What a story Path of Radiance has. Many complex branches of story telling come into one cohesive whole to form the tale of Ike and his group of men on a quest to save their world. The corrupt and evil king of Daein has done the unthinkable and invaded the neighbouring nation of Crimea. After much of the destruction, Princess Elincia of Crimea is found by Ike in a forest, injured and alone. The rest of Crimea is gone, destroyed by the forces of Daein. Ike, not one to let such senseless destruction unfold, sets out with the Greil Mercenary Group to restore peace and bring vengeance to the evil empire that threatens to destroy them all. While it sounds like a typical RPG story and is all the way through, Path of Radiance wins with its witty dialogue, interesting and colourful characters, dynamic plot twists, and triumphant tale of good and evil. The story is full and is exactly what Fire Emblem fans desire. The conversations between characters outside of the game's maps still abound, but, for the first time ever, voice acting occurs in the impressive 3D cut-scenes that further the story and give the player incentive to keep playing, it's better than ever before.
As with past Fire Emblem games, the missions all play a significant part in telling the story. If a character is killed, he will never return. Not only does this affect the story, it also makes one more willing to sacrifice many hours in strategizing and learning how to keep characters alive and kicking. Path of Radiance is difficult too, chances are at least one of your men will have fallen within the first twenty hours of the game. It's tough losing a weak character and even tougher when losing a strong character. Thankfully though, Intelligent Systems have included a helpful new feature: the ability to share experience after a battle. By dishing it out to weaker units you can strengthen them without worrying about them being instantly killed, a nice touch indeed.
The general gameplay is still intact, the "Triangle System" remains in battles. Swords best axes, axes best lances and lances best swords. The system also extends to magic: fire bests wind, wind bests thunder, thunder bests fire and light is good against everything. In combat it is almost always necessary to take this system into account, if not, your character will be at a tremendous disadvantage, sometimes even being chopped down instantly. The magic system is slightly less intense, but still recommended to follow. This whole system is very deep, but at first glance seems easy to bypass. After following the strengths and weaknesses though, it becomes evident that bypassing is not an option. In fact, as I said above, without obeying this system you will be at an incredible disadvantage that will possibly end your mission brutally and prematurely.
New races are always fun - In Path of Radiance the laguz, changelings who transform from human-like to completely animal for a limited time, make their debut. The laguz come in three forms: bird, beast, and dragon. As I mentioned, these changelings can only stay in animal form for a limited time, mainly just a few turns. For those few turns, however, the enemy will drop like flies. Once their transformation gauge is filled up, they are able to transform again, send the enemy to that hot and steamy place south of the border, and transform back to human form. The Laguz are the most apparent new class since they are a completely new species. Having one on your team will greatly enhance your chances of winning. The changelings do have their weaknesses though. Magic can do massive damage to a transformed laguz, so, of course, magic users should be avoided while in this form.
The traditional movement style (Click on a unit, move him to where you want him to go and give him a few commands from there) is still the style in Path of Radiance. Thankfully, a new tasty morsel has been added. Ike can now give a general command to his men to send them all moving in one direction. This negates from the frustration of slowly moving one unit at a time when the battlefield is practically empty. In open situations like that, this method works perfectly. The turn-based battles are incredibly addictive, insanely challenging, and fun. Each mission is different than the last, although the general ideas run through the whole game. Whether it be defeating all the enemies, defeating a certain leader, or taking over an enemy fort, Fire Emblem has familiarity that never gets stale and boring because of the way that the story filters into it. The missions are also long without being overly tedious. Twenty or so minutes will usually be all it takes, but further on, more time will be needed to complete each level. I won't even say how long it took me to beat this game, but it was a very long time filled with joy at success and anger at defeat. Path of Radiance goes on forever, it seems, but almost every minute is enjoyable. The gameplay is intact and enhanced. Everything plays perfectly.
This is Intelligent Systems first stab at 3D, and that fact is evident as soon as the first mission starts. I mentioned in the first paragraph that this is the most graphically rich Fire Emblem game to date. It is simply because it is on a more powerful piece of hardware. In some ways, the Game Boy Advance titles are more visually attractive. When a battle was fought in those games, the characters would be brought to life with excellent animation that looked amazing. The same type of thing happens in Path of Radiance: the two units are shown up close with their weapons as they take turns attacking each other (Usually just once a turn, but some units can attack more than once while in combat). Sadly, it just doesn't look the same. In fact, the Game Boy Advance game's battles are more exciting than the ones found in Path of Radiance. The zoomed out view of the battlefield shows the units lacking in detail against the nice, surreal backgrounds. The hand drawn art is nice and the cut-scenes are beautiful mixes of cel-shading and realistic effects, so the graphics aren't totally bad. More detail would have been nice, I suppose, but it gets by without looking too sloppy.
Thankfully the music is not the same quality as the visuals. These composed treats are musically fitting to the environments and are tuned to make a monstrously beautiful soundtrack. The music is incredibly well done. The voice acting found in the cut-scenes is a nice treat as well. While not amazing, the voices are very well executed: clear, well acted, and just as fitting as the music. Overall the sound is some of the best that I have heard in a RPG recently. Orchestral music with nice sound effects and slick voice acting add up to make Path of Radiance an aural masterpiece.
In the space of time that I've owned Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, I've noticed a few things. First, a game doesn't have to have incredibly awesome graphics to be a great and entertaining game. Second, a game that sucks away the hours of your life and makes you enjoy just sitting there and playing it is about as good a game as you can get. Third, a game that lasts this long but holds your attention the whole way through is a perfectly acceptable masterpiece. Path of Radiance is a game that deserves generous amounts of attention from the gaming public. It succeeds at being a deep and long lasting game with great sound, great cut-scenes, great gameplay, and truly phenomenal direction. The Fire Emblem series is getting closer to perfection after every title and Path of Radiance is closer than ever before. With more work on the graphics, some more tuning around the edges, and just a little more work everywhere else, the next Fire Emblem game could be a five star title that defines exactly how a strategy RPG should be made. Make no mistake though, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is still a gamers dream.
- Written by William Jepson on 04-Dec-05
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