When you love something, you want to share it with the world, and when it comes to shonen manga, anime and games, there are few with as much knowledge, skill and love as the Shonen Otaku. Join me as we look at the duel-filled settings and characters that give us our favorite stories. Expect a lot of fighting, exposition and silliness here in the Shonen Otaku Corner.
I’ve never been one for real-time strategy games, and not
just because I prefer to charge in singlehandedly and mow down hundreds of
enemies like a game of Madworld. While I
can enjoy a session of Starcraft or Warcraft, I’m never able to devise a good
strategy as fast as my opponent (including the AI) and micromanagement tends to
get overwhelming (though game design has certainly improved on that aspect).
No, if I’m going to be commanding around little men armed
with machine guns and tanks, I need to have time to consider my options, which
is why I’ve always been more enamored with games that have players taking
turns, like Project X Zone or Civilization.
This sums it up.
One of the turn-based strategy games that have stood out to
me over the years came from Nintendo with Advance Wars: Dual Strike on the
Nintendo DS. While I hadn’t played the
first two Advance Wars games on the GBA, I was still able to enjoy the strategy,
the story, the outlandish units (mega tank!), the stylization and the slew of
bonus content, including its varied characters with different abilities not
unlike the variety seen in fighting games.
CO of choice.
Even though I got into Nintendo’s big strategy franchise for
a time, I rarely paid mind to what may be their even bigger turn-based strategy
game franchise, Fire Emblem. I’m not
entirely sure why I brushed Fire Emblem off for all these years. Maybe the idea of units dying and never coming
back made it sound too hard. Maybe
nobody sold me on the stories they told, or maybe copies of several of them are
just way too hard to find (Radiant Dawn and Path of Radiance come to mind).
The time for me to play a Fire Emblem game came when Nintendo
released its GBA Ambassador games for people who bought a 3DS before its
original price drop (even though I actually bought it a day beforehand, where a
store dropped the price early). In
addition to other classic GBA titles like Metroid Fusion and Zelda: The Minish
Cap, I got a digital copy of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, one of the only
standalone Fire Emblem games.
I had some prior experience with the game before. My friend had owned it way back when it
originally came out. I found it to be
very interesting for a while, but I quickly moved on, probably because my young
mind only had one-track strategies. The
Ambassador program gave me the perfect chance to see what I missed and, in the
process, what I had been missing for as long as the franchise has been around.
As somewhat cliché as it is, The Sacred Stones’ story is well-told
and action-packed, just the way I like it.
It takes place on a fantasy continent called Magvel, where the five
nations that make it up have lived in peace for several years.
That peace ends when the nation of Grado attacks. Its emperor, Vigarde, suddenly acts extremely
out of character and has his army invade the other nations, hurt innocent
civilians, and destroy the sacred stones each nation holds. The importance of the sacred stones is
explained later on, but needless to say, they need to be kept intact.
What’s more, Vigarde brings in three very questionable
generals to fight alongside the virtuous and loyal ones he has had for
years. Said generals are a deserter of
another one of the nations, a knight that was exiled from Grado for being
unjustly cruel, and a sorcerer who looks like he was trained by the Sith.
They are not nice people.
After their kingdom
of Renais is attacked by
Vigarde and its king is killed, Princess Eirika and Prince Ephraim both travel
the continent to rally allies across each nation and stop the Grado army.
The plot is mostly traditional with a few twists and added
elements, but it’s the characters that make it work. Each of the few dozen characters have their
own personalities and backstories, which the game is able to convey very well by
integrating it into the gameplay with moderate success.
It all starts with recruitment. While some of the more plot-important
characters will inevitably join you, most of them won’t join your alliance
until a certain character talks to them (you can identify most recruitable
people by their distinguished faces). Sometimes
that requires a strategy to let such a character get close without killing the
one you want to recruit or getting one of your own units killed by the recruit
(when they’re on the enemy’s side).
