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SummaryIt took me 2 years to beat that little gem, but I did it !
The GoodHere you are my review for the eight game in the oldest (and in my opinion best) strategy-RPG series ever, it's name is Fire Emblem : The Sacred Stones. I've personally known about the Fire Emblem series for a long time, back in the early emulation days I've heard about a NES game called Fire Emblem and downloaded it. Unfortunately this game is Japan only and I didn't understand much of it, but I still immediately fell in love for it. Everything was awesomely designed in this game. I could play the first two missions or so, but the fact that you never know what you are doing becomes quickly annoying. There is also a sequel of it on the NES, called Fire Emblem Gaiden which was similarly cool, but featured nonlinearity, also in Japan only. But I finally heard a Fire Emblem game would be released on the GBA outside of Japan, and after getting a GBA I almost immediately bought a copy of it. I loved the game very much, but couldn't finish it due to extremely high difficulty. Then came a sequel to it, and after a while I've heard a couple of time people saying it was easier than the first. So I bout it in the hope to get skills in order to play the first again (with better results). And while this game turns to be still very hard, I managed to beat it after two years or so.
A good thing with the Fire Emblem series is that, aside of graphics and some cosmetic changes and minor improvements, the series haven't changed since the NES days. This may sound bad, but in fact it's great. Think a second of how many series used to innovate and completely change themselves to 3D and eventually end up to some game that is completely unrelated to it's prequels in terms of gameplay ! I'm not against innovation, but Fire Emblem definitely sets traditions before innovation, which make a very solid series that is not going to fell soon. You can bet no Fire Emblem game with fan services girls in bikini shooting with guns will ever be released (yes, I'm referring to Final Fantasy X 2. This make Fire Emblem one of the only series among Dragon Quest and some other little unknowns gems true sequels to what they were in the early '90s.
However, Fire Emblem : The Sacred Stones (from now on FE8 for short, as it's the 8th Fire Emblem game) still made some changes from it's predecessors. The main change is the re-appearance of nonlinearity since Fire Emblem 2 (Gaiden) on the NES. Just like in this older game, you have a map and can go where you want when you want (however main missions still take place in a set order, only secondary missions are nonlinear). Only this time the game is in English (and in most other common languages too) !.
You take the control of Prince Ephraim and Princess Eirika, who used to be the two children of the king of Renais, but their neighbor Grado attacked their castle for some weird reason, and killed the king in doing so, so they just fleed. Below their (and yours !) leadership, you will meet with many people of all social classes (ranging from Princes(ses) to thieves) and from all styles of personality, and that have very varied fighting skills, and varied motivations to fight with your team (ranging from more or less honorable motives). What I like about Fire Emblem games is that there is so many characters and that every single of them is just TOO cool in it's own way. Just for this reason you don't want to let them die (if you do they actually die, if you didn't know yet). You also kill (yes kill) your enemies in your game, giving another dimension of realism in a sad way absent in most video games. Unlike in most other medieval-fantasy games, you don't just kill monsters, and unlike in GTA you're never proud or make fun by killing someone, you just do it for your own safe. Most principal enemies have monstrous personalities, but unfortunately most people will follow their orders without asking questions. So the story is really cool and the characters are perfectly developed. In one particular point in the game you have the choose between two paths, which adds to the replayability.
In FE8, monsters are still back like in FE2 for the NES (just like the map), so you fight both humans and monsters. Each type of human and monsters has it's "class". You units are archers, fighters, mercenaries, etc... (there is quite a lot of them) while monsters have weird names. Each unit levels up to 20, and is able to change it's class to a better one if you use a particular item, but being at least level 10 is required. In addition to this, the game also added a lot of new classes absent in previous Fire Emblem games, and added the opportunity to chose between two classes when you upgrade your units. Do NOT do like I did : ALWAYS wait for the units to be level 20 before upgrading them, else they will just SUCK !
By the way most of the units are pretty weak at the stat, and you will need to level up a lot already at the beginning. Fortunately you can do (theoretically) infinite level up in this game, which isn't the case in previous FEs (except for 2). This make the game potentially easier, but just having more level up isn't just enough. You should also buy good weapons (and they run out quickly, and you don't have infinite money !) and you should keep characters well balanced, and have them never change classes before they're level 20 ! By playing this you will learn how a small error is capital, and how easily can a character you trough be strong die. Just like real life, this game is unforgiving.
Finally the graphics are basically the same as the previous Fire Emblem, slightly improved, but with a lot of new classes (including monsters). The battle scenes with a big plan on the two fighting characters are incredibly cool, especially when you're doing a critical hit. The music is really good, you won't be disappointed by it either.
I think I didn't mention it but the control interface is perfect, and the game is automatically saved, allowing you to turn off the console anytime, your game is never lost.
The BadI didn't like the fact that close to the end of the game some enemies have powerful very long range attacks, they could just kill any weak character from half-a-screen distance or so. This is annoying, since you have no chance to counter. Also, some of the characters lack development and are barely present in the storyline, unlike the previous FE game on the GBA. I also didn't like how weak are most of the characters straight from the start. Level up doesn't replace initially strong characters. Ironically weaker character are those who have the best potential of being brutes later, but this is a hard task.
The Artificial Intelligence is not bad, but just too simple. They always attack the weaker they can, and if the weaker is incredibly strong they still attack it. So if you place a weak unit, everyone will rush on it, and if you place a strong one they will commit suicide on it. They could do something better. A thing I disliked is that if a strong enemy happen to hit one of your units hard, but your unit just kills it, this leaves a slot for another similar enemy to come, but if your character wouldn't have counter-attacked, the enemy unit would have blocked the path to it's friends, making your unit survive the round just by avoiding to counterattack. They should have allowed you to cancel counterattack with the B button or something.
Finally the music is good, but by far not AS good as the music of the previous FE. And yes, I like challenge but sometimes having to restart a mission about 25 times to beat it without any dead on your side despite your efforts is a bit frustrating. It took me some 2 years to beat the game, so much times you have to restart the game if you want everyone alive. This game allow faster levelup and infinite monster missions in order to help you, but finally the monster missions are hard as well, and if you place the wrong unit at the wrong place and the wrong time, you won't have much warning before having it killed in one hit (two if you are lucky).