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Developer:
Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Gameboy Advance
Release Date: May 23 2005

by Tony Ames




After a prolonged period of complete absence from American shores, Fire Emblem took the GameBoy Advance by storm, garnering rave reviews and enormous sales. A follow-up was practically a certainty, and finally came in May with Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. While this new entrant to the series adds little to the formula, it still boasts minor improvements across the boards and more than enough of what makes the series successful to please all its new fans.


Visually identical to the previous Fire Emblem, Sacred Stones is a very simple game to look at. Field sprites have just enough detail to tell the class of the unit, since they have to be small enough for the player to reasonably look at large sections of the map. Excellent character art and frequent cut scenes which make use of it keep things from becoming too ugly, but there’s no denying that the core graphics are a bit primitive.


Sound is more or less what you should expect from a well-made GBA game, meanwhile. The music sounds good enough and works with the GBA’s equipment, sound effects have an appropriate ‘haha you are dead’ factor, and things sound just very smooth overall. The game retains the sound mode feature of its predecessor as well, meaning that should any of the music strike a chord, it’s all right there for the listening.


After centuries of peace, the empire of Grado has invaded Renais, the kingdom to the north. Fleeing for her life and not knowing if anyone is left alive, Princess Eirika must flee her home in the face of Grado’s advances and somehow find a way to recover her homeland. All the while Monsters, known only in legends telling of their banishment through the power of the Sacred Stones, have begun to reappear, leaving the future truly and surely unknown.


This, of course, is where the battles come in! Fire Emblem, in a lot of ways, is probably the simplest strategy RPG ever made. Battles are completely turn-based, allowing players to move all of their units at once, followed by the opponent, back and forth until the fight ends. Characters attack based on their weapon’s range and attributes, level up occasionally, break their weapons occasionally, and all that. At levels over 10, the characters can ‘promote,’ allowing them access to more weapon types and giving them some free stats. What separates Fire Emblem is how it uses these stats; gained one point at a time at best, things like damage are so simple to calculate that players can do so in their heads. Odd as it sounds, though, this actually increases the potential for strategy, because you know at a fairly precise level how powerful your characters and the enemy’s characters are, and you also know exactly how risky anything you do is.


Not that this is a big deal, since Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones features an incredibly powerful cast, in combination with generally less competent enemies than the previous game. In other words, this is a very easy game. Although tough optional maps become available from a cleared file, giving more experienced players something to do, the main quest may well bore returning fans -- unless of course they enjoy mercilessly slaughtering their enemies, which I have to admit I do.


All told, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a great handheld game. Though it doesn’t offer the sort of depth or complexity your typical RPG will, the game is perfect for the sort of places a handheld was made to go, entertaining without being overly taxing. Those who enjoy the series’ bare bones approach will also find plenty to like, even if the ease of the quest is a little disappointing.


Final Grade: 85%




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