Review by Amniculus

Reviewed: 01/30/07

Chronic double-crossers and brazen Kings're about to get what's coming to you

The fourth installment of the war-driven Fire Emblem series is, these days, a golden oldie, and one of the best strategy RPGs for the now-ancient Super Nintendo. Often referred to as the “turning point” in the series (for reasons I’ll get into in the Gameplay section), Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, better known as “Genealogy of the Holy War”, offers military strategy, some absolutely diabolical adversaries, and some good ol’ heroism, all packed into a tale that stretches over 20 years (not literally, of course, but in the game’s chronology).

Quick History
What is Fire Emblem?
You know, if it weren’t for Nintendo releasing the first ‘Fire Emblem’ game for the Gameboy Advance a few years ago, I might’ve never known of this series’ existence. On a whim, I bought it (I confess, I was attracted to the near-naked chick on the front cover, but I digress…) and instantly fell in love with it if only because it was so different. In short, Fire Emblem is a popular game series in Japan that involves strategic gameplay where you command a bunch of unique units to battle the forces of the enemy’s armies. Its popularity sparked an anime, various manga and a series going on #10 and still appearing in the strong. The war-driven stories alone are well worth the effort to play this series, which has also been deemed “annoyingly frustrating”, and are the absolute epitome of fantasy story-telling; that is, the stories will often reach out to your childhood, when you heard tales of handsome heroes rescuing beautiful damsels in distress from evil wizards, dragons, etc. Luckily, story-telling has gone a long way since that time and a few new elements were added. Anyhow, there have been 3 installments of Fire Emblem released into the U.S. as to date, with a fourth one scheduled soon for the Wii.

Story: 10/10
Political Corruption and Deception at its Finest

Before I start, I’d like to point out that this review holds very little spoilers, despite what may seem like it. The story is incredibly well-done but a bit depressing. In fact, it’s the seriousness of the story alone that, in my opinion, makes it one of the darker RPGs during the Super Nintendo era. This is due to the fact that good-hearted heroes may die and sinister nobles may become victorious, and you, as the player, have no control over it whatsoever. This installment introduces the Empire of Grandbell, the largest and most powerful country in the world. The heroic Prince Kult takes the entire Imperial army to go and invade their long-time rival, the country of Isaac, leaving Grandbell (try not to chuckle at the Prince’s naivety at this next part) in the hands of the supposedly allied countries, Verdane and Agustria. As if it wasn’t obvious enough, no sooner does the Prince leave do the savage Princes of Verdane double-cross their alliance and invade Grandbell to capture the fair lady Adean. And so, our hero is introduced to rescue her—the Holy Knight, Sigurd, one of the most popular heroes in the Fire Emblem series.

What commences is an epic campaign for Sigurd and his companions, followed by an entirely different second section of the game, starring Sigurd’s son, Celice. This is also the only Fire Emblem to date where the story focuses heavily on the hero; that is, Sigurd has a life outside of battle, such as eventual marriage. To say anymore would kill the story, but there exists plenty of heroic knights, sexy ladies, and a sinister cult intent on doing something…sinister. Now, before I praise the storyline any further, it should be noted that I’m praising it for the era it belonged in. With RPGs and SRPGs alike popping up all over more advanced consoles like the PS2 and Gamecube, Fire Emblem 4 here sort of falls flat on its face, especially with such a poorly developed script. Don’t let this dissuade you, though; you may be pleasantly surprised. Needless to say, this sort of story rivals the magnificent “Final Fantasy Tactics” in terms of the surprising amount of betrayals, villainy and double-crossing that goes on.

On a personal note, this installment introduces the coolest villain to the Fire Emblem series—Archbishop Manfroy.

Sound: 7/10
Fitting Medieval Melodies

Fire Emblem music is either really enjoyable or really obnoxious. And that’s the case here. Unlike other Fire Emblem games, where each battle map is relatively small and adventurous, the battle maps in this game are incredibly vast, sometimes taking up over 9 screens alone! Therefore, you’ll be listening to the same tunes for…um, quite a while. That said, some of the tunes are very good, and even very catchy, but a few of them even I have to admit are…less than admirable.

Graphics: 7/10
What Makes the Old Days Pleasing

This is debatable. For the SNES era, the graphics are actually pretty good, but something the Fire Emblem series has yet to learn is how to “upgrade” its graphics to fit the console genre. So you’ll mostly enjoy the graphics for the characters designs and landscapes, but the overall battle map and its units, which you’ll mostly be focused on, need help. As far as the debate part goes…well, that would be for the character designs. I consider my likes a bit anachronistic, so when I see Japanese-drawn characters with poofy hair that’s not totally out of whack like today’s anime, I’m thinking to myself, “Ah, it feels good to be home”. So in other words, the art style’s a bit out of date to today’s Fire Emblems and it may take some getting used to. Or, if you’re like me, you may fall in love with the designs instantly and wonder why post Fire Emblem installments never repeated it.

Gameplay: 8/10
My Army Can Outmaneuver Your Army!
Oh yeah? Well My Army Can Beat Up Your Army!

