Like Fire Emblem, but not!

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Tear Ring Saga

(Let's not dance around the subject: this is Fire Emblem through and through.) It rips the gameplay of Fire Emblem, the story of Fire Emblem, the characters of Fire Emblem, the horse clopping sound effects from Fire Emblem, the concept art from Fire Emblem, the text boxes from....that crappy Mystic Ark sequel for the PS1? And ability names from The Legend of Dragoon? And the company that made it was named after an obscure castle in Fire Emblem 4!? And it rips multiplayer from SHADOW DRAGON!? Oh, right: I remember now: Tear Ring Saga is fucking crazy and will probably cut you.

Odd, given that the story, for the most part, is pretty standard fare and could stand for some improvement. After an intro that establishes why this game needed a fan translation, we get...kind of the same thing. There's a dark god, a hero kills him, and he establishes a bunch of kingdoms and tells them to play nice. Of course, they do no such thing, dragging naive noble Leaf Runan into a continental conflict. What follows is enough politics to make Hideo Kojima's head spin, along with a dark view of mankind. People being burned on the stake, nobles abusing their power constantly, fourteen year old girls being considered adult women. It's almost as though anybody outside your party is an asshole, and half your army is composed of them....and that's what I like about it so damn much.

*breaks down into laughter*....Sorry, it's j...*relapses into laughter yet again*
*breaks down into laughter*....Sorry, it's j...*relapses into laughter yet again*

But still, there's a lot of politics to it, and I mean a lot. Don't get me wrong; it is interesting to see how the various political games play out over the course of the game, especially when it all comes to a head near the end of the game, but it is a lot to take in. Hell, that's probably why I never bothered writing a good story section for the wiki: because there's just sooo much to keep track of, especially in Runan's side of the story. It doesn't help that the dialogue is expository as hell.....OK, it does help, but you know what I mean. I don't like it. It doesn't at all sound natural, especially since the characters should probably know the things they're being told. Imagine if I gave you a list of facts about the story and told you to explain them to somebody unfamiliar with the game (IE anybody). Your dialogue would match up very well with what's in the game. I'd say that the game doesn't know how to tell a story, but then you have some reasonably detailed map choreography (SPOILERS), detailed battle choreography, and shit like this. MAKE UP YOUR MIND, TEAR RING SAGA!

Or maybe I should make up my mind, because I'm about to tell you how much I love the characters in this game. (I should rename this to Schizophrenia: The Blog.) I'd say that all the characters in this game have great backstories and development and feel like actual people, but I remember a few of them getting snubbed, so I'll only say that most of them are great. You have the bros (both types) Mintz and Hagaru, the lackadaisical Vega, the guy who betrays you because his people were persecuted a bunch Zeek, Julia feeling tortured about all the killing she's done....Christ, this game is a fucking bummer. Waiting around every corner is an opportunity to bum you out. For instance, chapter 14. In this chapter, we learn that Plum's mother was a dancer, the medieval equivalent of a stripper. How do I know this? Because I sold her into slavery and discovered the boob bounce in this game. On a teenager. Being forced to dance against her will. So yea, this game can get dark like that a lot. Fortunately, though, the game manages to find a balance between humor and tragedy, and that balance has a name: Holmes.

I love that this kingdom is so gangster that it straight-up calls its currency Gs.
I love that this kingdom is so gangster that it straight-up calls its currency Gs.

It's gotta be Holmes. Allow me to explain. In this game, we have two protagonists. The first is Runan, who, for the most part, is your typical Fire Emblem lord. He's a young noble, idealistic yet disconnected from the world (which explains Mr. Expository Eugen's prominence), and he becomes an asshole near the end for no real reason. I mean it: there's one (extremely poorly translated) cutscene where he remembers...something (all I got was this), and out of nowhere, he becomes a sullen, angsty asshole. But anyway, Holmes. About a quarter of the way through the game, for the purposes of making the game a more robust Sacred Stones, he shows up as another protagonist. Another, asshole-y protagonist. Not that I have a problem with that; in fact, it's what I love about Holmes. He's foul-mouthed, completely cynical, hard to get along with, and spends his spare time lightheartedly abusing his kinda-lover Katri. Given that he's in a game with more social interaction than you typical Persona game, this lends itself well to a lot of entertaining scenarios. I'd list some of them, but a lot of them would be the same, since they're mostly battle situations of him utterly dominating. He's such a great character that I once thought his stats capped. I WAS WRONG.

Which brings me to the actual game. Or, rather, the characters in the game (again), who are....a bit of a conundrum. Here's the thing: from what I can tell, their growths (their chances of stat improvement upon leveling) suck ass. I can't tell you how many times I got a level-up that was blank. Despite this, though, everybody's a fucking powerhouse. I don't know how, but I had so many fantastic units. A lot of them could strip naked and take an entire army with their bare fists, knowing that they'd get, like, five critical hits in a row, two of them restoring their HP in the process. So this game should be stupidly easy, right? Here's the thing, though: IT FUCKING ISN'T. Yes, there are some chapters that you can blow through in two minutes (like chapter 15...except not like that), but then others can be balls hard. The last few chapters love to fuck with you, generally by crippling your party immensely. Have you been relying on Vega and Julia the whole time because they can hit dudes nine times in a row? Well, let's Nihil those abilities out of existence, turning this into a pure battle of the stats. Have some awesome Mounties? (It's Tear Ring Saga. I wouldn't be surprised if this all took place in Canada.) Well, the final few chapters are mostly indoors, and horses aren't allowed to mess up the rug, so prepare to throw out and any all advantages those units once had. It does a lot to keep you on your toes and forces you to be really goddamn careful about the strategy in this game.

