Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance – Staff Retroview

The Fire Emblem series makes its triumphant return to consoles with the only entry to grace the GameCube, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. The tried-and-true mechanics return with a whole new race of characters to make one of the best RPG experiences to ever grace the console.

Like all the other games in the series, the ninth installment uses the same battle mechanics that its predecessors have used. Weapons all follow a rock-paper-scissors triangle of swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. Weapons also have a set number of uses, and all weapons, including spell tomes, will inexplicably break when the counter hits zero. And finally, as in real life, death is permanent.

The story begins with the Greil mercenaries, a ragtag group of soldiers that take on jobs for pay. At the helm is Greil, a man whose skill, charisma, and kindness know no equal. His son Ike is finally old enough to join the mercenary group, and at the beginning of the game, he starts going out on simple jobs in order to learn the ropes so that one day, he’ll be able to lead the company. But before long, the neighboring country, Daein, makes a surprise attack on the group’s home country, Crimea, and the Greil mercenaries find themselves caught in the middle when they accidentally find Crimea’s princess. The decision to protect her quickly turns into the largest war the continent has ever known.

As in the other games in the series, most of Path of Radiance takes place on the battlefield with sections of plot advancement coming before and after each chapter. But shortly into the game, the group encounters a merchant caravan, and from that point on, each mission begins at a base camp. From here, the player can view conversations that can simply be entertaining, provide hints for the next battle, or sometimes even result in a new character joining the team. These base conversations greatly add to the experience and are a welcome addition to the series.

The base camp also serves another purpose. In previous games, there was a rudimentary map that could be moved around to find shops and armories. This time around, the merchant caravan serves as a one-stop shop for all sorts of items and weapons. Another new addition to the series is the ability to forge weapons. For a price, players can craft a weapon and customize it to their needs. They can make the weapon more powerful, lighter, more accurate, or increase the critical hit percentage. Afterwards, the custom weapon can be named, and the player can even choose the weapon’s color. With enough money, weapons more powerful than any that can be found in the game can be made at any time.

Previous Fire Emblem games have had extra dungeons or an arena in which to train for extra experience, but since there is no map, this is not possible. Instead, players can award bonus experience, which is earned by meeting certain conditions or finishing battles quickly, to characters to any member of the party, and there is no distinction between it and regular battle experience. In this way, weaker characters can be brought up to speed, or units that didn’t see much action can make up for lost time.

Aside from equipment, characters can also equip skills that are acquired throughout the game. These range from always attacking first in battle, to increased stats when HP are low, to being able to carry another character without any drop in speed. Several of the skills are very useful, and many characters join the party with one of the better ones already equipped. There are also class-specific skills that can be unlocked with a special item. Though rare, these items can make a good character nearly unstoppable, but as all skills can only be equipped once and are lost if removed, special care must be used when deciding whom to use them on.

One final improvement to the system is that characters no longer require specific items to class change. One item works for all classes, but even better, it can be done with simple experience. The level cap is once again twenty, but characters can continue to gain experience. The next gained level will cause a class change, and nearly every stat will receive the same boost that previously only came from class-specific items.

There is also a new stat called Biorhythm that cycles throughout a battle from good to bad and back again. When a character’s biorythym is higher, they have a better chance of dodging and getting critical attacks, and when it is low, the opposite is true. It sounds important, but in reality, it has almost no effect whatsoever on battles, and it’s very easy to forget about it entirely.

The biggest change to the gameplay is the addition of the laguz, a race of shape-shape shifting people that can take on forms such as cats, lions, hawks, or even dragons. Each of the laguz tribes has their own country, and there are many instances of racial prejudice that goes both ways between the laguz and beorc, what the race of normal men is called. Since the laguz have animal forms, they have no need of weapons or armor, but to balance them against the beorc, they have a transformation guage. Each turn, the gauge slowly fills, and when it maxes out, the laguz will shift to their beast form. After that, it will slowly deplete until it empties, and the cycle will begin anew. Shifting provides a bonus to every stat, but laguz can only attack in animal form, so half of the time they can do nothing but defend.

Throughout the game, laguz of nearly every tribe will join Ike’s party, and like other games in the series, it is up to the player whether or not to use them. On the whole, the laguz are neither better nor worse than their beorc counterparts, and since nearly every character has the potential to be a powerhouse, there is no wrong way to play. And with such a large group of characters, the choice mainly comes down to whether you’d prefer another sword user, or perhaps a mage or laguz. Any character can be useful, and even though Ike is the main character, he may not end up the most powerful. It all depends on usage and luck with level ups.

