Note: This review is based on the Japanese version of the game.
On the dark continent Ereb, the two major kingdoms of Bern and Etralia kept the power balance in check, making sure no major conflicts occurred throughout the land. Yet when the new ruler of Bern decides to upset this balance and start a war, the entire continent is thrown into chaos. It is during this time that you take control of Roy (of Super Smash Bros. Melee fame) and lead the resistance army to bring peace back to the world.
Okay, the Fire Emblem series was never really well known for its original storylines but it is known for three things. First, this Strategy RPG series is one of the most popular series in Japan to have never come out in the US. Second, this Strategy RPG series is one of the hardest series in its genre. And third, Fire Emblem has the dubious distinction of being one of the last SNES games to be ever released (Fire Emblem V was released for the SNES in…1999. Yes, 1999. It still sold almost ½ million copies.).
Fire Emblem: The Sealed Sword marks a major departure from the previous games due to the game adapting the mini-scenario system that is employed in most strategy games instead of the “Super Scenarios” (Each map was actually divided into many parts, making each scenario take 3-4 hours to clear) that all the previous games used. What’s more, FE:TSS is relatively easy-going on the beginner, providing both a tutorial mode and a lowered difficulty level when compared to the other games.
That is not to say that TSS is an easy game by any means. Units killed in battle are still lost forever, weapons break after 20-30 uses, money is fairly hard to come by, you can’t buy powerful weapons except in special shops, and with the fact that most units can only survive 2-3 direct hits before dying, FE: TSS stills makes for a very difficult game to beat without restarting. While you can save in the middle of a scenario, the game automatically saves every single, FREAKING millisecond (*ahem*), so it’s only useful if you need to stop playing the game, and not for any save-reload purposes.
It is this fragility of the characters that makes for much of this series’ appeal. You’ll slowly begin getting attached to your characters that you’ve worked so hard to make powerful to the point that you’ll see losing 40-60 minutes of game play as a small price to pay. In fact, throughout much of the game you’ll have to balance how many (and what) units you can afford to lose per map without putting your entire game progress in jeopardy. Losing units during battle is inevitable (well…unless you replay each scenario over 50-60 times) and you must be prepared to sacrifice some of your favorite units in the name of good. Thankfully, there is a whole slew of characters throughout the game that you can convince to join to join your cause, making the loss of maybe 1-2 units per battle acceptable (not that you shouldn’t strive to keep your army intact).
Graphically, FE shows off some of the best animations for the GBA. The scenario map system seems be an advanced (no pun intended) version of the one used in Advance Wars and the game sports attractive character designs and spiffy looking animations. In fact, this game captures and look and feel of the FE games perfectly, which is impressive for a hand-held machine (of course…the FE series were mostly for the SNES).
The soundtrack for the game is well done, but it is severely hampered by the limited number of tracks. Not a major strike against the game, given its genre, but I wish there was some more variations among battle and over world tracks.
What makes TSS really special is the amount of extras they threw in the game. Once you beat the game you unlock a new difficulty level as well as a number of extra battle maps. The number of battle maps increase each time you beat the game and a number of aesthetic touches are also added to show your dedication. With this and three possible endings for the game, TSS is sure to entice the player to replay it at least once to get the full experience.
While I’m not sure if the average American gamer is up to the challenge that playing an unforgiving game like FE:TSS, I think everyone who tries the game will be pleasantly surprised by how deep and engrossing it is. Of course, the question of it being ported over to the US is still up in the air, so keep your fingers crossed!