From a Gamer’s Basement

Ok guys, here it is. Fire Emblem for the GBA put under the Inside Pulse microscope. Next week we’ll be back to our regular scheduled content, as well as a Metroid Prime 2 review (DKC 2 is getting a slight delay here people. I mean come onâ┚¬Â¦Samus means we have to prioritize!) The entire review is exactly as I wrote it then, since I figured no real reason to change it. Looking at this review I think my writing style has come quite a ways too. And even if it hasn’t I’ll lie to myself for false self assurance. Either way I win. So, anyways, let’s get into it, and next week I’ll be back with another From a Gamer’s Basement.

Last year saw a trend that continues today in terms of tactical RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s for the Gameboy Advance. Today you can pick from; quite literally, a good half dozen of them that you will enjoy. Unfortunately, one of those was really overshadowed by a game that is in no way as enjoyable as our subject today. Indeed Fire Emblem didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t quite get all the attention it deserved due to the release of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance. I have played, and beaten, both titles, and without a doubt I can say Fire Emblem is the superior game, and one of the best tactical RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s on the GBA today, second perhaps only to Shining Force (Sidenote: That game is eating up my nights). So letâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s take a look at Fire Emblem, a game in a series that is very well known in Japan, but has just made its debut here in the States with this great GBA title.

1. Story

The plot in Fire Emblem is fun, but nothing you havenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t seen before. You play the role of a tactician who happens to fall in with the heroes of Fire Emblem: Eliwood, Hector, and Lyndis who when you boil it down are on your typical save the world campaign. Their nemesis comes in the form of the Black Fang, and organization that was once honorable, but now has darker intentions under the leadership of a man called Nergal. Nergalâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s plan involves his dominance over the world, and of course, to introduce sealed dragons that were banished many years ago. Throughout your adventures you will come into contact with a plethora of characters, all of them who join your cause do so for their own unique reasons, whether it be for revenge, loyalty, or a simple sense of doing the right thing. Everyone finds out that things as they see them are not quite what they seem. Enemies will become allies, and sometimes your enemies really arenâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t the men you should be fighting. Indeed, Fire Emblem is host to a ton of betrayal and string pulling (mostly done by Nergal). I definitely am a fan of this story, and if Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ve being vague, then I do apologize. I simply do not want to ruin this on anyone, as itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s one of the better RPG stories that we saw last year, and it deserves to go unspoiled should you choose to get this title.

Anyways, in addition to the main plot, Fire Emblem has tons of â┚¬Å”mini-plotsâ┚¬Â as I like to call them. In Fire Emblem certain characters can have support conversations with other characters by standing next to them for a certain number of turns while on the battle field. By doing this youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll get the back-story among other informational tidbits on the characters that join up with you as you progress throughout the game. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s actually a really interesting concept, and it adds depth to the people who join you, and gives you a few more insights into their motivations and pasts. So if your one of those people who hate when you simply get characters that join, and then have no explanations for their actions, etc. then this is definitely the key selling point for you. Overall, the story of Fire Emblem is not revolutionary, but it is certainly above average and I think any fan of RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s and the tactics sub-genre will be very receptive to this game and all it has to offer storyline wise.

Overall Story Score: 7/10

2. Graphics

Fire Emblem is a very nice looking game graphically. The first thing that sticks out at you are the cut scenes of Fire Emblem, all done in a Japanese anime art style. Each and every character has their own unique and detailed portrait done in the same style of art, and it really adds something to the game as you can see these characters come to life as you play the game. It is a great testament to the work that went into this game, when you consider just how many characters got this treatment. Obviously all playable characters get this treatment, but nearly every major and minor foe got their own detailed portrait as well to be shown when you are conversing with them during a battle. I definitely appreciated seeing the members of the Black Fang I was up against, and it helped keep track of all the different foes you have to defeat, and what their part in the story was. Identification by eyesight alone is definitely a plus when you are dealing with so many characters. Personally some of my favorites were Lyndis, Canas, Jafar, and any of the three female Pegasus Knights. But, while those are my favorites, trust me that every character really gets justice done in terms of their cut scene and in battle conversation art work.

The battlefield itself is unimpressive, but you have to keep it in a certain kind of context. Many of your battles, especially later on in the game, will have you taking on tons of enemy units. So almost as a matter of necessity Fire Emblemâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s battle fields are maps that have tiny sprites that take up one block representing the enemy and your characters on it. While this isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t impressive, it does add a chess-like feel to the game as you play it. By giving Fire Emblem this type of battlefield set-up it allows you an easier way to plan strategies and position your units while keeping an eye out on all enemy movement. When you actually engage an enemy unit in combat the scene shifts then and we are treated to a one on one battle scene with a picture of your character based on their job class, or whatever you want to call it. Some of them are dull, but some of them simply look bad ass. Iâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll point to Canas once he is promoted as an example of bad ass. Still itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s better then nothing, and my personal opinion is that the cut scene artwork more then makes up for the shortcomings on the battlefield.

