Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance

Fire Emblem: Souen no Kiseki (ファイアーエムブレム 蒼炎の軌跡) / Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance - GameCube (2005)


This entry is part 10 of 16 in the series Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem returns to home consoles! The Game Boy Advance Fire Emblems did a good job of keeping things clean and readable given the small screens, but it’s good to be back on the “big” screen. Path of Radiance brings further refinements to established gameplay elements, new systems and map gimmicks. All of these aspects make it an evolutionary step in the franchise beyond the mere implementation of 3D graphics. When replaying any of the earlier Fire Emblem game after this, the improvements implemented here become sorely missed.

The setting for this installment is on the continent of Tellius, which is divided into several nations: the frigid, militaristic of Daein in the north, the small, peaceful kingdom of Crimia in the west, the massive, theocratic empire of Beginon to the east and a handful of Laguz kingdoms to the south. Ashnard, the “Mad King” of Daein sends an army in and takes Crimia by force. The Greil Mercenaries accept a mission escorting someone to the big cat Laguz kingdom of Gallia. That “someone” turns out to be Elincia, the sole surviving successor to the Crimian throne. As Ike, the Mercenaries and Elincia roam around Tellius in search of sanctuary, war follows. Previously isolationist nations are pulled into the conflict. As Ashnard was hoping for, soon the entire continent is at war. From the summary alone, Path of Radiance‘s plot comes across as very typical and by-the-book. The story and character interactions keep some of the plot’s more mature themes such as racism remain prominent throughout the game.

Characters

Ike

Your standard blue haired Fire Emblem hero, Ike is the son of Greil, leader and founder of the Greil Mercenaries in the small kingdom of Crimia.

Mist

Ike’s little sister. As can be expected, she’s kidnapped early on, but once you save her, she joins the battle group.

Titania

This red-headed knight is a tank and a total master of destruction in the early stages of the game.

Elincia

The Princess of Crimia and sole survivor of the royal bloodline. She must be defended at all costs.

Soren

A sorcerer with a sour attitude. He becomes your status advisor, providing updates after each battle.

Lethe

The Laguz are race of humanoids capable of transforming into powerful beasts ranging from cats to dragons to birds. Shunned by humans or “Beorc” as they call them, tribes of these beings live in isolation, and much of the plot revolves around their conflicts. Lethe is a warrior of one of these tribes, who can transform into a cat-like creature.

Promotions are automatic now. Once a player reaches level 21, they automatically promote to the next class. No more worrying if a character has the right promotional item in their inventory before they hit level 20. Items can still be used to promote a character earlier, between the levels of 10 and 20, but these items are very rare. All support conversations happen on base rather than on the battlefield. The Game Boy Advance games offered limited windows of opportunity for players to have these conversations on the battlefield and the game didn’t always make it clear to a player who could converse with whom. It’s crystal clear now and a lot less frustrating. Support levels are now based on the battles that the fighters have participated in, so they don’t need to fight directly next to each other.

The Bonus Experience system lets players freely allocate experience points from a specially collected pool to any character they choose. This makes it easy for new recruits with low levels to catch up with the rest of the force. The game also baits players to try pursuing additional objectives to earn even more Bonus Experience. Pushing and Smiting lets a unit move another unit one space (or two spaces in the case of Smiting) forward, although this only applies to allied units. Also new are the Laguz units, demihumans that can temporarily change into beasts and wreck havoc when transformed. The transformed beasts include birds, beasts, and dragons. Special skills can also be learned by nearly any character through the use of scrolls. You can even forge and upgrade weapons, allowing you to recolor and rename them. The magic system triangle is now closer to Fire Emblem 4, and dark magic is gone. Certain spells are also effective against the three different types of Laguz.

One of the remarkable feats of Path of Radiance that goes relatively unnoticed is the balance. You can create a pretty kick-tail army using any of the units you get. With the right combination of leveling, support conversations and skill allocation, everyone has the potential to inflict massive damage. Some units are harder to nurture than others. Most of the Path of Radiance crew will reward players for their investments, rather than the previous games which had quite a share of bench warmers.

Plugging in the two GBA Fire Emblem carts with a Connector Cable unlocks art galleries and extra “trial maps”, which offer extra challenge to the seasoned player. Two of the five total trial maps can be unlocked by beating the game, players without the Game Boy Advance titles or the cable may feel spurned, especially since the better maps are GBA connect exclusive.

Path of Radiance is an excellent game. The music is rather standard fare, although it’s nice to hear it with the much improved synth offered by the disc format, and the 3D characters animate the exact same way as they did in the sprite battles. And much like the sprites, the character models feel minimally tweaked between character classes. The visuals are pretty sparse, with barely detailed scenery and fairly low polygon models. Most of the maps look ugly with the default grid markings. But Fire Emblem has established itself as being about gameplay and not graphics. The North American version has been made a bit easier from its original Japanese incarnation, but it’s missing the voiceover narrations between chapters.

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