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A direct sequel to the Nintendo Gamecube title Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, Radiant Dawn is the tenth installment of this long-running strategy RPG series, and the first to be released for the Nintendo Wii. The game was developed once again by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo, and was one of the first true Japanese-style roleplaying games to hit the Wii, and it is decidedly far more hardcore than most titles available for the casual gamer friendly console. Radiant Dawn will most likely appeal to an extremely limited audience, but those to whom it will appeal will absolutely love this challenging and engrossing tactical RPG.
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As mentioned above, the plot of Radiant Dawn picks up where the last Fire Emblem game leaves off, though it may not exactly seem like it at first. The story picks up a few years after the defeat of the mad king, Ashnard, at the end of Path of Radiance. Without their king, the country of Daein has been overtaken by the neighboring empire of Begnion, and its citizens have been oppressed under the rule of a corrupt governor. Opposing them and fighting for Daein's freedom is a band of rebels known as the Dawn Brigade, and among their members are Micaiah, a mysterious woman with the power to magically heal wounds, and Sothe, a thief who is a returning character from Path of Radiance. The player assumes the role of the Dawn Brigade in the game's opening chapters as they battle to locate Ashnard's lost son and help his take his place on the throne as his father's true heir.
From there, the story moves on to show political unrest in other lands as well, and eventually we are reintroduced to much of the previous title's cast, including Ike and the Greil Mercenaries, Princess Elincia of Crimea and her court, the mighty leaders of the half-man, half-animal Laguz nation, and several other characters, all of whom eventually get caught up in a global conflict thanks to events set into motion by some unknown, scheming entity. Also, Ike's nemesis, the Black Knight, though thought dead in Path of Radiance, makes a surprising return as an ally of Micaiah's, leaving the gamer to wonder whether or not his motives are pure or if there's more to his presence than meets the eye. All in all, it does an excellent job ending the story arc that began in Path of Radiance. It may be a little hard to follow at time, and since there's such a massive cast of characters some of their individual development suffers, but in the end it winds up being a solid four-star effort.
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Once again, just like in Path of Radiance (see that game's review), the gameplay doesn't stray too far from the Fire Emblem formula. Each chapter is broken down into pre-combat story sequences, followed by a turn-based, chess-like battle that takes place on an expansive map, and finally concluding with another scene that advances the plot. Prior to engaging in combat, players can also purchase new weapons (a must, considering most of them can only be used a limited number of times before breaking) and items, as well as otherwise prepare their troops for the wars ahead. Characters level up, as per the norm in a roleplaying game, but in another Fire Emblem series staple, if they fall in battle, they're gone for good. Combat once again follows the same rock-paper-scissors format, with certain types of weapons and magics having an advantage over one type while being weak against another.
There are some new features in Radiant Dawn as well, including the ability to create a permanent save in the middle of a battle for the first time, as well as the fact that human characters can be promoted twice while Laguz characters can advance beyond the typical level cap of 20 and make it all the way to level 40. Radiant Dawn has drawn some criticism for its brutal difficulty, even on easy. Make no mistake, this is a game that will challenge even Fire Emblem and tactical RPG veterans, but it is never unfair. Every challenge can be overcome with the right preparation and strategy, and I don't know about you, but that's exactly what I want from my turn-based strategy games. If I had one major gripe about the gameplay, it was the absence of free-play maps after completing the game or meeting other criteria. Path of Radiance had them. Would it really have been too much trouble to include them in Radiant Dawn as well?
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Graphics and Sound
Radiant Dawn started off life as a Gamecube title before being switched over to the Wii, and it shows. While the cut scenes are impressive, the in-game graphics aren't substantially better than Path of Radiance. Furthermore, I believe the character designs have actually worsened in quality, as the characters are built awkwardly and certain warriors, Ike in particular, have unrealistic physiques which harm the realism of the game and force the player out of their suspension of disbelief. The sound quality, on the other hand, is fantastic. Voice acting is better and more predominant than in the game's predecessor and the soundtrack is filled with epic tunes that can best be described as stirring. While I definitely would like to see the visuals improve in future Wii installments in this series, I struggle to see how that would be possible in terms of the music.
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Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, like Path of Radiance before it, is a decidedly niche game that sadly could wind up getting lost in the sea of casual games available for the Nintendo Wii. However, anyone who enjoys a good tactics game definitely owes it to themselves to check this one out. It is easily my favorite Wii game to date, thanks more to the rock-solid, engrossing and challenging gameplay than the ambitious storyline or the way it looks and sounds. While plot and presentation are definitely important factors in a game like this, the bottom line is that the game is a tactician's dream come true, and armchair generals will find hours of enjoyment in this one.