October 17, 2005 Written by:
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is the ninth game in the popular SRPG series, and the third game to be released in the US and Europe. The US and Europe got their first taste of Fire Emblem with the seventh game in the series, Fire Emblem: Rekka no ken, or simply Fire Emblem as it’s known in the US and Europe. It was soon followed up by the eighth game in the series, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (which has yet to be released for Europeans). Though, the US and Europe didn't get into the series until the seventh game, Japan has been enjoying the games since the days of the Famicon (Japanese Nintendo). The first Fire Emblem was titled simply Fire Emblem (though, some argue that it has the subtitle Dragon of Darkness and Sword of Light) and basically wrote the book of Strategy RPG's. The series has enjoyed the attention of many fans and gamers alike, who are drawn in by the plot of each game and level of challenge they had to offer. This latest game in the series looks to improve upon a great formula.
Path of Radiance takes place on the continent of Teilus which has is divided into seven nations. The nations are at war over racial disputes between the Laguz and the humans; the dispute has gone on for many centuries. The Laguz are demi humans who are able to transform into an animal form giving them enhanced abilities. The two races have been at war for centuries, but things have recently calmed down and led to some wavering peace amongst the seven nations of Teilus. The games story looks to offer just as much intrigue as all the other games of the series have before. The war between the humans and Laguz has been quelled and left the continent in a time of peace. The kingdom of Crimea has suddenly been invaded by the Dein Kingdom that caught the unsuspecting royalty off guard; forcing the Princess to seek help from he Laguz to prevent the war from escalating. The protagonist, Ike, comes across the Princess while working with his father’s mercenary troupe and agrees to escort her to a neighboring nation to seek aid. Throughout his journey, Ike will have to learn to lead his father Grails mercenary group through perilous situations and unnerving odds.
Path of Radiance only offers a main story mode upon first loading up the game, but additional modes can be unlocked as well. The Story mode is your typical Fire Emblem game: you'll take the games main character from chapter to chapter completing goals until you've reached the end. Taking a hint from Sacred Stones, the game does offer three difficulties to choose from at the get-go. Normal, for those new players and beginners, Hard, for those of us seeking a bit of a challenge, and Mania, for everyone who complains that games are too easy (myself included). After completing the game, there is an Extra's menu that contains bonus such as an art gallery containing character art, a sound room to listen to the in-game music, and even a Trial Map mode which allows you to take your completed game file and challenge some tough battle scenario's.
Gameplay in the Fire Emblem series has revolved around the player and enemy taking turns on a grid based map attempting to annihilate each others troops. Path of Radiance doesn't offer much new for the series, but it does refine things in a few positive ways. Incase you aren't familiar with the gameplay; you're given a troops of units to send out into each chapter. During these chapters, you'll be allowed to move your units, attack enemies, buy items, or trade them with your other units to gain the proper balance of weaponry. The enemy AI takes its own turns, and moves along on its own at a pretty decent pace as not to slow things down too much. In battle, there will occasionally be allied units who are not directly under your control. These units can be given general orders by Ike, but no direct player controlled commands. You're also able to give general commands to your entire troupe all at once, such as giving everyone the order to fall in around Ike. Battle objectives can include anything from the standard "Seize the Throne" and "Clear out all enemies" to the more complex "Escape" and "Protect" objectives. There are no arena's or methods free battles this time around, but depending on how you performed in battle you will be awarded Bonus Experience points to distribute to anyone in your party. Another addition is the "Shove" command, which allows you yo push your units one space forward for some interesting strategies. The biggest change for the series is its shift from 2D to 3D graphics. This change is a bit more than just a cosmetic one, as you'll find that the height difference in terrain will affect your units’ statistics in battle. It also increases the archers’ range the higher up they are.
Unlike other strategy games, Path of Radiance offers a rock-paper-scissors relation-ship with its weapon system. Swords will beat axes no problem, axes will have an advantage over lances, and lances are effective against swords. There are bow type weapon as well, offering a variety of ranged combat aside from the "Weapon Triangle", as it's called. Magic is handled in a similar matter, though it has undergone a serious change. Magic is now tooled in the way of the Super Famicon Fire Emblems, with a triangle of Fire, Wind, and Thunder as well as Light magic acting all on its own. Fire beats Wind, Wind beats Thunder, and Thunder beats Fire while Light is neutral towards all elements. Magic has also been given another upgrade to compensate for the lack of Dark magic, though some may never feel the void filled. Fire magic is also effective against Beast Laguz, Thunder magic will give Dragon Laguz a tough time, and Wind magic creates havoc for Bird Laguz. Though, all of this may seem like a bit much to remember, the game does offer ways to back track and check up on all the info.
