety of skills, create support relationships, get information (sometimes giving hints to the next chapter or further developing the story), manage your units, and of course, save. As with the previous installment, you can only access the base between chapters.
Unit promotion and skills have taken some interesting changes. Like in Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn allows for you to assign skills to a character based on a certain capacity, the more powerful or useful ones taking up more space. These always have a variety of effects, some of which allow for a chance at still attacking first when ambushed, an additional attack, canceling an enemy's counterattack, or healing the unit at the start of the turn. The determining factor for a character's capacity is now a character's promotion tier, if Beorc, or level, if Laguz. Beorc characters actually now have a second promotion which unlocks a powerful mastery skill that typically takes up 30 of their capacity, but it's always well worth it, as each pretty much guarantees an instant kill.
Now onto the actual gameplay. Like its predecessors before it, Radiant Dawn is a turn-based RPG with battles that take place on grid-maps. There are four parts to the story, each having from as few as six to just short of twenty all their own. Magic and weapons are all arranged in a triangle set of advantages, much like Rock, Paper, Scissors. Sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword, etc. In addition, dark magic makes a return, but the only usable characters capable of wielding it are only obtainable on a second playthrough or higher. Magic is where things get slightly more complex. Dark beats any and all anima, meaning wind, thunder, and fire, and light beats dark, as would be expected. Sadly, thunder magic took a heavy hit, possibly the result of a failed attempt to slightly nerf it after being so overpowered in Path of Radiance. Units range from typical melee attackers, archers who can attack from a distance, and frail mages who can attack at melee and at a distance. That being said, there are of course ranged standard weapons, and weapons with bonuses against certain types of units.
Then, we come back to a development specific to Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn: the laguz. Their transform gauges are now easier to fill, but almost all of them took horrible nerfs in the transition. Really, when one of the weakest units can take out a dragon, you know they did something wrong. As in the previous installment, each laguz tribe is weak to a certain magic- beasts to fire, birds to wind, and dragons to thunder. Interestingly enough, each of them have unique laguz-only abilities, the strongest of which are obtained with the use of what's known as a "Satori Sign." Sadly, these aren't enough to validate using the units with their heavy nerfs, save for the laguz royals. Just as in the last game, royals can stay transformed indefinitely. That's right Tibarn fans- the Hawk King is still freaking Superman.
As per the actual plot, it's played out very well, though if you played Path of Radiance, you'll probably feel disappointed by some of the plot devices used. Seriously, some of them could've been carried out far better, and were far too predictable. That aside though, the plot is still good. It picks up 3 years after the Mad King's War, in which Ike, commander of the Greil Mercenaries and later united army defeated the crazed King Ashnard and the country of Daein, and restored the country of Crimea to its former glory. Path of Radiance players will quickly recognize Sothe, a young thief who served under Ike. The story begins with Micaiah, the one Sothe was seeking during Path of Radiance, and a group of rag-tag fighters known as the Dawn Brigade. Though having rights to rule of Daein, Crimea lacked the resources to do so, and instead relinquished control to the Theocracy of Begnion, who's corrupt politicians plague Daein with countless atrocities.
Micaiah is known to the Daein citizens as the Silver-haired Maiden, and is renowned for her ability to heal others without a staff, and to foresee disaster. With her abilities and the support of Sothe, she and the Dawn Brigade avoid one catastrophe after another, eventually coming to ruins in the desert. There, they meet up with the lost Wolf laguz tribe of Hatari, who made it across the vast, barren wasteland with the aid of Rafiel, a heron. Shortly afterwards, Sothe is reunited with some of his other comrades from the Mad King's War as they follow rumors of a lost prince of Daein.
The second part of the story picks up with Queen Elincia and the royal knights of Crimea, as well as the ever-narcoleptic Haar, and the "first-class sage" Calill as they defend Crimea from rebels who disagree with Elincia's alliance with the laguz and many other issues, leading you through many twists and turns. In part three, the Greil Mercenaries finally show themselves, and proceed to obliterate as one would expect. They're hired by Ranulf to aid the newly formed Laguz alliance to oppose Begnion's corrupt senate. Along the way, they clash repeatedly with not only Begnion, but also Daein. As the finale opens up, everyone finally starts to come together, work together to restore Tellius to the way it should be.
All in all, the game is a ton of fun. There's just enough challenge to make things interesting, most of the soundtrack is fantastic, the graphics are well done save for a few things here and there, there's alot of humor in the strangest places, and the replayability is nearly limitless, as there are so many ways to go about the game. While it's definitely not as great as Path of Radiance, it's still a good game in and of itself, and is certainly worth playing.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (US, 11/05/07)
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