Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance
Imagine that you’ve just woken up after a night of blissful sleep. You climb out of bed, take a shower, get dressed, and eat some breakfast. Then you walk out the front door of your house, gripping a cup of coffee in one hand and your keys in the other, ready to begin yet another day of boring toil or educational enlightenment. However, you won’t be getting very far this morning. In fact, you probably won’t even live to see lunch. There are roughly twenty armed military forces standing on your front lawn, brandishing a wide variety of sharp objects, eagerly waiting to decapitate your sorry hide. They’re going to kill you before you even get a chance to sip some of that coffee. You’re hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched, the proverbial sitting duck in a pond full of predators. What do you do?
The yellow floating crystal thing is mine!
For Ike, this is the story of his life. Growing up under the guidance of a mercenary father wasn’t easy, but the hero of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance has finally come of age. After years of training, Ike has finally begun to take part in the battles that help bring the finances to his family and the rest of his friends. However, these battles aren’t mere skirmishes; the land of Tellius is knee-deep in internal turmoil and political corruption. As one country wages war with the other, bystanders like Ike and his crew have no choice but to make a run for their lives, eventually getting caught up in the chaos that has overrun their home. With little options left, the mercenaries must band together and fight for not only their own survival, but the future of Tellius as well.
It’s a bit like those war games from the 80s, except you don’t have to do the math.
However, Ike’s little band of merry men and women is no match for the forces of evil they’ll have to fight. Sure, you start off with swordsmen, paladins, archers, fighters, and knights, but you’re essentially outnumbered throughout the game. In order to save Ike and the gang from utter annihilation, you’ll have to master the art of strategy and tactics, using whatever advantages you can find to give you even the slightest edge over your adversaries. It’ll usually involve ganging up on a single enemy with multiple units, using skill and surprise to outwit him. Other times you’ll have to protect your base, placing powerful allies at certain points on the map to create the perfect defense. Sometimes you’ll have to sneak past enemies unnoticed in an attempt to gain some tactical advantage over a bridge or room. While such concepts may sound simple on paper, they require plenty of thought and planning, lest your strategy fails and your allies doomed. If you play carefully and conservatively, you won’t have much trouble; if you charge ahead blindly, you’ll likely get all of your forces slaughtered.
“See this axe? You see this axe?!”
Such a brutal learning curve ought to be enough to make you sit back and formulate a plan before attempting to fight. However, there are plenty of other factors that determine your success or failure on the battlefield. Fire Emblem uses a simple rock-paper-scissors system of determining the effectiveness of the weapons you’ll be using. Some weapons are strong against some weapons, while weak against others. The characters get to wield swords, axes, spears, staves, arrows, magical spellbooks, and plenty of other handy items. You’ll also have to keep in contact with your forces, building up relationships with allies and occasionally convincing an enemy to join your group. Each character also has specialized strengths, weaknesses, and abilities that can make or break your strategy. Ike is an excellent swordsman…as long as he’s within attack range of some foe. Otherwise he’ll be sniped by the nearest archer or mage. While healers prove to be an essential part of your survival, their horribly weak defense stats make them easy prey for the deadly AI. Though paladins are nigh unstoppable in combat, they tend to suck up all the potential experience points that the other characters need. You’ve got to learn how to use each unit as a team, balancing out the offensive and defensive fronts and adapting to every dire situation.
Move, attack, repeat. Makes you hungry just thinking about it.
Indeed, parts of this game can be disheartening; this isn’t your typical happy-go-lucky strategy RPG. The story is chock full of dialogue from every character, from sinister betrayals to grieving family members to some truly poetic final words. There are a few awesome cutscenes sprinkled throughout the game, depicting epic swordfights and character development with highly detailed anime style. You’ll get to see Ike in all his spiky blue-haired glory, complete with a flowing cape and sharp blade, taking down foes and learning from his experiences. However, the in-battle graphics aren’t quite so easy on the eyes. The game uses a bird’s-eye view of the battlefield, rendering your units as nothing but hazy shapes down below. You’ll be fighting in towns, ports, forts, castles, and plenty of other interesting locales. Thankfully, these are more detailed than the characters, offering a beautiful rendering of a country torn by strife. The perspective changes once you attack a foe, treating you to 3D combat animations of your characters. While these images aren’t at the pinnacle of the Gamecube’s capabilities, they are detailed enough to get the job done. You can sit back and watch as Titania hacks into a foe atop her mighty steed, or the way Soren executes his magic spells with grace and ease. When you factor in a decent array of sound effects and soundtrack, you’ve got the makings of a quality presentation of bloody war.
“Here you go, a big stick.”
It’s about time. Ever since the Gamecube was released, I was waiting for the Fire Emblem series to come to the console. It’s better late than never, and Nintendo has given gamers yet another reason to get interested in strategy RPGs. Sure, this game is nowhere near as difficult as its SNES and GBA predecessors, but it still requires all the strategy and thought required to make it great. It has a full cast of memorable characters, an excellent and slightly cliched story, and the solid gameplay formula that veterans of the series know so well. Sure, some may despise the bland presentation, but they’ll be too busy fighting for their characters’ lives to notice. Indeed, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance delivers, the last great hurrah of the Gamecube’s strategy genre.