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Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (C3-2-1) (Game Boy Advance) Review

The Fire Emblem series has gained plaudits around the world for its high standards time and time again, especially over the years when the series never made it outside of Japan. With a new version of the game gracing the GameCube recently here in Europe, though, do people really want a brand-new GBA edition as well? Does Intelligent Systems manage to make its smaller iteration stand tall against the competition? Find out in the latest C3-2-1: ‘Cubed3, 2 Reviewers, 1 Great Game!’

Just like with the Final Fantasy series, the storyline this time around is completely separate from previous outings. The only similarities found between the two are the way the game is laid out. In The Sacred Stones, the action takes place on Magi Varl, a place once inhabited by evil, but now the home for humans thanks to five sacred stones that trapped the monsters forever. These stones eventually became part of the heritage of the royal families found within the kingdoms around the continent. One of these, though, the Grad Empire, decides to take control of the whole region by invading the Lunes Kingdom and conquering it. The adventure sees you in control of Prince Ephraim and Princess Eirika as they attempt to recover the stones and restore peace throughout the land. It may not sound truly gripping, but the story unfolds in such a magical way that the game almost becomes hypnotic in the way that an absorbing book can suck you in...

The Fire Emblem series is not the most eye-wateringly attractive title on the market and it never attempts to fool you into believing otherwise. However, despite this there remains a certain charm that exudes from the confines of the tiny GBA cartridge. The miniscule characters that shoot around the basic-looking playing fields are more than compensated for by the extravagance of the two-dimensional story-driven cut-scenes and spectacular effects used during battle sequences. Rich in colour, grandeur and sheer Nintendo-esque style, The Sacred Stones leaves a welcome ocular imprint...

Screenshot for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (C3-2-1) on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Back in November 2003 when the first Fire Emblem was finally brought over to North America, the game was heralded not just for its highly addictive gameplay, but also for the fantastic soundtrack that came along for the ride. Mixing dramatic, sweeping orchestration with upbeat ditties and moving, stirring beats that built up the tension of key battles, Intelligent Systems had once again shaped a score worthy of a CD release (in Japan, anyway, where game soundtracks are released regularly...). And guess what? That old magic dust has been sprinkled over The Sacred Stones, with many a new track to warrant a place in the GBA's Aural Hall of Fame. Perhaps there are not quite as many tunes that lodge themselves in your head, but hey, there is only so much room in your ageing noggin'!

The beauty of coming to review a game like The Sacred Stones is that having reviewed the first Western Fire Emblem outing, it is rather simple to explain how the game works thanks to it being basically the same as the last one. However, of course, it means that it can be slightly tricky trying to sell the title to those who believe it is not worth picking up as it is more of the same. The thing is that if you look back to how Fire Emblem was scored, you will see that it has one of the highest marks for a GBA game here on Cubed3 and there is good reason behind this. Only Final Fantasy Tactics Advance from the untouchable Square Enix sits loftily above it in the handheld strategy field.

Screenshot for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (C3-2-1) on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Anyone who has played the Advance Wars series, also by Intelligent Systems, will feel right at home with the gameplay mechanics used in The Sacred Stones, although the emphasis here is more on storyline development and exploration than the building up of troops and use of armed forces. You have a group of various characters, each with their own unique qualities and attributes, which are thrown into all manner of situations and left to deal with them accordingly. Your group will chop and change depending on the circumstance, expanding as you interact with villagers that may have been saved or join forces with rogue agents that are fighting for the same cause. Your task, which is slightly amended from the previous game where you were actually classed as a Master Tactician and part of the actual team, is to manipulate each situation to your advantage. Axe-wielders, swordsmen, archers, healers, thieves and horseback soldiers are just a few examples of the types of people you will have at your disposal during the adventure and you must choose wisely to keep them all alive.

The different groups in the field each take it in turn to have their move and when it comes to the Player Phase, then is the time to work your magic. Each of your characters has a set grid within which they can move, all depending on that particular character, whether they are on horseback, or if the terrain plays a part. If your member is crossing forests or mountains, then progress is stunted more than across lowland areas, yet your defenses may be increased by the extra coverage provided during the Enemy Phase. Then there are shortcuts that can be found by interacting with your surroundings, such as creating a bridge by chopping down a large tree or busting through a weakened stone wall. You can even stop by a chat with local villagers, either gaining wise tactical tips or sometimes items and weapons that aid with the oncoming battle…and they really are required most of the time, as it is not just human enemies you face this time, but evil hordes that can wipe you out from distance!

Screenshot for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (C3-2-1) on Game Boy Advance - on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Diligence is the primary factor in every single encounter over the period of play. The reason being is that one incorrect, foolhardy move and it is time to say sayonara to a member of your team...forever. Indeed, that old nemesis from before has returned, eternal death and instant automatic saves after each and every move. Therefore, should you leave a vulnerable member in an exposed position or put them into a situation they simply could not survive, you will either have to watch them perish before your very eyes, thus removing their presence from enchanting story that unfolds over each chapter, or restart the WHOLE chapter again to right the wrongs. The choice is yours, and is something that helps to make an already gripping game even more personal...

Many bemoaned that fact that after being released in November 2003 across the US, Europe had to wait another seven-to-eight months before having the chance to taste the goods. There is highly reasonable justification for this, however, as the script is absolutely gargantuan in size and to have rushed the translation process would have been shameful as the tale that is woven as you play over the twenty main chapters is presented in such fine fashion that the fact that the exact same engine has been used once again can easily be forgiven. Heck, of course it can be forgiven! It was superb the first time round, and is STILL splendid now. If it is not broken and all that malarkey...

Screenshot for Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (C3-2-1) on Game Boy Advance- on Nintendo Wii U, 3DS games review

Gameplay

A year-and-a-half ago the world was wowed by how wonderful Fire Emblem's approach to the strategic role playing game genre was. Now, though, the system has not changed and neither has its quality. For that we should indeed be thankful, not so critical...

Graphics

Whilst not exactly setting the world alight with its visuals, there is more than enough in terms of battle animations and gorgeous cut-scenes to keep most graphic-whores content!

Sound

As with the previous GBA outing, Intelligent Systems has composed a soundtrack worthy of investing in a new set of earphones to hear the game in its entire stereo beauty.

Value

With twenty gripping chapters, over which a grand tale is told, and a choice of difficulty levels that can leave you almost in tears at times, The Sacred Stones is an epic journey that you will not want to abandon until the final credits roll.

Cubed3 Rating

9/10
Rated 9 out of 10

Exceptional - Gold Award

About this score
Rated 9 out of 10

Just as people knocked Advance Wars 2 from its pedestal for being far too similar to its predecessor for their liking, The Sacred Stones could well suffer the same fate. However, if this turns out to be the case, then more fool those that think as such for they will be missing out on one of the best Game Boy Advance RPG experiences to date. There are not too many classics in this genre on the handheld, so one as perfect as this with an amazing storyline should not be overlooked!

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27.11.2005

5684

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Developer

Intelligent Systems

Publisher

Nintendo

Genre

Strategy

Players

4

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  9/10 (9 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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