Overall Graphics Score: 7/10

3. Sound

The sound of Fire Emblem isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t that bad, but it isnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t going to set your world ablaze either. Thankfully it is good enough to keep you into it, because some missions will take you awhile to complete due to the sheer number of turns you take, and the numbers of enemies youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll slaughter. There is a nice wide variety of music as well. The music tends to fit the scenes snugly, and it does convey the emotion that is trying to be put across through a battle or conversation. In the latter parts of the game the music gives us that somber feeling that our main characters progress through until the final victory is achieved. Overall itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s a mediocre score, but it does have its bright spots, and no noticeable weaknesses.

Overall Sound Score: 5/10

4. Controls

The controls are kept easy and simplistic, as you would expect for any GBA game. There is no complex series of button pushing required, or integral movements to do. It is very easy to move your characters to where you want them to be, and then to command them as you see fit. It was a joy to be able to have a control scheme that was so simple, yet so fluid, that at times it seemed like I wasnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t even using the controller at all. It may sound a bit odd, but you find yourself so engrossed in the battles that it almost feels like your mind and hands have divorced from one another, and yet remain in constant synchronization. To be fair, Fire Emblem is a tactics game, so honestly, if the controls were anything less than fluid than it would be a major sign of laziness on all fronts. Luckily this is not the case, and you will not find the control scheme detracting from the game play experience the Fire Emblem provides in any way, shape, or form.

Over Control Score: 7/10

5. Replayability

Fire Emblem provides some decent incentives for wanting to spend countless hours with it. Fire Emblem first offers optional side missions throughout your initial play through of the game, reliant on you fulfilling certain requirements. These side missions may offer you treasure, more experience, and even a new character depending on the side mission. In a game where there are no random encounters, these battles can be invaluable for building levels, on your way to promoting your characters to the next rank, and then leveling up some more once they are promoted. In addition to this once you complete the game you can replay it through the eyes of Hector. Playing Hectorâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s route as opposed to Eliwoodâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s offers a much harder challenge, as you face more and tougher enemies in addition to a few new characters. Also through Hectorâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s route you can obtain some characters not available in your initial run through. Adding a hard mode seems to be standard for a lot of games these days, but Fire Emblem differs by actually making it worthwhile to do it; by adding the aforementioned extra characters, etc.

However, I would like to get back to something I had mentioned earlier: the support conversations that each character can have with the other characters. There is one catch in the entire process that lends itself to replayability. In Fire Emblem each character can only have a total of 5 support conversations per game. The way the support conversation is set up, is that you can a maximum of three with one person that that character is compatible with. So say your controlling Eliwood and you want to have support conversations with Hector and Lyn. In one play through you could have three with one and two with the other, and thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s it. Normally one character could have support conversations with up to five or more characters, so doing some simple match makes you realize it is numerically impossible to get all the conversations in one, two, or even three play throughs. If you are the type of gamer who enjoys perfectionism, then this game is for you. Once you beat the game you get certain menus that open up that will keep track of all your support conversations, so eventually you can collect them all and watch them at your leisure.

Overall Replayability Score: 8/10

6. Balance

Fire Emblem is a game that is very well balanced unless you want to spend a considerable amount of time in something called the Coliseum. By removing random encounters, there is a set amount of battles available to you, and therefore a set amount of enemies to gain experience from for leveling up. The Coliseum is the only option to power levelers, and a dangerous one at that. Should a character enter a coliseum placed on a battle field the stakes are very high should you lose.

In Fire Emblem, if a character dies outside of your main three, then thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s it. They are dead, and they are not coming back. No phoenix downs, or priest resurrections. So you have to be extremely careful when trying to power level or you could end up losing a character by accident. So those who enter the Coliseum are truly playing with fire. As in any RPG certain types of enemies have advantages over certain characters. If you are trying to level up a magic user like Erk or Canas, you run the risk of running into a well built fighter or something else that can exploit their poor defenses.