Did I mention how balls awesome the final battle is?
Did I mention how balls awesome the final battle is?

And that's what I love so goddamn much about Tear Ring Saga: it's Fire Emblem on peyote. Character recruitment can fuck with you immensely, like when you have to kill somebody to recruit a witch. Keep in mind that the victim in question is your most powerful unit at the time, so it amounts to the game taunting you to defy all logic, like it does. An awesome archer who can't kill for shit! A sexy nun as a playable class! Weapons with 100 uses that jack your critical rate into the thousands! Mountie skills on non-Mounties! A staff that lets you save mid-battle (think about that from a story perspective)! Goddamn tanks! Oh, and this is how the game ends. Do you need more reason to go out and play this game?

You do? Christ, you're hard to impress. Let's see....I've already talked about the characters and the stuff it knows to steal from Fire Emblem. How about the spectacle? Yea, let's go with that, because this game looks amazing. There's just so much detail packed into those sprites, and some of the battle animations can be pretty damn elaborate. This is especially true of the various spells in the game, which tend to go all-out when given the opportunity. For instance, there's at least one spell that's just a huge picture of doves and shit killing your foe. But you don't care; you're just going to soak in everything the game's offering you. That includes the music, which is....OK, it isn't as good as the graphics, but it's still pretty good. Triumphant, varied, fun; these are all words I could have used to describe this game if I was a better writer. Instead, I'll merely add that in keeping consistent with the theme of crazy, there's a song in this game that pumps up the bass. You know, because that's an instrument people had in medieval times. It's hard to think of a single thing I don't like about this game.

"Because I'm not into trannies, just so you know."

Although, if I were to insult the game (not counting the third paragraph, I guess), I'd probably go straight for the mechanics, which, let's face facts here, are all kinds of janky. Take, for example, the maps. On the one hand, you can place flags on the map, which actually adds a lot to the whole strategizing aspect of this strategy-RPG. Unfortunately, there to yank away said benefit is the inability to see where your units are going to start off on the map. Sure, you can influence where they start, but in order to do that, you have to start the chapter, check if you like where everybody is, remember their positions if you don't, restart the game, and switch fuckers around until you get what you want. It shouldn't be this way, especially when your army is split up as often as it is. Oh, and some other strange stuff, like different level caps for every character and turns not ending after you've moved every last person and occasionally sticky controls, but it's mostly the map stuff.

Oh, and the translation. I know I can't actually use it in determining the game's quality, yet obviously, something like this still warrants discussion. Simply put: wait for the patch. Yes, there's a full(ish) translation floating about right now (along with a partial one on GameFAQs), but you're going to have to jump through waay too many hoops for it to be worth the effort, especially when you consider the quality of the translation. Now I'm not calling it bad; like the game it's based on, the translation is all over the goddamn place. Some of it can be professional quality, while other parts can be really bad. Google Translate bad. I'm not even joking; I legitimately believe that some of this was translated through Google (even though the translators were told specifically against that). Hell, there's even an instance where somebody's called Julius-sama. Because when I think "vaguely European medieval political war scenario", high-ranking weeaboos immediately come to my imagination. So if you're gonna play Tear Ring Saga (fucking should), just wait until somebody announces a complete translation of some type.

Review Synopsis

  • Come for the promise of a Fire Emblem story; stay for the characters (or because Holmes will call you a goddamn pussy if you don't).
  • And possibly because this is the type of game that thrives on making logic cry.
  • If that's not enough, the game generally looks amazing.

But wait, there's more! Because I played this game for so long, I took a lot of pictures. And I mean a lot; in fact, they add up to....137!? I think that's the third most I've ever uploaded to the site, just narrowly beating out Rhapsody: A Musical Adventure. And unlike Rhapsody, I'm going to break down my obsessive-compulsive tendencies for your amusement!

