Exactly one year ago, I struck while the iron was hot. Browsing GameStop with a friend, I spotted a pristine copy of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn that I couldn’t pass up. We’d see copies every so often but they’d be missing their manual or in poor shape otherwise not meriting the hefty asking price. Little did I know that this acquisition would solidify the schedule of our weekly get-togethers for the next year and that we’d eventually clock more than eighty hours in order to complete one of the hardest entries in the tactical RPG series. Continue reading Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn [Wii] – Review→
When Nintendo of America published Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance on November 3, 2003, it marked the end of a decade-long drought. The seventh entry in the series, now canonically known as Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, was the first to be released in the west. Set on the fictional continent of Elibe during an era of swords, sorcery, and dragons it told a predictable legend of good vs. evil, rife with archetypal characters and intricate details. While the turn-based tactical gameplay was impressively executed and multifaceted, it could be frustratingly difficult. I found it borderline obstructionist but nonetheless, persisted. Although my playthrough was peppered with demoralizing losses, perhaps more impactful than the rewarding victories, I’d do it all over again. Continue reading Fire Emblem [Game Boy Advance] – Review→
Very much wanting to be a part of the zeitgeist surrounding the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening, I had the urge to play a Fire Emblem game around the game’s February 2013 release. This is despite having written off the tactical role-playing genre previously and already owning a few Fire Emblem titles that I never got more than halfway through. You see, it’s a genre I like in concept, but in practice I don’t have the patience for; I usually haphazardly rush into battles which only get me so far. At least, that used to be the case. When I decided to play Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend (as he was having the same urges as I), I approached it with more maturity and was able to adapt to its gameplay style. In short, I came, I saw, I conquered.
The Sacred Stones was only the second Fire Emblem game to see release in the United States when it hit the Game Boy Advance in 2005. Intelligent Systems had been pumping out the Fire Emblem jams since 1990, but I guess Nintendo didn’t think highly enough of its western audience to localize any of these games until the 2003 release of Fire Emblem, also on the GBA. Which is strange, as this series is one of the forerunners of the genre, especially on home consoles and handhelds.
As is tradition with Fire Emblem games, The Sacred Stones is set in a fantasy setting where magic and demonic creatures are prevalent. Taking place on the continent of Magvel, this game focuses on Eirika and Ephraim, the princess and prince of Renais. Their country has recently been invaded by Grado, a former ally and in their quest to uncover why, they discover the well-intentioned actions of the prince of Grado has brought about the potential resurrection of the Demon King. Their efforts to prevent such a catastrophe lead them to every nation in Magvel in search of the Sacred Stones – wards of such evil.
Players control Eirika for the first third of the game, about the time she reunites with Ephraim. At this point, players have the option of playing through the next third as either character. Eirika’s path takes her to western nations in search of support while Ephraim chooses to confront Grado head-on. My friend and I each chose different routes and we can say with certainty that Ephraim’s path is a little tougher. We had fun discussing the story beats in these chapters, but like most of the game, it was shallow.
My only major gripe with The Sacred Stones is the thin story. There was a lot of exposition before and after battles, but the script was cliché-ridden, in regards to both plot points and characterization. It wasn’t a very exciting story all in all. The plot focused on a handful of major characters, but to get any details on the other twenty or so (besides the most basic information) support conversations were needed. These were lengthy conversations mid-battle between two characters that parlayed back-story, and sometimes a faint amount of character growth.
Had I not had another person playing alongside me, I imagine the predictable story and flat characterization wouldn’t have been enough to entice me to complete the game. However, the meat and potatoes of the game if you will, is the gameplay. As a commander of a small military squad, players had to scout out the battlefield, figure out a suitable composition of unit classes, and ultimately outperform the opposition.
I think the biggest reason I was successful playing the game this time around, was thoroughness. I took everything into consideration. Before battles, I’d carefully plan out who I wanted to fight, aiming to keep everyone about the same level. In battles, I’d keep everyone together for the most part, having a squad with a strong perimeter. Some weapons and magic were more effective against others so I’d check the equipment of enemy units to make sure I was sending in someone who could handle the enemy and hopefully have an offensive or defensive advantage. I’d also pay very close attention to the enemies’ movement range, hoping to not push my units too far into enemy territory too quickly. Without this thoroughness, I wouldn’t have beaten the game.
