Review by LordShibas
I Was Expecting Much More From This Game
Recently I was told that there was a serious lack of Fire Emblem games in my gaming collection. Since I dont like to miss games that I may like, I chose to get myself a copy of the original Fire Emblem for GBA. After a little searching, I found a copy that was complete so I snatched it up and eagerly waited to play it. I also found a copy of the Sacred Stones too. I was a little hesitant, since I can count the SRPGs I really enjoyed in my life on one hand, but I decided to give the game a chance and started playing.
Initial impressions of Fire Emblem were pretty good. It wasnt exactly Shining Force, but it seemed familiar enough that I could get into the game without a problem. After a short story intro, I was presented with my first battle, which had a lovely, and easy to follow tutorial in it. I was able to get through the first portion of the game with some effort, and the tutorial was ongoing throughout the first few chapters, so again, it was really helpful.
While the tutorial explains a lot of simple things such as moving your units and attacking, it also goes in depth and explains how to do things like matching up stats of your characters and enemies, and explains the weapon triangle, which shows you which hand to hand weapons have priority over others. Its pretty easy to follow: Swords best axes, axes best lances, and lances best swords. Using this triangle, you can get a slight advantage over your enemies by knowing their weapons.
When all was said and done, I was enjoying Fire Emblem a good bit. The story seemed kind of rushed, and the battles are shoved in your face without hesitation, but the battles unfold from a top down perspective so you can see all of your units, and your enemys units with ease. Controlling them is simple enough. Move your units to an adjacent square to an enemy, and attack, or if you have an archer or spell caster, you can attack from 2 squares away.
Once you attack, the game goes to a side view with some impressive GBA graphics for a quick hit swap between you and your enemy. Depending on a few factors, attacks can be doubled, blocked, or even completely dodged. Things unfold in this fashion until your objectives in battle are met, which is usually to defeat all of the enemies, but sometimes it will be to seize a bridge/castle, or protect a certain NPC.
This all may sound great, and for the most part it is, but you will soon run into some gameplay elements that will really turn the tides and put you on the defense. The first thing that people will find out about this game if they do not know already is that this game was perma deaths. Meaning, if your character dies in combat, they are gone, for good. No way to revive them in any way shape or form. However, instead of moving forward with the game, minus a character, most people will re-load their last save and try again. This is where it gets ugly, since you now must start back at the beginning of the chapter and re-do the entire battle. It would not be so bad if they were short battles, but some of them may last 45 minutes or so, and you will get extremely frustrated when one of your characters bites the dust.
The perma death thing really forces you to take all factors of the battlefield into consideration. Certain terrain can make your character less likely to get hit, and you can even restore hit points at some forts on the battle field. Things like these and the weapon triangle will all be racing through your mind as you carefully move your characters across the battlefield to engage the enemy. Personally, I think it slows down the pace of the game too much, and subtracts from the fun, but this game is aiming at being a SRPG, and taking all of these factors into consideration while carefully placing your troops is what the developers were going for.
With that in mind, this game is far more of a strategy game than an RPG. Id say there are far more strategic elements in Fire Emblem than RPG elements. How so? Well heres an example. Your characters level up and all, but quite honestly its hard to even tell. Instead of having a character thats a higher level, you would be better off having a character that has the proper weapon for max damage against the enemy, and being in a forest terrain so that you are more likely to dodge an incoming attack. This is just one example, but I could name many. So yeah, its more of a strategy game at heart.
Despite some design flaws, Fire Emblem does pull things together and has some redeeming qualities. A more in depth analysis should highlight the goods and bads that this game has to offer.
The graphics in Fire Emblem go up and down, but seem to maintain a steady amount of quality throughout. While in battle, the overhead map lacks detail, and many of the units look alike. Prior to engaging the enemy, you will want to check the status of the enemies and see what weapons they are carrying, since its not always apparent from the on-screen characters. When you actually attack the enemies, the side view looks wonderful and the attack animations look great. Magic users will dazzle with fancy spells, and melee characters will pull off some painful looking attacks.
