[note: this post is more ruminative than a typical review, seeing as how my love for FE burns bright and this post is about a replay of a game. consider yourself warned. ;)]
it’s been several years now since i first played fire emblem: the sacred stones for GBA. since then i’ve played all the other games in the series that have been released in the US (and am waiting impatiently for the US release of FE12 which was released in japan 5 months ago). but although i haven’t mentioned it since then, i’ve actually been playing it off and on over the past few years. one of the unique things about FE8 compared to the other games in the series is that after you beat the main quest, there are two areas, the tower of valni and the lagdou ruins, that you can torture yourself by trying to complete. i say torture, because both of them provide significant challenges simply due to the fact that you have to defeat multiple maps (8 for one and 10 for the other) without being able to save, i.e. if you lose a character due to one stupid mistake, due to the game’s central permanent death mechanic if you want to keep him/her you have to START THE ENTIRE DUNGEON OVER AGAIN. the lagdou ruins aren’t a walk in the park as it is, and i’ve spent way too much time trying to make my way through the ruins with absurdly underpowered characters.
and that brings me to my next point, which is that one of the things i love about the FE series is that you can always choose how difficult to make the game for yourself. in RPGs in general i suppose you can make the game harder by going out of your way to not use certain equipment or certain characters, but since you can always train your characters up through random battles there’s not really any sense of really being able to limit yourself. in the FE games, the majority of which don’t include random battles, you can place limitations upon yourself to such varying degrees that the same game constantly feels fresh, helped in no small part by the huge cast of characters you can choose from, each with his/her own distinct personality. of course the games are challenging enough in and of themselves, but advanced players can always find some new twist to make things more fun, such as limiting yourself to only magic users or unmounted units or characters who appear with the lowest base level or even something as arbitrary as characters with green hair. other games in the series have more challenges within the game, such as being graded on how quickly you finish each chapter, but FE8 has the advantage of being shorter than other games in the series, and thus perhaps a more likely candidate for challenges among fans. one of the things i find particularly worthwhile myself is using the characters who start off being the worst. since virtually all the characters become worthwhile once they reach the higher levels, it’s quite gratifying to carefully train up an egregiously ignored character and then have him/her blaze his/her way through the remainder of the game (see my 2nd playthrough (PT) of FE10 for a prime example 😉).
okay, now on to the particulars. as i mentioned, i’ve made my way through both the tower and the ruins a couple of times each successfully (and many more times unsuccessfully for the latter), but i’ve also been playing the hard mode off and on. this is the first hard mode i’ve played in an FE game, and as FE8 is pretty much unanimously considered to be the easiest of the lot i didn’t mind easing myself into a greater challenge. it wasn’t overwhelmingly difficult, although there are a couple of chapters here and there that will make your blood pressure rise. it was nice to get to play through the second of the two main characters’ quests (which differ by 5 of the 21 chapters), and support conversations (short sequences of dialogue between characters you use together) are as much of a draw as ever.
ah, support convos! in my first PT, as with the other FE games, i stuck with pairings that the game makes obvious, which are pretty much all romantic pairings between a male and a female character. but the game has many more pairings that trigger support convos, and it’s fascinating to me to see what conversations the game’s writers have come up with for characters who would seem to have very little in common. sometimes this leads to unexpected romances or friendships, but oftentimes it also makes the world of the game feel more alive as the two may discuss the events that are happening or talk about one of the other characters. these insights into each character’s personality are painstaking to uncover and are spaced out over the course of a PT, and although one could easily just read them online it’s much more satisfying for a completist like myself to unlock them one at a time by actually playing the game. which isn’t too much of a chore, since the game continues to be as enjoyable as ever.
five FE games later it’s interesting to look back on the first one i’d played. the game itself can be much easier than any of the other games simply by virtue of the aforementioned random encounters you can use to train up your characters, but the small cast of characters and its post-game objectives make it unique and still an easy favorite. the color palette is bolder and more striking than the other two GBA FE games, and although it’s hard to assess objectively how i would rank this compared to the others, i’ll always have a soft spot for this, my first fire emblem experience. awwww.
oh, and in case anyone similarly FE crazy is reading this and wondering, my final team was: ephraim/l’arachel, lute/ross, gerik/tethys, colm/kyle, moulder/vannesa, and eirika/seth, with neimi/gilliam, joshua/artur, and cormag/natasha as backups. i don’t remember why, but i trained my group really unevenly. on average only about half of them reached around level 12 promoted while the rest were around level 1 promoted or hardly used at all and just hung around for the ride (and the support convos). ross was the MVP, but vanessa (who i hadn’t used last time) turned out to be the star player. ephraim, lute, kyle, and tethys were as reliable as ever, and cormag was shaping up to be pretty useful also. moulder was surprisingly useful. although he’s not nearly as strong offensively as the other magic users, his high defense and HP make him uniquely durable. gerik turned out to be kind of weak, which was surprising since he had dominated my first PT. and yet again i seem to have avoided all the latecomers to the team (mostly prepromotes) like the plague.
i started a 3rd PT and am sorely tempted to continue with it, but i really should move on to other games. for now at least!
some sacred links:
– as usual serenesforest.net is the go-to source of info for all things FE including official character art
– the serenesforest forums are quite active, and include such relevant topics of discussion as FE8 tier lists
– hard mode enemy stats
– entertaining video compilation of characters’ critical hit animations
– most of the links from my previous FE8 post are outdated now, but this promo chart is still extremely useful (although i have it pretty much memorized by now. ha.)