Anime and Manga — Reviews and Previews
This week’s topic came to me in one very simple way: I’ve spent the past week replaying Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, putting it down only to sleep, eat, and engage in job-search activities. 40+ hours in seven days, and all this over a game I had beaten twice over three years ago. Why, exactly, am I so attached to this J-RPG on the Wii?
Because it plays on my completionist tendencies (read: obsessions) and makes sure I can’t actually get 100% in one go, all while keeping my attention with fun, strategic gameplay, a hint of challenge, and likeable characters.
When I say that the game toys with the completionist in me, I mean that there is a definite final level you can reach with every character, specifically level 20 on their third tier rank. For example, one character, Michaiah, starts as a level 1 Light Mage, proceeds as a Light Sage, and can finish the game as a level 20 Light Priestess. Every character levels in the same way save the Laguz, animal shape-shifters who only have one rank and can go to level 40. Hypothetically, one can finish the game with every character, even the Laguz, maxed out.
That is, until you realize there’s not enough experience to go around for the 72 playable characters. That’s not a typo, by the way. From start to finish, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn throws 72 different characters at you, 70 of them in the first play-through alone. Kind of makes the Final Fantasies and Dragon Ages of the world pale in comparison, doesn’t it? However, there’s no way to level everyone completely, let alone experience all of their in-battle quips and conversations, which change depending on who you’ve brought along and what their relationship is with the people nearby.
It’s a perfect recipe for replay value: put something in front of gamers and say they can’t have all of it on the first go. If the gameplay is engaging enough, and if you give them the option to skip through the story they now know by heart (Radiant Dawn does), players will keep coming back time and time again.
Which brings us to the gameplay and why it’s so engrossing.
If the number of swords and amount of armor on the cover left you thinking this was a rough-and-tumble action game, well, sorry to disappoint. Instead, it’s team turn-based strategy – like chess, if you moved all of your pieces at once then waited for your opponent to do the same. Everything is set on a grid, with certain characters able to move a certain number of spaces, and with enemies unable to move through spots occupied by your army.
The strategy comes in when you start toying with the strengths and weaknesses of your characters. Have a mage who can hit hard but falls over dead at the merest glimpse of enemy steel? Keep her protected by a wall of tanks that can take some serious damage. Is there an archer causing problems for your front lines? Send in a Dracoknight who can smack him upside the head with an axe or two then fly back to safety.
Furthermore, the game adds a second layer of complexity by allowing characters to have support relationships with one another. Once such a connection has been established, the two characters involved get certain stat bonuses when they’re positioned within three squares of one another. Pair up two tanks, and even the strongest enemy can do no damage. Pair up a couple of fast hitting rogues, and you’ll get in twice as many hits as your opponent. Or mix and match, picking whatever works for you based on which of the small army of characters you’ve brought along.
I also mentioned that the game provided a bit of a challenge, but this really depends more on one’s attitude as a player than is does on the game itself. You see, in Fire Emblem games, once a character is killed in combat, they stay dead. No phoenix downs; no life bottles; no resurrection spells. They die, and the player has one less unit at their disposal.
With 72 characters, though, you can easily lose a few and keep on trucking. There’s no real penalty save guilt for leaving a character to die. For those playing the game just to beat it, this method makes sense. For those of us who have the irrational compulsion to get 100%, it’s unthinkable. Therefore, the challenge of winning the battle while keeping every unit alive while also leveling as many as possible to their full potential is what keeps the game from getting stale. Every battle is different, and every move can win you the prize or cost you everything.
Luckily, the game includes a battle save function that lets you save at any time during a battle, so if you think the next move you’re going to make might be risky, you can save and re-start if things do go south. If a character dies, you can just load up an old save and everybody will be in one piece again. It takes away some of the aforementioned challenge, yes, but you still have to close out the game completely and go through all of the menus and loading screens each time, so this method comes with its own hassles.
Also, battle saves are apparently new in this installment (as opposed to earlier Fire Emblem titles), which makes me kind of glad I didn’t get introduced to Fire Emblem that much sooner. Having a grip on the gameplay now, I feel like I could enjoy the extra challenge, but as a newbie, I’d have torn my hair out sitting through an hour long battle only to discover I left a character exposed on the final turn.
To be honest, I’m not just keeping the characters alive because I know I can, but because they’re genuinely likable people as well. The game gives you the traditional cutscenes to establish the main players, but there are also little vignettes that introduce you to some of the side characters who might have been relegated to an NPC in any other title.
Also, Ike is in this Fire Emblem title, and since he’s my go-to guy in Super Smash Bros. Brawl, I was excited to get to see him in action in his own game.
This game is definitely part of an overarching narrative – so many of the characters and their relationships were established in previous titles (Path of Radiance mostly) that the feeling of being dropped into the story en media res is definitely prevalent. Never, however, is the story inaccessible to the newcomer, and never do the characters feel like they’re going through the motions to recap past events. The dialogue is believable and entertaining, and the story – for all that it is pretty standard fantasy fare – is engaging.
Ultimately, with its engrossing gameplay, hint of challenge (if you seek it out), and affable characters, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a game I’d recommend to any gamer out there, but it’s a must-play for any serious RPG-fanatic.