There’s a lot of diversity in the battlegrounds and the enemy forces meaning that players can’t milk a strategy for too long – they have to continue adapting. Although we spoke about the game weekly and were going through mostly the same content, our squads were made up of different characters. Our different “all-stars” led to slightly different strategies for battles. This was especially true later in the game since we had spent a lot of effort leveling and classing up different characters. It provided us a great deal to talk about and opened my eyes to how the game could be tackled in a multitude of ways. My disdain for the genre was partially born of my opinion that these games were meant to be tackled in a very specific manner, with little room for variation or improvisation.
Thanks to the zeitgeist surrounding Fire Emblem: Awakening, I wanted to give the TRPG genre another chance. I’m glad I did as playing Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones alongside a friend was enjoyable. I found little to compel me forward with its narrative and characterization, but its gameplay was both challenging and rewarding. I can think of little else in a video game that is as rewarding as winning a 2½ hour battle, adapting to every gameplay system, mechanic, and enemy unit thrown at me, and to do so without losing a single character. I’m not necessarily brimming to jump into another TRPG, but I’m happy to look at the genre with new eyes.
The 2007 Nintendo DS release of Front Mission was the first time the game was available in North America. It was originally released for the Super Nintendo in 1995 and saw upgraded ports for the WonderSwan Color and PlayStation in the years before it arrived here. The game spawned a series and is undoubtedly one of the more well known tactical role-playing games.
Front Mission contains two lengthy scenarios to play through, each taking place on Huffman Island. The game has a very detailed back-story detailing the events that led up to the confrontation of two superpowers on a small Pacific island in the late 21st century.
The first scenario follows a young captain, Royd Clive who is fighting as mercenary for the Oceania Cooperative Union. When his scenario begins, I witnessed his fiancée getting killed by opposition forces, the Unified Continental States. He loses interest in fighting but is recruited by a mercenary leader and accepts. Through his conquest of the island he receives indications that his fiancée might still be alive.
The second scenario follows Kevin Greenfield, a former high ranking officer in the U.C.S. who was stripped of his rank and sent to Huffman Island. This scenario was labeled as more difficult than Royd’s and I didn’t play any of it. Heck, I didn’t even finish Royd’s scenario; I’ve played for about a dozen hours and I’m basically halfway through his scenario at mission 13.
I spent the bulk of my time with Front Mission when I spent a week away from home, away from my consoles, and I haven’t put much time into it since then. Perhaps I would’ve remained captivated by it if there was more going on plot wise. Most of the plot advancement stemmed from minor victories against Royd’s enemy, the U.C.S., allowing his squad to gain ground on them. Also going on was Royd’s quest for his possibly still alive fiancée but this plotline developed very slowly. Recruiting new squad members introduced new characters, but I rarely saw them afterwards.
Personally, I really like tactical-rpgs… from afar. Leveling up and managing a fairly large squad sounds interesting, but this eventually amounts to too much work. Another thing I dislike about the genre is the sense that there is one correct way to complete a mission; it seems I get halfway through a game and all of a sudden hit a wall. This is one area where Front Mission appeals to me. I never felt like there was one way to complete a mission. Perhaps this is due to the upgradability of the wanzers.
Battles were fought in wanzers (mecha) which could be upgraded in many ways. When I wasn’t in a mission I could set up camp in a nearby town and visit the local shop. Here, I could upgrade the weapons my wanzers had equipped and change their various parts. When I ran out of money I visited the arena and easily won more by gambling. However, this turned into a rather boring cycle of mission, new town, shop, arena, shop, and so on. Recently, I’d spend upwards of thirty minutes upgrading my wanzers, and that’s too much downtime.
The actual missions in Front Mission are turned based and battles take place between individual units like most other tactical-rpgs. Some missions have unique events and enemies, but there isn’t much diversity apart from “attack all units until dead”.
Front Mission belongs to a genre I guess I don’t particularly enjoy but I found it more approachable than other similar games; then again I still didn’t complete it, as of this writing at least. I found the gameplay solid and very rewarding when the tides of battle were in my favor. I wish there was more to the plot, either the actual confrontation between the two superpowers or Royd’s story. Just the thought of a whole other scenario is daunting, but surely a boon for any fan of the genre.
Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber is a peculiar game. Developed by Quest and published by Atlus for the Nintendo 64, it was released in North America in late 2000, and is notable for being one of the only RPG’s on the system. I initially thought it to be a tactical role-playing game similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, but it’s not. There are role-playing aspects such as customization and battle scenes, but the control I had over a small army reminded of the real-time strategy genre.
The game begins with the main character, Magnus Gallant, graduating from a military academy. In this sequence, I was asked questions and my answers decided the type of class Magnus would be. Upon graduation Magnus is sent to the southern reaches of Palatinus to put down an uprising by the lower class. Magnus wields his sword protecting the status quo of the monarchy and early on realizes the unjust nature of the class system he is fighting to protect.
The game offers the player choices at main intersections in the story, the first guiding Magnus along the path he is currently on, or allowing him to join the revolutionary army and fight for equality against the upper class. Each mission usually undertakes similar related concepts, in a much smaller scope, but each one evolves Magnus’ perspective on the world around him. Of the few choices I had to make, few of them had an obvious good and bad element. I had to sit and think about the route I would take and how it would affect the cause that Magnus fought for.
Before missions, Magnus would be briefed on the battlefield, the enemies, and the situation in general. Each mission took place in a fairly small geographical region, but they usually had a handful of towns. The objective was always to reach the opposite end of the map, capturing the enemy headquarters. Once I’d been given control, I would begin dispatching battalions and giving those battalions destinations. Both dispatching and issuing destinations was a redundant task. Lacking the ability to choose a group of battalions, I had to issue destinations and dispatch battalions one at a time.
If a battalion of mine ran into an enemy battalion, a battle would ensue. Once a battle between battalions started, everything happened automatically, dictated by the battle strategy I chose for that battalion. Rather than picking each action for each character, all I did was pick a battle strategy such as attack leader, and my characters would act accordingly. Not being able to choose individual targets was frustrating in some situations. Even when I told a battalion to attack the weakest enemy, sometimes they would attack a target with full hit points instead of an opponent with a low amount of hit points. The path to victories however was customization.
Battalions are a nine by nine grid that could be composed of up to five characters. The placement of the characters was vital for battles. If a soldier was placed on the front lines he would be able to attack twice, anywhere else, he would attack only once. Similarly, if I placed an Amazon (archer) on the back row instead of the front row, she would attack twice rather than once.
Besides the placement of characters, it was important to make sure that battalions were balanced class-wise. Early on, I was losing more characters than I wanted, so I added clerics to each battalion; because of this, battalions could participate in more battles and fewer of my characters died. With customization of individual characters being a vital component of the game, I wish the process of equipping characters and buying goods was easier.
In between missions I’d do all of my customization. I’d view my entire army and select individual battalions and then, individual characters. I’d change their equipment, alter their formation, change characters between battalions, there was a lot I could do!
But I gave up on Ogre Battle 64. There were many missions that required trial and error, perhaps because I became too cocky and decided to forego strategy and tactics after a few easy wins. But I attempted the fifteenth mission half a dozen times before I realized the characters I was fighting were a decent amount of levels ahead of my characters. To continue I would have to spend an hour or two grinding my character’s levels, and after all the times I went through the set up of the mission, which takes five to ten minutes, I was done.
I fear that I was playing the game “wrong” by leveling up my battalions equally instead of focusing on a few. It’s the same way I feel whenever I play tactical role-playing games. At some point it feels like there is one correct way of completing each mission, and the trial and error it takes for me to reach that correct way is frustrating and drives me to stop playing altogether.
I would like to return to Ogre Battle 64: Person of Lordly Caliber and potentially complete it at some point, but not for a while, I just need some time away from it. Ogre Battle 64 had a serious story that contained mature topics and having a choice in my actions was thrilling. And the gameplay was exciting; it was something I’ve never experienced. Instead of finding a tactical role-playing game as I thought I would, I found an interesting game that combined the customization and leveling aspects of a role-playing game with the strategy and direct control over multiple units of a real-time strategy game. I spent thirty hours playing Ogre Battle 64 and there’s easily another thirty hours in it, but because it frustrated me too much, I’m moving on for now.