Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Developed by: Intelligent Systems Published by: Nintendo ESRB Rating: T for Fantasy Violence For: Nintendo GameCube
great fantasy setting, good plot, memorable characters penned with nice artistry, promotes good values
some unforgiving elements combat-wise, a couple more chapters would have been nice, some questionable religious elements The Fire Emblem series is a long-standing tradition in Japan that has only recently made its way over to the United States, courtesy of two games on the Game Boy Advance. Path of Radiance marks the first domestic debut of a home console version of the series, representing a solid evolution over the handheld and a worthwhile addition to the GameCube library.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance (PoR) is a strategy RPG, similar to the likes of Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, Phantom Brave, or Gladius. PoR stretches across approximately 30 or so chapters and will take the average gamer between 30 and 35 hours all told. The game is by and large linear, although the storytelling is done in such a fashion that it does not feel confining as such. The first few chapters serve as a brief tutorial of sorts, and after that the meat of the game begins. Each chapter (after the tutorial chapters) begins with various cutscenes and a “base” menu where the player can do all of the requisite RPG fare – buy, sell, or craft equipment, interact with characters, and view other important information.
Character interaction, while generally optional, represents some of the more interesting points in the game, as it allows for serious character development among the multitude of characters in the game. Combat plays out in various locations, ranging from dungeons to mountains, each demarcated with a movement grid. Action is turn-based and switches back and forth between player and enemy turns. Each character can move and attack/spellcast once in each given round and is awarded experience points for successful attacks or spells. RPG fans will be pleased to know that Fire Emblem features the standard experience-level-up system and corresponding stat boosting for said levels, in addition to the boosts given by various armor and accessories. Geographic features like elevation and foliage can offer various bonuses or penalties to defense and movement, although those advantages do not play themselves out as drastically as in some other SRPGs. Combat, though, is generally interesting, with a lot of foresight and strategy required.
The AI is no slouch and will go gang up on your weaker units if you are not careful. There are a couple of annoyances, though. For one, the Fire Emblem series is famous – or perhaps infamous – for the fact that any character that is killed on the battlefield is gone FOR THE REST OF THE GAME. (Major characters may still reappear in cut scenes but will be unavailable for combat.) Perfectionists like this reviewer are liable to find themselves hitting the reset button in frustration, but this convention does force the player to be very deliberate and careful in choosing where to position weaker troops.
What’s more, the game’s excellent character development leads to attachment to the characters; you want to know how they turn out so you will loathe to watch them die. This problem, in turn, leads to another; namely, character balance. Because death is so final in PoR, gamers are likely to avoid sending characters with lower defense out on the battlefield at all, eschewing spell casters and infantry for the mounted units and metamorph units (called laguz) that move faster and are much harder to kill. This diminishes some of the game’s potential variety. That being said, Fire Emblem works on a game play level because for each time you hit the reset button you will find yourself headed back to the battlefield to right the wrongs of the previous try. The story holds up well enough – and the characters are endearing enough – that the game makes you want to see how it all ends.
The most notable graphics comes in the form of a few CG movies scattered across the game. These cut scenes are gorgeous, representing some of the best looking media currently available on the Cube. Expect between five and ten minutes of them in total. The game’s other cut scenes, however, feature no real animation at all, instead opting for two-dimensional anime pictures superimposed over a background. They certainly are not hardware pushing scenes, but they do feature some nicely-drawn portraits of the game’s characters, all of which look colorful and distinctive. The artwork for the game is generally very solid and adds to the personality of the various cast of characters. What’s more, as characters change “class” later in the game they adopt new looks, many of which are very compelling. The combat graphics engine in PoR won’t win any awards, but it is adequate for the system and features some good artistry. Environments are generally decent and character models are good. The combat engine changes to a close-up shot of the participants whenever one character attacks another (this feature can be disabled) and shows a side-view angle of the action. These close-up scenes are generally well-modeled but are also a little awkward and stiff. As a whole, the combat engine isn’t a knockout but it doesn’t seriously detract from the experience either.
The soundtrack for Path of Radiance is synth orchestra, and for the most part it feels epic, blending medieval-themed tracks, Celtic-like movements, and triumphant anthems. The music changes during one-on-one combat and those pieces, in addition to being appropriately tense, are also quite useful as they can clue you in to your relative strength to an opponent. Characters who are seriously overmatched will hear different music than those who are stronger than their adversary. Boss tracks are also distinctive and tense and add gravitas to such encounters. Unfortunately, there is no voice work in the game at all outside of the CG scenes. (The voice work in the CG scenes is generally good.) Instead, most of the game takes the approach Paper Mario did where characters are “voiced” with staccato beeps. One cannot shake the feeling that, once again, the limited media space of the Cube disc precluded serious voice work. On a semi-related note, the dialogue localization is quite good and is easy to follow.
The game’s controls are intuitive and easy-to-use, with various options available for mapping out the range and effectiveness of friendly and enemy characters. The menu systems are well-mapped and are easy to follow, and the game allows a solid amount of customization.
As one would expect from a Nintendo-published title, the game runs smoothly and without any noticeable bugs.
Violence: RPG Violence (This is where you enter a command and watch it happen Ex. Final Fantasy) (-3 pts) No Blood (-0 pts) No Gore (-0 pts) As the ESRB rating suggests, there is a good amount of fantasy violence in the game, amplified by the permanence of death. Characters who die, however, simply fall to the ground and dematerialize, and there is no blood or gore. Language: No Foul Language (-0 pts) No sexual dialogue. (-0 pts) True to most Nintendo games, there is no foul language in the game. There are some hints of romance in the plot but there is no sexual dialogue. Occult Themes: Game takes place in an environment with minor occult references. (-3 pts) Fairy tale type magic is used in game by player. (-1.5 pts) Fantasy RPGs are notoriously difficult to rate in this particular category, and this game is no exception. Path of Radiance clearly plays out in an alternate world with its various history and races, and for the most part the magic in PoR shares little in common with anything we could classify as “occult.” Still, there are a few areas of concern, including 1) dark arts that lead to corruption and involuntary madness and 2) the presence of a pentagram-shaped item called the “occult” which provides skill enhancements to your players. Sexuality: No Nudity (-0 pts) There is no nudity in PoR, and the game avoids the silly trend of scantily-clad female warriors. The characters in the game are properly-clothed and, while distinctively masculine and feminine, are modestly-attired… as one would expect for the battlefield. Moral/Ethical Issues: No authority issues involved with this game. (-0 pts) No prejudicial bias in the game. (-0 pts) No gross humor in the game. (-0 pts) Good value decision making is required to progress in the game. (-0 pts) Path of Radiance generally promotes good moral values, including hard work, loyalty to family and friends, and a sense of justice. The plight of the innocent is highlighted in the game – and even elaborated upon within the complexities of war – and the issue of racism is dealt with head-on throughout the game. Path of Radiance is full of good moral lessons and espouses the importance of the fight against all that is evil.
GameCube RPGers owe a lot to Namco (Tales of Symphonia, Baten Kaitos) and Intelligent Systems (Paper Mario, Fire Emblem) for helping provide the console with its best RPGs. The latter has done another workmanlike job here, producing a deep and engaging game that is worth a purchase if you like strategy RPGs. Further, Christians who are looking for a relatively clean affair can delve into this one without too much apprehension.