(Game Boy Advance)

Fire Emblem (Game Boy Advance)

Game Review

Fire Emblem Review

Europe PAL Version

Posted by Laurie Blake

Will this get our seal of approval?

Released on the Famicom in 1990, the Japan-only Fire Emblem was a slice of strategy role playing heaven, but despite building up a loyal army of followers in its native Japan the series didn’t make it over to the Western world until Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance took up the sword in 2003. By this time the series' staple mechanics had been sharpened to a fine point, and the title, released simply as Fire Emblem, will surely make players wonder why it took so long to journey across the pond.

Fire Emblem is a turns-based strategy game with an RPG flavour, in which battles are fought on top down grid-based maps. It’s kind of like chess but far more dramatic, because each skirmish is tied together by an epic story of medieval heroics in the face of great adversity.

A typical battle has you moving your characters around the map and engaging enemy forces. Conflicts are won in a variety of ways such as defeating all the enemy troops, surviving a set number of turns, seizing a location or laying the enemy general to waste. Doing battle with an enemy soldier is as simple as moving your units into the square next to them on the grid, selecting a weapon and watching the conflict play out in brilliantly animated fight scenes. There are three main types of weapons – swords, axes and lances – organised like an exceedingly pointy game of rock, paper, scissors, where each death-dealing implement is strong against one but weak to the other. For instance, a sword will often best an axe, scoring two strikes instead of one and having a higher chance of hitting. Don’t take the system for granted, though, as there are weapons which buck the trend, like the Sword Reaver axe that effectively reverses the triangle. There is a similar system of magic with light, dark and elemental variations for Mages to wield. Toss in the ranged attacks from bows, plus the fact that many classes can wield multiple weapon types, and you’ve got a lot to take into account when sizing up the opposition.

While there are a lot of decisions to make and stats to juggle, the whole system will become second nature by the end of the tutorial battles. Once you’ve got a firm grasp on the basics, the tactical depth is blown wide open; you’ll soon find yourself baiting enemies by plonking your stronger units within their movement range and counter-attacking with the full force of your army as your next turn rolls around. Further strategy comes with the ability to pick up other units, thus removing them from harm's way – using a physically weak soldier to whittle down an enemy boss and then rescuing them before the enemy can retaliate is a gamble with a big return, should you pull it off.

Throughout the thirty-odd chapters, you will lead your forces across grassy plains, into castles and traverse cracked pathways surrounded by lava pits, and the environment can play a big part in the outcome of battles. Different terrain can limit the movement range of your characters; for instance, mounted units like Paladins can roam over large distances on flat terrain, but their steeds are slowed when moving through forests and cannot traverse mountains at all. Using the trees as cover lowers the chance of your enemy hitting, and having your units rest on a fort will see them recover some of their health at the end of the turn. In some battles, walls can be destroyed and bridges can be built, opening new routes and flanking possibilities.

Each chapter is centred on one battle and gives further exposition to the overarching story. You are cast as a wandering tactician who joins up with one of three lords; your role then becomes that of omnipresent general overseeing all the battlefield goings-on. The continent of Elibe is in great turmoil, and it’s your job to sort it out: the dark druid Nergal and the Black Fang, his crew of deadly warriors, are waging war on the land in an attempt to open up the Dragon’s Gate. This seal separates the fiery wrath of the immensely powerful dragons from the world of humans.

The main narrative thrust is told from the perspectives of Eliwood, Hector and Lyndis. Lyndis’s story comprises the first ten chapters in which you learn the ropes, and sees the green-haired warrior princess discovering her royal heritage and reclaiming the throne of Caelin. Eliwood’s tale follows on from Lyn's and makes up the next twenty chapters putting the young Lord on the trail of his missing father, the Marquess of Pherae, a quest which sees him lock horns with the Black Fang and the fate of Elibe come to rest on his shoulders. Hector’s campaign tells of Eliwood’s quest from a different angle, with a few new battles and narrative segments; each character's tale can be selected separately upon starting a new game, but to get the full story you have to play them all.

The story is told mainly through the use of text boxes and anime style character portraits bolstered by the occasional painted image at particularly dramatic moments. Wading through the text can take a fair amount of time, but the story beats and art style will really help to draw you into the game’s sense of character. While the scripting can be hit or miss and often errs on the side of melodrama, Fire Emblem has a strong grasp of character, and everyone that you meet has a distinct personality. The great characterisation means that you’ll have some tough choices when picking your ten or so squad members from the game’s forty unique characters.

Fire Emblem drives home the relationship between player and character with perhaps its biggest quirk: permanent character death. Should one of your units fall in battle, that’s it – you can never use them again. There are no revival spells, just a short deathbed monologue and then the spark goes out. Obviously you can carry on without units, but losing somebody you’ve grown attached to is enough to have you reaching for the reset button, even if it means tackling a one hour battle again. Should any of your Lords come a cropper to the slings and arrows of the enemies then it’s game over: the war is lost.

