Friday, December 3, 2010
One of the best Fire Emblem titles with something for everybody.
Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (FE:HLS) is Intelligent Systems' (IS) latest title in the flagship turn based tactical Fire Emblem series. It's a remake of the third FE title on the Super Famicom titled Monshou no Nazo, continuing Marth's adventures after Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon to put an end to the reptilian (dragon) menace once and for all. FE:HLS is a significant improvement over FE:SD in both plot and character development, combat mechanics, content, balance, and difficulty settings.
The My Unit system lets you create and customize your own character to fight alongside Marth. You can select their appearance, class, and provide them with stat and growth boosts. As you might expect, an optimally configured My Unit will easily best anyone else in your army. My Unit gets his or her own prologue and side story chapters focusing on a group of assassins out to kill Marth.
Maps are better designed than FE:SD, with plenty of variety and unique conditions. Frequent enemy movement and reinforcements encourage the player to keep moving. There are few choke points for the player to turtle up and hide in, and if there is a choke points, you can be sure there will be large numbers of enemies trying to pass through it. There are many groups of enemies that are scripted to not move out and attack until you move one of your own units deep into their collective attack ranges, ensuring you'll need a durable unit that can take punishment from multiple enemies to proceed. The many scripted events and tactical map design ensures most players won't get bored or feel like they are dealing with a brain dead opponent.
Side story chapters are far easier to access than FE:SD, accessible by clearing the chapter with a very lax turn count, or meeting a very easy optional objective. You practically can't miss them this time around. This should appease gamers who were highly disgruntled at having to kill off more than half their army to reach the side story chapters in FE:SD.
New to the series is Casual mode, where units that reach 0 HP during chapters do not die permanently. Instead they are temporarily removed until the next chapter with no other penalties. Casual mode is selectable independent of the difficulty level selection, so you can play any difficulty while remaining on Casual mode. This should appeal to audiences of gamers that don't like the permanent death feature of Fire Emblem. Classic mode is still available for those gamers who enjoy their carefully laid plans going awry by a stray critical.
FE:HLS features the widest range of difficulty levels of any Fire Emblem game. You may choose from Normal mode up to Hard, Mania, Lunatic, and Lunatic Reverse (note: Japanese names, may not be the same in NA). On top of the difficulty selection, there is a ranking system that grades you on Speed, Survival, and Tactics. The easiest mode is a walk in the park, perfectly suited to beginners or those who aren't interested in a hard slog. Hard mode is most comparable to the original Super Famicom version - it can get a little stressful here and there, but you probably won't be losing any sleep over it. Mania mode is fairly difficult, but it doesn't go all out like Lunatic mode. Lunatic and Lunatic Reverse mode is a sadistic test of skill, patience, and planning that only gifted tacticians will be able to dominate. Clearing Lunatic unlocks Lunatic Reverse, which is a version of Lunatic mode where enemies always get the first attack in combat even during player phase.
One major difference in Lunatic mode compared to easier modes is that you don't get game altering items such as the Warp stave, so there are far fewer easy 1 turn victories like in FE:SD. Enemies promote earlier, come in vastly greater numbers, show up as reinforcements earlier or more frequently, wield powerful forged weapons as soon as the first chapter, and always have the highest weapon rank with a bonus +10 to hit. By the mid-late game enemies have almost fully capped stats with very powerful forged weapons. Having characters who can take more than one hit before dying are a valuable commodity on Lunatic. Finally, Lunatic mode has an anti-boss farming feature that awards decreasing amounts of XP for hitting any boss with regenerating HP. Getting low turn counts, every possible item, and every recruit on Lunatic Reverse is a worthy challenge for even the most experienced tactics veteran.
The class change system returns. There are no characters with abnormally high growth rates like in FE:SD, so the system is far more balanced this time around. Mid-battle save points make their return. These are a useful way to keep random bad luck to a minimum or reload for level up growths. Game balance isn't all perfect. Some classes such as Heroes are particularly worthless in comparison to the better classes. On Lunatic difficulty you'll be restricted to a handful of the best characters in the game if you want to survive. The ranking system only goes up to A, no S this time around. Veteran players will not have much trouble reaching an A rank on most difficulties, which is a disappointment.
During intermission, you'll have access to Everybody's Situation, where you can get free items, weapons, temporary stat boosts, and support conversation levels. This feature is somewhat unbalanced as you can get some of the best weapons in the game if you get lucky or wait long enough. There should have been more restrictions built into this feature, such as only being able to use it a limited number of times per chapter and removing the powerful weapons.
The plot and characters are more fleshed out, with lots of personal conversations, base conversations, and an expanded plot featuring My Unit. Much like Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, supports are developed by deploying characters in the same chapter together then initiating support conversations during intermission. Gamers disappointed by FE:SD's bare bones plot and low character development will like the greatly increased personal development of the cast.
Wi-Fi features such as the Wi-Fi store are back. Nintendo is offering free Wi-Fi goodies like the 77 use Rainbow Potion that gives your party members +2 to every stat for a chapter. Expect the Rainbow Potion to show up 3-6 months after the expected NA release, if the JP release is anything to go by. The Wi-Fi store contains the usual selection of items that you make the game significantly easier with, such as a Rescue and Again stave and hero weapons. I would have liked to see more restrictions on Wi-Fi store usage on Lunatic difficulty mode.
The UI is responsive and well designed as would be expected from IS, but not everything is perfect. The intermission management could have used some consolidation between the unit selection, trading, and class change sections. There are a lot of unused buttons that could have been employed to do so. The roster details section doesn't include pages where you can check a list of your army's weapon levels, which is something that previous FE titles had.
Clearing the game unlocks features like the ability to change male characters into a wider range of available male classes, adding stat boost items in the base store, unlocking 4 extra missions, and other goodies. The extra maps have their own scoring system independent of the campaign and getting a top score is not an easy feat.
FE:HLS is a major improvement on FE:SD and one of the best console tactics games thus far. There's something for everyone, no matter your skill level or whether you like combat or plot. I highly recommend you pick it up if you're at all interested in tactics games. I would definitely call it the best console tactics game of 2010 in Japan.
If you'd like to read more about FE:HLS, check out my guide here.
Strategic Depth: Medium-high. All of the micromanagement and tactical combat you'd expect from a Fire Emblem title.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to very high. A very wide selection of difficulty modes ensures just about every player will be satisfied.
Overall Score: 9.2/10 - A great tactics title that only falters when it comes to balance and abusable features at the higher difficulty modes.