  • I captured 88 screenshots of the dialogue alone. You know what that means, right? 64% of my screenshots WERE NOT DEDICATED TO THE ACTUAL GAMEPLAY. Keep in mind that this is a Japanese game with a translation most people aren't going to read like I did (IE without sanity), so I'm not sure what I was thinking throughout this experience. Oh, wait: yes I do!
  • Of those 88 screenshots, 21 of them were of the strange translation choices I came across. Look, you can't just come across a phrase like "untouchable holiness" and not capture this strangeness for future generations, and you certainly can't blow past somebody like Demonic Geezer. Actually, that reminds me that 9 of those screenshots were also of the strange proto-names that the translators gave to unnamed NPCs (and NPCs whose names they could never be bothered to look up). My only regret in that regard is not taking a picture of Hagar with a Bib.
  • I'd like to talk about the battle pictures I took (really, I would), but there are a few other categories I must take care of before that. Namely, the twelve of all the neat map things it does for the story (including a Sailor Moon reference), the six of just general gameplay, like the deadly power of overzealous anime fans, and the six screenshots I really couldn't fit into any other category. You know, like battles.
  • Speaking of battles, the battle pics, of which there are 26. A pithy 19%. But how does this 19% break down? Well, four of them defy categorization, seven of them are simply of the more awesome monsters you get to fight in the game, like the deathticles or the final boss, and five of them are of the awesome spells in this game. Hey, here's one! But what could be more awesome than that?
  • How about some goddamn insane criticals (and other insanely high damage outputs)? I managed to capture ten of them, although that's not the most I could. There were others; I just thought you'd get the point by now. But in case you haven't, yet, I decided to record the critical rates in question. One of them was 97%; three of them were 100%, and two of those feature Vega staring at them utterly bored, as if this type of thing doesn't freak him out. It probably helps that I gave him a weapon that jacked said critical rates straight to Eris.
  • Finally, Holmes, the most awesome of characters in the game. Turns out I gave him 25 screenshots, featuring such gems as the Holmes Rap and that time I thought his stats capped. Holmes, you truly are a great character, even if you are a total asshole.

Oh, and I uploaded four videos, one of which would have been better served as a screenshot. And that's Tear Ring Saga, ladies and gents.

You know what? This might as well be the ending to Tear Ring Saga.

Advance Wars

(And rounding out this kind-of retrospective is Advance Wars.) What? Did you expect something else? Berwick Saga's not even close to being considered for translation, and playing the Satellaview Fire Emblems is a fairly bad idea. So why Advance Wars in particular? Well, because it's the game (series) that eventually led to Fire Emblem. While it isn't obvious just by looking at it, the strategic spirit of Fire Emblem is certainly present, and that's enough for me.

So how did it take me this long to get around to Advance Wars? I mean, it's Fire Emblem's older brother, for fuck sake. Fire Emblem's far more neglected older brother. And that's not even considering how bad Fire Emblem gets it. I'm talking "cigarette burns" bad. Meanwhile, ol' daddy Nintendo's throwing beer bottles at that overachieving smartass of a son Mario, and poor Metroid has to get naked in front of strangers to earn cash nowadays....What the hell was I talking about? I think it was the story? If you think this is something Advance Wars shares with Fire Emblem, I laugh in your stupid goddamn face. It's simply a few sixteen year olds leading a military campaign for incredibly vague reasons. Along the way, they'll encounter a man who thinks Seinfeld music is a form of punctuation, a fucking Norse god, and Psycho Mantis making robots or some shit. Do you sense a theme developing? I do: war is fun. Oddly enough, it doesn't bother me a damn bit. It's so utterly disconnected from anything realistic that it more resembles a lighthearted sitcom than a Ted Nugent song in game form. (Odd wording, given the intro to this game.)

Fun fact of the day: this line is exactly what I use for hitting on women.
Fun fact of the day: this line is exactly what I use for hitting on women.

There's a very good reason for this type of atmosphere: the actual game is all kinds of daunting. Not difficult (more on that in a bit), but complicated. "How complicated can it be", the voices in my head ask me. "You move your guys, they move theirs; what more is there to it?" Well, ammo and gas. Each unit has different ammo and gas limits (and consumption rates), so that's gonna require some occasional supplying. But be careful not to place your APC too near your guys, because it's definitely in danger, maybe. Each unit can only fire on certain other units, but you can never remember who hits what. And don't forget about that offensive advantage! Or joining your units when they get too beat up! Or what effects your current CO gives your troops! Do you see what I'm getting at? I'm not saying that this is the X-COM of video games; I'm just saying that it's a lot to take in. It's a lot to keep track of, but it's all absolutely necessary to become victorious in the heat of combat.

Unless you decide to spend all your turns spamming the shiniest unit in the menu. Because you can totally do that, if you want. That's sort of the one major flaw I found with this game: how easy you can make the game. Why bother thinking up a winning strategy when you can summon tanks and infantry out the wazoo as part of your "salt the Earth" strategy? I'll tell you why: because the game's not at all fun like that. You're gonna waste, like, two years trying to destroy all the enemy units like that, too many of your asses will be kicked, and your sexy CO adviser's certain to chew you out for your idiocy. So what the hell do you do? Go with clever solutions, of course! I'm talking about baiting that bomber into your anti-air arsenal, or falling behind enemy lines so you can conquer their pitifully defended base, guaranteeing victory in two turns. That type of clever manipulation of numbers that makes you feel like Ares, God of War...that's what makes this game worthwhile. Oh, and the variety of game modes and maps and such (not counting the mid-game love affair with fog of war, of course). But mostly the strategy god feeling.

Review Synopsis

  • Oh, that Kanbei! *fade to commercial*
  • And we're back, to....what is all this? WHAT IS ALL THIS!?
  • Wait, I know what it is: satisfying, if spammy.