Give Me Fire
The makers of Advance Wars 1 and 2 have created another tactics based RPG that revolves around a deeper story while incorporating similar game play elements.
What gamers may not know is that this installment of Fire Emblem is actually the seventh game in the series. This series has only been released in Japan and the first Fire Emblems were created on NES, which then evolved to sequels on the SNES. Japanese players have been lucky to receive such killer and involving games. The only other USA reference to the Fire Emblem series resides in GameCube’s Super Smash Brothers Melee. Players can take control of the highly skilled warriors Roy or Marth. Unfortunately, Marth and Roy do not have roles in this GBA game. Actually, this game revolves around Roy’s father, Eliwood.
Unlike Advance Wars, Fire Emblem’s story is much deeper. The game is divided into chapters that take place linearly. The game consists of about 30 chapters but the first 10 are used as one big tutorial. These tutorial stages set the story in motion while the gamer learns all the rules of the game. While the tutorial is clever and well done, I think I might have preferred the option of a tutorial instead of making it a necessity. Advance Wars 2 also had this cumbersome form of a tutorial. Players obviously knew the rules and how the game worked from the previous game. So why force players to go through something that they already know? Of course Fire Emblem has rules unique to this series but avid fans of any tactics game will understand how the game is played.
The game plays out on a grid based battle system, just like Advance Wars. The player and the A.I. take turns moving pieces similarly to a game of chess. Units must move to an adjacent square to attack an enemy. However, the weapon system and counterattacks must be taken into consideration before any move takes place. Fire Emblem features a weapon system that works just like a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. In Fire Emblem’s case, sword beats ax, ax bests spear, and spear beats sword. The three different kinds of magic also work this way. Besides from direct combat, magic and bows can be used to attack from a distance, which can be used to avoid a deadly counterattack.
Each unit has a character class, gains experience, and grows stronger the more the unit is used in battle. The many different character classes give the game a ton of variety and add depth. Each class also uses specific attacks and has strengths and weaknesses. For example, a cavalier rides on a horse and can attack with swords or lances, archers can only attack from a distance with a bow, and cleric can only heal and not attack. Horse drawn riders like cavaliers and nomads can travel further than soldiers on foot. Archers are weak in the defense department but since they can attack from a distance, they should travel lightly. Pegasus Knights can fly over all terrain to travel great distances quickly but archers can easily shoot them down. The game has many different character classes and all have specific attacking modes, techniques, strengths, and weaknesses.
Since the game offers so much variety by containing many character types, each move needs to be taken with caution. If you leave one character alone without any type of aid, he will probably be quickly destroyed. Advance Wars was generous because with each unit that was destroyed, you can quickly replace it by building a new one. However, since Fire Emblem actually features characters that advance the story and give the game personality, if one character dies, he or she is gone forever. Players will cry and throw a temper tantrum each time a character is killed. The only way to bring them back is to reset and try again. Don’t be surprised if you wind up playing a single level four or five times. The death of a character is enough to force players to play through each level flawlessly. All in all, the time recorded on my game pak says about thirty hours, but with all the resets, it is probably over fifty. Patience is definitely required.
Each character also has the ability to gain levels. Once 100 experience points have been collected, your character will grow stronger in a number of stats, including Hit Points, Strength, and Defense. However, each character can only power up to level 20. After this level has been reached, it almost seems like a waste using these characters because they will not grow in any way. Of course these units are the powerhouses on the field, but they will suck up all the kills and experience. This leaves your other units much weaker. Also, throughout the game, it is possible to have over 30 characters join your clan. However, you can only take about 12-15 on the field of battle. This means that you probably will never use certain characters that have joined your group. Because of this, experience points must be rationed off. This means that you still must use weaker characters in order to keep them alive. Players must not only think about which unit to attack through the rock, paper, scissor style of fighting, but experience points must also be considered. This adds even more depth and strategy into every move that you make. If you power up only a few characters, you will regret it later in the game.
Once a unit has grown to be level 10 or higher, a special item can be used to change the character into a more powerful form. For example, if an archer reaches level ten and uses a specific one-time use item, he can evolve to become a sniper. Snipers can use heavier bows and cause more damage. After a cavalier changes into a paladin, he can then use axes along with spears. The player should always keep an eye out for these rare upgrading items. Also, every item or weapon can only be used a certain number of times. After a weapon has been used to exhaustion, it will break. New weapons can either be found or purchased at shops.
Fire Emblem also uses a similar tile-sprite based form of graphics that Advance Wars did. While on the battlefield, each character takes up one tile on the grid. When a unit attacks another, a computer controlled cut scene appears. Each action that a character performs in these cut scenes is very fluid. If you don’t want to watch these close up battles, the player has the option to turn them off to speed up game play. The game features very detailed sprites in all aspects. The character models, environments, and backgrounds are very crisp and clean. The game even has a number of great tunes. Eventually, a music room will be unlocked and the game’s numerous music scores can be activated at any time.
The game does offer multiplayer support. Unfortunately, each player will need his own game pak. Up to four players can compete in a five-on-five battle royal. I would have liked to see a simple single-pak link option, but the multi-pak does bring a lot of depth.
If you were smart enough to pre-order the GameCube game Mario Kart Double Dash, you were treated to a disc that was filled with demos and extras. One of these extras is for Fire Emblem. If you own a GC to GBA link cable, Fire Emblem owners can unlock rare and exclusive items and weapons to their GBA game pak from the GC Mario Kart Double Dash demo disc. This extra feature is wonderful treat and serious Fire Emblem players will definitely appreciate it.
The bottom line is, if you liked Advance Wars, you will probably like Fire Emblem. Fire Emblem offers players a heavier story and a richer RPG feel. The grid based fighting is wonderful and addicting, but patience and carefully planning are required. Once your player has been killed, he will never come back unless you restart the entire level. This could mean replaying a level that you spent a good hour on. This is where patience and dedication come in. The game plays out in a linear fashion but many side quests can be taken if certain conditions are met. The graphics are very fluid and sound and music will please most ears. The multiplayer support feels a little restricting since every player will need a copy of the game but linking up your game pak to the Mario Kart demo disc adds some connectivity. Without a doubt, Fire Emblem is a solid game that RPG and tactics fan will love. Lets just hope that Nintendo and Intelligent systems sends the US more of these wonderful games that have been around since the days of NES.