Nintendo's excellent Fire Emblem series is finally heading to US shores. We take a run at the latest build.
Fire Emblem has been something of an enigma … a giant hit in Japan that Nintendo never had confidence in bringing to a finicky US market. With the release of the seventh title in the series, which happens to fall first in the chronological order, Nintendo of America has decided to give the US market a chance with a game they are simply calling Fire Emblem.
Fire Emblem is developed by Intelligent Systems (the same team behind Advance Wars), so it comes as no surprise that the battle system plays very similarly. Instead of units, you control individual characters, each with their own abilities. Movement and terrain are handled pretty much the same way, with combat taking on a new facet with "triangles". The term "triangle" describes how Swords are most effective against Axes, Axes best Lances, and Lances are good against Swords. Many aspects of the game have similar Triangles that govern how they work, turning much of the strategy in the game into managing the old rock, paper, scissors style of combat.
A major difference is that each character is fairly unique, and has a back-story. You'll get attached to a great deal of them, which will make it all the more painful when one is killed, and can never return. That's the penalty for failure in Fire Emblem, so you can't just send characters on a suicide mission to weaken the enemy unless you're sure you won't need them any longer. Careful management is required to ensure all your characters will survive to fight another day.
Also quite interesting is YOUR role in the game. Rather than playing as a character in the game, you get to play as yourself, acting as an advisor/tactician to the main characters. Making it all the more engrossing is the way the characters will turn towards the screen and talk directly to you, involving you in the process and drawing you into the game in a way I've never really seen before.
Finally, the music is absolutely fantastic. The soundtrack is nothing short of epic and sweeping, making me wish even more that Nintendo had included a headphone jack in the GBA SP without needing an accessory. It simply must be heard in stereo to be fully appreciated, as the tinny mono speaker in the GBA doesn't come close to doing the music justice.
I've heard a lot about Fire Emblem in Japan, and while I would have loved to play one, I was told that without Japanese skills, it would be fairly pointless. Now that I've finally had a chance to play it, regionalized and as it was meant to be played, I'm ecstatic. Nintendo claims that if Fire Emblem does well, they'll consider releasing the other games in North America as well, so make sure to keep an eye on this one if you like Advance Wars and if you enjoy deep and convoluted stories. Fire Emblem is a sure-fire winner in both regards.