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Review – Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn

posted on April 30th, 2008 by shota

Sequels suck. Prequels putrefy. And spin-offs spin out of control. And yet, so often when a story we enjoy ends, whether in the terra-forming of Arrakis or bodily ascension to heaven, we are reluctant to let go. We refuse to accept that resurrecting something so that it can go on eternally is usually a bad idea (I’m looking at you evangelicals.) The exceptions, (and there are a few: Godfather II, Red Dragon, The Simpsons, The Bible Goes West) prove the rule. So, when one of these quality exceptions of a continuing storyline comes onto the scene, especially in our medium, I think it’s time to take a holiday from derision and give the credit where it’s due. Such is the case with Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. So, sit back and let me tell you about the shining dawn of a radiant path in brilliant storytelling and those who have strayed from the light.

Blah blah blah.

Gamespot gave Radiant Dawn a 6.0, calling the plot of the game “terrible,” and the IGN reviewer, despite having given the game an overall score of 8.0, complained about the “extremely simple storytelling that makes use of only a backdrop and some character art.” I was honestly surprised at these verdicts of the game’s plot and the first explanation I could think of was that the reviewers must not have played Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. You see, Radiant Dawn is the sequel to Path of Radiance in the same way that the Two Towers is a sequel to the Fellowship of the Ring. That is to say it’s a direct sequel; one that emerges straight out of the plot of the first game. And while I fully understand how a particular section of a longer narrative might be deemed less than another, I literally deny the right of any consumer of any narrative to judge the entire storyline based on a chapter they did not like.

The second possibility for the reviewer’s dislike of the game’s plot is hinted at in the language of the IGN review. It seems some people have fallen into the “simplicity” trap based solely on the games style and mechanics of storytelling. Yes, the vast majority of the game’s plot is revealed by still pictures of characters ‘talking’ to each other in conversation bubbles. Yes, there is no voice acting and volumes worth of reading, and yes, the totally awesome cut scenes are few and far between, but if you notice none of these points actually reflect on the quality of the narrative. Saying that the plot of Fire Emblem is bad because there is lots of reading while the characters don’t move is like saying that a painting is ‘bad’ because it’s drawn in pencil. Maybe you just don’t like pencil drawings; but that itself can not be a criterion for quality. I have said this before, but it bears repeating here: form and content reflect each other but they can be, and often are, separate.

And I am here to tell you that the content of the plot of Radiant Dawn is excellent, despite what the people who don’t like to read will tell you. Of course their fallback is usually the very popular defense of “I just don’t like to read in video games,” as if the medium were somehow antithetical to the written word. But, I call bullshit and point my meaty finger in these people’s faces with a firm accusation that in reality they are just masking the fact that they don’t like to read/think at all, whether in videogames or otherwise. They just don’t like to ‘work,’ to ‘move’ their minds in order to process information. They like to be fed their plots intravenously. Asshats!

As far as the complaints about the issues of unoriginal gameplay go I should like to dismiss them with yet another one of my patented Terrible Analogies®: people who demand original gameplay from a Fire Emblem title must surely also crave new Tootsie Roll flavors. But the response to these folks is the same in either instance: why would you even expect anything new? No significant changes have been made to the gameplay of the Fire Emblem franchise since its inception twenty years ago. And that in itself is the point and the allure of these games. You want a jazzed up Fire Emblem? Buy a different game. You want a strawberry guava star fruit flavored candy? Stop buying the Tootsie Roll. There are plenty of us who enjoy our nostalgic, familiar, comforting, rock-paper-scissors weapon-system flaunting, chocolate flavored, old school leveling, and strategy filled candy games. But I digress into something that is starting to resemble an actual review and since we can’t have that let me get back on track…

Chock full o’ strategery.

What ultimately warrants greatest commendation is the manner in which Radiant Dawn continues the story of Path of Radiance. I am recommending this game on the strength of its plot, deftly continued from PoR, as well as solid traditional strategy RPG gameplay. Nothing is really forced in Radiant Dawn. The story goes where the preceding events and well fleshed out characters dictate it should go. The relationships between characters are sometimes so adult (not in the sense of penises and vaginas but in the sense of 60 Minutes coverage of the Chernobyl disaster) that I found myself discussing the plot with my backseat player and better half as if it were a novel. The evolution of the story of Ike and Co. not only makes sense but it is also genuinely interesting; IF you were there from the beginning of the story. I would not blame anyone for being slightly confused by the plot of Radiant Dawn if it were his first foray into the Fire Emblem series. But that’s not the game’s problem, it’s the consumer’s. (Just like if you were confused by the plot of the Two Towers if you hadn’t read Fellowship. I mean, in what world would that be Tolkien’s problem? Pick up the first book, assnozzle!)

Pick up the first game. And I guarantee you when you get to the second one you’ll appreciate all the references, the transitions and the revelations (I know who the black knight is) all the more. Enough with this bull shit pressure to judge everything ‘on its own merit’ which is usually a synonym for ‘out of context.’ Things are related and they flow and evolve out of each other. (Sorry evangelicals.) Deal with it.

Personally I can’t wait for the Jim Varney spin of off Oscar Wilde: The Importance of Being Ernest Saves Christmas.

5 Comments

  1. chris said on May 2, 2008:

    I need to go out and get this game sometime soon. True sequels are pretty rare in RPGs (usually since the first time around you save the world from some huge, overwhelming, ancient threat and there can only be so many of those).

    Shota, did you ever try Suikoden 1/2? If you load up data from the first game into 2 you get some additional plot explaining what characters did between the games. Does this game do anything similar?

  2. Shota said on May 6, 2008:

    Do get it, Chris. Especially if you have played Path of Radiance.

    I have never any of the played Sukoidens (Pat don’t hurt me).

    You can load your savefile from PoR into RD but it does not really change the plot. It gives the maxed out chracters from the previous game pretty significant stat bonuses. As far as the plot is concerned the game does a nice job of catching you up with the PoR characters (all of who are in this game) as well as adding new ones.

    RE: “the first time around you save the world from some huge, overwhelming, ancient threat and there can only be so many of those.”

    This is my one complaint about the plot of RD. Unlike PoR they caved and finally introduced the evil ancient threat idea. But i’ll bitch and moan about that trend in general in my upcoming editorial: “I’m so sick of evil.”

  3. pat said on May 6, 2008:

    i like suikoden, but i think chris here is a much bigger fan. now if you havent played shenmue we may need to have a talk.

  4. Shota said on May 7, 2008:

    Pat, what do you take me for, someone who has never played Shenmue? Oh, I played it. I just never finished it. hopefully you can extol its virtues at Lamefest ’08.

  5. Stefan said on May 9, 2008:

    I for one think that lamefest ’08 should feature a full runthrough of both Shenmue games. Or at least a viewing of the movie version of the first Shenmue so that shota can see the whole plot.

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