A while back, I wondered if I’d ever buy another GBA game, and decided that the answer was probably no. Which would have been correct based solely on the quality of upcoming games for various systems, but I couldn’t exactly bring my copy of Resident Evil 4 on vacation. (Well, I suppose I could have brought it, but I couldn’t have played it. Just as well: it was hard enough to get to sleep with jet lag, and dreaming of (not-)zombies would not have been an improvement.)

So before we went on vacation I got a copy of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, as well as the Zelda II remake. To get the latter out of the way first: I only bought it out of historical curiosity and the fact that it was on sale for ten bucks; I played it for a couple of hours, enough to decide that it probably would have been a decent game in its time, but that I have better things to do now.

Fire Emblem was better, though. I’d played the earlier GBA version up until around the next-to-last level, at which point I got sick of the length of its levels. It’s by the same team that does the Advance Wars series, and like it is basically a turn-based strategy game. The main difference between the two series is that Fire Emblem works the levels into an RPG theme, so you have persistent characters instead of faceless troops. Or rather, they’re persistent until they die; when they’re dead, they’re dead. So you end up playing levels not simply to win but to massacre your opponents without losing a single one of your characters. (Actually, it’s a bit more gruesome than that: because of the way the experience system works, it’s best for as many of your characters to take their cuts at an opponent before somebody finally gets to kill it.)

Which doesn’t thrill me, but I can deal with it. Of course, it combines this with a more traditional annoyance of RPG’s: you have a cast of thousands (well, dozens), but you can’t actually use them all in any given battle, forcing you to pick and choose among your characters to decide whom you are going to level up and whom you aren’t. This is not something that I enjoy, this is not giving the player a constructive choice of options: this is lazy game design.

I don’t have much else to say about the game. It was a good choice: I could play it when lying awake at night, and basically enjoyed it. By the time I was over my jet lag and had better things to do, I was also done with the game. I wouldn’t recommend that people rush out and buy it, though. Of the two series, I recommend Advance Wars much more highly; then again, the second game in that series was a total rehash, while the story elements in Fire Emblem meant the sequel felt reasonably fresh.

(Still playing the superb RE4 and Shenmue II, though I’m near the end of both. Just went out and bought Killer 7 and Battalion Wars.)

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