Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (GCN)

After only owning the game for several years…. *coughs* … I finally beat Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance last night. So I thought I’d post a mini-review on the game.

Story:
You play as Ike, a young man who is the son of the commander of the Greil Mercenaries. When the country of Crimea is invaded and its monarch killed, only the princess escapes. The Greil Mercenaries are hired to protect the princess and see her safely back to her throne. Various other subplots surface, like the ongoing relationships between beroc (humans) and laguz (shapeshifters), the fate of the herons, and the titular Fire Emblem itself.

For the most part, the story is simple but solid. There are a few characters that feel rather useless (Sothe is the worst, because he actually made some pretensions to a plot but it goes nowhere) because they contribute nothing of interest to the plot. Overall, the story arcs from the first few fights pretty directly to the final confrontation.

Graphics:
The graphics make use of plenty of still images for character portraits and during plot sections. I actually really liked seeing the beautifully-drawn stills over somewhat-passably rendered in-game graphics. There are a few CG movies, but not very long, which lend some extra dynamism to the most important scenes in the game.

Gameplay:
This is a pretty hardcore strategy RPG. I can’t remember if I played on Easy or Normal, but several of the chapters are brutal if you’re trying to figure out how to keep everyone alive. Towards the end, however, it actually got a lot easier; by then I had been using my core fighters all game and they were maxed out level-wise, which helped. Being the indecisive person that I am, I managed to collect all of the stat-up items but only used the two Arms Scrolls because I kept dithering about which character to use them on. I still beat the last several chapters in one try. If I replay the game I have a better idea now of what skills and stat-ups I would likely want to use, and where.

There are a few frustrations with the gameplay. The game is a series of battles, one after the other, so there is no ability to level up or increase stats except through the plot. This is just the nature of the game. But where it hurts is that you’re limited to using weapons that are your grade or lower, and the only way to level up a weapon grade is to have that character use that weapon a LOT. So I maxed out my swordsmasters fastest (Ike actually didn’t hit S-level until the last chapter of the game), my lance-user a bit slower, and most other characters I was struggling to get to an A level in ONE weapon to be able to use the better silver weapons. So although I read comments online critiquing characters like Nephanee for only being able to use one weapon, realistically you’re stuck with one good weapon and one cruddy weapon on the dual-wielding characters like Oscar. The only exception is characters like Haar, who come in so late in the game he already has a B in both lances and axes (which made me happy because although I had a few characters who could use axes at that point, no one but Boyd could use any of the good ones). The Arms Scrolls can increase weapon levels, but you only get two of them (I waited until the last chapter of the game and used them both on Soren so I could bump up his Thunder rating in order to better fry the dragons in the last chapter).

There are no sidequests. The game is very linear in that regard. The replay value is mostly enhanced through trial maps that are unlocked by beating the game on various difficulties, and characters you can unlock (I believe just for those trial maps) by beating the game a certain number of times. That being said, I don’t feel a huge desire to replay this, although the strategy was fun. It’s a pretty long game even without that. I believe I clocked 38 hours on my save file, which doesn’t count all the battles I had to restart after an hour because someone died (you can’t bring anyone back from the dead, so it’s best just to start the chapter over).

Also one small irritation was that I moved both Boyd and Oscar to bows (the most useless weapon in the game, in my opinion) to use the triangle attack (one of two special moves), but never actually managed to get my characters in a position to be able to pull it off. The main problem is that a bow-user CANNOT hit anyone who comes right up to him, so putting bows on someone when more than one enemy has access to them is asking to get slaughtered. That was my main problem getting Rolf any levels either, because unlike Soren, who can actually hit the people who attack him if I forget to defend him well enough, Rolf can’t do a thing. So he never got to shoot as many people as he needed to level up his bow properly because I had to keep hiding him behind front-line characters who ended up slaughtering the enemy before Rolf could get a shot off.

So, final thoughts… I would like to see the sequel, although since I don’t have a Wii I may just watch the plot segments on Youtube (the game should be significantly shorter without all the battles). It’s given me an appreciation for strategy games and I am definitely interested in playing more of the genre, although I do find myself longing for a bit more elements of an RPG, like the ability to fight random battles in order to increase whatever stat/gold/etc you need. I rate this game Highly Recommended.

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