After the release of Fire Emblem The Sacred Stones, many fans and critics began to complain about the series lack of innovation. Every entry in the series Game Boy Advance era felt remarkable similar to each other for better or worse and because of this it seemed that interest in the franchise was waning once again. Luckily enough for fans of the series and newcomers alike when Sacred Stones was announced a second Fire Emblem game was revealed along with it. Led by director Masayuki Horikawa, with a scenario drafted by Ken Yokoyama, and brand character designs created by budding artist Senri Kita, Intelligent Systems decided that they should bring the series to home consoles once again, to the GameCube to be specific. They felt that this would be the shot in the arm that the series needed while also giving them room to try things the series never had before. They would call it Fire Emblem: Souen no Kiseki or Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance worldwide. Releasing in 2005, Path of Radiance changed many aspects of the Fire Emblem series. For one, the power of the console allowed the franchise to fully enter the third dimension, with 3D character models and environments spread throughout. Transitioning from 2D graphics to 3D graphics was one of the biggest challenges during development, especially since the classic tilted overhead view was to be replaced with a unit-to-unit battle in third-person. The team even used motion capture to help smooth over the proves while still making the characters motions feel a little over the top to keep the fantasy feel intact. Path of Radiance also had the series first real cutscenes, fully animated by Japanese animation house Digital Foundry. But these never would have worked without introducing voice acting into the foray. For the past 8 Fire Emblem titles dialogue had always been text based, and while characters still had fantastic personality’s and the writing was always top notch there was something missing. Voice acting was it. Path of Radiance even featured the franchises first vocal song, Life Returns, which was of course provided by the series iconic composer, Yuka Tsujiyoko. All of this combined helped to create a fantastic Fire Emblem game but there was still much more to it than that.
Path of Radiance’s story takes place on the continent of Tellius, yet another land that is separated from the whole of Fire Emblem lore. Unlike previous entries however, Path of Radiance doesn’t follow a lord as its main character but a mercenary, a change that had born out of the new direction for this title. Ike is his name, and what Roy of The Binding Blade was originally called. His adventure begins with his entrance into the Greil Mercenaries, a company of mercenaries led by his father Greil. For a time they operated normally within the borders of Crimea, a nation of humans, which just rests north of Gallia, a state comprised of a new race to the Fire Emblem series called the Laguz, humanoids capable of transforming into animals. All seems well for a time until the neighboring kingdom of Daein invades. Soon after, Ike comes across an unconscious woman in a forest that turns out to be the princess of Crimea, Elincia. Escaping to Gallia and losing his father to Daein general, the Black Knight, in the process, Ike must now gather and army of his own to take back Crimea and defeat Ashnard, King of Daein. Interestingly enough, Path of Radiance had one overarching theme throughout, racism. Before all of the squabbles in the Fire Emblem series were against nations of the same race but this time there were the Laguz and the nation of Daein’s Beroc who were always at each other’s throats. It was up to Ike to break these long held grievances and pull the world together to fight their true enemy, Ashnard.
But as with everything up until this point, Path of Radaince tried its best to tweak the gameplay to its own liking. The new races were the first ideas to take center stage. In battle, the Laguz changelings had the ability to transform into various animals from Tigers to Hawks. After their transformation gauge was filled up they’d turn into their animal selves, losing the ability to use the standard swords, axes, and armaments while switching to their more animalistic ones like claws and beaks. Your unit’s biorhythm also became another important mechanic for you to maintain. A stat that affects a character’s hit and avoid statistics, biorhythm would fluctuate between chapters either hindering or refining a unit even further. Other slight additions to how you changed classes and leveled up were also made letting characters automatically change classes at level 21 and awarding bonus experience depending on how well you did in a chapter. The skill system along with this was created anew with each character having a capacity gauge that allows for mastery of skills. The space of the capacity gauge varies between classes and characters and any unit could learn any skill, although with some exceptions. Path of Radiance introduced weapon forging to the series, letting you improve weapons, change their colors, and even give them a unique name.
The support system also made a comeback but not in the way it had been previously portrayed. Support level used to be raised by putting units next to each other; however, Path of Radiance changed this by having it determined by how many number of battles two units had been in together. Conversations now took place at Ike’s home base, a feature that had been added at the behest of the development team, as they wanted a place where characters could interact separately from the battlefield. To go along with this, conversations now had a secondary version instead of just the standard support based ones. These new info conversations provided crucial hints on the story ahead and were marked by three stars. One star denotes conversations that provide story background, two stars mark conversations that provide hints on how to proceed in the coming battle, and three stars indicate that the conversation may yield a special ability, item, or new playable character. With all this combined you’d think that Path of Radiance would have sold like hot cakes back in its home country of Japan, but you’d be wrong on that front. In fact to this day Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is one of the three worst selling games in the entire franchise even beating out the infamous Thracia 776. Even series producer Tohru Narihiro thought the game was 70% complete, the product of a somewhat rushed developmental cycle. With incredibly positive reviews and the series still selling well overseas there must have been something wrong that just didn’t click with Intelligent System’s original audience. Starting off their return to consoles on one of Nintendo’s least successful efforts probably wasn’t helping either, so the team thought that returning to it would be futile in the long run.
