A brief visit with Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

Or FERD for short.

Or "FERD" for short.

I’ve never been a big fan of the Fire Emblem series. Something about the universe has always kept me at arm’s length. Maybe it’s the character perma-death. Maybe it’s the rapid deterioration of weapons. Maybe it’s the very generic-seeming fantasy world. Whatever the cause, the fact remains that the most time I’ve ever spent with its characters was playing Roy and Marth in Super Smash Bros. Melee for the GameCube.

Still, I’m a big fan of strategy/tactical RPG’s. Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force, Front Mission… these are all games that occupy a special place in my heart. So many months ago, when I saw that it was getting reviewed fairly well, I placed Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn in my GameFly queue and promptly forgot about it. After all, games that I actually want to play on the Wii have been scarce since Super Mario Galaxy.

Unfortunately, GameFly’s system is so fickle that I was reminded in a hurry last week — when the company decided to skip over Ghostbusters (360), Ghostbusters (PS3), Prototype (PS3), Prototype (360), Tales of Vesperia, Crackdown, Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction, King of Fighters XII, and Knights in the Nightmare, and go straight for the bottom of my list.

As it turns out, there’s a reason why it was near the bottom of my queue — I only played it for about a half-hour before putting it back in my mailbox. It’s not a terrible game, but I don’t really have the patience for anything less than “great” at the moment. I did take notes along the way, though. So let’s get to it.

Tue 08/25 11:48:20 PM Opening cutscene is pretty damned stylish, with gorgeous characters.  Only… it’s a Wii game, so it’s in no way going to be representative of the actual graphics.

Maybe this isn’t a fair criticism to make anymore. After all, the difference between pre-rendered movies and in-game assets used to be huge, and no one complained. But in this day and age, when the other current-gen systems are able to pull off in-engine cutscenes that look almost as good as what Fire Emblem does here in their opening FMV, it’s hard to not be a little let down.

So what’s the solution here? Is there even a problem? I mean, you can guarantee that there will be FMV in Final Fantasy XIII that will look even better than the in-game graphics, which are bound to be among the best in the business when that game is released next year… and I probably won’t bat an eyelash. So I should probably back off, and stop criticizing cool cutscenes.

Tue 08/25 11:48:56 PM And sure enough, the full-body character portraits once the game starts are completely ordinary.  Why won’t more companies use concept artists like the Magna Carta guy?

Not that Hyung Tae-Kim is perfect or anything. His characters have anatomy that is even more questionable than that drawn by modern comic book artists. But I’ll be damned if it doesn’t look damn good anyway.

Maybe I’m just burned out on anime-style character portraits after playing so much Persona 4, Persona 3, Devil Survivor, and so on. Or maybe the bar was set too high by those character designs.

Tue 08/25 11:50:00 PM “Edward, you know that’s not how it works. I foresee some things, but I don’t get to choose what I see.”  I know you have to have some exposition in situations like this, but we’re literally three lines into the game.  You probably should have let this one breathe a bit.

Especially since I immediately forgot about her “foresight” once the fight starts. A proper scene detailing her power(s) in a non-combat context would probably have worked better here.

(Of course, there probably was one at some point – I just didn’t stick around to see it.)

Tue 08/25 11:50:34 PM Within 60 seconds of the game starting, we’ve got “bandits” and the “Imperial Occupation Army”.  I don’t know if I can do this.

Although at least they really sell it. It’s not just “yeah, we’re near a mountain, so there’s bandits”. A townsperson and her child actually give an explanation that’s interesting, even if it does ladle on the exposition even more thickly.

Tue 08/25 11:51:34 PM Wow, this is certainly old-school.  A rigid X/Y grid and everything.

It is possible to rotate the camera in 45-degree increments, but I felt like I should let Fire Emblem be Fire Emblem, and let Final Fantasy Tactics be… much, much better.

Tue 08/25 11:52:12 PM I’m going to put down $10 right now on that companion bird turning into a phoenix at some point.  Just sayin’.

