I can’t stand Fire Emblem.

Okay. I really enjoy a good old fashioned tactical RPG. I’ve played the classics, namely Warsong and Shining Force. I’ve enjoyed the Front Mission games with their endless customization. I’ve sunk waaaay more time than the average human into the amazingly mediocre Gladius. Out of all the ongoing tactical RPG franchises out there I just can’t bring myself to suffer through Fire Emblem. This review is focusing on the gamecube version and the small amount of play i’ve done with one of the gba versions.

It’s a tactical RPG like any other. You have little dudes that you move around a grid and attack other little dudes. If you’re smart, your little dudes will crush the other little dudes. Of course, it gets more complicated from there, but that’s the basic idea. 

A common complaint is that there is no way of reviving your little dudes should they die, and they do carry from stage to stage if they survive. So if the fighter you’ve been decking out and leveling up for the last 10 battles gets hit with a lucky shot and goes down, he’s down for good. Surprisingly enough, I don’t mind this. Perhaps it’s the aforementioned masochistic challenge gamer aspect of me that I mentioned in my bullet hell post, but I don’t mind a game that punishes you for bad tactical decisions. 

The thing is, it doesn’t reward you for good tactical decision either. Oh yes. I’m referring to the leveling system. When a character levels up, they have their various stats of strength, magic, agility,  and so on. Instead of these stats simply increasing in proportion to the character’s class, or perhaps allowing the player to distribute stats where they feel necessary, these stats RANDOMLY increase. It’s scaled, so a fighter has a much higher chance of his strength going up than his magic, but in the end it comes down to a die roll. 

Normally, I like die rolling. I play Arkham Horror for God Hastur’s sake. In an RPG, for level up purposes, this is a huuuuge nono. RPG players are obsessive compulsive weirdos. They, and by they I’m including myself, neeeed to have some kind of guarantee that doing well will be rewarded. There have been many times in different Fire Emblem games where I’ve finished a major battle, and my character levels up, but none of his stats increase. He goes from level 10 to 11, but is no different in performance other than how long it will take to get to level 12. This is enraging, because if I were to reset the game and do exactly the same thing again, I could get lucky and every stat could increase. My gamer brain is so used to the endorphin release from leveling up that I felt more like I was spinning a roulette wheel than truly achieving something every time I won a battle.

Quickly, there’s another thing I don’t like. You get a slew of characters to pick from for each stage, but they rotate in and out of your roster based on the events of the story. Suppose you were leveling up the big dude with the spear and next thing you know he leaves the group to go warn some other kingdom about some impending anime cutscene. You’re left without anything, since exp doesn’t split between all the characters, unless you take the time to make sure everyone gets a fair cut yourself. Assuming i’m a first time player of the game, I have no idea who might leave, or die, or turn out to be evil in the story. Ugh it’s just bad design.

I don’t know how people can play an extremely nuanced tactical game and put up with this nonsense. Now’s the part where I will offer an alternative: Advance Wars. Sure it looks a little cartoony and cute, but it kicks so much ass in the gameplay department.


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November 2008
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