It’s crucial to recruit and protect as many characters as
you can, because you only get one of each of them. You might have the same unit class, but you
only get one of each character, and if they die, it’s for good, which makes
each one feel more individualized instead of faceless support like in Advance
Each time you recruit someone on the field, you get a
special conversation depending on the character you choose to recruit them with,
but there are also several more conversations to witness afterwards. In addition to the main story detailed as you
proceed through the game, where characters that are alive can have extra
conversations, they can also start conversations with each other mid-battle after
spending several turns next to each other.
With each support conversation, they also give one another a boost when
next to each other.
Disappointingly, the number of turns they need to be
standing next to each other is so large, and the characters that can have a
conversation together are so specific, you practically have to go out of your
way to do this.
It’s easy enough to have units stand next to each other
while passing turns when the enemy doesn’t, or can’t, move, but I don’t think I
should have to exploit a loophole to see something that should blend into the
narrative. It may not even be a loophole
though, because the game puts a limit on how many support conversations each
character can have, which I can see no reason for other than to stop people
from exploiting the waiting game. I
haven’t played the other Fire Emblem games, but I hope they implement character
interaction better. If you take your
time and focus on keeping the party members next to each other, it can make for
a much better story, but I am not one for patience.
It’s best to describe The Sacred Stones, and the other Fire
Emblem games, as a turn-based strategy RPG.
Each character has statistics, such as speed, strength, and luck. Characters with speed can move farther in one
turn, ones with more strength do more physical damage, those with luck have a
better chance of dodging attacks, ect.
They also each have their own classes, which determine their
statistics and what weapons they’re able to use. For example, mages and clerics have low
defense, but strong magic, and horse-riding units like paladins and cavaliers
can move several squares in one turn on most terrain. Clerics can use staves, and paladins can use
lances and swords.
Most characters can change classes at least once after they
reach level 10, usually through the use of very valuable items specifically made
for doing so. Characters are generally
given a choice between two classes for them to change into, and once changed,
they change their appearance and get a major stat boost.
It perfectly encapsulates what makes leveling up so
meaningful. Not only does it make
characters more useful, but it can also give you new units to work with you
can’t get any other way.
As you can see, there is quite a bit of depth to this game.
But as much as the character management is full of depth, the
weapons each character uses is probably the biggest part of how the game plays,
believe it or not. Each weapon has its
own range, power, accuracy, and limited number of uses. Lances, swords, and axes are used when a unit
is next to an enemy, unless they’re weaker ones made for throwing, in which
case it can be used at close range or a distance. For such axes, magic, javelins, bows and
weapons like them, a character can attack diagonally and one space away
vertically or horizontally. But even that’s
excluding certain tomes and longbows.
The weapons are given further depth with their rock paper
scissors advantage system. Spears work
better against swords, swords work better against axes, and axes work better
against lances. Magic has a somewhat
more complicated advantage system to consider too.
Then there are even more
statistics entering a battle. When
you’re about to choose your target, the game tells you the chance you have of
hitting them, the damage the attack will do if it does hit, and the chance of a
triple-damage critical hit. Those stats
can get an even bigger boost if you use weapons specialized for fighting
specific units or weapons, like armorslayers or lancereavers.
It might seem like a very complicated game, but once you get
into the mentality of it, it’s only about as complicated as a JRPG like Final
Fantasy, just in a different way. The
limited number of characters you’re allowed to take into each battle (usually
11 at the most) prevents annoying micromanaging. All of The Sacred Stones’ variety and rules
make for a very flexible game system that gives many different ways to approach
“Do I use the super powerful weapon on this relatively weak
enemy even though the weapon has limited uses?
What if I let my powerful unit weaken the enemy and then have a weaker
one finish it off for more experience?
Do I retreat this unit to save him or finish this annoying monster off
Granted, a strategy that you can usually fall back on is to
simply throw Seth at whatever the problem is.
