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Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Fire Emblem returns to a home console, after nearly ten years and three portable appearances … Back in style?

As usual, the dozens of missions that make up the playful experience in Fire Emblem are linked by a common thread that materializes in a plot of excellent workmanship. A key element of the saga has always been the maniacal and excellent characterization of the characters: a little lacking in the however exceptional The Sacred Stones (where the protagonists were really too perfect to be totally appreciated, unlike the unforgettable Eliwood, Hector and Lynn of the prequel or of the historians Roy and Marth already mentioned), in Path of Radiance it is instead an element of extreme importance, around which the plot itself revolves. At the center of the story there is in fact a war: the kingdom of Daein invades and practically razes the kingdom of Crimea to the ground, and in this sudden and unjustified battle a group of mercenaries is involved, and not even to say one of these – as well as a son of their commander – is our protagonist, Ike. Ike’s growth is a bit at the center of the narrative, as at the beginning of the game our hero is just a rookie, a novice soldier inexperienced and reckless, but in the end we will find ourselves taking the side of a brave leader. destined to fight for the salvation of the world. On the other hand, to make a plot that in itself does not spare as many unexpected twists as it is, there is also the presence of a strong moral component, given that the greatest threat looming over the world of this Fire In fact, racism is emblematic, as we will find ourselves dealing with two factions: the Beorc on one side, that is the very normal human beings, and the Laguz on the other, so called because of their werewolf ability to transform into beasts. With a conflict between two races dictated more by ignorance and prejudice and a handful of heroes who will have to join forces for the common good by trampling hatred for the different, it is clear that the simple war motive is nothing more than a piece of a much broader and more compelling narrative mosaic.

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From 16 to 32 bits, and now on GameCube, not much has changed: Fire Emblem always plays the same way, at least initially. Once again, the very simple Triangle System is the master, which relating to weapons and magic works more or less like a sort of Chinese morra, practically managing the strategic heart of the game. Spears defeat swords, swords destroy axes, axes break spears: just remember this simple rule to have the game in hand. The same goes for spells: elemental spells outweigh divine magic, divine magic sweeps away the dark one which, in turn, overwhelms the magic of the elements. Obviously, the classic exceptions that confirm the rule apply, as in the case of long-range weapons (such as bows) or enchanted ones to be more effective even against weapons that, normally, should be stronger. However, this is the essence of Fire Emblem: a very simple Chinese morra that allows for an enormous tactical variety, and which, thanks to the excellent design of the various missions, demonstrates an unexpected depth. To this are added some innovations that, although they do not innovate in a transcendental way a proven mechanic even if a little trite, increase the strategic possibilities of this Path of Radiance, one above all the “push” that can be carried out on allied units or adjacent to one of its own, moving them by one square: this, which at first glance seems very banal, is actually an addition that takes on crucial contours if used with judgment and attention.

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This is the essence of Fire Emblem: a very simple Chinese morra that allows for an enormous tactical variety, and which, thanks to the excellent design of the various missions, demonstrates an unexpected depth.

Even the “promotions” system has undergone some interesting changes: not only can each class now evolve into various types (as in The Sacred Stones), but now at the twentieth level – that is the maximum – all units will be automatically promoted, while in previous episodes it was necessary to use specific objects. Furthermore, precisely this variety of items necessary for the promotion has been supplanted by a single object, which once used on a class from level 10 onwards, will allow its evolution: considering that the starting statistics of the new class are based on those of the unit at the time of promotion, it should be considered when it will be appropriate to proceed. In other words: Promote now and get a new unit, or wait and work to get it even more powerful?
Another novelty, in a certain sense much more interesting, concerns the Laguz: some units in the player’s small army are in fact able to transform into animal creatures, increasing their abilities which, in humanoid form, are somewhat reduced. The transformation is temporary, so the Laguz must be used wisely, in order not to leave them, harmless, at the mercy of fierce enemies. This is because, as in the other Fire Emblems, also in Path of Radiance the characteristic “cross and delight” of the saga is re-proposed: a unit lost in combat, it is forever. There are no resurrection or Phoenix Down spells whatsoever: if a character dies, they die. And the automatic save that records each turn is always there: it is therefore not possible to save the game when you want, to reload the file before a crisis. If you lose a unit on a mission, the only alternative is to start it all over again. This system drastically encourages the player’s strategic skills, forcing him to plan his moves with a granitic tactic, perhaps repeating a mission over and over again; but on the other hand some players may find it a frustrating and off-putting feature. Lovers of the series may also be used to it by now, but it must be said that this choice of Intelligent System begins to seem more like a method to lengthen the game, than a precise choice of game-design.

