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'Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones' is the eighth entry in the popular strategy-role-playing series and the second to make it beyond Japan. Despite it being a solid game with many new features that would intrigue fans of other games in the series or genre, it struggles to hold up against its predecessor.
The story in 'Sacred Stones' is as follows: a millennium ago the Demon King Forticus ruled over the world with monsters until the humans received a set of sacred stones from the heavens, with which they sealed the king away. In the present day the stones have been passed down as heirlooms for the different kingdoms in the world and the Demon King is regarded as legend. Then suddenly the Grado Empire invades the Lunar Empire for reasons unknown. The game follows the prince and princess of Lunar, twins Ephraim and Erika, as they muster an army of survivors and supporters from their fallen kingdom. Of course there is connection with the legend and yet the steps in making the link aren't blatant and the story does well to intertwine the rise of monsters in the world and the shady dealings occurring in Grado.
Characterisation is once again a strong point. The protagonists Ephraim and Erika are pretty generic. However to their credit their relationship is well conveyed throughout the story through monologues and flashbacks because, despite being apart through most of it, they are incredibly close and it seems not one chapter goes where one of them wonders how the other is faring. Nevertheless it's the supporting cast that held my interest more; your team consists of such warriors as surviving father and son Garcia and Ross, cloud cuckoolander princess L'Arachel with her entourage and the mysterious mercenary Joshua. On the other side you have the Grado generals, some who clearly don't have the world's best interests at heart, and others whose loyalties to the Emperor are tested by his mysterious actions. Brother and sister have to make decisions which will test their morals and show a side to war previously unknown to the royal twins.
Now, the gameplay is of course the same as the other games. You deploy and equip your party on the pre-game menu, and then you battle enemy forces on a map by taking turns on each map until you fulfil your objective. Characters are in set classes and can be promoted after levelling up sufficiently, they still have supports with certain characters if adjacent for enough turns, and as always, if they die then they are gone for good.
There have been quite a few additions to 'Sacred Stones'. Firstly, you now navigate your party over a world map to access the next chapter/battle, a random encounter (from an area you've cleared) or one of the bonus dungeons: Tower of Valni, Lagdou Ruins and Melkaen Coast. These dungeons and random maps are great for levelling up your team before the next battle, especially with the dungeons you cannot save between each floor and the monsters get progressively harder. In addition completing some of the floors or the whole dungeon will unlock new characters who are bosses in the story. Unfortunately if you keep depending on this it means that the story chapters will become easier as enemies on those maps aren't scaled. Therefore this new feature is hit-and-miss if you prefer the linear movement in the previous game.
Secondly, when you promote a character they may have the choice between two higher classes; for example if you are promoting the cavalier Kyle, he can either upgrade to a Paladin, which it would traditionally, or a Great Knight (a new unit which has higher defences but less movement range). This links with the third main feature, which is the introduction of three trainee units. These units start off much weaker and more fragile than normal units because they are essentially in a sub-class; once they reach level 10 in that trainee class they will level up automatically to a normal class of your choice, and then again to a promoted class. This was quite intriguing for me because these units carried a great risk in battle but if enough effort was put into levelling them up they could be more powerful than their regular counterparts. Both features are good in that they flexibility in your units and create a team that will cover all its individual weaknesses and provides balance, rather than having too many Cavaliers/Paladins in your party and no good axe-users (which ignoring the trainee units would actually lead to).
The chapter layout has been shaken up a bit as well. Halfway through the game, Erika and Ephraim split up for different purposes and you must pick either's journey to follow instead of switching between the two parties. Therefore chapters and bosses will be completely different from each other and the chapter new characters can join you will differ. Even the main antagonist's motives change slightly- which I think is pretty neat! Nevertheless Ephraim's levels are noticeably more difficult to Erika's and considering this isn't implied in the game before you choose I felt the two should definitely have been balanced more.
There's nothing much to say about the graphics in this game, as they are exactly the same as its predecessor: small sprites on a 2D map which provide a nice zoomed in attacking sequence. The soundtrack is decent with some tracks that will stick in your mind, but nothing special either. Neither has been improved on, but to be honest there was no real need to.
'The Sacred Stones' is, to sum up, a good game with some good features and gameplay solid as ever. I enjoyed the new additions to this game immensely as it added variety and replay value, but considering the major difficulty drop this results in it will either frustrate or please players. If you still want to get into this series it's best to play this game first as the (optional) tutorial will ease newcomers in better. Regardless, I would say this is a worthy game on its own merits and it's still recommended.
(Originally posted on Dooyoo under the username Anti)
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Dentolux 07.11.2011 05:15
Not as good as the previous game, as it had a more likeable cast, but this was a great game all the same. I liked the option to choose what class you would promote to, but I never bothered with the trainees.
Secre 05.11.2011 15:55
I absolutely adored this series but I thought the DS titles let it down...Lissy