The Fire Emblem series is frequently brought up in discussions of import gamers everywhere. The first six games were never released stateside because many perceived them to be “too Japanese” and unable to be successful in America. However, the series’ popularity was jump-started with two characters’ appearances in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the seventh tactical RPG was released worldwide for the GBA to resounding success.
In Radiant Dawn, the tenth Fire Emblem title (fourth in the U.S.), Nintendo and developer Intelligent Systems decided not to mess with the game’s core formula. No motion controls were added to the title, and it feels most comfortable played with a GameCube controller. The graphics weren’t considerably upgraded, and the game feels almost identical to its predecessor, Path of Radiance. However, this seems to be the right decision for Fire Emblem. The game’s deep strategic nature doesn’t mesh well with the new control scheme, so trying to shoehorn it in would have been tough.
The game’s soundtrack is very similar, but it is designed to not get tiring after hours and hours of playing. Most of the presentation is similar too, but the trailer and interspersed cutscenes are very well done and a valid payoff for the hours of gameplay between each one. In order to make these special, the rest of the story is told in skippable text-scrolling conversations that are the norm for the series.
The story, set in the land of Tellius, begins three years after the events of Path of Radiance. While the first conflict was ethically black and white, this war is filled with valid motivations on each side. The game cuts to different sides of the story, allowing players to fight as each side.
The depth is the most different and most improved aspect of this latest release in the series. It is longer, more varied, and more worth replaying than any of its predecessors. It brings back almost all the characters from the GameCube game, and adds some more to tell the story from the other viewpoint. To cope with the long gameplay, units were given an additional promotion, adding 20 more levels to gain for each. Laguz units, beast-like fighters that attack without weapons, do not promote, but can now attain 20 more levels as well.
The difficulty is as tough as ever. With the implementation of a new “Battle Save” that allows players to start over in the middle of a game instead of restarting an entire chapter, the team was free to make the tactics more difficult. Without the limitations of the old games’ Suspend feature, players can try again and again to get things right. While initially a frustrating exercise in hitting the Reset button over and over, ultimately this is what makes completing the game satisfying and enjoyable.
The game allows players to import save files from the previous game to boost unit statistics, which is a nice feature for longtime players. One thing to watch out for, though, is trying to import a file from Path of Radiance’s U.S.-only “Easy” mode. Radiant Dawn does not support that difficulty, and will lock up the game. While this should have been caught by the QA team, it is being worked on to be fixed by a system update, and the game doesn’t lose much from not importing the file.
All in all, Fire Emblem continues to be a solid series that will captivate fans and challenge players for years to come, allowing fans of the Mother, Stafy and Kuru Kuru Kururin games everywhere to hold out hope that they’ll be given a chance to shine.