Wait… I thought this was supposed to be a Wii game!
While the series has a long history in Japan, Fire Emblem games have only become popular in North America since Fire Emblem 7’s release on the GameBoy Advance in 2003. Since then, the franchise has garnered tons of American fans, addicted by the exciting strategy, individualized customization, and well-written storylines of the games.
Now in 2007, we get a sequel to the critically acclaimed GameCube iteration of the series (Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance). The new game, titled Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, takes an interesting perspective on the story begun in the Path of Radiance. Surprisingly, Radiant Dawn is told at first from the perspective of two members of Daein, the territory that was responsible for the evil caused in Path of Radiance.
Radiant Dawn starts off following two main characters: Sothe, who players of the first GameCube game will recognize, and Micaiah, a newcomer. They are members of the Dawn Brigade, a group of freedom fighters trying to put an end to corruption and evil in Daein. I don’t wish to give away any more beyond that, but I will say that as Fire Emblem fans have come to expect, Radiant Dawn is full of plot twists, and you may come to see quite a few familiar faces…
Additionally, the character development is a huge step up from that in Path of Radiance. Personally, I found characters in that game to be flat and one-dimensional; the story followed a very rigid, clichéd arc and was entirely guessable. Well, Radiant Dawn puts a stop to that, and the conversations involving the game’s many characters are well-written and do a fantastic job of showing multiple dimensions to a character’s personality.
What Radiant Dawn does a great job with that the previous game failed at is really showing both sides of a story. Before, Daein was seen as the enemy, ruled by a crazed king and influenced by an enigmatic evildoer. Now we see the other side of that stigma, if you will, and get to see how things occurred from Daein’s perspective. The game’s story really possesses depth and maturity that the first game threw out the window, and for that it deserves a big clap on the back.
The place where Radiant Dawn makes no improvements whatsoever though is in terms of gameplay. The game mechanic in Fire Emblem games has remained essentially unchanged since the original game’s release, aside from some minor variations in specific games. Radiant Dawn, however, sports no changes or variations at all. If you played Path of Radiance, then you already know exactly how this title plays out.
While I’m disappointed that we’re essentially getting Path of Radiance with a different story arc, that’s not at all to say that the game mechanic in Radiant Dawn is poor. In fact, the reason that the gameplay has remained unchanged for all these years is just because it’s so well-done. The game is divided up into chapters; as you begin each chapter, you must select which characters you wish to bring into battle with you. The chapters play out on large grid-maps and take place in turn-based fashion.
As is customary with RPGs, there’s a huge amount of customization to be had in Radiant Dawn. There’s a limited number of characters you can take into battle, and chapters grow progressively tougher; as a result, you’re going to pretty much want to pick out a party and stick with them. You want to have a well-balanced party, so much of the game’s entertainment lies in selecting exactly which characters you want to use. There are also tons of different weapons in the game divided up into four classes: lances, swords, axes, and bows. While characters are restricted in the class of weapon they can use (for example, archers can only use bows), the different weapons within that class are all available.
The level-up feature in Radiant Dawn is also identical to that of past games. When a unit gains 100 experience (gained for engaging enemies in battle; more is gained if you kill a foe), he or she gains a level. With a level-up comes an increase in stats. These increases are determined by a character’s percent growth in a stat (a complicated matter; just leave it alone), and stats cover every aspect of a character: strength, defense, resistance, weight, skill, and speed are just some of the many stats. Additionally, once characters reach a certain level, they gain the ability to upgrade class. For example, an archer upgrades to a sniper; upgraded classes sometimes feature a slight let-up on the weapon restriction and always include a nice upgrade in stats.
Admittedly, it is a bit disappointing that Radiant Dawn doesn’t feature any Wii-specific controls, nor does it at all take advantage of what the Wii really has to offer. The game controls with the Wii remote on its side, like a classic NES controller. 1 and 2 buttons take the place of A and B on the GameCube’s controller, and the D-pad replaces the Control Stick. While I would have personally liked to see some motion control or something incorporated into the game, the fact of the matter is that Radiant Dawn doesn’t suffer much from its mundane control scheme. It’s not that exciting, but more important is the fact that it just works.
Where the game stops working however, is where it continues to mimic Path of Radiance. Particularly in terms of graphics, Radiant Dawn just fails to impress. The graphics in this game are essentially GameCube graphics. The map visuals are nearly identical to those in the last game. The battle graphics, while still too long and annoying, have been slightly improved — still, though, lack of variety really begins to hurt the game as you continue to play it. And the scarce cutscenes, while nice looking, are no improvement from what you saw in the previous game.
The music and sound are also a bit of a stumbling point for Radiant Dawn, again because they’re so similar to that in Path of Radiance. The actual music in the game is, as has come to be expected of all Fire Emblem games, fantastic. Seeing as this is the fourth time around for the Fire Emblem franchise in North America, the tunes seem as if they’re getting a bit reused. Regardless though, they’re among the best present in any video game. The real problem is the conspicuous dearth of any voiceovers. The voice acting that is present (only in the cutscenes) is fantastic — the problem is that for standard conversations and plot progression in between battles, you’ve got to scroll through huge walls of text to get what’s going on. I personally was okay with that, but it would be nice if the game’s great story could have been complemented by great storytelling; sadly, that wasn’t the case.
While Radiant Dawn is essentially a good GameCube game disguised as a Wii title, there are some strong reasons to shell out the fifty bucks for it. For one, there’s a huge amount of replay value, even without a multiplayer mode (neither local nor online). Support conversations, gained by having characters remain next to each other for a certain number of turns during battles, contribute to the plot and develop each character hugely. Just to beat the game through takes quite a while, and the support conversations are good enough to incite you to play through the title multiple times.
Overall, while it’s by no means the most impressive Wii title, Radiant Dawn remains a solid game. The plot is great, the gameplay, while mundane, is entertaining. The graphics are a bit of a drawback, but real Fire Emblem fans will be able to overlook it. If you’re a fan of the series, or if you’re just looking for some a great tactical RPG, then consider adding Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn to your collection.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
They’re not bad, per se, but nothing that couldn’t have been done on the GameCube. Battle graphics are slightly improved. 4.1 Control
The controls are solid and work fine; I only wish that the game could have taken advantage of some Wii capabilities. 4.0 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The music is, as expected, very well done. Voiceovers occur infrequently, but are quite good. 4.6
Support conversations extend an already lengthy game; plenty of customization and many characters provide incentive to play multiple times.
4.1 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.