However, the Coliseum is really not needed. If you play the game right, then you should be able to build a well balanced team of 20/20 promoted characters for a total of characters with the maximum of 40 levels. Unlike a game like Shining Force is pays to wait to promote your characters in Fire Emblem, as the stat bonuses from waiting and accumulating those extra levels is crucial in the latter parts of the game. Those who let only a few characters off your enemies will pay for in the end. Without a well balanced team it is very hard to beat the final battles, which even on the normal difficultly can be extremely tough. Overall, Fire Emblem has a decent amount of balance. You can level up cheaply, but at least this game doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t make it easy. And I think that is a good thing, and really makes the game that more enjoyable and challenging.

Overall Balance Score: 6/10

7. Originality

Well in terms of originality this game has a few things going for it, and a few things going against it. First off due to the sheer amount of tactical RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s being introduced these days, Fire Emblem does not provide a gaming experience that you can not find elsewhere. The plot is one that is not anything that any RPG gamer has not seen before in one incarnation or another. Despite all that though, Fire Emblem does not disappoint in terms of game play. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s just plain out fun, and that is what really counts. It does, though, still manage to sneak some original content into the mix.

I donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t want to harp on the support conversations again, but this is something many RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s do not offer, and as a result it leads to one dimensional characters that have no depth. Fire Emblem tries, and succeeds, in changing that formula by giving you the option of delving deeper into these characters. Also Fire Emblem makes great, and highly original, use of the Gameboy Player and the connectivity that you can have through a link cable with the Gamecube and GBA. If you happen to be like me, then you find yourself pre-ordering games. When Mario Kart: Double Dash came out, if you pre-ordered it you got a bonus disc when you picked up your copy. On this disc, was a special feature for Fire Emblem. By putting the disc in the Cube and connecting your GBA with the Fire Emblem cartridge in it, you were able to get special weapons that would not be available otherwise. A simple novelty like that really goes a long way with me. Nintendo went the extra mile to add some original content to this game, and it scored big time with me.

Overall Originality Score: 6/10

8. Appeal

Fire Emblem is a game that should appeal to both casual gamers and those who really dig this genre of game. What makes it appealing is that it goes the extra, and sometime annoying mile, for make sure everyone can play it. The first 10 missions you have are tutorial missions before the real deal begins, and by the end of all that you will know all you need to know. The game play is superb, and maybe itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s just me, but what doesnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t kick ass about controlling your own army of medieval warriors as your slaughter countless enemies? With that formula you really canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t go wrong. There is a reason why we are going to see a Fire Emblem cube game in the near future. This game is it. It is worth your money, and I truly doubt anyone would be disappointed with it.

Overall Appeal Score: 7/10

9. Addictiveness

Speaking from personal experience, I found it very easy to get addicted to this game. I found myself thinking about certain upcoming battles at random parts of the day, and I really couldnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t wait to get back home sometimes to beat the next battle or get my next character. My girlfriend; on the other hand, came to hate this game as she does most of the games I absolutely immerse myself in. So when I think of this category, I have a very simply formula for gauging just how badly addicted I was to this game. I simply ask her what she thought of Fire Emblem. Her response was that she didnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t know shit about it as a game, but she had come to hate it as I paid more attention to it then to her for the time it took me to complete it. Youâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll find yourself into this game more than you thought possible when you purchased it, and it definitely gives you the bang for your buck.

Overall Addictiveness Score: 6/10

10. Miscellaneous

I canâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t really say any more than I have already. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s plainly obvious I enjoyed this game, and I would give it a very high recommendation for anybody out there that enjoys tactical RPGâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s and just great gaming in general. If you donâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t own a GBA, I wouldnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t say itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s worth buying one for, but if do own a GBA then this is a game you really need to have in your collection. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s one of the GBAâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s many gems, and it promises to start a new tradition of the US gaming population getting more of the Fire Emblem series that the Japanese have enjoyed for so long now. The best part is, that since this game was released late last year, you should be able to find it used at your local gaming store for about twenty bucks. Buying this game brand new wouldnâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t be a waste of your money by any means. Getting it used and for cheaper? Thatâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s just gravy. So stop reading, and go buy it. You wonâ┚¬â”žÂ¢t be sorry.

Overall Miscellaneous Score: 6/10

The Inside Pulse:

6.5 here at Inside Pulse is above average, and borderline must-have. I think that sums this game up perfectly. There are no true weak spots in the GBA edition of Fire Emblem, making this game one of the most well-rounded I have played in recent memory. Fire Emblem makes a great addition to any gamerâ┚¬â”žÂ¢s collection, and showcases just why the GBA is; in my opinion, the best system out there as it is just one more great game waiting for you to play in its library. Do yourself a favor and give this one a try. Itâ┚¬â”žÂ¢ll be worth the time and money spent.

Final Score: 6.5