Fire Emblem (2003) was a game that had a tonne of potential, but was ultimately let down by the fact that it tore up it’s own rule book two thirds into the game and had maddening difficulty spikes. Additionally, it was probably 10 Chapters too long, so overall I was a little disappointing in it.
Rather than writing off the series, I decided to jump into the sequel The Sacred Stones, and see if I would enjoy this outing into the Fire Emblem Universe.
Occurring in a different continuity to the other games in the series, Sacred Stones takes place on the continent of Magvel, which is split into five Kingdoms, all of which hold an ancient relic, the Sacred Stones, as well as a crappy Merchants Province who suck because they don’t get a Stone. Legend says that man beat off -huh huh- the Demon King, using the power of the five stones sealing him away.
800 years of peace pass, and slowly evil starts to creep, the usually peaceful allies of Grado suddenly invade Renais, leading to Princess Eirika and Prince Ephraim striking back and trying to reclaim their homeland.
Just like FE2003 the story is well devised, the plot points make sense, and there are no stupid Final Fantasy VIII twists. It means the story remains coherent, the characters are all likeable, and there are the odd moment of heart-string tugging.
The Sacred Stones is a Tactical Role Playing Game, battle occurs on a grid based system and you are able to see all the potential moves that you and the enemy can take. In X-COM fashion, and unlike the Shining Forces, your team moves, and then the enemy. This means you shouldn’t really be cheesed by an awful AI/evil RNGesus like in Shining Force, but if you put a man in range of 15 enemy soldiers, they will queue up one by one until your dude is dead, or all of the enemy are.
Combat is still based on the Weapon Triangle, this means that, Swords beat Axe, Axe beats Lance, Lance beats Sword. It is a simple Rock/Paper/Scissors and if you try to use an axe on a sword it’ll reduce your chances of hitting. Unlike in FE2003, the Weapon Triangle remains consistent, and if Pussywillow Solider with a 5% chance to a maximum of 3 damage actually connects, you don’t have awful instadeath.
Also returning is the Magic Triangle, again this follows Rock/Paper/Scissors, as Anima beats Light, Light beats Dark, and Dark beats Anima.
During the battles, your characters will perform actions such as healing and attacking. And this gives them experience, get 100 points and you’ll level up. This is all simple, and standard RPG. However, EXP isn’t split. The person performing the act gets the experience, attack, and you’ll get 10-30 exp. Kill and you’ll get 50-100. The problem is healers get shit all. Heal 10 times and you might just scrape a level, it means trying to get L’Arachel to level 10 to be able to promote her is a massive chore and requires tonnes of grind.
Once your trooper hits level 10, they can be promoted (providing you found an item) though, like the Shining Forces it is best to hold on for level 20 to promote if you want to maximise the stats. However, unlike Shining Force 1, your troops don’t temporarily become useless after promotion. In fact, they start to steamroll. Eirika suddenly went from 10ish damage to 20ishx2 damage, and was suddenly able to kill anything she fought. It meant she power levelled 13 levels in 3 chapters towards the end.
Some characters join as “recruits” these are terrible units, that when they hit level 10 become a regular trooper, and then get another promotion with an item after level 10. Ross and Amelia as an example, both start terrible, but if they survive, and get leveled, they will stomp over everything in sight.
Promotion offers a tonne of variety too, most characters get a choice of two promotions, and some get 3. It means that you can replay the game, use the exact same characters but still have a totally different game.
Improvements on Fire Emblem (2003)
I had a few issues with Fire Emblem, and thankfully Sacred Stones has addressed most of them.
- FE2003 was too long, around Chapter 23 I had had enough, and with 31 Chapters it became a massive chore. At 21 Chapters, Sacred Stones is thankfully shorter in terms of missions, but around the same time to complete. But because there isn’t all that extra padding the story moves along at a more reasonable pace.
- The Weapon Triangle rule book actually remains consistent, and isn’t replaced by RNGesus.
- FE2003 has a massive difficulty spike around Chapter 24 and an insane one on the Final Chapter. Sacred Stones starts to become difficulty after the story split, around Chapter 11, though it doesn’t keep scaling upwards. Once you get over that difficulty around Chapter 16, the game starts to get fun again especially with the introduction of certain characters and missions like the Monster Egg Level.
- FE2003 had “Hector mode” which was a pointless revisit of Eliwood’s story. In Sacred Stones, at Chapter 11 the story splits, and you get to choose which path you take. Each branch is different and focuses on either Eirika or Ephraim, meaning there is a reason to replay the game other than wanting to see a slight variance.
- The “S” Rank weapons while rare, are easier to find, making the last levels easier than FE2003, and means the final boss isn’t an exercise in futility.
- The final level isn’t some ROFLStomp as you fail to make 400 perfect moves to get to the end.
- The Tower of Valni, and later the Lagdou Ruins, allow you to grind to your hearts content. Meaning the endgame doesn’t have to be you replaying the same level 30 times working out the perfect move structure to be able to beat it with your terrible troops. You can simply grind like a king on murder all on sight.
Basically, Scared Stones is the game I thought Fire Emblem 2003 should have been. Fundamentally, this and FE2003 are the same, but Sacred Stones fixes everything.
The story is deep and rewarding, the gameplay while difficult, is very fair in that mistakes are punished, but you are able to see the mistake, and learn from it.
It took me about 25 hours to beat the game, and i’d say 5 of this was grinding the Tower of Valni which I never actually beat.
With a Hard mode, that ratchets up the difficulty while remaining fair, it means I much more inclined to give it a second runthrough. So for me, Sacred Stones is perfect as a Tactical Role Playing Game. I gushed over Shining Force 2, and Sacred Stones slightly betters that.
Pros: It is the same as FE2003, but better in most ways. Myrrh. Eirika steamrolling.
Cons: Can be very difficult at times. Not knowing how t opronouce Ephraim and Eirikia.
Back in the day:
Sacred Stones reviewed slightly worse than Fire Emblem 2003 did at release, considered good it scored around the 85% mark across most reviewers.