As in other games in the series, everything from the simplest attack to the stats gained from gaining a level are all based on a random number generator and a series of formulas based on character stats. Nowhere is this more apparent than when leveling up. Depending on how kind the RNG is, the character may increase in one, two, or nearly every stat. Of course, it is also possible to gain a level and get no stat increases. Sadly, this can happen several times throughout the course of the game for various characters. Because of the randomness of level ups, it can be extremely frustrating, especially when using bonus experience to level people. It is made all the more annoying since there is no soft reset function. If players want to restart for any reason, they must physically hit the reset button or choose the suspend function during battle. Since about one third of all the experience points in the game come in the form of bonus experience, it can make for a lot of resetting while hoping for good stat gains.

When all the preparation is complete, the player can leave base camp and begin the next battle, but before the fighting starts, the player can pick who will participate, where they should start, take one last look at their items, view the map, or see the conditions for victory or defeat. Once the player chooses to start, the first turn begins, and you can move any character in any order. Should an enemy be in range of any unit, the player may choose to engage it. Before the actual combat begins, a menu will show up with the damage, hit percentage, and the critical attack percentage for both sides. At that point, the player can initiate combat, and it will happen exactly as shown in the box. If the opposing fighter survives, it will counterattack. After that, that character’s turn is finished, and another character can be moved. Play continues until everyone has made their moves or the player physically selects to end it from the menu. Then the next team, which is usually, but not always, the enemy force will get to move all of its units. Play will go back and forth until the conditions for either victory or defeat have been met. Most missions will end when the player has killed all the enemies, but others require a boss be defeated, the team to survive for a set number of turns, or a unit to reach a certain square. Some missions will also have a time limit in the form of a set number of turns to complete the goal.

The Fire Emblem series has never been particularly known for its topnotch graphics, but Path of Radiance is quite pretty. With the move to the GameCube came a substantial jump in the visual department. All the character models are now 3D, and attack animations are so nice, it’s almost worth keeping them on throughout the entire game. There are also around a dozen full motion videos that have some of the best graphics that Nintendo’s little purple box ever had, and the character portraits, one of the things the series is known for, have never looked better.

As good as the visuals are, the game’s soundtrack is even better. Path of Radiance probably has the best original soundtrack of any Fire Emblem game. While it may be true that Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has a better soundtrack, that is only because it contains nearly every song from Path of Radiance and then some. The FMVs are also fully voiced, but unfortunately the voice track is so quiet it can be hard to hear the voices. As for the voice acting itself, it’s only so-so. Not all the voices fit the characters, but the intonation is decent. The sound effects are pretty much unchanged from other games in the series, and as such, they are somewhat lackluster but offer a sense of nostalgia. Though nothing spectacular, they get the job done.

Fire Emblem games are known for their deep and twisting plots, and Path of Radiance does not disappoint. Though a large part of the plot is just Ike winning battle after battle, there are several twists and turns that set this story apart from the others. While the plot does have a definite conclusion, Path of Radiance is not a standalone game. Its sequel, Radiant Dawn, is very much a continuation of the story, and for full understanding of the plot, both games must be finished. Some of the events of Path of Radiance are not explained in detail, and there are some secrets that are not meant to be known until the later chapters of Radiant Dawn that directly pertain to this game.

Path of Radiance is one of the longest games in the series. Completion will take anywhere from 40-65 hours depending on the number of times battles have to be replayed. This series is known for being particularly difficult, but this is one of the easier ones. That said, some of the harder chapters will probably require several attempts to finish, but many stages can be completed on the first try. The last boss in particular is amazingly easy and is somewhat outclassed by the guards protecting him. There is really only one hard boss fight in the entire game, and that comes down to luck more than anything. Furthermore, that fight doesn’t have to be won. It can be skipped entirely, or it can end in a draw. For those that want more of a challenge, there is a harder difficulty, and there is also an easy setting for first time Fire Emblem players.

After finishing the game, there are several features that are unlocked. First, there are up to three challenge maps that can be played depending on what the difficulty setting was set on, and they are harder than anything in the normal game. Through those, the player can also unlock some bosses and special weapons, but none of them can be used in the main game. There is also the ability to pass on some of the stats to returning characters in Radiant Dawn by loading a save file from the epilogue. And lastly, by connecting either Fire Emblem game for the GBA via the link cable, some extra maps and art can be unlocked as well after.

In conclusion, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is arguably one of the best RPGs on the GameCube. It makes several refinements from previous games in the series and takes no steps backwards. With a storyline that stays exciting from start to finish and the most diverse party ever found in a Fire Emblem game, it’s hard not to sit down and play for hours at a time. And for those that enjoy the plot, Radiant Dawn picks up where Path of Radiance leaves off and adds more action to the already good plot. It may be hard to find this game these days, but it’s definitely worth tracking down.

Leave a comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.