Fire Emblem Reader Review
Having recently moved to another continent, I found myself in the terrible position of having no gaming outlet. Or at least I would have if I hadn't bought a GBA:SP before I left. I 'console-d' myself to missing out on Halo 2, GTA:SA, KOTOR2 - but unexpectedly found my Game Of The Year on the handheld system - Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem is a pure fighting game, following the battlefield exploits of a band of adventurers you control. The characters must journey through a series of lands completing an objective each time. Typically defeating a certain enemy, capturing a target, or surviving a particular number of rounds. You play the part of a non-fighting tactician, guiding your party around the battlefield - you have no physical 'form' as such in the game. Characters converse with each other to advance the storyline, which involves the fantasy staples of magic, dragons and overcoming evildoers.
The highlight of the game is the animation. During the conversations, your company appear anime-style (plenty of doe-eyed girls and spiky hair), and on the battlefield they appear as 2-D sprites. The best of the game's presentation however is during battles, where each protagonist is brilliantly rendered - from twirling axe fighters to fire-flinging mages to majestic pegasus knights. My own personal favourite animation was that of the graceful white-robed dancer. You really come to feel for these characters, and carefully protect the weaker healers in your group whilst advancing the armoured fighters.
Your party members level up through defeating enemies, and can become quite powerful - indeed my only niggle (apart from the decidedly ungenerous save system) was that very often entire levels can be conquered using only two or three of your formation. But of course as tactician it's your responsibility to ensure all the characters advance as evenly as possible.
Each level takes place on a static map, with hindering obstacles (mountains, rivers) and helpful buildings (shops, armouries). Villagers provide information, fog restricts vision, and sand can slow characters - who move a set number of spaces each turn. The AI is surprisingly good - enemies retreat to heal themselves and often gang up on your more vulnerable party members.
It might sounds obvious, but when a character dies, they stay dead. As you progress and come to learn more about them, you can't bear to see anything happen to them - more than once I replayed a completed level in order to win without having one of my party die. It's very easy to become an obsessive over this. Fire Emblem does that to you.
Being new to the GBA - which is the first piece of Nintendo kit I've ever owned - I missed out on Advance Wars and Final Fantasy Tactics, so can't compare them to Fire Emblem. But the exceptional gameplay, compelling story and beautiful graphics of Fire Emblem made my first foray into the GBA:SP a rewarding one. Despite missing out on the bumper year of console releases, I found an unexpected gem - and my Game Of The Year.
(with thanks to kincaide)
9 / 10