Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones - Reader Retroview  

*Insert Comedy Central-caliber joke regarding Sacred Stones here*
by JuMeSyn

25-35 hours


Rating definitions 

   Everyone reading this has doubtless heard of Fire Emblem. Its profusion of chocobos, ubiquitous slimes, odd convention of naming characters Cid, and use of robot-to-robot combat cannot be forgotten. Similarly, its pathetic challenge is a matter of public record by now – in the history of Fire Emblem no one has ever needed to use a walkthrough to complete a game. The series’ constant usage of pop cultural references in conversations is an undeniable result of its Working Designs translation, as well as its prominent voice acting. And the series is heading to PlayStation 3 because of its well-known insistence upon having the grandest graphics in existence….

   Or at least it does in an alternate universe from our own, one in which dragonflies remain the size of birds and luggage is alive. In THIS universe, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones represents a fine series that has never strayed from its roots. Visually The Sacred Stones is very close to the first English Fire Emblem, which itself was very close to Fire Emblem: Fuuin no Tsurugi. The graphics are a little less impressive this time around solely because the profusion of artwork to be found in the first English Fire Emblem is now gone; to many this may be made up for with the variety of new enemy sprites. Sound uses certain tracks from Fire Emblem lore, with a number of new ones that will probably be heard too many times during the course of the game – but are quite good before they have been imprinted into the subconscious.

The Eyes have it! The Eyes have it!

   The Fire Emblem battle system of the first English-translated game is by and large the same here. Weapons and magic each have a triangle of effectiveness, experience but not money is obtained by fighting and defeating enemies, promotion can happen at any time between levels 10 and 20, etc. The differences between the two titles are not great but do exist. Promotion is rather different now, as aside from Eirika and Ephraim (the lords of the game) each character has a choice of what to promote into. There are also three characters with the new class of ‘Trainee;’ each of them begins very weak but can be promoted twice, leading to a large variety of potential classes for each. Also, a number of enemies in this title are of the monster variety. Some monsters wield weapons; others use their fangs and natural killing capacity to fight. Light magic is effective against these monsters, and the class of Bishop gains the Slayer ability that increases its light magic effectiveness against monsters. Certain classes gain other Skills, which automatically come into play if the class can use them. Also, the ability to move around a world map is a Fire Emblem departure; random encounters pop up on previously cleared battlefields, leading to the ability to pump up characters lagging in experience. There is also the Tower of Valni, in which items and experience can be repeatedly gained. Upon the end of the game nearing, the Lagdou Ruins also open up, though these are more for a challenge than to help lower-leveled characters improve. Beyond these changes, the battle system is instantly recognizable to anyone who has played a previous Fire Emblem title – and therein lays its strength.

   Interaction is a non-issue. Nothing has changed in this regard from the first English Fire Emblem; everything is easy to do. Challenge, on the other hand, has taken something of a nosedive. While it is certainly possible to plow through the game without taking advantage of the limitless experience now available, anyone who does use this new feature will be able to create very strong characters that are nearly impervious to anything the enemy throws at them. Even without using random battles and the Tower of Valni, enemies are frequently weaker than they were in earlier titles. Fallen characters still are permanently dead unless the player wants to start the battle over, but this title is not terribly challenging (with the exception of Hard Mode). Those who have never played a Fire Emblem before will probably find this somewhat aggravating but not insanely frustrating.

   The Sacred Stones’ story finds Eirika, daughter of the ruler of Renais, in flight from her homeland which is under attack by troops of the Empire of Grado. In between fighting for her life with the loyal retainer Seth, Eirika wonders what happened to her twin brother Ephraim (soon revealed to be fighting strongly against Grado) and the nation of Grado itself, which has been a steadfast ally of Renais for decades. This turns out to link closely with the Demon King, an ancient threat that was conquered one thousand years prior, with its powers sealed into five Sacred Stones that were divided throughout the continent. Again, Support conversations can be had with characters, and they greatly add to the history of the protagonists. The main story is far from bad but seems a trifle lesser than that featured in the first English Fire Emblem.

See what happens when people don’t spay their pets?  They turn into feral beasts! See what happens when people don’t spay their pets? They turn into feral beasts!

   Depending upon how long one takes, this Fire Emblem probably will not take more than 35 hours to complete, and potentially somewhat less. Getting into random battles and playing through the Tower of Valni will increase the playtime, naturally. Replay is certainly extant, for the middle portion of the game forces the player to make a choice between following Eirika and Ephraim; their quests diverge for quite awhile into very different battles, and the story is somewhat different even after their reunion. There is also the Hard Mode challenge; this mode will prove to require the full attention of the player at all times. Collecting all Support conversations and music is another worthy task. Conquering the Lagdou Ruins is a task that will also require full attention, as the enemies here are powerful and plentiful. Playing after completion of the game allows the player to unlock hidden characters also. FE: The Sacred Stones will require in the neighborhood of 70 hours for a player to consider it even close to complete.

   Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a completely worthy title for any Tactical-RPG lover who needs something else on GBA. If it were the first English Fire Emblem I might give it a 5, but it represents a slight decrease in overall quality compared to its predecessor in North America. This is hardly a detriment, as it still stands strong in comparison to its Tactical-RPG brethren – on any system. Anyone with an interest in the sub-genre ought to pick up an FE title post haste.

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