Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
Finished my finals yesterday, so now I’m in a “decompressing” period. In addition to registering for summer courses, I also have to sell my previous books on Ebay, update my contacts, and continue working on my other “project”. I want to make time to create another “non-review” post in this blog, but that’ll have to wait another week or two.
Capcom has been truly amazing this year. 2009 just started and we’ve already been graced with Street Fighter IV and Resident Evil 5. But now we’ve got Bionic Commando, Dead Rising 2, and Lost Planet 2 to look forward to, along with the recent announcement of a fully online, HD-upgraded Marvel vs Capcom 2. And if that weren’t enough, they’ve promised two more major announcements at E3. Unbelievable.
As for E3, I still have great interest in attending this year, were if financially possible, but that’s going to require further research, and perhaps some begging and pleading from my freelance contacts.
The Fire Emblem series has always maintained a respectable presence in Nintendo’s family, dating back as far as the NES days. It was only recently that North Americans were able to experience the games for themselves, no doubt due to the attention that its heroes received from the Super Smash Bros games. Even though the Mother/Earthbound series remains entirely ignored by Nintendo of America, they’ve treated the newly immigrated Fire Emblem games respectively, and the newest DS release serves as the perfect entry point for newcomers.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is, in fact, a remake of the first Fire Emblem game, chronicling the adventure of runaway prince Marth (yes, the same Marth from Super Smash Bros. Melee) in his quest to reclaim his kingdom and his sister from the evil Dohlr empire (don’t even try to pronounce that), by uniting with several kingdoms and building up an army of knights, thieves, mages, archers, and Pegasus riders.
It sounds like a standard RPG tale, but unlike the Final Fantasy series, there aren’t any magical feathers or resurrection spells to bring your fallen brethren back from the dead; once a soldier falls in battle, they’re gone for good, and the story goes on no matter how important the character may have seen; It’s only a Game Over if Marth himself is killed in battle.
As a result, the positioning of your units becomes critical in winning skirmishes without any heavy casualties on your end. Fire Emblem follows a rock-scissors-paper approach to fighting, where three types of weapons work as a major weakness or advantage for one another; Sword wielders, for instance, do extra damage against axe wielders, while using an axe against a lance user will do extra damage to the enemy. Reversely, using a lance against an axe will do less damage than using a sword, and classes have their own strengths and weaknesses as well. Archers can pick off Pegasus riders with a single arrow, but do little to no damage against heavy armored soldiers; Putting a soldier up against an enemy with a weapon or class advantage can and will lead to a quick death, or leaving them open for an ambush could have equally dire consequences.
Fortunately, there’s always an opportunity to recruit additional soldiers in the battlefield. Rescuing trapped prisoners can usually lead to a grateful ally, while people fighting on the opposing side may change their allegiance depending on being persuaded by the right person. Even though most of these characters don’t develop much past their introductions, players may feel attached enough to mash on the reset button should one of these allies take a permanent dirt nap. Cruelly enough, however, there may be situations where you’ll have to make the tough choice of sacrificing some of your soldiers, all for the greater good.
Gameplay is simplistic, but also quick to jump into, which should be the standard for most portable games. Setting up your army and placing them across the battlefield like chess pawns is great fun, but that simplicity has a downside to it. The inventory system, as a whole, is antiquated to a hindering degree; Characters must give up a turn in order to trade weapons and items to other characters, or to use the convoy system to store or retrieve items. This becomes especially cumbersome when it comes to healing, as one character holding a healing potion can’t use it on a fellow ally, therefore resulting in both characters having to waste turns during the trading of the item as well as using it. Only mages can heal other allies, but having too many healers on the field will result in an uneven party. The flawed healing system makes boss battles especially dangerous, where units sent to do battle against these overpowered enemies must basically rely on luck in order to survive both the boss’s counterattack as well as his extra turn.
The only other quibble with Shadow Dragon is its online play. While connecting with another player online is as smooth as can be expected from a portable machine, there are no additional restrictions when it comes to challenging random people online, usually resulting in one-sided battles; Try searching for an opponent online before finishing the game, and you’ll likely end up completely obliterated by armies of high levels and fully upgraded weapons.
Despite those flaws, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon is still a highly entertaining portable adventure that is a must have for DS owners everywhere. War has never been so compact and accessible.