i finally finished the long game i’ve been playing, which was a replay of what has become a classic, the original GBA advance wars. i had first played the original almost three years ago, and although it was a little slow in coming i eventually grew to love the series almost as much as i love the fire emblem series. [most of this review is going to get into minutiae, but if you’re interested in info on the original game mechanics check out this review at edge.]
when i had first played the game i had just finished playing all four (up to then) US-released fire emblem games and one of the japan-only titles, so i was a bit disappointed in AW‘s lack of plot and the focus on battle tactics over levelling up a set of characters. coming back to this after having played the rest of the AW series was a pleasurable rush of familiarity and appreciation for how perfect this game truly is. the characters are lovable and their CO powers distinguish them well; the battle mechanics are absolutely top notch; the graphics and music are excellent; and there’s an enormous number of maps with a fully satisfying level of variety among them. although i adore dual strike and in many ways consider it to be the pinnacle of the series (well, the US series at least, as i haven’t yet dipped into the japan-only titles), the original makes a strong case for not injecting the core game with steroids and in some ways overloading the game with a glut of extra features.
a lot to love, so it seems churlish to have any complaints. this time through i did an S-rank run of the normal campaign mode, and chose my route in order to unlock the rest of the COs. it didn’t end up being too difficult, although i chose sami the whole way through and her missions are probably harder than andy’s or max’s. i also S-ranked the first war room maps and tried out the hard campaign mode, and here’s where things started to get dicey. a large part of the reason i like the fire emblem and advance wars series is that, unlike a game like chess, the emphasis isn’t on planning far ahead and instead a general strategy will suffice. but when trying to S-rank maps and in what i’ve experienced so far of the hard campaign this isn’t always the case, and although i enjoyed the “puzzle” aspect of some of the maps, at times it feels like there’s too much “try and die” gameplay. the game feels less cheap overall than other games with more-egregious cases of such gameplay, because as this article at edge puts it: “It’s not so much trial and error as trial and education, each mistake teaching you a little more about the impeccable clockwork that powers the game’s simple, stunning mechanics.” although oftentimes the lessons learned from a particular map do feel like they’d be applicable to others, the amount of memorization that can get to be involved and working out the timing of where your units can be on what day compared to the enemy’s can really make the game feel like a chore. also, although in the war room you can choose from all the available COs, because of the strict speed requirements if you’re trying to S-rank you more often than not have to rely on sami or max, which makes that section of the game feel more repetitive than it could have if it had had more varied objectives and conditions (as another example, sonja is completely useless in this mode since none of these maps feature fog of war). the fact that the war room maps also don’t include any pre-deployed units also make them feel too same-y.
despite my mild complaints, the game is clearly still a grade-A (or should i say “grade-S” ;)?) classic, and although i don’t think i’ll be tackling the hard mode any time soon i’m definitely looking forward to returning to this at some point in the future, as well as replaying the others in the US series. although since playing this i’ve had an overwhelming desire to play a fire emblem game again …
roll, tanks, roll! readvancing some advance wars links:
– this is still the best FAQ overall for the game’s campaign modes, although it misstates the requirements to unlock nell, which is that you have to beat the advance campaign
– advancewarsnet.com has some great info including a guide to the war room, guides to the campaign modes, the soundtrack, and sprite sheets and animated GIFs
– the similar-sounding site advancewars.net also has some great content, including CO sprites and a damage chart
– text of the entire script
– war room guide at gamefaqs
– this look back at the making of the original advance wars at edge from a year ago doesn’t have any great insights, but it’s one of the few interviews with the creators that i’ve seen