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Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance) artwork

Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance) review

"Back on Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube two characters caused a large uproar in the video game community. Those two characters were from a popular series in Japan known as Fire Emblem. Fans wanted to know more about the two men Marth and Roy: Where did they come from? What is Fire Emblem? Why was it not released outside of Japan? Nintendo heard the cry and answered. The next Fire Emblem game and all to follow since its debut made their way outs..."

Back on Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube two characters caused a large uproar in the video game community. Those two characters were from a popular series in Japan known as Fire Emblem. Fans wanted to know more about the two men Marth and Roy: Where did they come from? What is Fire Emblem? Why was it not released outside of Japan? Nintendo heard the cry and answered. The next Fire Emblem game and all to follow since its debut made their way outside of Japan, this being the first in the series.

Fire Emblem is a tactical RPG, sharing many traits with its more modernized father, Advance Wars, released a few years earlier. The game is split up into roughly 30 chapters and give you various tasks of defeating all enemies on a given map to "seizing the throne" of specific castles. You control anywhere from 10 to 15 characters per chapter and face off against one opposing force standing in the way of your goal.

Fire Emblem is really simple in thought. You control a small group of folks ranging from noble knights to young farm girls much like you do in any tactical RPG, Final Fantasy Tactics being a great example, only everything is simplified here. Characters have no flashy skills or deadly combo moves - they have only their attack/heal or item option. To sum the whole thing up nicely fighting is like a game of paper, rock, scissors with your older brother who changes the rules in an attempt to win. Swords defeat axes, light magic defeats dark magic, and so on. Occasionally the AI, will throw things out there like the Swordreaver, an axe that is proficient against swords, and the occasional downpour of rain or fog that makes you travel cautiously, but these are only minor inconveniences.

This is all not to say that Fire Emblem's gameplay is easy however, as it is one of the hardest games to be released. This is one of the first games in this specific genre where the term tactic or strategy actually applies to what move you need to make for survival. A single chapter can easily break the 45 minute to one hour mark so each time you move a unit you have to weigh every outcome of what the enemy will do next since the computer is so relentless - it wants you dead! Why though? Well, once a character dies (which can be quickly if say your scissors gets smashed by a rock) they are dead. Not fainted such as many other games of the genre, these characters bite the dust for good and the only way to use them again is to restart the entire chapter, which you will want to do.

This is mainly because of how unforgiving the game can be at times. While it is not the longest game out there only clocking in at 19 to 22 hours on a fast clear, it is completely plausible for you to toss all of that effort out the window in the brief half of a second it takes to erase a file due to poor unit management. There are a whole lot of characters (40 to 50) for you to fight with but you have to make the choice early when obtaining the character and stick to it as there is little room for error. If you attempt to keep all characters around the same level you will have screwed yourself over when you get to chapter 25 or so when the difficulty makes the leap from dying tipped cow to a stampede of bulls. Anything normal gets tossed out the window with the addition of legendary weapons and such so your enemies will plow through your precious units like paper. It's sad to see your characters die not only because they don't come back, but also due to the strong bond you build with them.

Fire Emblem's story is a typical one. A man uses a secret organization who in turn uses political powers to obtain quintessence, the life from a human, to summon the sealed away dragons of lore. However most of these revelations occur near the end of the plot as the first half of the game forces you to look for old men; first as the somewhat emo Lyn, a typical orphan girl with a sword, then as the fiery haired Eliwood, a noble in search of his father. What will keep you into the rather typical story though is two things: The awesome soundtrack and the characters. There is a lot of music in Fire Emblem, close to 100 separate tunes and jingles to be exact. Every score is placed perfectly to represent a certain emotion for a character or foreshadow something about to happen.

The characters though are what really hold everything together in the main plot. Instead of the typical tactic RPG where you obtain random, no name units to fight with, every character in Fire Emblem has a unique personality and back story to them, and often more than not some goal they are trying to achieve whether it be revenge or pure research. A few hours into the game you will notice a specific scene occurring started by one of the secondary characters. What you may not notice though is that scene will not play if said character dies and you continue on. The more characters that die the less character development you get the chance to see, which is great incentive to help you focus on survival throughout each chapter.

Aside from the normal scenes that show up on their own, Fire Emblem features what is called Support Talk. These are scenes that can only be accessed on the battlefield by you the player. Certain characters have a bond with others that can be built upon through these support conversations, revealing even more details about a specific person. After beating the game you unlock a list that displays which characters can build support with others and shows your total completion. The story-hungry player can get hours upon hours of gameplay from this by completing the main campaign with separate character sets boosting the already amazing replay value of the game.

The only real negative side to the whole experience of Fire Emblem is visuals, as they are so repetitive and bland. Most units of a given class whether they be friend or foe share close to the same sprite as only the color palette changes and almost all the locals are random field s with some mountains and buildings scattered around. Sure there is a lava cave and some snowy field but those are just one time deals as most of the time you will be fighting on thriving green grass.

Still, with one minor fault in visuals and a steep learning curve Fire Emblem is a fantastic title just shy of being a masterpiece. Nice music, characters, and gameplay blend together to make for a fun 20 or 40 hours you spend playing. The game is perfect as a handheld title as there are alternate modes available upon completing the main story and tons of little extras spiced everywhere from a sound room to quick multi-player linked battles. It is an amazing first attempt at bringing the popular series outside of Japan and set the bar high for the sequels to follow.

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Community review by Zenax (October 28, 2007)

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