Firstly, forgive the odd screenshot style this time around. Being as the GBA has such tiny screens, I thought this the best way to show as many as possible whilst keeping to my normal format. Anyway, it’s been a while since I last touched on Fire Emblem, but it’s obviously a series which needs no introduction. It’s probably one of the best SRPG franchises out there, and the sheer depth and complexity that goes into the game is nothing to scoff at. Whilst it does use the old fashioned style of grid-based battling, why fix what’s not broken? By this point in time, it’s pretty much a perfected method of gameplay, and there are no complaints about it.
It’s a series of political strife, war and the time where mages went hand in hand with dragons and sword-wielding warriors. However, what makes this instalment into the Fire Emblem franchise is that whilst it touches onto the political aspect, it does a rather weak job of it, favouring the fantasy element of monsters and demons.
At first, I didn’t really know what to think of this odd change. It’s your typical war story at first, in a ‘very’ similar fashion to the first Fire Emblem, as the princess of a ruined country you have to reclaim it and the like. However, it throws the politics and the war out the window pretty damn quickly, giving in to a total fantasy styled battle against the monsters and demons in the above screenshot. It’s a really odd choice to take for this franchise, and I think it’s what makes this game the best/worst instalment for fans of the game. Either you’ll love the new twist that it’s taken, or you’ll dislike it rather quickly and struggle to finish it.
On top of that, they’ve made even more changes. There’s now a map screen, where you can take your characters into non-story related battles to grow stronger, and you can revisit towns and the like to stock up on weapons and items. And this is, for me, the defining feature of the game. In previous games, you had to buy stupid amounts of weapons whenever you see an armoury, since you never know when the next one will be. In this game, you can play a much more fitting style to being a commander, outfitting your units according to what your expecting to fight next and ensuring they’re always in top shape.
The addition of the skirmish battles also makes almost every unit in the game viable and usable, even if they’ve gotten behind in levels. You can enter a skirmish battle and grind to get your favourite units to a point where you can use them in comparison to the god-tier units of the game.
However, this comes at a price. The difficulty in this game is actually significantly higher than the other instalments in the franchise, being able to have half your battalion wiped out by just one poor move. Whilst you can grind other units into position to replace them, it just feels rather annoying to have to constantly replace units.
The Sacred Stones is something of an oddball in the franchise. Using a map system to travel the world and going with a method that throws the deep-rooted political staples of the game out the window is either going to make the game one of the best instalments, or one of the stranger instalments that you won’t be replaying any time soon.