Fire Emblem is an often overlooked area of Nintendo's catalogue. Stand it next to the likes of Mario, Zelda and Metroid and it seems small-time, but in reality it is actually one of the most awesome and hardcore strategy RPGs on the market.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is the first Fire Emblem title to grace Nintendo's motion-sensor driven Wii and is a direct sequel to Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance for the GameCube. As you might have noticed, things being Radiant is a theme.
The story of Radiant Dawn throws you in right at the deep end of the Fire Emblem lore with familiar faces all around for those who played previous titles in the series. For those without the knowledge of previous games the story boils down to a very traditional RPG war.
One world power occupies another and from there the story spirals and escalates, with elements of the war affecting the world and those in it on both a personal and a country-wide level, and the story is extremely well told.
Nintendo aren't often known for their narrative prowess, but in Radiant Dawn the storyline satisfyingly shifts from character to character, giving multiple perspectives on the events that are affecting the world. This does a great deal to make the arguably otherwise bland war-torn world stand out from the crowd of Strategy RPG setups and draw you into the world portrayed.
Thanks to the serious manner the story is treated, the storyline of Radiant Dawn is perhaps laid on a little thick, and those without experience in the Fire Emblem universe may find it confusing - but the story really isn't what this game should be played for.
To set the record straight, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is a difficult game. It really is a hardcore strategy RPG, and for those who aren't naturally strategically minded the game might prove neigh-on impossible. The battle system takes place on the standard SRPG chess-like grid with players taking turns to move their units around.
Like any good strategy game a number of aspects are taken into account when units clash to battle, including the surrounding terrain, character bonuses and of course strengths and weaknesses of different unit types. Like Disgaea, Radiant Dawn employs a character relationship system where characters that have bonded within the storyline or in battle will perform better together.
All the other RPG standards are here including leveling up, character classes and a plethora of loot, but there is one horrifying fact that may stop you from putting all of your effort into creating one unstoppable character - if they die, they're dead forever.
There's no Life, Raise or Phoenix Feather in this game - if you are careless enough to let a character die in battle they are gone forever. While some other Strategy RPGs employ this method, many give players the option of resurrecting characters after battle - but not Fire Emblem.
This alone injects a massive amount of difficulty into the gameplay and forces you to think about defense as well as offense in a way many Strategy RPGs do not. Occasionally it can be frustrating - you perform perfectly in a battle then right before delivering the killing blow let one of your lead characters die. You'll want to smash your controller but it is never anything short of your own fault.
One change from previous Fire Emblem titles is the addition of the ability to save mid-battle. This can help reduce those frustrating moments somewhat and makes the game a bit easier, but in my opinion for a series so hard this is a welcome addition and not to be sniffed at. If you're truly a hardcore SRPG nut, the in-battle save can merely be ignored.
Another welcome addition is the fact that Radiant Dawn can be played with any number of controllers, including the Wii classic controller, so there's plenty of control options. Motion powered Wii controls are absent, but motion controls in a game like this would be fairly redundant anyway. It would've been nice to see some use of the pointer in-game though.
Radiant Dawn is as direct a sequel to Path of Radiance as they come as the title actually began life on the Nintendo GameCube. The extra power of the Wii hasn't really been utilized in the upgrade, and the game still looks distinctly like a GameCube title outside of some pretty FMV sequences.
Graphical disappointments aside, the score and presentation of the game is nicely handled and all the in-game menus are pleasant to look at and easy to browse. This is always good news in a strategy title as you'll spend a lot of time looking at them in this genre. The game is littered with fantastic hand-drawn artwork of the cast which are always a pleasure to see and help to make up for the graphical shortcomings.
Radiant Dawn is a fantastic strategy RPG with a few small problems. There are balance issues from time to time, the graphics are disappointing and for a game with anime-styled design the storyline takes itself far too seriously.
After a few hours' play, it quickly becomes clear how much fun the game is and what great value for money it is. Once that happens, these complaints will quickly melt away.