May 12, 2014

Fire Emblem - Ranking

Story & World

While Fire Emblem does have the typical "kill the foozle" plot, it also has many smaller threads involving different nations and their relationships with each other.  Some nations are already allied with Mediuth's Durhua empire at the beginning, some are fully on Marth's side, others decide to betray Aritia, and some are conflicted as who to support.  These relationships are only lightly touched on during the sparse dialogues of each chapter, but it does give a sense of something more than just good versus evil.  What FE could have really benefited from is an overview of the entire continent of Akaneia between chapters to show these relationships better.  As it stands, it feels more like just moving from one map to another instead of stemming the tide of the rampaging Durhua empire.

Character interaction is limited during a full scale battle (as one might expect), but what is there is appreciated.  The developers could have easily just stuck with the strategic side of the game and just have the two sides belt it out.  Instead, they decided to lean more on the RP side of things and allow certain characters to talk to each other during battle.  A good effort overall but it just can't compare with the immersiveness of a regular RPG.  This may be limitation of the SRPG genre, mayhaps — only time will tell.  8/20

Character Development

All characters gain a level after achieving 100 experience points and are capped at level 20.  Experience is gained by either participating in combat (small amount of XP) or dealing the killing blow whilst in combat (large XP).  Certain classes can promote and reset their level back to one, allowing for even more stat gains.  Distributing experience intelligently is core to doing well in the game and adds a whole other layer to the strategic cake.  Want a weak unit to level but know that it won't be able to get a kill on its own?  Have a stronger unit beat down the enemy a bit and then send in the wimp for an easy kill.  Oh, whoops, the stronger unit was actually too strong and killed the enemy in one hit.  Try a not-so-strong unit next time.

There are two flaws with this system.  One, not all units can promote, which means promotable characters are obviously going to be favoured.  For example, I really wanted to be able to use Doga and Roger, both of them Armour Knights.  Without a promotion on their horizon, they just can't compete with the Social Knights (promotes to Paladin), who end up not only being more powerful, but also having a sick movement rate.  The generals in the game are basically tankier versions of Armour Knights; why couldn't they promote to that?  The other issue is that clerics (who cannot deal damage) only get experience by being attacked.  Granted, they get about the same XP as if they had made a kill, but that's only if they survive.  I was far too scared to put any of my clerics in harm's way, so I was unable to get any of them to the prerequisite tenth level needed to promote them to Bishop.  Why couldn't they just get experience for casting their healing spells?  (Note: both these flaws are addressed in most of the other FE games)

Also have to mention that there are items that will boost particular stats, so that adds another level of customization.  I found just a handful of these items during play, but I also missed the secret shops in the later maps where I could have bought a pile of them.  Yeah, there are four secret shops throughout the game and I missed every single one like a tool.  Sometimes reading a walkthrough after I've completed a game really FAQs me over.  15/20

Combat & Monsters

As a fan of strategy games, I'm always going to be awarding mucho points to anything more than selecting the Fight option from a menu.  Fire Emblem serves up the standard fare with terrain affecting movement rates and defensive values as well as certain classes having an inherent weakness to certain weapons (e.g. flying units are easily plucked out of the sky by any missile weapon).  The map levels themselves are varied enough to require having an array of stratagems at the player's disposal.  What I would have liked to see, though, was some three (or more) kingdoms fighting on the same map instead of heads-up all the time (adding more depth to the world as well).  Though the first few chapters allow for Marth to bring all his companions to the fray, soon he must makes choices as to who will accompany him onto the battlefield.  FE allows the player to view the map, including the stats of all enemy units, before deciding who to select.  Even with the amount of characters that died under my leadership, I still had a decent amount to choose from by the end.

Both sides have access to all the character classes, so there aren't really any monsters, per se.  Though it would have been cool if there was a "monster kingdom" that had its own unique set of units and just attacked whomever.  For the purposes of this category, I'll judge based on the variety of units and how distinctive they are from one another.  16/20

Graphics & Sound

Map terrain and character icons are very distinctive and stand out nicely, although the terrain lacks detail.  All main characters have their own character portrait (indeed, that's how one can tell that it's a main character), although some are merely palette-swapped versions of another.  It's cool that each character class has their own battle animation (even changing depending on what weapon type is wielded); it's too bad that they always fight with nothing but the cruel, black void in the background.

The music, while decent enough, lacks in variety.  For the vast majority of the time, it'll just be that one map tune, over and over and over.  Sound effects are used to good effect, punching up the battle animations nicely.  10/20

Gameplay

There were a few times when money was tight, most notably when I found the first shop that sold silver weapons.  For the most part, however, Marth never had to worry about his coffers getting too low.  As long as Marth visited the major settlement in each map, and the thief snagged any chests available, money was never a big issue.  I had enough golds by the end that I bet I could have bought out at least two of the secret shops (dammit!).  In addition to having characters visit a shop to purchase an appropriate weapon for them, FE allows characters to transfer items to one another.  This, combined with the storage facility in each map, allows the player to set up a weapon and items transportation network.  For example, as soon as I found a shop that sold silver weapons, I spent some time after defeating all the enemies to stock up on weaponry.  During subsequent maps, I could easily replace a front line soldier's failing weapon with a quick trip from one of the expeditious pegasus knights.