I would have lost that bet, although I feel like I should only have to pay up a fiver after seeing what the bird actually is. (spoilers, of course)

Tue 08/25 11:53:45 PM Ugh, now I remember why I don’t play Wii games that often.  The controls at the bottom of the screen: “2: Move / B + 2: Next Unit / B + 1: Status / A: Map Menu / +: Conditions”.  Which ones are B and 1 again?  I wonder if Intelligent Systems (or whoever developed this game) must be itching to develop for a console with normal controls.

It turns out that I did get the developer right, which I’m kind of surprised by — it can be hard to keep track of the second-party developers in Japan sometimes.

And maybe it’s unfair to pick on the Wii controls — after all, it’s hard to argue with over fifty million systems sold. But for a game like this which uses no motion controls, it can be a little confusing to figure out what means what. Hell, even in a game that does use the motion controls, it’s still confusing.

Tue 08/25 11:55:53 PM Wow, the combat is very Shining Force-y.  I guess I’ve never really been up on the Fire Emblem mechanics, but that seems new.

Tue 08/25 11:56:11 PM Speaking of which, Shining Force III was awesome.  :)

Maybe I’m blinded by nostalgia, but I remember Shining Force III as being one of the most underrated games of the 32-bit era. It didn’t help that the upcoming Dreamcast snuffed out the Saturn’s life before its time. I still need to play the second and third “episodes” of SFIII, which were sadly never released domestically. The idea of playing the same general story from three different perspectives is still appealing.

Tue 08/25 11:58:38 PM Nice touch there, having the SILVER-HAIRED MAIDEN talking in another language that the bandit doesn’t realize is a spell.  The language had its own script, too.  I feel like the localization is going to outpace everything else in this game.

Wed 08/26 12:01:51 AM Just so you don’t think I’m nothing but a sourpuss about these liveblogs, I’ll say that there is a way to do this kind of game very well: Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3.  Unfortunately, that game has so many cutscenes, and the fights are so difficult, that I’ve had trouble making it through.

I should probably just buy it and finish it, since I think I got about 40% of the way through the game before moving on to something else. I just love the art style and universe.

Wed 08/26 12:03:08 AM “A little bird told me.  Yours, in fact.  *tweet*”  Did you not think we knew what you meant?  Also, the bird tweeting reminded me of inappropriate VO from other games, like Bart inexplicably having VO for yelling “Jerk!” at Rasmus in a boss fight.  Just weird.

I am, of course, referring to another underrated classic of the 32-bit era, Square’s Xenogears. Although maybe “underrated” isn’t the right word, since the game was critically acclaimed. Maybe “underappreciated” would be better. The game is certainly not without its faults — its regrettable pseudo-sequels chief among them — but in my book, it stands with Final Fantasy IX and Chrono Cross as one of the best RPG’s of its time.

Wed 08/26 12:05:26 AM Ah, but that’s a REALLY nice feature, being able to “click” on an enemy and have their attack/move range stay up on the screen after you move the cursor away.  I love it!

Wed 08/26 12:08:22 AM Ha!  I know I was playing with fire there by having the main character go after the boss with half health, but having the GAME END on the FIRST FIGHT when ONLY ONE of my characters gets killed is a shelf level event for me.  Sorry, Fire Emblem.  I’ve got many, many better games that I could be playing.

And that’s it for Fire Emblem. To be honest, I don’t think I necessarily gave it a fair shake. But my time is limited these days. I have enough good titles in my to-play list that I don’t want to waste it replaying the initial mission of a years-old Wii game. Or, for that matter, a years-old 360 game, which is coming up next on this blog. See you soon, faithful readers.

1 comment to A brief visit with Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

  • Ceric

    Games in the Fire Emblem series are those kind of games I’ve heard good things about and really want to like but have a hard time actually enjoying. I think the perma-death thing combined with the rock-paper-scissors combat kinda killed it for me.

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