Losing units is particularly tough when you’ve put time and effort into raising their unique stats. Each unit falls into a certain class, like Archer, Pirate or Mage; as characters defeat enemies they gain experience and will eventually level up with a short fanfare and the obligatory stat boost. Certain characters over level ten can even change class by using items found in treasure chests during battles. Working on transforming a Thief from a relatively weak support character into an ultra-deadly Assassin with a ludicrously high critical hit rate is the ultimate reward for persistent training. More units will join your team as you progress, but you’ll often have to talk to them mid-battle with a specific ally to gain their trust – this can be dangerous as some of the strongest units are fighting on the opposite side and have no qualms in making mincemeat out of your weaker units.

Putting together a balanced team comprising multiple classes is a skill unto itself as all-out attack isn’t always an option. It takes a good tactician to know when to deploy Bishops wielding healing magic staves or use the hit and run tactics reserved for Pegasus Knights and Wyvern Riders. Every class has its own unique tactical advantages, and effectively combining them all is essential to victory. Balancing all your equipment and items is another necessary evil; weapons have a limited number of uses before they break, so keeping your characters well-stocked is a must. This can be done prior to battle when selecting units and formation – trading items between characters and the convoy of armaments is simple. New weapons can be bought in shops on the battle map or gained from defeating enemies, but characters can only carry a limited number of items at once so you’re constantly micromanaging ahead of tough skirmishes.

Fire Emblem has a charming graphical style that is well suited to the system; the simple grid map gives way to some wonderfully animated battle sequences that make combat incredibly engaging. Critical hits especially show off the sprite work with twirling blades, charging horses and explosions of colour. The music plays along with the medieval theme, always reflecting the mood of the story and intensity of the battle. Some catchy tunes crop up here and there, but generally the music suits the action.

Fire Emblem is a long game, and battles can last anywhere up to an hour to complete, especially if you’re trying to win with all your units intact. Luckily, it includes the ability to suspend play at any time, returning you to that point in the battle with a click of the resume button. This also means that you can’t just shut the game off if a unit dies, as it will just load up at that very point, forcing you to watch the moment again and again. If you can soldier on without them then good for you, but if not you’ll have to restart the chapter, making Fire Emblem one of the toughest games for those with a sentimental streak.

Conclusion

Budding tacticians will lap up every second of Fire Emblem’s whopping campaign – the charming graphics and satisfying gameplay will draw many in, while the expansive story and sheer number of strategic options will have people obsessing over it come bedtime. Watching a favoured unit dodge a lethal blow is a heart-pounding moment that most other strategy games can’t replicate – there’s nothing like it, and it’s just one of the many reasons why many gamers will carry a torch for Fire Emblem.

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User Comments (45)

AVahne

#1

AVahne said:

I would give it a 10, but awesome review!
My favorite series of all time!

CanisWolfred

#3

CanisWolfred said:

My least favorite entry in my least favorite series of SRPGs. The tutorial in that game lasts far too long and there's too much mid-battle dialogue.

Mr_Video

#4

Mr_Video said:

I borrowed this Game from a friend once it was Awesome the story was Great and was so fun I replayed it imediatly .Man I wish I could play it again.

Jazzem

#6

Jazzem said:

I got this years after it came out, well into the DS era and it still blew me away. Wonderful game, the strategy is sound and very involving and the presentation just enhances the drama and sense of fun. I've only played this and Shadow Dragon on DS (which I enjoy but feel is a step down from FE-GBA, mostly fort he presentation), but this is certainly one of Nintendo's more fascinating franchises.

I think the review was spot on with the script as well, the story isn't too memorable but the characters are very distinctive and memorable, and have pretty well written dialogue. It's always a bonus when those weird talky bits in-between gameplay are actually enjoyable :)

Shame it's hard to get a copy for a decent price though. I was very fortunate to get a spare copy for free from someone I knew off a forum, and a friend of his got me Sacred Stones for £7, but still...what is it with old RPGs that get them to fetch such prices? :/

SMEXIZELDAMAN

#7

SMEXIZELDAMAN said:

YES AWESOME! Finally a review! I personally rate this game 10/10 but that's just my blinding love for it showing through. This. game. is. AWESOME!
Woa was i lucky then getting this for 18$ and Sacred Stoens for free? :o

Saber

#8

Saber said:

I love Fire Emblem! Ive imported all the titles from Japan XD

CanisWolfred

#9

CanisWolfred said:

@Jazzem

Shadow Dragon is a step down from FE7 on the GBA, because SD is a remake of FE1 on the Famicom. It's an old game. Just wanted to let you know.

WaLzgiStaff

#11

WaLzgi said:

What the crap? There are multiple copies of the same images. For shame :P

IAmNotWill

#13

IAmNotWill said:

I love this game. One of the few RPGs I've ever enjoyed. The review and the score seem about right. I still need to try the rest of the series.

The_Fox

#14

The_Fox said:

Problem with the Fire Emblem series is that it never really changes or evolves. At all.

EdEN

#15

EdEN said:

Own all US released Fire Emblem games (portable and console releases) and I look forward to what the series will bring to the 3DS.