Challenge and replayability both score high.  The overall challenge can be adjusted during play by doing things like using the nosebleed classes more often.  Who knows?  Maybe by dumping a lot of experience into them, they may blossom into a force to be reckoned with (pretty big maybe, though).  Even within a single map, the replayability level is high as there are a multitude of different paths to victory (and even more to failure).  17/20

Final Ranking:  66/100

May 01, 2014

Fire Emblem - End Game

After getting to some of the later maps, I began to realize that I almost certainly had not beaten Fire Emblem in the past as previously believed.  Either that or I was abusing the heck out of savestates because FE is much tougher than I remember.  A lot of comrades fell during Marth's crusade against the Dark Dragon, including Marth himself on more than one occasion (which can be a godsend when others had died since it forced me to start the map over again).  Chapter 21 was particularly bad as the enemy had many generals, dragon riders, and missile units which just shredded Marth and his buddies up.  Eventually, I had to resort to a drastic new tactic, even though this meant that I'd be forfeiting a lot of XP if successful.  Instead of engaging in honourable combat on the field, I had Marth and Abel warp right next to the enemy stronghold after drawing most of the enemy troops away from it.  The plan was to have Marth and Abel kill the general in one turn, weather any attacks from nearby units, and have Marth seize the fortress the next turn.  Abel one-upped my plan by getting a critical hit with the powerful Gladius spear, leaving Marth in the clear to immediately seize and win the day.

Super secret ninja strike!

If Abel had not dished out that crit, Marth could have been in trouble since he would have had to endure two paladin attacks as well as a shooter; survival would have depended on Marth's dodging ability.  And there's no doubt that all the enemies would have chosen Marth as their target, as this was the pattern throughout the game.  In earlier maps, I actually used this to my advantage, especially when taking on the fortress boss.  It allowed me to gang up on the boss with weakened troops without having to worry whether they would die or not because I knew that the boss would target Marth the next round.  In later maps, when the regular troops started pumping out more damage, the continual spanking of Marth led me to protect him a little more.  Another reason to remove Marth from the front line was that he capped out at level 20 and therefore received no XP from combat.

Marth finally got to give Garnef his comeuppance in chapter 23.  After gathering the Star and Light Orbs in previous maps and having a priest conjoin them to form Starlight magic, the only magic that could penetrate Garnef's Maph magic.  Now Marth was on point to set the record straight.  Well, Marich had the honours, actually, as Marth can't use magic tomes.

Can't believe you lost to the magic that exists
specifically to counter your magic?  Hurrr.

In addition to receiving the legendary Falchion sword (a staple of the FE series), Marth also rescues his sister, Ellis, who comes with the Oum magic, allowing for the resurrection of one character at a temple located in the next map.  I had a lot to choose from but went with Astria, a hero class character that had met his demise awhile back.  He turned out to be pretty useless as he didn't have enough levels to inflict any significant damage.  After completing this map, Marth gets his first glimpse of Mediuth, who looks positively bored sitting on his throne.

You'll never stop the power of our smiles, No Heart!

The final map throws a monkey wrench into the works, with mixed feelings from the Shen.  The starting location of the characters are not together, as has been the norm.  They are broken up into four groups and start off in the corners of the map.  On one hand, I like having the additional tactical situations that arise from this as they have to fight through foes and attempt to rejoin with the other groups.  On the other hand, it sucks that the player can't determine the character composition of each group.  One group consisted of a cleric and two archers who promptly got all their asses served to them.  So, instead of battling all the way to Mediuth, I just warped as many characters as I could into the inner chamber and cleared the way for Marth and his trusty Falchion to slice 'n dice him.

One Dark Dragon Kebob, coming up!

While both combatants were fairly equal in power, Marth had the advantage of having clerics who could heal him regardless of their location on the map.  And so, on round four, Mediuth succumbed to the power of the Falchion and disintegrated from this world.  As the epilogue plays out, Sheeda asks Marth if she can return to her homeland of Talis but Marth awkwardly asks her to join him in Aritia instead, to which she agrees wholeheartedly.

Uda man, Marth!

The game then goes through every single character in Marth's army and gives a line or two about what they're doing now that the war is over.  Most are just doing generic things like rebuilding villages or returning home but some of the more notable characters have a personalized conclusion.

Come on, Marich, you deserve happiness too.

If the character died during the war, then the text displayed is just gobbledygook (translation bug) and the sheer number of these entries made me kinda sad.  But then I thought about Marth and Sheeda gettin' it on and was happy again.