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The introduction into computer graphics must not deceive the player: unfortunately, very few similar films during the game are seen. We are talking about a film of sensational quality that starts the adventure, and that lets itself be regretted by the way it will be narrated later: as in the old episodes for NES and SNES and as in the case of the three chapters for the Game Boy Advance, also in Path of Radiance the story is told mainly through the dialogues between the characters. Completely textual, without any actor reciting the lines of the dozens of characters that make up the cast, the plot of Path of Radiance unfolds in excellent English, at times highly sought after and able to further characterize the various characters. This means that some might find it boring to read text after text, accompanied only by the artwork of the characters they are discussing, but c’est la vie. Among other things, the character design is, as always, splendidly Japanese and refined. As for the actual game, the missions take place in completely three-dimensional maps rich in details and well built: the spartan settings of the past leave room for these new polygonal locations, in which the player’s and opposing units move. Also polygonal, the various characters are composed of a good number of polygons, and enjoy a good variety of animations; however, when two units are about to fight the screen changes, and a quick loading throws us onto the battlefield, where the two characters involved will face off showing excellent animations and a very high search for detail. Something has actually been lost in the transition from splendid two-dimensional graphics to this cold 3D, but its spectacularity does not make it regret.
Even the soundtrack does not disappoint: the series has always been synonymous with guarantee from a musical point of view, and Path of Radiance offers in turn a rich variety of soundtracks that accompany the action perfectly, underlining the emotionality of the various sequences. Apart from the lack of the classic main fanfare of the saga (which can actually be glimpsed here and there, remixed properly) there is not even a drop in tone in the splendid sound sector, made up not only of beautiful orchestral pieces, but also of manicured sound effects.

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Paradoxically, the return of Fire Emblem to home consoles coincides with the decline of the Game Cube. Never mind, the ingenuity and capacity of the Intelligent Systems stands out more than ever in this umpteenth masterpiece, halfway between a strategic and a J-RPG. An exceptional adventure experienced by beautifully characterized characters is the background to a game system that in its simplicity is a small monument to what is possible starting from the simplest of ideas. The innovations introduced in this chapter (the Laguz and the push, above all) are perhaps not something striking, but they do justice to this cubic version of Fire Emblem, together with an excellent technical realization that however, perhaps from the point of view chart, could have given a little more. Regret for the absence of speech and for the return of the infamous automatic save, for the rest there is very little to say: inevitable in the playrooms of fans of the genre.

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7 years have passed since the release of the last Fire Emblem for living room consoles: after that Thracia 776 for SNES, in fact, it took half a decade before Nintendo decided to produce a new episode of its most famous fantasy saga, and what’s more on the Game Boy Advance laptop. With the popularity achieved thanks to the presence in Super Smash Bros. DX of two well-known protagonists of the saga (Roy and Marth), it was even possible to see the last two episodes for Game Boy Advance translated into excellent English, and so in the last two years also Europe got to know one of the most beautiful videogame series ever made. It is therefore almost an honor to be able to play a new Fire Emblem for the living room, this time produced for Game Cube: behind it, always the now consecrated skill of Intelligent System, already creator not only of the various Fire Emblems (including the latest Advance versions, or Fire Emblem and Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones) but also of another mini-saga of strategically excellent workmanship: Advance Wars.