Basic Information:


System: Gameboy Advance
Genre: Strategy RPG
Difficulty: Fair to Difficult
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: March 2005
Rating: E for Everyone
Retail Price: N/A


What’s It About:

Eirika, the Princess of Renais, is unexpectedly forced to flee her country when their long time ally, the Grado Empire, suddenly invades. She and a small group of Knights must make it safely to Frelia and from there seek out her twin brother, who was riding through Grado at the outbreak of the war. However it soon becomes apparent that something more sinister stirs behind the current war as sightings of hideous fiends are becoming much more common throughout Magvel. The player takes control of Eirika and her group of knights as she searches for her brother. Later on, the player is given the choice to complete the game through the eyes of either Eirika, or her brother Ephraim.

Gameplay:

The grid based movement in the Fire Emblem series

Fire Emblem plays like most SRPGs: you have a handful of characters that serve as your individual units that you move around on a grid and attack enemy units with. What is unique to Fire Emblem is the weapon and magic triangles. Just like in Pokemon, each magic type and weapon is strong and weak against another magic or weapon type. For weapon: swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords; likewise, dark magic beats anima magic, anima beats light, and light beats dark. However there are a few other nuances that make the game more complex. For example, certain weapons are only long ranged (bows), some only short range (most melee weapons), and some do both (magic, and specific weapons like javelins and hand axes), so choosing what sorts of weapons your units use is important. There are also weapons that specifically target certain unit types. For example, the dragon lance is especially effective against manaketes and waveryn riders. Another element to consider is each unit’s stats. Obviously heavily armoured units tend to be high on defence, but have the drawback that their resistance is pretty pathetic. So using magic users to attack heavily armoured units like Knights and Generals at a distance is very helpful. There are many things to consider, which makes learning and mastering the gameplay quite fun.

However, the thing that Fire Emblem is most known for is its perma-death feature. That is, every unit, whose HP hits 0 is permanently gone and you can no longer use them. The sole exceptions are the main characters, or Lords (the exclusive class of the main character[s]). When a Lord falls in battle, it is gameover. While this feature probably makes the game frustrating to most gamers, I believe it adds a nice level of tension that really asks the player to think through each and every move. This sort of tension is missing from most other SRPGs and it is probably the thing that makes gamers either love or hate this series.

Story & Characters:

Like the majority of the games in this series, Sacred Stones follows the journey of a princess (or later a prince) as she aims to reclaim her war-torn country and bring peace to the continent of Magvel. This may not sound too interesting, and it normally probably wouldn’t be; but it is the characters that really bring the game to life. Each unit you get has a very distinct personality with their own hopes and dreams. You usually learn about them through the support conversations. Support conversations are conversations you unlock by having the two units in question stand by each other for a certain number of turns. Not all units can bond and form support conversations though, but it is usually pretty easy to guess who can and who cannot based on if the characters interact at all in the main story. In case you are worried though, there is a feature in the Extras menu that lets you see all your previous support conversations, as well as a list of every unit that can support with the unit in question.

Another neat spin on the support conversations is that for most heterosexual pairs that can have support conversations, getting their Support Conversation Rank to A gets you an ending where the two characters marry. It’s a minor thing, but it really adds a nice touch of humanity to the characters and really gets you attached to them. Not to mention that each support conversation tends to reveal new/different things about said characters, so it really is worthwhile to try and check them all out (if not through the game, at least online). These support conversations also increase replayability, since you can only support 5 times per character per game; so if you want to see all the supports possible, multiple playthroughs will be necessary.

Art & Graphics:

A support conversation between L’Arachel and Rennac.

For a GBA game, the graphics are very nice and crisp. Obviously, very simple by today’s standards, but if one doesn’t mind pixel based graphics, they are quite pretty. The art style is anime inspired and oddly enough fits with the series (this is especially true if you compare it to the more realistic art seen in Shadow Dragon). The one thing I absolutely love about the art is that the character designs all fit a very medieval like setting with armour and sorcery gowns. This may seem like a minor thing, but I’ve found it irks me when the character designs look too modern in a setting that is supposed to be medieval-ish. What I mean by this is having gothic lolita clothing for mages, for example, even though the clothing style doesn’t suit the setting at all.

The box art isn’t anything exceptional, unfortunately, but it is not bad either. I do like that it conveys to the buyer that this game has two playable characters by featuring both Ephraim and Eirika on the cover (and no one else).

Sound and Music:

Music is definitely one of the strong suits of Sacred Stones. The sound quality isn’t that great because it is a GBA game, but the tunes are still quite lovely and fitting whenever they play. For example, whenever it is the enemy turn, a darker and more tense song plays than when it is the player’s turn. There are funny sounding tracks for the more humorous parts of the script and more sombre songs for the more serious and sad parts of the story. Some of my favourite tracks from the game include: Lyon, Land of Promise, Powerful Foe,  and Determination. Out of those, Lyon is definitely my favourite:

The sound effects are also pretty good, with mounted units having clopping sounds for the horses and clicks and clanks for heavy armoured units when they move.

Multiplayer:

From what I understand, multiplayer is possible using the GBA link cable, but since I never knew anyone who had the game, I couldn’t test it out.

My Thoughts & Recommendations:

Sacred Stones is probably one of the best entry points into the series as it has free battles (battles you can do outside the story) that allow newcomers to level up their units if they are having trouble with a particular part. It is also one of the stronger entries when it comes to characters, thus making it a perfect game to show off just why the series is so beloved. I whole-heartedly recommend this entry as a gateway into the series for anyone curious about Fire Emblem but wary about its reputation when it comes to perma-death. For SRPG fans, it is also a really good game since free battles are easily avoided if one wants a bit of challenge in the story mode and I personally feel the series is one of the best SRPGs around, so all entries into the series are wonderful (yes, even Shadow Dragon from a purely gameplay perspective) including this one.

The other nice thing about this entry is the dual protagonists, which not only adds replay value, but it is rather nice to be able to choose either a male or female character. There is also a post-game called Creature Campaign and Sacred Stones is, to date, the only Fire Emblem game available in English with a post-game (yes once Awakening is released, that will change). And from my very biased point of view, I think outside Blazing Sword (just called Fire Emblem in North America), this is the best entry I’ve played so far. I really enjoyed the story and characters. In fact, Sacred Stones has some of my favourite characters from the Fire Emblem series. Highly Recommended!

Conclusion

Pros: Cons:
-Easy to understand system with nuanced play for those who want it.

-One of the best entry points for the series.

-Very fleshed out characters.

-One of the best casts in the series.

-Lovely music.

-Perma-death.

-Appealing aesthetics.

-Gender choice.

-Music quality is poor due to hardware limitations.

-Story isn’t anything remarkable but it still quite nice.

-A little on the easy side for series veterans.

Overall, a must have for any fan of the SRPG genre

–SW

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