Intelligent Systems, creators of Advance Wars and the developers for the lauded Super Metroid, are the minds behind one of the better strategy games currently available for the Game Boy Advance. Fire Emblem is the seventh game in a series that’s been running since the NES days. Howver, such a fact would be unknown in the United States, where Fire Emblem 7: Rekka no Ken has been released as simply ‘Fire Emblem’. A combination of Shining Force and Advance Wars, Fire Emblem is a fiercely difficult strategy game that will hopefully be the springboard for future games to be released in parts of the world other than Japan.
Turn-based strategy has never been the source of the best graphics to be found in a game. Ever. Fire Emblem, although sporting some very impressive still art, is not nearly the best looking GBA game out there. The two-dimensional character art looks great, but players on the field look squashed and unrealistic. The graphics do make it particularly easy to see where a character is and where he is going. When a battle scene appears, as in Advance Wars, it animates quite well; critical hits in particular look impressive. Cut scenes are done in a similar way to Lunar Legend: a still frame of the animation is shown as characters talk over it. Overall, however, Fire Emblem looks impressive, battlefield art aside.
On the aural side of things, Fire Emblem scores with an impressive soundtrack for a GBA game. In a similar style to Golden Sun, Fire Emblem provides maximum effect with the GBA’s pitiful speaker. Although there is no voice, the sound effects are above average and sound authentic. The actual music compositions are nothing special; they are standard orchestral fare that most RPG fans are used to.
The story begins as Lyn, one of the main characters, finds your character, the tactician, unconscious on the field of battle. Her home is about to be overrun by bandits, and she asks you to help her. Such begins Lyn’s story, which also serves as the game’s tutorial. Lyn finds out that her father is the Marquess of a neighboring territory and embarks on her quest, with your help, to find her father. On the way to find her father, Lyn meets two nobles: Eliwood, the son of a Lord, and Hector, the brother of a different Lord. After the prologue ends, the story shifts to Eliwood’s perspective as he searches for his missing father. Eliwood meets up with Hector shortly after his story begins and finds that his enemy is the organization known as the Black Fang, which is trying to commit an act that will change the world forever.
Fire Emblem’s engine is an amalgamut of ideas, taking from games like Shining Force and Nintendo’s own Advance Wars. Characters move around a grid and are affected by what’s on the ground, just like any other SRPG. Weapons have limited uses; they begin with 20-60 uses and lose one for each time the character enters combat. When the counter reaches 0, the weapon is destroyed. Similar to the ways dolls interacted with each other in Kartia, Fire Emblem features a weapons triangle. It is based on the idea behind Rock, Paper, Scissors, but is, instead, referred to as Sword, Axe, Lance. Lance bests swords, Swords best Axes, and Axes best Lances. There are exceptions to this rule, such as the sword “Lancereaver” which reverses the triangle and is used for defeating lances instead of axes. Magic in Fire Emblem is different than magic in most SRPGs. Instead of characters having Magic Points and being able to attack with a wand, magic users carry books of spells that function just like weapons, but with a longer range. There also exists noncombatant characters, the bard Nils and the dancer Ninian, that can boost your party’s statistics and give them another turn.
Similar to Shining Force, characters have a level 20 ceiling until promoted — a status attainable through the use of a special item — whereupon they are given greater statistics and reset to level 1. The character also gains the ability to use a new weapon. Promoted fighters learn to use bows, while promoted mages can use healers’ staves. Also like Shining Force, the characters start gaining less experience after promotion, so it may not be wise to promote a character too early. Fire Emblem’s engine isn’t inherently difficult, except for the fact that when a character dies, they are gone from the game completely. This adds challenge which may be welcomed by some players, while causing frustration for others. Since Fire Emblem is actually the seventh game in the series, it had a link capability with the previous GBA game to give items to your new party. A way to offset this is Nintendo’s release of the Mario Kart: Double Dash bonus disc. This disc connects to your GBA copy of FE with the GBA/GC link cable and puts these items into your game. Unfortunately, this ability may be a bit too benefitting for your characters as you can create an ultimate warrior that can take almost any punishment and deal out just as much.
Fire Emblem isn’t the best SRPG this year. It’s not even the best SRPG from the past three months. However, it is still a fun game. Players who discover the same level of enjoyment will like the ability to unlock a special mode to play as Hector as the main character after defeating the game. And then there’s Hard Mode, which is a scary thought given the standard difficulty of Fire Emblem. It’s a shame that it has taken Nintendo this long to release a game from the Fire Emblem series stateside, but hopefully the sales of this installment with urge Nintendo to allow more games of the series cross the Pacific.