Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance review
Fire Emblem radiates gameplay
Mix of strategy and RPG
Command and customise your army
A great deal of thinking required
Lot's of extras
Presentation is a little sloppy
Less emphasis on exploration than other versions
Not for players preferring direct action games
Fire Emblem is a long running series in Japan, but only a few of those games have been released worldwide. After the global success of the GBA titles can the Gamecube version impress?
Unfortunately Fire Emblem doesn't start off very promising. The graphics, outside the pre-rendered cutscenes, appear quite rough. Character models are lacking in detail and environments have rather bland textures. Bad enough on their own, but the amazing graphics in the cutscenes only highlight this problem. I can only imagine what IS were thinking of with such a contrast.
Those disappointed with the battle and map graphics may similiarly groan with the conversation scenes. Outside of a (very few) cutscenes most conversations take the form of a still background and still character art (with moving mouths and blinking eyes, but that's about all the animation you get). It's stagnant. Some conversations do occur in map view but the poorer graphics detract from the moments.
Sounds are a mixed bag. There are some tunes rather dramatic in nature designed clearly to inspire an army to match on, while others distinctly convey a sense of evil or insanity. Others are pretty forgetabble though and seem to be nothing more than filler to be there for the sake of having music rather than compliment the game's flow. Voiceovers in cutscenes only, which is rather disappointing when you then get walls of text everywhere else. Sound effects are good enough without jumping out at anyone.
So how does it play? Fire Emblem plays as a mix of strategy and RPG. You pick the units to send into battle, and then the fight begins. First you move your units round the map, carrying out actions like attack or use an item. Once finished the enemy does the same. Repeat until either mission complete or game over.
If that has got you excited then this game should interest you. However, there's a distinct flavour of RPG in here as well. Instead of having indistinguishable units you have individual characters, all of whom can grow stronger and gain new skills. Lose a character here and lose them forever, as you can't simply build another Mist.
There's a combat affinity system in place here. This means that your chosen weapon usually has strengths and weaknesses against other weapons. This ups the tactical aspect considerably, as some characters have access to more than one weapon type and can alter things by switching between them.
There are aspects that make this a different experience from the GBA games. The relationships system has been improved, as characters no longer need to end a set number of turns next to each other to build relationships but rather simply have to be on the battlefield together for a set amount of time. This is somewhat easier when managing strategic plans while removing the possiblity of support abuse.
Another difference is the animal characters. In this game characters are defined as either Beorc (human – the unit types you're used to) or Laguz. These Laguz can transform into powerful beasts, but can only maintain animal for so long. In human form Laguz cannot attack. This may seem like a good addition, but many of the laguz have trouble keeping up with their beorc counterparts. Having superior stats while transformed is not enough to compensate being useless half the time while untransformed.
Now the skills. Once you've found some skills you can assign them to characters. Each skill has a skill value, and each character has a max skill value limit. Be aware that once a skill is set you can't change your mind, but a skill unused is a skill wasted. Unfortunately, many of the skills are based on luck to activate (general luck, not the actual stat). This level of randomness makes it impossible to factor them into plans, making the concept not anywhere near as effective as it could be, but a nice addition nonetheless.
Another new aspect is that you can earn bonus EXP, which can be awarded to characters of your choice. This is handy for building up weaker characters or beefing up powerful units even more. This is good as it makes the sucky units quite usable as they no longer need to be babied in chapters to be good.
Upon completing the game you'll open the options menu. From here you can access extra material, like Trial Maps, Illustrations and a Sound Menu. Brilliant.
Any problems, other than the presentation mentioned earlier? One aspect of the GBA games that worked really well was the mix of battle and exploration. This was partly because the main way of replenishing supplies was to visit shops on the maps. In POR shops are easily accessed via a menu before a battle begins. A little more exploration would have been nice.
Overall a wonderful experience. It manages to retain the magic of a Fire Emblem title while putting its own tricks into place, and the result is fantastic. If you don't like turn-based games then you're unlikely to enjoy this, but otherwise unmissable.
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