Retro Review: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (GBA)

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Well, I have been in an RPG mood lately, so I decided to replay Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the Game Boy Advance. This tactical role playing game was the second Fire Emblem game to reach the United States, but is actually the eighth game in the series. Oddly, it is the only current Fire Emblem game to lack any connection to any other game in the series. Most other Fire Emblem games have at least one story or world element in common with at least one other game in the series. With that in mind, let us take a look at how this game plays.

First, if you aren’t familiar with Fire Emblem, it is a fantasy based tactical RPG. You move each character on screen similar to a board game, like chess. Each character can only move so far when moved, and can attack enemies in their attack range. Interestingly enough, on the player’s turn, the player has the option to move all of his units on the same turn, while on the enemy’s turn, all of the opposing units move on that turn as well.

FEsacredStonesMap
A sample battle in Fire Emblem Sacred Stones.

To help make up for this, the game allows for an attacked unit to counter attack, provided that both the attacking unit and defending unit are using a weapon with the same attack range. For example, short ranged weapons, like swords, can counter attack other short ranged weapons, like lances, but if attacked by a longer ranged weapon, like a bow, the sword wielder won’t be able to counter attack. Similarly, a character with a bow equipped won’t be able to counter attack a sword user, as the bow doesn’t attack at short range.

Another common feature of the Fire Emblem games is the weapon triangle, a sort of rock-paper-scissors concept that gives advantages to certain fighters based on the weapon they are using. Swords are strong against axes, lances are strong against swords, and axes are strong against lances. The advantages only slightly modifies damage, but more noticeably alters the odds of hitting the target. This partially balances the game by adding strengths and weaknesses to certain unit types to other unit types, giving more of a use to the large number of characters that otherwise fight the same way. There is also a weapon triangle for the games magic users too, which more recent Fire Emblem games lack, and adds some more flavor to this game’s characters.

Now, there are a few other features you must know about the series before you dive right into this game. When a character dies, they die permanently, with the only way to get them back is to restart the mission. It can be discouraging to play a long battle, only to have you lose a favorite character to one of the few tough foes on the field. Having to start the battle all over makes it hurt way more. This feature alone makes these games more challenging than most games on the market at the time, and can make older Fire Emblem games and acquired taste for some players.

In addition, each character’s weapons have a limited number of uses, requiring you to buy more of them and carry a spare most of the time. While Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones does feature some enemies that drop gold, I found myself running low on cash at a vital moment until I progressed a bit further into the game.

Of note, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones does have a few unique features that the other games in the series usually lack. This includes a world map, allowing you to revisit any shop, as well as get some extra battles for more experience points. You can also retreat from any non-story based battles if they get too tough. Many other Fire Emblem games don’t give you extra battles between missions, which also increases the challenge rating to them, but this helps ease new players into the series in Sacred Stones.

One feature I am quite fond of is the ability to promote a character into a stronger class. This does require a specific item, and for the character to be at least level 10 (though level 20, the max level in this game, is the ideal time to do so). The character goes back to level 1, but gets a big stat bonus, and gains new weapon options or other traits. In Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, each character has two choices when this happens, which encourages you to play the game a second time to see how they may fight differently.

You will probably want to play this game again anyway, as the story splits at one point, where you choose to follow Eirika, or her twin brother Ephraim. While the two stories end the same way after the two reunite in the final few missions, there are some differences in the story (and challenge level) in the parts where the paths differ. As you might expect, Eirika’s story is a little easier than Ephraim’s, but neither is a complete walk in the park.

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This game features a number of monsters to fight.

The game also features a larger variety of enemy types. There are a lot of monster based enemies here, with traits that playable characters usually lack. From zombies, to giant spiders, to gargoyles, and more, it feels like you are fighting a lot of faceless, inhuman foes. While you might not feel bad for killing monsters, the reduced number of human foes does limit the tragedy of war themes the story attempts to give you.

The story of the game has more medieval politics than most fantasy games, but still has its own mythology. The characters of this game feel quite real, and the writing is quite strong. In fact, all 33 playable characters have a story to them, but most are hidden in the game’s optional support conversations. While the story of Sacred Stones does have a few tragic moments, particularly past the mid-point, it is still satisfying to see what happens to the entire cast at the end.

While I’m not sure of why I feel this way, Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones does feel a little off. Maybe it is the visual design of the characters, or the lack of connection to the rest of the series, but based on the features in the game, it should be an improvement over older Fire Emblem games. I still enjoy this game, and can still return to it later to see what I can do with it, but the main story doesn’t fill me up as much as some of the other games in this series.

Here are some game play recommendations:

  • Try to beat the game without losing any characters. If someone dies, restart the chapter.
  • Take advantage of the extra battles the game gives you. Some tougher battles may require more experience points and tougher allies to get through them.
  • You may want to play both Eirika’s and Ephraim’s stories of the game for some extra perspective.
  • You can battle more enemies after the game is done, to level up your characters more.
  • You should try the vs. mode against the computer. In the odd chance you have a friend with this game and the old hardware, try the vs. mode with him too!
  • Complete each dungeon to get hidden characters. The tougher of the two must be beaten three times for a neat surprise!
  • When playing the game on additional play throughs, promote each character a different way to see how they fight differently. (This requires 5 different save files to see all character options. The game only has three!)
  • The game offers three difficulty settings. If you like the game enough try all three for each story (a total of 6 play throughs).
  • You may need to play the game even more times to see all the support conversations. It will take a while.
  • For the truly dedicated, you can try to max out the stats for all characters. This requires a lot of gold, and a lot of time. Probably not worth it.

Time for the Pros and Cons:

Pros:

  • Good writing.
  • Every character has a story
  • Adequate graphics (for the time) (possible pro, based on taste).
  • Fantastic animations.
  • Good sound and music (possible pro, based on tastes).
  • Extra battles that ensure you are ready for the next mission.
  • Branching class system.
  • Difficulty about right (possibly, based on individual skill and tolerance).
  • Strong map design.

Cons:

  • Characters die permanently, unless you restart the mission.
  • Limited in game gold (somewhat of an issue).
  • Seeing everything requires more save files than the game offers.

Verdict:

8.2/10 A great retro tactical RPG

The game’s quality ranges from 7.9-8.5, based on your tolerance high difficulty and the permanent death system.


So those are my thoughts on Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. What about you? How do you like this game? What character classes did you make each character? Did you find this game to be too tough, or too easy? Had you played the vs. mode with friends in this game back in the day? Let me know in the comments below! If you enjoyed this review be sure to click that like button. And to keep up with That’s All Games, you can also subscribe via email. Until next time, have fun gaming!

 

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