Game Completion: In the middle of Part III, Chapter 2
Now that I know a lot more about the game, it seems it is time for me to talk a bit more about some system elements of Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.
The Laguz: The Laguz characters of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and this game represent one of the hardest things to balance: a character or unit that is weaker than others half of the time, and stronger than others the other half of the time. In addition to that issue, they are different from other Fire Emblem units because they don't equip weapons, which is both a benefit (their weapons don't wear out) and a problem (they can't use different weapons for different situations). Finally, unlike other Fire Emblem characters, they don't class change when they increase in level.
The implementation of laguz characters in Path of radiance was fairly good, but was flawed. The way the transformation guage fills with every turn and attack while the laguz is in human form, and then drains for each turn and battle the laguz is in beast form, is quite elegant. However, all laguz were the equivalents of a class-changed character, which limited their availability in the early parts of the game as either allies or enemies. Also, they did not tend to gain enough power from levelling up that they stayed competitive given their limitations of use. In the final battle, only the exceptionaly powerful lagiz charqacters could keep up with the beorc characters who have been used across the entire game and are equiped with the most powerful weapons.
In Radiant Dawn changes many aspects of this system.
The most important changes are made to how the transformation guage works, and the power of the transformation. They changed the system so that every type of laguz gains and loses points on the guage at differing speeds, so some laguz can change on the fourth turn, but others will change on the eleventh. More importantly, the player can now let the guage remain at full without the laguz transforming, and can order a laguz to return to human form before the guage empties. These, along with an increase in the number of items that fill the guage, greatly increases the tactical options of the laguz, and are a much needed improvement. However, I am still confused by the way the guage seems to only fill irregularly when the laguz is attacked in human form.
Another important change in the game is the way stats are modified by a laguz's transformation. In Path of Radiance, transforming added set values to each stat. In Radiant Dawn, transforming doubles each stat. These means that laguz benefit more form each increase in level, but also that their human forms are extremely fragile, and become even more fragile as the game progresses. It seems to work out pretty well.
Finally, laguz use a different system of levelling than beorc. This is results in a lot of confusion about how the levels of laguz are supposed to compare to beorc levels when determining who to give kills and experience points to. This is made worse by the fact that an untransformed laguz gains experience at a different rate than a transformed laguz.
The Support System: The support system, the system whch lets you form ties between allies to give them combat bonuses and see optional conversations between them, is an important recurring elements of the Fire Emblem series. Path of Radiance used pretty much the same syustem as was used in the Fire Emblem games for the Game Boy Advance did, except made an improvement by basing the availability of support links on battles fought as a team, rather than the older system of basing it on turns spent adjacent. Also (like shops), it moved support conversations from the battlefield to the Base screen, making them more plausible and easier to manage. The only problem was that many support links between early characters took far too long to be built up properly, which punished experimenting with different characters and teams.
Radiant Dawn makes many major changes to the system. First, it limits a character to a single support partner, though now that partner can be changed, Second, it seems that it has returned to a loosened up version of spending turns adjacent to characters, rather than battles fought (I'm not sure, since like in other Fire Emblem games, it isn't explained well). Third, any character can now form support with any other character, rather than a limited set. Finally, the optional conversations which occur between support characters have been moved back to the battlefield, and have been trimmed down to just short greetings. The first two changes are tolerable, but the fourth, an obvious result of the third, is a grave mistake on the designers' part.
The greatest benefit of the support system in recent Fire Emblem games have been the way they provide character development for the cast of characters. Because Fire Emblem characters can die permanently, most members of the cast tend to fade away once they join the team. They cease to appear in the main plot, so they can only be developed and made interesting through optional dialogue. Path of Radiance and Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones both did a lot good character development and examination of the plot with these conversations, so their absence is quite noticable. In fact, a lot of the main plot elements of Radiant Dawn and character backstory elements of recurring characters were only hinted at in the optional conversations of Path of Radiance.
I guess I should save more for another post.