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Fire Emblem
Platform: Game Boy Advance
Publisher: Nintendo of America
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Strategy RPG
Format: Cartridge
Released: US 11/03/03
Japan 04/25/03
Official Site: English Site
Japanese Site



Scorecard
Graphics: 87%
Sound: 85%
Gameplay: 90%
Control: 93%
Story: 82%
Overall: 88%
Reviews Grading Scale
 
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Guys would love to wake up to this sight.
 
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"How are we going to get past the fat guy with the huge axe?"
 
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Eliwood: Roy, aged and sans spiky hair.
 
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Crossbows that big must be quite rare.
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Vanguard
Fire Emblem
12/13/04
Vanguard

Fire Emblem: The Flaming Sword is actually the seventh game in the series and is a direct prequel to the sixth game, Fire Emblem: The Sealed Sword. It's also the first game in this series to come stateside (though many did meet Roy and Marth in the GameCube's Super Smash Brothers Melee), as well as the second Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem title. Does the game suffer any from its late introduction? No, in fact the game delivers in nearly every category while providing a breath of fresh air for the Strategy RPG genre.

Our story opens up with Lyn, a member of the Sacae tribe, finding you unconscious near her village. Immediately after meeting her, bandits attack and you're thrown into playing the role of tactician. Afterwards there's a small conversation and she decides to travel with you as her commander. The entire game progresses by chapters, each which contain a prologue before battle, the battle itself, and finally an epilogue.

SRPGs are known for their complex battle systems. One of the gripes I hear most often regarding this genre is how ridiculously slow and repetitive things can get. Fire Emblem's system offers a solution for those who want to enjoy a SRPG without any of the aforementioned problems. Rather than having to worry about updating equipment, changing classes, or any of the common mechanics found in this genre, Fire Emblem does away with all that in favor of a much more simple approach. Gone is the tedious micromanagement involved with updating equipment, allocating skills and worrying about class development.

Battle takes place on a map which will include various terrain types that can help or hinder your combatants (i.e. cavalry can't cross mountains, forested units are harder to hit), as well as interactive towns, castles and houses. This is a big change from the square, chess-like battlefields brought to you by games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Hoshigami and Disgaea. Rather than characters acting in highest initiative down, the game divides the turn sequence by armies, where you can move them in any order you see fit. One army moves and performs all of its action and then it switches. While the battle usually only has two sides to it, occasionally a third side may partake in the battle.

A trademark of the series is how fragile your characters are. They can only take 2-3 hits from most weapons, which not only makes this game much harder, but also more realistic. A reinforcing factor in that belief is the decision to make any character death permanent. I absolutely adored this mechanic, as it forced me to be good at this game. You simply cannot afford to lose a character.

Onto the graphics. The characters all look amazingly good and are animated extremely well. The Critical hits and spell effects are equally impressive. The backgrounds do look good, but suffer from lack of diversity. For instance, every town has the same background, every castle looks the same, etc. It doesn't detract from the game much, but some of the more grand locations could have had some special graphics. The battlefield looks incredibly good, considering the amount of diversity you can find on it. Occasionally, battlefields suffer from overcrowding (the forests on the battlefield come to mind), but it's usually minor.

Fire Emblem: The Flaming Sword doesn't possess the strongest story by a long shot. It does, however, tell it very well. While it is initially told through the eyes of Lyndis, her part of the story only makes up a third of the game. After the first ten chapters, it switches to Eliwood, a Roy look-a-like. Lyn's story is centered around saving her grandfather and battling Lord Lundgren. It provides a nice introduction to the game, but really is there just to teach the basics. Nearly every chapter had a tutorial detailing some mechanic, ranging from the use of ballistae to how weather affects the battlefield. These are necessary for the newcomers, but almost all of the events that happen in her part of the story have no bearing on Eliwood's. On replays, I find myself skipping the scenes because of how dull they become.

Eliwood's story makes up the much larger--and ultimately more interesting--part of the game. Lyn's story can be completed in under four hours (my current time is just over three), but his will take you around 15-20. This part of the story is much more serious and blossoms from Eliwood simply searching for his lost father into something intensely greater. The majority of Fire Emblem is very linear, but Eliwood's side offers more sidequests, a fair amount of secret characters, and an arena to train your characters. This breaks the straight line that Lyn's story seems to pave.

As mentioned above, you can recruit a large cast of characters after passing onto Eliwood. This is a great addition because it allows you to build a much more diverse party, whereas in Lyn's there was seldom a time when a character got left out (I found myself leaving out two characters at max). This perk is a double-edged sword, though. It is probably also what makes the game's story suffer a bit. There are so many characters (at one point I had 35 in my party, but there are still more to find) they never get to really develop beyond their reason for joining the company. A story where each character is fully developed is rare, but Fire Emblem never really gets beyond the core three Lords.

Upon completion of the game a "hard" mode is unlocked, as well as Hector's story. Hard mode is quite a noticeable jump in difficulty from the easier "normal" mode. Hector's tale is essentially Eliwood's story, just with the perspective switched. In fact, the majority of dialogue is just switched as well. This was slightly disappointing, as Hector was the least frail of all the Lords, and he really got the shaft in the story department.

Music time. For a Game Boy Advance game the music is very good. It has quite a few memorable tracks. Occasionally I won't let the text scroll so I can listen to particularly tasty themes. "Reminiscence" is one track on which I find myself doing that a lot. One lovely feature about this little cartridge is that it has an "extras" section that contains a Sound Room. You can listen to one of the 98 tracks for as long as you want, provided you have unlocked it. This is definitely a feature I'd like to see implemented in future titles, as it was a very enjoyable extra.

The control in this game is so incredibly fluid, I cannot really think how one could improve it. The menus are not slow, which has been my experience with the majority of SRPGs. The text speed can even be set to auto scroll, eliminating all that A button pressing I find myself doing in most games. I honestly cannot stress how fluid it is. That's what really makes this game a mainstay on my favorite list: it plays so nice, with no slow down ever.

This game, while not possessing anything groundbreaking story-wise, makes up for it on every other level. If you own a GBA and don't own yet this title, I recommend you go pick it up before it disappears from the shelves forever. I especially recommend it to people who do not play SPRGs often; it is incredibly well done. Fire Emblem's American release was a momentous success, and I'm personally overjoyed at Nintendo's decision to bring over both Fire Emblem: Seima No Kouseki (GBA) and Fire Emblem: Souen No Kiseki (GC).



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