Fire Emblem: Geneaology of the Holy War - Retroview

War Games Were Never This Fun...

By: Tony Green

Review Breakdown
   Battle System 7
   Interface 7
   Music/Sound 6
   Originality 6
   Plot 7
   Localization N/A
   Replay Value 5
   Visuals 5
   Difficulty Hard
   Time to Complete

10-40 hours



   It's probably one of the greatest crimes in the world that the Fire Emblem series never came to US Shores. Few people know it, but Fire Emblem basically made the entire Tactical RPG genre-it predated Sega's Shining Force by years, being released on Nintendo's Famicom system. and has set a standard that countless games have followed. Fire Emblem 4, released in 1996, set a new standard for the series and managed to reinvent the formula that, way back in 1990, made the Fire Emblem the hit that it was and carried it through 2 sequels.

   Although the battle system has been reworked and tweaked, it's still as simple and easy to learn as it was back in 1990, and it's more streamlined then ever. Your characters have a set of statistics such as Strength, Defense, and Agility, and unlike other games that use these scores there is a direct and visable effect they cause during battles, as opposed to other games where the impact tends to be 'bigger is better'. Weapons add more damage to your attack, but can also weigh you down, reducing your chance to evade the enemy's attack. Furthermore, each weapon type has an advantage over another weapon: Axes beat Lances, Lances beat Swords, and Swords beat Lances. This Rock/Paper/Scissors style system ensures that all characters get an equal shot at shining, since the bonus for using a weapon against the weapon it beats is substantial. Magic follows a similar system, with Fire, Lightning, and Wind Magic, meaning once the weapon system is learned so have the basics of the magic system. It's very easy to pick up on and within an hour or two it's possible to have virtually mastered the system, greatly enhancing the enjoyment of the game.

   The command-based interface while at first imposing is actually simpler than the battle system. Characters can move and attack in the same turn; however, an attack ends the turn even if movement hasn't been done, with certain exceptions. There is also the option of changing which weapon will used for attacking or counter attacking, as well as individual character options. Each character is defined by a class such as Knight, Fighter, Archer etc, which sets what innate skills they will have as well as what equipment they can use. Additionally there are personalized skills that are unique to certain characters which keeps the game enjoyable even after multiple playthroughs. Battles are turn based, with first the player and then the enemy moving. Battles are dynamic, with actions taken influencing what happens next. For instance, if a certain enemy is killed, an ambush party might suddenly appear. While these events are scripted, the first time through they will be a surprise.

Reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics...
Reminiscent of Final Fantasy Tactics... 

   The musical score throughout the game, quite simply, is stunning. From the very first strains of the opening story to the deep bass tones while foes scheme, every song in Fire Emblem 4 fits the scene. The battle music is fast paced but ultimately forgettable, while the main song for each map is wonderfully composed as well as fast paced...It's practically guaranteed there will be at least one favorite from the various stages. While the music is a (pardon the pun) high note, the sound effects are one of the weakest links. Limited mostly to a few swishes and swipes as characters fight in battle and gallop across the battlefield, there is little here that tickles the imagination. They get the job done no doubt, but it does little more then that.

   While Fire Emblem 4 uses the same basic game play and premise of the other games in the Fire Emblem Series, it has been streamlined so much that it seems almost like a new system entirely. It flows well and is engaging, and even if you can't understand Japanese you'll still find yourself becoming embroiled in the inner workings of the game. The colorful characters vibrant personalities shine through even the language barrier. Characters such as Deu the Thief and his cheerful outlook on life, the sheer aura of power Ayra exhibits as she calmly beheads half a legion singlehandingly on the battlefield...these are characters that will be remembered.

   The game opens up in a pinch, as (literal) barbarians from the neighboring kingdom of Verdane stage a surprise attack on the castle of Jungvy, carting off the Lady Edin and thus igniting what will become a huge, bloody war. The story is so grandiose that it even flows into the next generation. Characters weave and flow into the story seamlessly; the plot begins to unwind and then collapses inward, ensnaring the player into it's web. Quite simply, Fire Emblem 4 has a story that'd make even the most jaded RPGamer wipe away a tear of joy.

I can read it and you (probably) can't!
I can read it and you (probably) can't! 

   The biggest strike against this game is that it was only released in Japan. This is a devastating blow to North American RPGamers, because quite simply this game is a masterpiece. While it can be imported and still enjoyed, much of the impact of the story and characters may be dulled by the language barrier, which is a shame, because it's story is one of it's best aspects.

   The game begs to be replayed over and over. The various strategies that can be used against the enemies, the combinations of weapons and units, the special unique's even possible to influence the stats and skills of the character's children, making them entirely different units then they would have been otherwise. Fire Emblem 4 encourages multiple playthroughs; there's little chance that everything can be experienced the first time through.

   While playing through these multiple times, RPGamers will be pleased to see the bright and vivid graphics, full of animation. Horses tromp across the battlefield as they rush to skewer their foe; Swordsmen leap high into the air to take out a Winged foe; and as characters class changes, so do the sprites that represent them. Generals, clad in full armor, thump slowly towards their target; Sword masters execute a one hit kill style attack-moving so fast that they leave only a streak of light. The battle animations would keep any RPGamer's attention riveted. The overworld map is lush and detailed, with painstakingly scaled down graphics of the overall worldmap. If there is a river on the world map, it will also be there on the overworld map. The terrain is built into battle strategies intricately. These are graphics that are a pleasure to view.

   Plain and simple, Fire Emblem 4 is difficult. After the first 2 maps, which are relatively easy, the difficulty leaps forwards, keeping the player hard pressed to keep up. Characters have to be kept leveled up. They’ll be massacred otherwise. This level of micromanagement, while fun, can be tedious at times. Luckily the game provides a few 'Killer' characters that, when leveled up, are capable of carrying the entire party if need be.

Ha, HA! I'm 1/5th of the way to a higher level!
Ha, HA! I'm 1/5th of the way to a higher level! 

   Fire Emblem 4 is also quite a long game: there are 11 different chapters in the game, with each chapter taking anywhere from 2 hours to all afternoon to complete, depending on the strategy used. Plenty of extra time will be spent tweaking characters and finding all the battlefield conversations. Playing Fire Emblem 4 will eat up as much free time as you can give it, and demand second helpings.

   All in all, it's hard to go wrong with this game. It can be hard to find due to its age, but if by chance a copy is acquired, the lucky RPGamer will feel well rewarded. Fire Emblem 4 basically reinvented the Fire Emblem series, and even today it still shines as an example of not only what made Fire Emblem fun in the first place, but what the series is truly capable of.

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