By ArbitraryWater 26 Comments
In my fairly vast swath of gaming preferences (yes, I do in fact like games other than mid-late 90s CRPGs) there are only a few games, franchises or brands that inspire the kind of irrational loyalty in me that one would expect of a fanboy. While the layman's weird obsessive franchises may include such gems as Final Fantasy and Zelda, those are not mine. Instead, I have some really weird games or series of games that I will probably defend to the death, regardless of actual underlying quality. Might and Magic is probably one of them (I paid money for a copy of Might and Magic IX, despite the fact that it's a bad game), as is its spinoff Heroes of Might and Magic (though Heroes VI may be a make-or-break kind of thing). Main series Resident Evil is probably another, because even I am not stupid/loyal enough to tell you that The Umbrella Chronicles was an especially great game, nor would I ever consider seeking out a copy of that totally awful Gameboy Color game, I still like the actual games in the series an awful lot. Enough to own two separate copies of Resident Evil 2 for no good reason. Enough to have paid $25 for a copy of the gamecube version of RE3. The last of these hallowed franchises is probably Fire Emblem. And thus, we get to the topic at hand today.
I like Fire Emblem. Allow me to rephrase that: I like Fire Emblem enough to actively seek out ROMs of the Japan only titles, patch them with fan translations and then have lengthy discussions about them with Giant Bomb's other resident FE nut (You should already know who he is by now). There's something about the fairly punishing, yet mechanically simple gameplay that really appeals to me. Thus, you might say I was pretty pumped for Radiant Dawn, the sequel to 2005's excellent-if-overlooked Path of Radiance. Let's be fair. By the time this game came out in 2007, I wasn't exactly in my childhood (I believe I got this around my... 15th birthday?) and it hasn't especially ruined anything. However, I finished replaying it today, and I feel like I have some beef with that game that I might as well express in blog form. Because really, that Fallout 2 blog isn't coming anytime soon.
I'm not going to explain to you what Fire Emblem is. If you don't know that as anything other than "It's where the marf guy in the Smash Bro come from" then I can't help you. Read the wiki. I can, however, explain why Radiant Dawn is a fairly middling game as far as the Fire Emblem franchise is concerned, but why it's still alright anyways. Let's start with the story. While almost all of the Fire Emblem games follow a fairly rote "Young hero rises up against evil" plot, Path of Radiance is probably the one that told it the best, despite having the most blatantly forced commentary on racism and prejudice I have ever seen in a video game.(Hint: Don't be a racist). Radiant Dawn is split into 4 parts, with each part having a different main character, but Part 2 is really short, and Part 4 consists of everyone teaming up to fight evil. If you want to read a more concise summary of either of these games, you happen to be on a video game website with a fairly comprehensive wiki. What the wiki for Radiant Dawn won't tell you is that the story is pretty dry until the totally out of left field but not in a bad way conclusion. This partially has to do with the first protagonist, Micaiah being generic bland nice girl with hidden power and a mysterious past, and also because by the time you get to Ike's chapters, the main thrust of the story mostly consists of “FIGHT FIGHT FIGHT”. Then there's the issue of all the villains being hilariously evil, to the point where they aren't so much characters as they are puppy-murdering Nazis. The localization team did the best with what they had I guess. What the game does well on the story front is all the side stuff. The base conversations are usually worth reading, and there's also a decent chunk of incidental dialog on the battlefield. Unfortunately, supports, one of my favorite things in prior Fire Emblem games, have been neutered to the point of just being a way to give your characters stat boosts. There's some generic dialog, but it's not a good replacement.
The reason for this being is the multi-act structure, and it's one of the things that Radiant Dawn doesn't do especially well. Since your units now have availability factoring in to how useful they are, a lot of otherwise good characters end up being shoved to the sidelines because they rejoin the main group (which, let's face it, is Ike's group.) late in the game. I guess that's what bonus EXP is for, but one of the things I liked doing in previous series entries was being able to replay the game with an entirely different team of dudes. Since the viable unit pool for each group is pretty small, that can't happen especially well, and since the game throws a bunch of overpowered Laguz Royals at you in the endgame, there's not much motivation to train stragglers either. The other issue that this brings is incredibly inconsistent difficulty. Micaiah's group is full of a bunch of glass cannons who can be two-shotted in the first few chapters of the game. And I'm not just talking about mages. It's clear the developers know that, because they give you not one, not two, but four characters of varying Jeigan-ness all willing to suck experience points from the units that need it (but are on the other hand still kinda required because of how sucky most of the Dawn Brigade is). And then, when you play as that group in part 3, they still have the exact same problems. Ike's team, on the other hand, is full of plenty of great units capable of steamrolling most opposition without much trouble. Basically, this is probably the worst Fire Emblem game for beginners, even with some tender mercies given to the US and Euro versions of the game (a permanent mid-level savestate, and you don't have to use a master crown to promote your units to 3 tier). Thracia 776, the Japan-only midquel to Seisen no Keifu, is worse, but I'm pretty sure I'm one of two active users on these forums who has ever played it.
I feel like I should probably talk about the Laguz here, as they're really the true distinction of these two Fire Emblem games from the rest of the series. They weren't especially great in Path of Radiance because of their tendency to hog experience and the whole “useless when untransformed” thing. They function somewhat differently in this game, being even more vulnerable when untransformed due to the way their stats work (All their stats except HP and Luck are doubled upon transformation. Thus, a Laguz with 30 defense transformed has 15 untransformed.) Thankfully, due to the prevalence of transformation meter-boosting items, they theoretically spend far less time in that vulnerable state. Still never really saw a use for the non-royal, non-heron ones. They still steal experience like no one's business. And they're still furries.
But yeah, despite these flaws, Radiant Dawn is still alright. It's not amazing, especially compared with some of the better games of the series, and it's a Fire Emblem game for people who are good at Fire Emblem (as opposed to Sacred Stones, which is Fire Emblem for people who suck at Fire Emblem). Thus, replaying this has reiterated my thought that people who want to be introduced to this franchise should probably try Shadow Dragon, which despite having its own set of weird, weird design anachronisms is the most newbie friendly Fire Emblem game that is still probably readily available. Now I wonder if anyone will reply to this... Screw Fallout 2, I'm going to finish Shin Megami Tensei Nocturne. How did I get sidetracked from that game anyways? Oh right. Dragon Age II. Oops.