IGN Review of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn
As far as classic strategy games go, Fire Emblem pretty much harks back to the beginning of time. The game got its start in Japan 17 years ago on the original Famicom, and has since seen over ten iterations across Famicom, Super Famicom, GBA (the game's USA debut), DS, GameCube, and now Wii. Over the years the systems have changed, but Fire Emblem remains a stead constant, offering the most hardcore strategy gamers out there some of the deepest strategy and difficulty with the most minimal control scheme possible. It should come as no surprise, then, that Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for Nintendo Wii does very little to change a formula that's been around for nearly two decades. The involving story is still there, the classic turn-based strategy originating on Famicom Wars (the 19 year old inspiration for Advance Wars) is at large once again, and players of a whole new generation have a chance to experience exactly what Fire Emblem is all about.
What you won't get with Fire Emblem, however, is any motion control or IR experience. There's no Mii integration, no online, no waggle, and no IR aiming. It is what it is, and Fire Emblem plays identical to its GameCube counterpart, who in turn still drew inspiration from the very beginning nearly two decades ago. The downside to that? Fire Emblem inherently feels like a GameCube title, with nearly identical interface, style, graphics, audio (or lack of), pacing, and general appearance, so while the game may come in a white box and burned onto a DVD, it's about as far from a traditional Wii experience as you can get. In fact, chances are if you already know you want this game before reading our review, as Fire Emblem hits a very specific, mature, traditional crowd.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a direct sequel to last generation's Path of Radiance on GameCube. Players will eventually take control of nearly every character from the last game, work within the same world, but now see a totally different side of the story. After the defeat of Mad King Ashnard three years ago, the country of Daein is now falling to pieces, as a corrupt government strives to keep control over a public body that is now thrown into chaos. As an odd move for Radiant Dawn, players are actually assuming the role of members of Daein, previously the enemy in Path of Radiance. Taking control of a group called the Dawn Brigade - a medieval Rebel Alliance, if you will - players will scour the countryside in search for allies, aiming to take down the corrupt leadership that has - and continues - to plague Daein. And while this is a 100% sequel to the last game, players that haven't had a chance to pick up Path of Radiance for GameCube won't be left in the dust, as you'll get tons of backstory, character reintroduction, and an all new story. Basically if you just read the preceding paragraph, you're already good to go. Corrupt government, group of rebels, you with a controller
Battle movement and strategy revolves around the same staples the series has since the beginning, with all control being done turn-based around a huge grid. As with Advance Wars, each unit has different attack abilities, movement space, and ranged or local attacks. What will come to a surprise for many, however, is that this is a game that embraces "permadeath", so any unit that falls in battle is gone, and gone forever. This means you'll either need to plan ahead, or restart battles often if you want to make it through the game. We've got absolutely no problem wit the game's difficulty or traditional rules, as it's exactly how Fire Emblem has been for years and years; just know what you're getting into.
It's not all wonderful nostalgia and flawless packaging though, as there are a few things Fire Emblem is definitely missing, and they can be very, very annoying. For starters 99% of the storytelling in the game is done with static drawings placed over a painted background. When characters interact, text scrolls by with no VO to be had. There are sections in the game - many more this time around than on GameCube - that launch FMV sequences which of course support full voice acting, and the actors this time around do a wonderful job; it's just a shame they couldn't be used for the entirety of the story. What you end up getting is an experience nearly identical to what you could see on Nintendo DS, minus the FMV work, and it's one that Nintendo seems to have no intention on improving. In fact, the general amount of animation in the game is extremely small, with short scripted sequences launching whenever attacks are initiated, but the majority of the game working with sliding pieces and very simple animations on tiny, low-poly characters. If you pick this one up, you better be in it for the gameplay, as the overall presentation - both audio and visual - is astonishingly simple.
Still, for those looking for amazing tactical play, this is the best you're going to find on Wii thus far, and possibly for the majority of the system's life. The list of skills, items, options, and possibilities in creating your team is seemingly endless, even allowing for members to tag up and boost each other's effectiveness by teaming skills with each other. You can create weapons in forge mode (included on GameCube as well), which lets you take literally any weapon in the game and boost specific stats, color them, and rename the item as you see fit, though you'll end up paying through the nose to do it. To add to the game's replay ability (and overall strategy), characters level up, but increase stats randomly, so you can't just boost a group of characters and expect to rip through the game because of it. For those that have a GameCube memory card with Path of Radiance saved to it, there's even an option to move specific players over to the Wii version, or at the very least boot another member's stats based on your progress on Cube. Fire Emblem isn't much to look at, but it's easily the best tactical experience you'll find on Wii, and a hardcore gamer's wet dream.
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