The in-between battle cutscenes are all done with detailed character portraits, and look bright and colorful. You will be seeing the same characters talking over and over, but for the most part, its done well.
Sounds and music 7/10
The music during the battles will remind you of the Shining Force series, and is usually pleasant to hear. However the tracks are used many times over and can get monotonous.
Sound effects all sound pretty good. Sword slashes will let out a piercing sound, and magic spells will ring out accordingly.
The sound and music was good, but not the best I have heard. Id say its above average.
During the game, you will follow the adventures of 3 main characters: Lyndis, Eliwood, and Hector. You will play their campaigns in succession and their paths will cross more than once. They all have their own separate goals and reasons for fighting, but they all end up being pretty mediocre. Since the story pushes you from battle to battle, the character development and story are kept to a minimum and fail to impress.
Since the story pushes you from battle to battle, you will not be able to walk around towns, go to shops to buy new equipment, or take on additional sidequests through exploring. I found this to be one of the downfalls of the game. You have very few options in this game, and its a very linear affair. Occasionally, you will be able to take on a sidequest if certain stipulations are met during a battle, but they usually have nothing to do with the story, and you will stumble upon them by accident.
So I was disappointed with the story in Fire Emblem for the most part.
I know, Im sure you are all thinking that this score is pretty low for the gameplay in Fire Emblem, but Ive seen games like this done so much better. The frustrating difficulty will annoy you, re-doing battles will test your patience, and accidentally placing characters in the wrong place often results in a one turn death for them. Dealing with this over and over will make you wonder why you are suffering through this game when you could be playing something else.
Heres a few more things that drag down the gameplay in Fire Emblem. While in battle, enemy units seem to have no trouble passing over mountain terrain, yet you are unable to pass the terrain for a pre-emptive attack on them. So you will basically just sit there and wait to be ambushed, since you can do nothing about it.
Next, we have the horrible save system of Fire Emblem, which is one of the worst that I have ever seen in a game. You can save the game before any chapter, but once you are in the battle, you can only suspend the game once. When you resume the game from the suspend, the suspend file is deleted, and you can not use it again. So if you encounter a tough enemy and one of your characters die, you have to start the entire chapter over from the beginning, since you no longer have your suspend data. This is simply a stupid way for them to make the game harder, and test your patience with the game yet again.
Another thing I disliked was the breakable weapons. All of your weapons and spells have a certain amount of times that they can be used, and then they break, or can no longer be used. This wouldnt be so bad if you could replenish your stock in-between battles, but like I said previously, you cant go to towns or buy things between fights, you can only buy stuff from an armory, which can be found on the battlefield. These armories only have about 4 items available at any given time and on top of that, you will then need to trade them to the proper person for use after you acquire the weapon or item.
Even if there was a way to buy weapons and items on a regular basis, it wouldnt really matter, since you are given such limited funds during the game. There are set times when money is given to your group by NPCs, and thats it, thats all you get. You dont get any money from defeating enemies. So you had better spend your money wisely, or you will have useless characters without weapons on the battlefield.
One last annoyance of Fire Emblem. You can not re-do battles, or train in any way. You get a certain amount of experience from battles and thats it. You MUST be extremely smart about distributing it in a productive manner, or you will have under-leveled characters every step of the way.
These annoyances really ruined this game for me. Despite my initial impressions of Fire Emblem being well above average, it really went downhill once these all hit at once.
Replay value 6/10
Ill be honest with you and tell you that I did not have the patience to finish this game, so Ill tip this in favor of the game. With so many characters to have in your party, and multiple promotion options, this game could easily be played multiple times if you really liked it, I just dont see how people can look past this games shortcomings and decide to play it again.
In conclusion, Fire Emblem just didnt do it for me. I know there are a lot of Fire Emblem fans out there and they probably think Im crazy, but thats how I felt about this game. Fire Emblem does a lot of things well, but its dragged down by the difficulty and poor design flaws of the battles. Well, I guess I wont bother with the Sacred Stones now. Oh well ..
My Score 6/10
Product Release: Fire Emblem (US, 11/03/03)
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