Seriously, Seth, the paladin you start out with, is the single most
powerful and invincible mega-unit in the entire game. When an army of horseback knights headed in
the direction of my units, Seth went back and killed them all. When there was a boss that could one-shot a
unit, Seth one-shot him first. When my
valuable units kept dying, I rethought my strategy and just sent Seth and a couple
of other cavaliers so that Seth could take the brunt of the onslaught…. And
live. He’s like the Ralf Jones of Fire
Emblem! The only reason you’d ever not
want to use Seth is so that you can let your weaker units kill enemies instead
and level up.
I never did this. Seth is my backup nuke.
But having an easy option to reduce frustration is always
appreciated, especially in a game like Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I’ve heard it’s one of the easier games in
the Fire Emblem franchise, but if that’s the case, I’m now scared of the other
games. The Sacred Stones is one of the
hardest games I’ve ever played. It could
be because I’m not a strategy buff, but I think it’s more because of the
unbelievably spiteful AI!
Where did Grado get these brain-dead crack whores? Every enemy unit only has one strategy
somewhere along the lines of “fuck you player!”
They do not fight against the characters that are trying to stop them,
they fight against you, whether itmakes any logical sense or not.
They will always attack your lord (Ephraim or Eirika) if
they can. If they can’t, they’ll attack
your healer. If there’s no healer within
their range, then they’ll pick on your weakest unit and only your weakest unit on the off-chance they might be able to kill
it in one turn. They don’t care if they
go around your front line and into the heart of your team where they’ll
immediately be killed in the next turn!
They just want to at least damage your healer as much as they possibly
can! They don’t care if attacking your
lord has a 3% chance of hitting! They
might get lucky and damage him/her by one point! They go strictly out of their way just the
piss the player off, which works when you have to restart the entire mission
all over again just because they got one lucky shot on a valuable unit!
It’s practically inevitable that you’re going to lose
units. It’s almost impossible not
to. In fact, playing through Fire Emblem
without losing a single unit was nominated for Nintendo Power’s “Harder Than
College” award (it lost to The Pit of 100 Trials in Paper Mario: The Thousand
Year Door). There are enough recruitable
units in the game to make losing a handful of them not too big a deal, but if
you don’t have at least two characters that can use healing staves on hand,
I understand that the game should be challenging, but in The
Sacred Stones, if you make one wrong move, you’ve probably lost, and that comes
off as punishing, which is never a good thing.
I would at least like a get-out-of-screw-up-free card that would let me
go back in time a couple of turns at least once.
Regardless, the game was much easier my second time around,
and it may not be the last. There are
several factors that will keep you coming back for more. Most prominently is a fork in the game’s
story, where Ephraim and Eirika go their separate ways and you have to choose
which of the two to follow. Not only are
there plot points not shown in the other’s story, but the story afterwards also
changes depending on which one you chose.
You can’t forget the strategic choices you’re given either. There are many different ways the story can
play out. If you lost someone in your
first playthrough, try to make it a point to keep them alive in the second, and
if you upgraded someone to one class the first time, try the other class.
It’s also motivational to go back and try to see more
support conversations. Once you beat the
game, you unlock a gallery of every support conversation between characters
you’ve seen. Since it’s impossible to
get them all in one run due to the limit on them, playing through the game
again gives you another goal to achieve on the side.
On top of that, there are more Easter eggs here and there
you may miss initially, like conversations between characters right before they
fight to give it more meaning.
That’s not even going into the other extra mode you unlock
at completion, in which you can take on even greater challenges and recruit
some of the bosses into your party.
And I will play through it again someday. Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, while
frustrating at times, was memorable and fresh change from the games I usually
play. I would love to experience more
epic fantasy tales like this from the rest of the Fire Emblem games. The first step though, is finding copies, and
that may be even more difficult than the games themselves.
I give Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones a solid 7 out of 10.