The level up system of Radiance has been improved upon by a great deal. Your units will be awarded with experience points after each battle they are in. When they reach 100 experience points, they'll level up and receive an increase in their stats. Your units are able to level up to level 20, but upon reaching level 10 it is possible to change your units into more powerful classes by use of the Master Proof item. However, unlike in past games in the series, once a unit reaches level 20 he or she will continue to gain experience until they reach level 21, thus activating the class change automatically. The promoted classes offer more powerful abilities as well as increased stats, making them much more useful to you. A few of the classes from past Fire Emblems are gone altogether however, most notable is the Shaman, Druid, and Summoner class which means the removal of all Dark Magic as I said earlier. Despite having fewer classes, Path of Radiance still has a lot of diversity between units thanks to the new Skills system and Biorhythm
The Skill System of Path of Radiance is not completely new, as it was featured in Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu, Fire Emblem: Thracia 776 (both Super Famicon titles), and Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (though, a much more watered down version). The Skill System of Radiance has been retooled to make it a more balanced experience. Each unit has a set number of capacity points available to them. These points are used to allocate Skills to your units. The more useful the skill, the more capacity points it takes up. A Skill like Adept, which occasionally allows the unit to attack again after attacking, takes up 10 capacity points. While other skill, like Prayer, which gives the unit a chance of recovering half of their HP after losing it all, only takes up 5 capacity points. As with Sacred Stones there are still class specific Skills, but this has been expanded into character specific skills as well. Where as two characters of the same class will come with different skills. It is possible to teach skills to units by the use of Special Scrolls, but doing so you will have to give up a few of the Skills that the unit already knows. Promoted units will have access to much more powerful skills that unpromoted units cannot access; raising the incentive to promote your units quickly. Biorhythm meter for each character determines the mood of the unit. When the units Biorhythm is good, the character will receive a minor stat boost in accuracy and evasion. Though, when Biorhythm us bad, the unit will receive a minor stat decrease
As you progress through the game, you'll find that you've been awarded a base camp where you can buy weapons, teach skills, visit the blacksmith, and activate support conversations. The support conversations between characters are handled quite differently now. Supports are only able to be activated while the units are at base camp. To obtain a support, you'll simply send the units you want to support each other into battles together (they no longer need to be standing right next to each other to gain points) and allow them to gain support points. When they have enough, the next time you're at your base camp the support option will be available for them. Teaching skills is simply a matter of purchasing the proper scrolls from a shop while you're at your base. You'll then be able to give the scroll to whomever you choose and allow them the use of another Skill. The Black Smith is a new feature just for Path of Radiance. By talking with the blacksmith, you are able to create your own weapons by editing existing weapons. You're able to increase the weapons strength, critical rate, accuracy, decrease the weapons weight, change the color of the weapon, and even give it a name.
The graphics in the game are a bit of a mixed bag. On one hand, the developers over at Intelligent Systems decided to contact Production I.G. in order to produce some truly amazing Cell-shaded FMV's. Truly, if I didn't know any better, I'd mistake the FMV's for anime sequences. On the other hand, the in-game character models are rather bland lacking the diverse textures we know the Gamecube can produce. The battle animations are plentiful however, with each weapon having a unique appearance during battle scenes. There's also a plethora of attack animations, each one worth seeing (especially critical hits) though some may look a bit awkward. Again, there are positives to the in-game engine. The Background environments are well done and look great, though there is room for improvement. Another plus to the graphics would have to be the beautiful 2D artwork during dialogue scenes. Instead of simple head shots, we're now presented with full body shots of Fire Emblems many characters. Each one of them looks unique and to add to it, the 2D backgrounds used during the cut-scenes are amazing to look at. It makes me think, this would have been one of the most beautiful 2D games in existence were it developed in 2D. Though, graphics aren't too big of a factor in Strategy games, there's always room to go beyond the norm isn't there?
The games music is a very welcome addition, as it features fully orchestrated music though it’s still synthesized. The music is a great addition to the game and should be a very nice plus for Fire Emblem fans everywhere. The games sound effects have even decided to borrow a few sounds from past iterations of the series for nostalgia's sake. Also, the FMV sequences are fully voiced and sound very good. Those facts stated, the audio is coming along rather nicely.
Overall, Fire Emblem Path of Radiance looks to be one of the finest Gamecube games to be released. It is vastly improving upon the gameplay aspects of its predecessors as well as adding back the extreme level of challenge that the games are known for (don't worry, the evil difficulty is optional from the start). If you're a fan of the series, Strategy games, RPG's, or just looking for a challenge, this game is probably right for you.
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