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Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Review

Developer: Intelligent Systems Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: October 17, 2005 Also On: None

Throughout these past few years, the Nintendo Gamecube has been…forgotten. Having very few major release titles since roughly 2003, it has been second to Xbox’s graphically stunning FPS’s, and PS2’s line up of epic RPG’s. It makes me sad as a gamer to know that arguably video gaming’s greatest dynasty has been bested by a system that has been out a mere few years. However, even during its steep decline, once a blue moon, the Gamecube will deliver a game that bedazzles the minds of gamers everywhere. Well, on October 17th, there was a blue moon and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was released.

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Path of Radiance puts you in the place of Ike, a young (and badass looking) mercenary in training He is heir to his father, Commander Greil, as the commander of the of the Greil mercenaries. His father is known throughout the nation as being an expert swordsman, and highly respected by friends and foes alike. At first look, its seems as though this common band of mercenaries are quite content with doing small jobs around nearby villages, making enough money to live a decent life. But when the neighboring country of Daein suddenly launches an attack on the Crimean capital city, the mercenary band is faced with the choice of where to place their allegiance.

Ike finds himself in a position of leadership much sooner than he had expected, and their mercenary group is soon headed south to the country of Gallia for refuge from the flames of war. Gallia, however, is a bit different from the other countries. Gallia is home of the Laguz, a half man half beast race that has the ability to change from man to cat-like beast at the blink of an eye. There have always been troubles between the humans and the Laguz. Upon their arrival, tensions start running high, and suddenly Ike is caught between two huge conflicts: The Daein nation attempting to take over the continent, and the ongoing struggle between the human and Laguz prejudice.
This complex story is told through beautifully written dialogue and animated portraits of the characters as they speak. In addition, there are also gorgeous cinematic sequences with well-done voice-overs. There is a lot of background history to take in, which makes it quite easy to become hooked on. The story will have you constantly guessing, and anxiously awaiting the next dialogue sequence.

In order to advance the story, you must win the battle in each chapter. Some battles require you to clear out all the enemies on the map, some require you to defend a certain building or person (or capture one) and many many more. The battle system is just about flawless. It’s your classic turn-based strategy system. The battles move at a relatively quick pace, however they still manage to be quite long, as you’ll often find yourself highly outnumbered, and taking out all of your enemies may take a while. You also have to make sure to manage your health, because it usually doesn’t take more than a few hits to kill off one of your party members (depending on your foes of course). Returning from the previous Fire Emblem games is the weapons triangle.

The triangle is basically rock, paper, scissors, except for its sword, axe, and lance. When battling, a sword will have an advantage against an axe, dealing more damage and receiving less, while an axe will have an advantage against a lance, and completing the triangle, a lance will have an advantage against a sword. Knowing this triangle is key to exposing your foe’s weakness and winning the battle. Just as in the previous Fire Emblem games, all the weapons in Path of Radiance have a different durability. I like to think of it as a health bar for weapons. For instance, an Iron Sword has a durability of 40/40. That means you have 40 strikes (offensive and defensive) with that specific sword. Once the durability reaches 0/40, the weapon will break, and you will have to equip a different weapon in order to fight. Every so often you’ll get a weapons upgrade for a particular type of weapon, which raises the weapons max durability, allowing for more total strikes for that weapon. Each character can carry up to four weapons, so running out of weapons usually isnt a problem. Don’t get too careless with what you use however. Not paying attention to your durability and not replenishing your weapons supply can lead to certain death on the battlefield.

You can battle with up to 12 allies on your team at a time, and in true Fire Emblem style, if an ally dies on the battlefield, they’re gone forever. If Ike dies, the game ends, and brings you back to the title screen to retry your lost mission. But other than that all other characters will leave the game, never to be seen again, which means you might find yourself resetting your Gamecube multiple times so that just to keep one character alive. This means managing your team’s health is crucial, considering losing an ally doesn’t just mean a disadvantage in that battle, but in every battle to come. As in most games with the RPG genre title, characters gain experience by battling the enemy. Naturally, to make your characters stronger, make sure you send them into battle. If you let your stronger units do all the work, you’ll find yourself losing units left and right because they haven’t been leveled up. However, an alternative to sending the weaker into battle is the bonus experience points feature. After the battle, you can freely distribute any bonus experience that you’ve gained to any character you wish. Although pouring all your bonus experience on you weakest characters and not truly using any effort almost seems like cheating (at least to me). You’d be better off making your best characters stronger, rather than making everyone else as strong as them.

The Laguz also add another interesting new element to the game. Although probably the most powerful units in the game, they cannot attack in any way while they’re in human form. However, once they’re transformation gauge goes all the way up, they will automatically change into their best form and proceed to tear through the opposition until they revert back into their human form.

Although very similar to the GBA versions of the series, there have been a few significant additions to the battle system to make fighting a bit more strategic. During battle, you can also have Ike give commands to computer-controlled allies, such as target a certain unit, avoid confrontation, defend, and plenty more. Off the battlefield, you can equip certain abilities to Ike and friends (counter attack, increase in critical hit percentage, etc.) to give your units a slight advantage during battle.

All character portraits in the game are hand-drawn in classic anime style. The graphics during battle are isometric and fully 3D. Although the graphics are nothing mind-boggling, they’re definitely the best a strategy RPG has to offer so far on current-gen consoles. In battle, when one unit strikes another, the game cuts into a close up where the units each trade blows and you can see how much damage is dealt, and received. While these are entertaining to watch, you have the option to turn these scenes off, as they can become rather tiring to watch after watching the same animations in the game over and over again.

Path of Radiance definitely lives up to the series name and then some. It’s also a good place to start if you’re new to the series, given that the story is completely separate from the other Fire Emblems, and the game also features a very helpful and extensive in-game tutorial. Good graphics, a solid and fun to play battle system and an emotionally compelling story land Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance the high score it deserves.

Graphics: 8.5
Sound: 8.5
Gameplay: 9.5
Creativity: 8
Replay Value/Game Length: 9
Final: 8.7
Written by Matt Evangelista Review Guide