Spoony_Tech

#17

Spoony_Tech said:

One of the best advanced games to date and would play it again if it has a remake for the 3ds.

LordJumpMad

#18

LordJumpMad said:

I havn't try this FE game.

Maybe I should Go to my loco GameStop and pick it up. ;)

Be sensible, please - Mod team

Drewciffer

#21

Drewciffer said:

This is my all time favourite game. opened me up to every other fantasy themed game from the obvious Final Fantasy to Golden Sun and even Zelda (yes id never played a Zelda game until after Fire Emblem!).

Totally deserves a ten.!!!

Neo_Yor

#24

Neo_Yor said:

@22
This was my first FE, got it after an impulsive buy that I'll never regret =)

One thing that I noted is that in the review doesn't mention that the FE series was made known to outside Japan thanks to Smash Bros Melee. Nobody knew who was Marth and Roy, (but they looked bad =P ) and everybody wanted to know more.

MeloMan

#25

MeloMan said:

I had waited for years to play this after hearing of it in Japan for so long and this was my first FE... not a decision I regretted. I hyped my friend up about it back then, and now, he's more into the series than I am. It's great to be a gamer...

GamerZack87

#26

GamerZack87 said:

@V8 Ninja: That's exactly what I was thinking!

I've wanted to try this for some time...sadly I've not had the chance.

Ravage

#27

Ravage said:

I remember really wanting this game back in the day; just like a dozen other games that I never got.

Olorin

#28

Olorin said:

Great review, and one of my favorite games ever.
There's one small mistake: "For instance, a sword will often best an axe, scoring two strikes instead of one and having a higher chance of hitting"
Hitting twice is not due to the weapons triangle, but relies on the character's speed and weight of the weapon. A fast axe user can still score two strikes against a slow sword user.

@The Fox: Compare Fire Emblem (GBA) to Radiant Dawn and you'll still see quite a few differences. On the Wii, you're able to shove people, mounted units can move, attack and move again, shopping is done between levels, there's a third class upgrade, terrain height comes into play, all characters have biorythms, the support system works differently, there are bronze items, characters have skills. Quite a lot of small changes and enhancements actually.

Big_A2

#29

Big_A2 said:

The only FE game I've played is the DS remake of the original, which I really liked, but I don't think I've played it almost a year after beating it...

Golgo

#30

Golgo said:

Afer Advance Wars, these games just feel bloated to me. The idea of having to preserve the lives of any number of dreary, over-talkative characters just got in way of the strategy, I thought. I was well glad when they useless pegasus girl bought it!

Expa0

#31

Expa0 said:

Some of the pics are for Fire Emblem Sacred Stones (or whatever it was called)

Robo-goose

#33

Robo-goose said:

I keep this game (and all the other FE games) in a gold-lined, ruby-studded, ebony chest, because that is the only container suitable for these games.
Also, if you stray to far from the series's core gameplay mechanics, then the game won't be a Fire Emblem game. It will be a Tearring Saga game.

@Olorin
Thank you.

CanisWolfred

#34

CanisWolfred said:

@Robo-Goose

True, and I think only non-fans would complain about the lck of evolution. Still, they've messed with it in the past, so why not do it again? I wanna see another FEDA and Fire Emblem Gaiden.:(

komicturtle

#38

komicturtle said:

Never got into Fire Emblem.

Matter of fact, I prefer Advance Wars over it.

Oh, and I hate Ike. Marth FTW!

Bassman_Q

#39

Bassman_Q said:

@22- Indeed, this was my first FE game. I enjoyed this game a lot, but I have VERY fond memories with the next FE game, Sacred Stones.

BTW, are you NL reviewers gonna review Sacred Stones? Cuz that is one of my top favorite GBA games of all time.

And to those complaining about how the series doesn't evolve: To be honest, Fire Emblem is one of those series that doesn't NEED to evolve to be better than its predecessors. They just need to add new character classes, create a new plotline and new characters, and it's a new game. And you know what? It actually works. The formula works really well, and as long as the story is engaging and the characters are memorable enough to keep alive, then there really is no need to to mix things up.

Other series like Zelda or Mario, on the other hand, DO need some changes to make them great, and luckily the latter has been doing that quite frequently.

Sam_Loser2

#42

Sam_Loser2 said:

This is the only US Fire Emblem I've yet to play. I've beaten all the others besides Sacred Stones (I was two chapters away before I lost it. TWO CHAPTERS!) This is my favorite series and there is nothing I would like to see more than a 3DS Fire Emblem. (Just because I'd like to brag: I beat the last chapter of Shadow Dragon in 3 turns :))

SyFyTy

#43

SyFyTy said:

I would like to see this made into a 3d classic like Excite bike & Kirby. Wouldn't hurt to do both the GBA Advance Wars series that way too. Also, I have those 4 almost permanently glued into my GB Micro so I have portable Postage Stamp sized strategy on the Go. What I wouldn't give for the two DSi versions to be made for the Micro too. I can dream can't I?

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