This is what may turn many players off, especially those devoid of patience. To understand the gameplay in this, it would be easier for me to first delve into how other Fire Emblem games work. Strap in, this explanation is probably going to be long and cure you of any sleep deprivation. The Fire Emblem games are broken up into “chapters”, and in each chapter, your hero and a slew of his friends find themselves on a battle map (usually terrain, such as mountains or forests, but occasionally in castles in temples and even the snowy arctic) and must move from Point A to Point B while battling hordes of enemies, boss characters (which are usually story-derived villains) and advancing the storyline. All the while, different character units can talk to one another, briefly visit helpless villages for rare items or gold, and even recruit the enemy if the situation demands it. That’s right, in almost every chapter, you will be able to recruit new, able friends, for better or for worse. I say “for better”, because some units out there are absolute tanks on the field, while the “for worse” part comes from the fact you may have to go through all this difficulty just to get what you’ll soon find to be the absolute worst character in the game. Some characters can fall in love and have children that will become present in the second half of the game.

Now then, here’s where things get annoyingly frustrating, as I mentioned way above. Characters who die, no matter how cool they are, die permanently. With the exception of certain, hard-to-acquire items, all characters slain in battle do in fact stay dead. What makes this annoying is that you may have spent 30 minutes combating the enemy, and with the smell of victory just over the horizon, you suddenly lose, say, Ares the Black Knight, and have to restart the chapter all over again. Which reminds me; as I said earlier, these are no “normal” chapters. The chapters in this installment are actually more like 5-6 chapters combined. They are long, can be incredibly brutal, and emotionally draining due to the fact of what you’ll soon be up against. Luckily, the objectives for the chapters are extremely linear. For starters, usually your hero squad must fight the army of one corrupt lordship and take his castle. Then, you do it again against even grimmer odds. Finally, you’ll have to take on either a really powerful henchman or an evil King for their castle. While the chapters can be brutal, it does make for a better story, as no matter how evil, say, King Shagall, is, you’ll get him by the end of the chapter.

Now for the actual battles. When your character engages an enemy in battle, a small action scene occurs to see who dealt more damage to who. In a revolutionary style of fighting, that the Fire Emblem series has since repeated, a rock-paper-scissors-like method has been used in battle. That is, swords beat axes, axes beat spears, and spears beat swords. Likewise, the same goes for magic spells and bow & arrows. But just because you may have the feel down, don’t let those rare, elusive items such as “Axe Slayer” escape your attention, as even the weakest unit can have the advantage over some uber-powerful knight. In concluding, I must tell you that this game does not let up; it only gets harder. The enemy is smart, often outnumbers your group exponentially, and makes sure that all unprepared players will lose one or two characters per chapter. Strategy is actually a necessity. However, the remedy to this is simple; this Fire Emblem game allows you to save your game anywhere you want, meaning, if you don’t like where you moved Unit-A, then move him somewhere else.

I don’t know if this is new or not (I haven’t really “researched” the past Fire Emblems 1-3), but excessive weapon use will break them, making your units helpless if you’re not careful. However, unlike today’s Fire Emblems, you will not lose the weapon permanently. Entering any castle or stronghold allows you to visit shop and pay to have your weapon repaired. And this is crucial. A few of your units may have godly-strong weaponry that you’ll want to save for the real heavy hitters. HOWEVER…coming across the massive amount of gold it takes to pay for such dazzling material can be hard and near-impossible at times due to the fact that your gold amount depends on how well you rescue helpless villages, if at all.

The Biggest Downfall:
Crud!! Where were those 217 Dragon Riders hiding all this time!?

The challenge. Seriously. I knocked off a point or two from my overall score simply because I cannot recommend that first timers to the series try this one out first. It’s brutally hard in certain areas, and even for vets like myself (heh heh), it can be controller-throwing frustrating. However, at the same time, I have to recommend it to anyone with a god’s patience, new to the series or not, because it easily has the best story the series has to offer so far. While the challenge level may sound scary, I also have to confess that a total understanding of the battle system and the strategy needed to take down 10 enemies with but 1 unit can make this game unusually easy. In fact, another side comment is that this game actually presents uneven challenge, as some parts are fantastically hard while others will make you go “What the hell? Wait, that was the enemy!? Too easy!”

The Final Word:
Rejoice! You’re almost at the end of this long review!

Okay, so if I was a newbie reading this, I might be overwhelmed too (which isn’t saying a lot, considering I can barely put up with reading what I write anymore), but in actuality, this game is no more complex than any RPG in today’s market. And like any RPG, once you get used to it, the fun factor will kick in (…or maybe it won’t, I do know of a great many people who dislike Fire Emblem). My final word is that I have to recommend this game if you can find it (even through…er, questionable legality, heh heh) and that I personally think you’ll have a lot of fun with it. But as I said in my paragraph above, the challenge can be a turn-off to some players, so begin this game with plenty of patience in reserve; this isn’t one of those games you can quickly speed through (unless there’s a code or two I’m unaware of. Hmm…). Anyhow, I hope this review has been helpful, or at the very least, introduced you to the Fire Emblem series. I try to put my own comments in on various things, but don’t let my easily-excited, overly bias opinion stop you from enjoying a great game :)

Personal Note: Hmm, so much for my upstanding pledge of “I promise short reviews so you won’t be bored!” Oops?

Rating:   4.0 - Great

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