Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones GameBoy Advance Review

With all of the exciting games coming out for the DS and the PSP it's easy to forget about Nintendo's Game Boy Advance system, which appears to be nearing the end of its glorious life cycle. However, just because the releases have been slowing doesn't mean that there aren't some hits among those slim pickings, most notably Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. This exquisite turn-based RPG improves upon the original in just about every respect and packs a long quest that's guaranteed to please those of you who flipped over the previous Fire Emblem as well as the Advance Wars games.

The Sacred Stones takes place on the continent of Magvel, a land that saw a band of heroes trap a demon king using five sacred stones (hence the title) long ago. After its defeat, five nations rose from the battle and its leaders divided up the land. However, for some bizarre reason the Grado Empire has invaded and conquered its ally, the kingdom of Renais. Fearing for his daughter, Princess Eirika's life, Renais' leader, King Fado manages to get her out of the castle before the troops break in, and thus begins the epic quest. You take control of Princess Eirika and later her brother, Prince Ephraim and set out upon a journey to find out what crawled up Grado's butt as well as rebuild your home. It's quite an involving story that's chock full of dialogue, which includes political discussion, some humor, and banter among the characters.

If you're looking for a deep RPG that features some fantastic character development, you've definitely found it. There are numerous types of allies you can recruit, including assassins, clerics, archers, swordsmen, cavaliers, knights, and pirates, among others, and many of them interact with the main characters, so there's a TON of text to read. Trust me, by the end of the game you'll feel a little too close to everyone. In fact, because there's so much dialogue you probably won't have read it all during your first time through the game.

In case you've never played a Fire Emblem, they're sort of like Advance Wars in that you're presented with a board (or battle area) that's littered with heroes and enemies and you have to strategically maneuver your "pieces" around the field and destroy your opponents, so if you're the least bit familiar with the aforementioned series then most of this game will fit you like a glove, the major differences being you have to trade in your tanks and fighter planes for knights and paladins and you'll need to learn the sword-spear-axe triangle. Essentially a rock-paper-scissors set up, spears beat swords, axes beat spears, and swords beat axes, so if you go into a battle and your guy's on a horse and brandishing a sword and your opponent is some weak little dude with an axe, you'll quickly kick his butt. As you progress you'll discover new weapons and powers that negate these rules, but in the beginning all you need to worry about is the basics.

Although The Sacred Stones feels like its predecessor, there are some notable improvements to the gameplay experience starting with the World Map. Instead of just jumping from battle to battle you can traverse the entire continent, visit different areas, and choose your own path, something that intensifies the game's epic feel, and there are all sorts of towns you can visit, where merchants sell a host of different items. You also have the option of promoting characters once they reach a certain level. Each unit can be upgraded into one of two classes, and you'll have to decide which skills are most important to you. For example, a cavalier can either become a great knight or a paladin. The great knight can use either the spear, sword, of the axe and is really powerful, but the paladin is quicker. Do you opt for strength, or for speed?

My biggest criticism of this game is its lack of extras. That's really not a serious gripe considering the size of the single-player campaign, but what's offered isn't really worth delving into. However, if you'd like to take a break from adventuring but refuse to turn off your GBA you can link up with 2-3 other people and battle them in the Link Arena. It's not thrilling, but it's something to do and it extends the game's life.

Visually the game looks good. The map has a sweet looking old world style to it and some of the environments are the standard field dotted with trees variety, though you'll see plenty of different-looking locales. Much like in Advance Wars whenever you engage an opponent a little cut scene plays, though Fire Emblem's aren't as impressive. The character animation is average at best. However, it certainly gets the job done. The same goes for the characters themselves. The tiny sprites are easily distinguishable from one another and there are a plethora of types you can recruit. Enemies also come in a plethora of tasty varieties, so at one point you'll be slaying your standard issue soldier, and the next you'll be battling all sorts of monsters such as demons and zombies. Lastly, the hand drawn images that pop up whenever someone's talking are exceptionally well done and look fantastic on a GBA or DS screen.

Fire Emblem's music is quite epic and most certainly fits the mood, but it didn't necessarily knock my socks off. It's good, no question, but it's not the sort of stuff anyone would want to hum in the shower or on their way to work. You'll dig it whenever you're playing the game and as soon as you turn off the system it'll drain from your ears and you won't recall any of it.

The main reason why I like The Sacred Stones is because it looks and feels old school, meaning it's reminiscent of classic NES RPGs, but beyond its look this is a quality turn-based experience that'll last you for hours. I didn't have any desire to replay it again, but in this case, your first time will indeed be the best.

What's Hot: If you're into old school RPGs, you're going to love this one!

What's Not: Not the most technically impressive game, and it has little replay value.