A big sigh of relief hit Nintendo fans last year when the company finally unleashed their strategy powerhouse Fire Emblem. Already established as one of the best strategy titles in Japan, the Fire Emblem name is beginning to become familiar amongst Nintendo fans around the globe, and has already managed to satisfy handheld gamers in it’s first outing. The brilliant blend of RPG elements and the truly addictive turn-based strategy premise promised Western gamers with one heck of a title, one of the best to grace our Game Boy Advances in fact. While The Sacred Stones recycles a lot of what was seen in the previous title, the game still manages to be a truly satisfying experience.
Similar to the previous title, The Sacred Stones relies on its in-depth and character driven story-line. The game follows the progress of leading characters Eirika and Ephram, the twin heirs to the throne of Renais. After their hometown is unexpectedly invaded, and soon falls to the suppressing army, the twins set off on an adventure to recover the five sacred stones that will bring peace to the land once again. Along the way gamers will come across a number of unique characters that seek out your assistance or wish to provide their own in securing the land’s peace.
Unlike the original, The Sacred Stones is incredibly in-depth with its story, filled with all sorts of plot twists and unexpected occurrences that’ll leave all gamers on the edge of their seats. Gamers will experience the story from both leading characters’ perspectives, and will even have the chance to branch off onto separate adventures, which gives gamers the opportunity to come across various new characters and experiences depending on whose quest you wish to embark on. Much like the previous Fire Emblem, the game is wonderfully written, offering a beautiful narrative featuring plenty of action from villains and heroes, and even some comic relief in-between all of this.
For those of you unfamiliar with the series, the game is similar to any other tactical turn-based strategy title on the market, striking similarities to Nintendo’s other strategy title, Advance Wars. Gamers will progress through their adventure recruiting and training various troop types, whom have their own strengths and weaknesses against opposing enemy types. Unlike Advance Wars, gamers don’t have a squad of troops but rather individual characters. This allows gamers to focus on the RPG elements rather than the strategy ones, since gamers can train each of their characters by gaining levels and then later branching them off into unique character types. Each battle is presented on a map where gamers will choose and select their characters to move, attack, use magic and other features to achieve their objects, usually involving gamers securing a certain location or eliminating all enemy creatures. When attacking enemies, the game cuts into a little animated sequence showing your character and your enemy’s exchanging blows. Once a characters’ health is depleted they will die, and unfortunately for gamers, if your character dies in battle, that’s it. No coming back. Seeing as though the game is primary a strategy title, gamers will need to concentrate on each of their character’s strength and weaknesses, and the best possible direction to attack enemies. Things such as putting a tank-like character at the front of your lines so they can absorb all the attacks, while your long ranged characters sit back shooting at a distance when the enemy comes closer.
More flexibility with some intriguing new characters
The defining aspect of the original was when gamers experimented with the various character types - there were knights, archers, cavaliers, mages, pirates and many more. Depending on the characters gamers used, the outcome could’ve been decided differently each time. To put a little bit more stress on gamers this time round, Nintendo has introduced several dozen new character types that only expands further onto the game’s strategy. There are mounted mages, Pegasus knights, and wyvern riders to name a few. There are even a number of new enemies introduced in the game also. Due to the overpowering force slowing taking over the land, this has opened the gate to all sorts of creatures breaking out and causing their own havoc onto the land. Unlike the previous title, where you only fought against human characters, this time round gamers can expect to fight dragons, bloodhounds, zombies and all sorts of creatures that only add to the experience, and quite nicely add to the unexpected feeling of each battle.
A welcomed change to the title is that gamers have a bit more flexibility with the type of characters they want to create. In the original, gamers were allowed to upgrade their characters into their more superior form, without any decision in their class change. However, in The Sacred Stones, gamers are given the choice as to what class type you want your characters to become. While in the original the basic Journeyman became a fighter, in The Sacred Stones gamers can now choose whether they want to have a powerful Axefighter whose specialty is using powerful axes (well duh - Ed) or a Pirate who are capable of traveling across water. The idea is fascinating and offers a lot more concentration from gamers as to choosing what classes would best fit your strategy. For example, you have the choice of transforming your mage into a mage who can walk on foot or one who can be mounted – does a fast moving mage benefit your strategy?
Just a taste of some of the new and exciting creatures featured in the game
Another significant change is the game’s world map. In Fire Emblem the game progressed on a fairly linear path where gamers would progress from level to level until they reached they final goal. However, this is no longer the case for The Sacred Stones. You’ll still progress on a path that follows the story, however, due to the uprising in monsters around the land, gamers can now choose to break away from the linear story and decide to fight the random monsters throughout the land, as well as areas that don’t affect the main story or even a level-by-level temple. The series is notorious for its fairly questionable way of saving your progress, and therefore if you didn’t train your characters high enough and get to an area that is virtually impossible for you to proceed through, then you were screwed and would’ve had to start to game over again. However, due to this new world-map feature, gamers can now spend a little time fighting off the creatures that will uncover a number of helpful items, and increases your characters’ levels. It’s an excellent addition that might not look like much, but it is great to see the game provides gamers with a little more flexibility than previously.
Other notable changes to the game is that you no longer play the role of the traveling tactician, there is no longer a traveling merchant character, but rather a merchant where you can buy supplies from at the start of each battle and even grab supplies off at random during battles via your leading characters.
Graphically, the game hasn’t changed a great deal from its predecessor. The game still uses the same engine as the previous, with only slight changes to the game’s animation and smaller character details. While it isn’t a bad thing, it looks quite superb in fact; the game does tend to look a tad familiar in areas. The art-style is quite spectacular though, with all the characters during cut-scenes looking fabulous and the expressions of each do add to the lively story. The sound is extremely surprising for a GBA title as well. The game features an excellent musical score that does a great job of emulating an orchestral sound through the GBA’s tiny speakers. There’s even a sound room option that allows gamers to go back and listen to their favourite tunes also.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is by far one of the best titles available for the GBA. The excellent character driven story and superb gameplay features assures gamers with one of the year’s best handheld titles. While the game may retrain a lot from its predecessor, the game still offers enough variety and new additions that makes this game excel over most of the other GBA titles available on the market. There is absolutely no reason why any Game Boy Advance owner shouldn’t pick up this little gem, as it will surely tide you over during the Christmas break. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is an excellent game from start to finish.