Returning to the GameCube wasn’t an option but Nintendo already had a new console in development, codenamed Revolution. Seeing this as their first opportunity to actually boost the sales of a fledgling console instead of riding on the coattails of its success, Intelligent Systems went right to work on their next entry. Nintendo was even in support of this, increasing their staff from 100 to 200 members, with many of them coming from Path of Radiance. With all of this support behind their backs there was no telling what would await them on release. Their combined efforts resulted in Fire Emblem: Akatsuki no Megami or Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, releasing in 2007 and 2008 worldwide for the Nintendo Wii, a continuation of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance in more ways then one. The 3D environments and cell-shaded full motion video were back once again with an upgraded engine and an even grander scale with hundreds of characters on screen at a time, and over 100 unique animations per character. Taking place on Tellius once again, Radiant Dawn was divided into four parts. Each part is structured similarly, beginning, with a prologue chapter that introduces the situation, followed by a series of chapters that is resolved with the classic Endgame. Part 1 deals with Daein, a nation in shambles due to its war with the world with many of its people being oppressed by the occupying forces of the Begnion Empire. This is where the games new protagonist, Micaiah, comes in who, along with her Dawn Brigade, set out to liberate the country from tyranny. Subsequent parts involve Elincia and the state of Crimea, the return of Ike and the Griel Mercenaries, and of course a finale that brings a close to the Tellius series as a whole. With a deep story just like its predecessor, there was much to love about this new entry. However, what truly helped it to further stand out from the Fire Emblem crowd was its exploration of the aftermath of a war and how the winners don’t always come out always on top even when they’ve won. There was no true victor in this conflict, only causalities, which made for a thought provoking journey that truly fit in with the Fire Emblem ethos that had been held up throughout the years.
The story was a compelling one that expanded on what Path of Radiance had laid the foundation for and the battle system too was further refined to its sharpest edge. Human characters could now promote twice, resulting in three tiers of character classes with the third being incredibly powerful. Each has access to their classes Occult or ultimate skill, which further increases their usefulness. The Laguz from Path of Radiance also made a return. When untransformed now they can use a new weapon called Strike to counterattack their foes although they would be relatively weak in this state. A new Laguz tribe in turn was also created called the Hatari, adding wolves into the mix. The weapon system was modified as well. Knifes became classified as full weapons, matching swords, axes, bows, and lances. New lower-tier bronze level weapons were introduced as well, and while they did the least amount of damage in the game and couldn’t perform critical hits, they were less expensive and allowed the most uses and bowmen were given more tools to play with like crossbows and bowguns. Elevation and terrain became crucial aspects of the battlefield. Characters can climb to higher levels, with higher levels increasing accuracy and damage and lower levels decreasing it conversely for marksmen like classes.
Changing the support system had been a crucial part of each entry and Radiant Dawn was no different. It features two types, Buddy supports and Bond supports. Buddy supports increase their characters’ battle stats dependent on the elemental affinity and support level of both Buddies. Unlike in previous games, characters can be Buddies with any other character, but can only have one Buddy at a time. Bond supports, which also appeared in Path of Radiance, are between two specific characters and are always present. Because any character can form a support relationship with any other character, the conversations themselves have been simplified and are based on templates, in which the initiating character makes a stock statement while inserting the recipient’s name, and the recipient will respond with a general acknowledgment. The more colorful dialogue that typified the support conversations in previous installments has been for the most part transferred to the Info conversations that take place between battles.
Dealing with Path of Radiance, you could transfer over save data from that entry. This would help to boost the stats of any reoccurring characters to their old counterparts making them all the more useful. Any you needed it to even hop of surviving, as Radiant Dawn is possibly one of the most difficult Fire Emblem titles, but not of the likes of Thracia 776. This difficulty, stems from multiple things from map design to AI brutality but many point to the various modes you could play through as the culprits. You see generally Fire Emblem games have three-difficulty setting, Normal, Hard, and Lunatic. Generally those who weren’t the most hardcore of fans would choose the normal difficulty and go through the game easily enough, however due to a translation error in English speaking countries these were changed to Easy, Normal, and Hard. Unless you knew what was going on, most would choose to go for the Normal difficulty and up frustrated by playing the actual Hard mode, artificially making Radiant Dawn out to be more difficult then it was. This translated into poor reviews for the first time in series history, with many not knowing of the changes. It was still a very challenging game mind you, and most decided to ignore it because of that, resulting in Radiant Dawn becoming the franchises worst seller in Japan. But the legacy that this title left behind would still continue to help shape the series as it went along, even if no one was playing it. Something was wrong with the Fire Emblem series, and Intelligent Systems just couldn’t pin it down. Was it the gameplay? The story? The characters? The series itself?
At first they saw only one way to solve their problems, to try something more radical and change the very foundation of the franchise to a new and original venture. Only known as “The Illusive Wii Title”, Intelligent Systems had tried to prototype a new entry in the months after Radiant Dawn’s release. Intelligent Systems had thought Fire Emblem was too niche of a franchise and they needed something that would bring in a wider audience. To stand out from the crowd they going to rip out the strategy RPG roots that had been at the very core of the Fire Emblem series for age and replace it with a combination of traditional RPG and real time strategy elements. You could even roam around in fields, towns, and dungeons, unencumbered by the grid-based system of old, with enemy encounters happening in real time. The Illusive Wii Title might have been the most ambitious Fire Emblem entry since Genealogy of the Holy War but that wasn’t meant to be its fate. It was an experimental project through and through and was only killed off because of their loss of motivation after finding that they had no true aim or objective. Once it was shelved, Intelligent Systems was told to forgo console based Fire Emblem titles for good and try something a little different. For them, looking back to their very origin was the answer.