Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, being a direct sequel, keeps the same universe and is set on the continent Tellius that is inhabited by humans known as Beorcs and a race called Laguz, which are humanoid creatures that can transform into powerful wild beasts. The game begins three years after the events of Path of Radiance with two new protagonists named Micaiah and Sothe. They are leading a rebel group named the Dawn Brigade in the empire that lost a recent war and are trying to regain the freedom of their country, which is ruled by the occupation forces of the victorious faction. The story is divided into four parts, and changes perspective between different factions within the continent of Tellius. This is something that’s very unusual for the series, as you usually follow the protagonist and his constantly growing amount of companions throughout the entire game but it’s a nice approach and the different perspectives make the story a lot more enjoyable.
The four parts of the game are split into several chapters, each containing one battle scenario with dialogue before and after it. Before jumping into battle with an army of enemies, preparation can be made in the base. Here, weapons and items can be bought, equipped on the characters, and it is also possible to view various interesting conversations that offer some backstory, hints on the upcoming situation, or sometimes even useful free items. Bonus Experience can also be distributed to characters, mostly to those who are too weak to earn it in battle yet. Additionally, there is another preparation opportunity right before starting a battle scenario, where the situation can be observed and the choice made to go back to the base, if needed.
Once ready, players are presented with a scenario with varying goals, such as killing all enemies on the map, killing a boss, seizing a crucial location or defending a certain area for a specified number of turns. The map is split into square spaces and during each turn the characters can move a number of spaces dependent on their class and the terrain. Once within attack range, which is usually right next to an enemy for melee units or one space away for ranged units, they can choose to engage the enemy. A small summary indicating the HP, hit percentage and critical hit percentage of both parties appears before confirming a move, which is very helpful as one of the series’ trademark features is permanent death. If one of the characters is defeated in battle, they will be gone for good. This feature adds a lot of challenge to the game as there is no chance to just recklessly send units into battle and instead have to plan ahead. However, Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn goes overboard with the difficulty for all the wrong reasons.
Since the game is split into four parts where there is chance to control different characters, often players will find themselves with a huge amount of completely useless units that can’t even take on one enemy alone. These situations cause some frustrating difficulty spikes during chapters where there is no choice but to use them. There is a new battle save feature that freely allows the chance to save and reset the game when things go wrong, but it can’t be relied on it since one wrong move can cause one or multiple of character deaths in the next few turns. If the battle save is used, afterwards there is no way to prevent it from happening anymore, then the player is left either having to deal with the bitter loss, or do a full restart of the chapter in its entirety. Despite some inevitable frustration, the gameplay still proves to be incredibly addictive and deep, but only for players dedicated enough to persevere.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn brings a number of changes and additions to the series. The skill system from the previous game has been vastly improved by letting players swap skills between characters instead of them being locked to the characters they are given to. The Laguz units from Path of Radiance make an appearance in this game as well, but unfortunately they are still not very useful compared to the human race. Weapon crafting also returns and it’s much more accessible than in the previous game. The game allows for power, accuracy, critical hit rate and weight of a weapon to be increased or decrease and, as an added bonus, players can even customise its colour. Support conversations between units are still present in this game, but unfortunately they have been reduced to idle chatter instead of more personal, sometimes deep, conversations between specific pairs of characters.
New to the series are third tier promotions. Each class previously had a stronger version, for example an Archer becoming a Sniper, but now they can be promoted a second time and become even more powerful in the process. Each final class obtains a skill unique to the class upon promotion and it usually gives the unit a chance to deal triple the amount of damage, which is enough to kill just about every regular enemy. The feeling of seeing those once weak and helpless units you carefully trained over numerous chapters turn into badass killing machines is extremely satisfying and makes up a big part of the overall enjoyment obtained from this game. There aren’t any new Wii-specific controls, but they really would have been surplus to requirements since the game can be enjoyed with standards controls, and the developer should be commended for not adding any just for the sake of it. The game can be played with the Wii Remote alone, a Classic Controller or a GameCube controller.
The game uses a modified version of the engine used in Path of Radiance and it definitely shows. Character models look decent but still leave something to be desired. The same can be said about the numerous maps. Thankfully, there are some redeeming factors such as a few amazing looking FMVs, great character design and battle animations, beautiful 2D anime character art and a slick overall presentation. The soundtrack is appropriately epic, even if it’s not quite as memorable as the work found in its predecessor. The English voice acting, which is almost exclusive to the FMVs, is good, but nothing overly special.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn is one massive game, with its 45 chapters easily lasting 50 hours or more. It also features an Easy, Normal and Hard mode. The Easy mode is the same as the Normal mode but the game makes sure to teach newcomers how to play the game with plenty of tutorials. It is still possible to look at the tutorials in Normal mode, though. Hard mode is only recommended for complete masochists as enemies are even harder and more numerous but, most importantly, the battle save feature has been disabled. This sadly doesn’t add genuine challenge, as it only makes the game much more time consuming and frustrating.