Thursday, December 6, 2007

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn Part 4

It is Thursday again, so time for the next entry about the big game I am playing right now.

Game Completion: In the middle of Chapter 3-10

A few more details worthy of mention:

Shops in Radiant Dawn show the signs of the gradual improvement of the Fire Emblem system. In older Fire Emblem games, you can only buy weapons if you bring a character to a Shop or Armory square during a battle, and few missions even had Shops or Armories. Buying items was a fairly stressful task of somehow guessing the number of weapons you needed to buy in order to last your army until the next shop became available, determining what weapons to buy and how much you could afford, and balancing this with the limited item capacity of your individual soldiers and the needs of actually trying to win the battle at the same time. In addition to the strain on the player, it limits map design, because it is required to have visitable shops every few stages, regardless of what makes sense for the plot or what makes sense for a particular mission.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones made a slight improvement, in which you could buy from battle shops in the overworld after you cleared the mission and at the preparation screen before battles (albeit at higher than normal prices and with a limited inventory). Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance made the significant improvement of moving all shops (except the secret shop) to the new Base screen, which clears up all of the problems caused by shopping in the middle of a battle. Radiant Dawn takes this a step further, by adding the "special inventory" of unique items in the main Shop, which mostly replaces the role of the secret shop that lets the player buy rare and powerful items. I don't know if there is a secret shop in Radiant Dawn, but it is no longer needed. The special inventory, which changes with each mission, also is an interesting way of providing hints about the challenges of the coming mission by providing special weapons and items that improve your chances at beating the mission.

The Forge, introduced in Path of Radiance, is another useful addition to the series. The ability to forge weapons of much greater than normal power helps even out normal characters against more powerful characters like Ike, the main hero of Path of Radiance, especially since there were very few powerful "S-Rank" weapons in Path of Radiance, and it was difficult to even find characters capable of using A-rank weapons. In Radiant Dawn, the forge is mostly the same, except it seems to be cheaper, the arbitrary limitation of one use per chapter has been removed, and the ability to add small boosts to a forged item by using rare items has been added. There is supposed to be a system of expanding the options of the forge by selling your old weapons, but the options of the forge seem to shift from stage to stage as well, so I am unsure how useful that function is. Like many things in Fire Emblem, a bit more documentation and transparency would be appreciated.

The Skill system, returning in Path of Radiance after being introduced in Fire Emblem 4 and missing from the GBA games, has been improved somewhat in Radiant Dawn. I am honestly baffled as to why basic abilities like Shove and Canto, which are inherent to whole categories of characters, cost valuable skill points, but other than that, I like the system. Unlike in Path of Radiance, when you remove a skill from a character it is now moved to your inventroy, rather than just disappearing. This makes skill assignment more flexible and less stressful, and encourages experimentation. At the same time, the skills a character starts with will cost nothing unless they are removed, so there is both a distinct advantage to leaving those skills equipped, and the freedom to remove them and use them on someone else. It is quite elegent. Also, the addition of third-tier Beorc unique class skils and the Satori Sign skills for Laguz, which are powerful, can not be removed, and don't have a net cost for the character, is an improvement on the useful but somewhat limiting and scarce Occult Skills from the previous game.

I will need to discuss the addition of a third-tier class upgrade for Beorc after I get more of a chance to actually use those classes.

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