Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

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Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones game art

ConsoleGame Boy Advance
DeveloperIntelligent Systems
PublisherNintendo
GenreTactical RPG
Release Year2004
Game Number8
Purchase (GBA)Click here to buy from eBay.
Purchase (Wii U)Must be purchased from Nintendo eShop app.

*sighs*

I know this one is a fan favorite. I know that by criticizing this game, I would be stepping on a lot of toes, but… I didn’t like this game that much.

I mean, yeah. I know. As much praise as I had given to the previous game of the series, I SHOULD like this one. It’s not even a bad game. But there is just something about it that rubs me the wrong way. Why do I find myself BORED while playing this game? It’s something that I can’t get over.

So Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is the second of the series to be released internationally and the eighth overall. Some fans hold this game in high regard in a similar manner to Fire Emblem.

I should note that this is the very first Fire Emblem game I ever tried, and I was underwhelmed. It took me three tries before I finally decided to complete the game.

Oh well. Let’s see what my deal with this game is.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

The gameplay is largely the same as that of Fire Emblem, though with some minor changes. For better or worse. You move your units through a grid-based map, kill enemies, and try not to let anyone die. Standard fare.

The graphics are, once again, recycled from Binding Blade. However, there are some new enemy sprites.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

One notable difference that this game has is that it has MONSTERS. Surprised? Well, maybe you should be. It’s actually rare for a Fire Emblem game to have monsters in them, because you mostly face off against human enemies. The odd thing is that these monsters aren’t exactly a great challenge. They’re certainly no better than enemy soldiers and over half of them are weak against Light magic.

An interesting note about The Sacred Stones is that it’s sort of a rehash of Fire Emblem Gaiden in terms of gameplay, the second game of the series that was only released for the Japanese Famicom.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones world map

The most notable update is the addition of a world map, which was also featured in Fire Emblem Gaiden. This feature is a common point of criticism among Fire Emblem fans, as it significantly changed how you proceed through the game. That is because you can easily restock your items on the map (instead of buying from a shop during a chapter) and encounter an endless number of enemies that spawn at certain points of the map.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Tower of Valni

Furthermore, there is also the Tower of Valni, a location specifically made for grinding. So if you ever get stuck in the game (not that this will happen often anyway), you can always spend 30 minutes at the tower.

Honestly, I never really struggle with enemies being too strong. Rather, I struggle with enemies using cheap moves like using a Berserk staff. But even that can be easily countered with a Restore staff.

In most Fire Emblem games, there is no world map. Therefore, after you complete a chapter, you go directly to the next chapter. But with grinding so readily available (minus Arena Abuse/Boss Abuse), the game is often considered one of the easiest entries in the series.

The game also features trainee classes and a branching class-change system. There are a total of three trainee characters that you can recruit, who start off as incredibly weak. But if you manage to spend a lot of time leveling them up, they can become on par or even surpass your other soldiers in terms of combat ability. Characters like these are still being used today, up until Donnel in Fire Emblem: Awakening.

The branching class system allows you to choose from different classes whenever you promote. Before The Sacred Stone, promotions were always leading to one specific class. Mercenaries will always become Heroes, Knights will always become Generals, Cavaliers will always become Paladins, etc. But in this game, characters can pick from two promoted classes. So a Cavalier can be a Great Knight instead of a Paladin.

It’s a nice feature to have. Unfortunately, there aren’t that many new classes to choose from as some are rehashed from the previous game. While the Great Knight is pretty neat, other new classes like Rogue and Summoner aren’t that great.

And finally, skills. Skills are really more of an afterthought than something to strive for, since they’re exclusive to certain classes. For example, Bishops have the Slayer skill, which allows them to deal tremendous damage to monsters. This skill alone makes many of the game’s enemies a complete joke.

So overall, the gameplay is mostly the same as Fire Emblem but with changes that end up making the game much easier. I don’t mind them too much, though I wish there could’ve been more depth compared to the previous game.

The soundtrack is okay. There are some great pieces (though some like the battle themes gets old REALLY fast, after playing the 300th time after killing a weak monster).

And lastly… the story… this is by far my most disliked part about this game. First, let’s examine the intro movie.

…What is that even?

Many of the Fire Emblem intros give a little backstory or at least show what we ought to expect. The one for Path of Radiance did a great job in conveying a small part of the story without a single word of exposition.

This intro though? It just throws its character portraits at us as if it were an arcade fighting game. I know this is a nitpick, but the previous game at least tells us what the story is going to be about.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Eirika and Ephraim

So crappy intro movie aside, the actual story is about the royal twins, Eirika and Ephraim, getting pulled into a war caused by the once peaceful kingdom of Grado. Confused by this sudden invasion, it’s up to the twins to discover the real reason behind the war. This story has no connection to any other in the Fire Emblem series, so no prior knowledge of the series is required.

This isn’t a bad idea, except that our two lead characters are absolutely BORING.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Eirika and Seth

You begin the game as Eirika, the princess of Renais. And sadly, she doesn’t have the same charm as Lyndis from Fire Emblem. Both are brave warrior princesses who are willing to fight for their cause to the end. The difference is that you do end up caring for Lyn’s cause seeing as how she has to deal with attempted assassinations and prejudice against her people. Lyn can lose her temper and desire vengeance like a real human being.

We’re looking at different characters here, but Eirika comes across as being too angelically perfect. Sho shweet and innocent, as you might call it. The “goodie two-shoes.” Her main character trait is that she helps out any village in peril along the way of her journey.

And isn’t it our duty to defend our countrymen? I’m only sad that we weren’t here to protect her friends and neighbors… So, yes, I feel we must help her.

Lady, you’re in a war! It’s impossible NOT to have casualties. Being here, there, and wherever won’t make a difference. While you go off to save someone, other citizens will have to suffer for it. That is the nature of war. It is out of your hands!

And that screenshot above? Her character never evolves beyond that quote. She is polite, kawaii, whatever, but that is really it. There is really nothing interesting about her, save for some derpy and predictable moments. Even after the death of her father, she recovers absurdly well. Her excuse: “We mustn’t mourn! Let’s go rescue my brother! On to the next plot point!”

Really? Not even a moment of silence? Even minor characters from Fire Emblem get those.

Maybe I am just nitpicking here but I just wish there is more to this character than being your typical caring princess who steps out of her comfort zone to fight for justice. Yeah, that sounds like she went through character development from that description, but it happened so fast that it doesn’t even matter.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Eirika, Ephraim and Lyon
Well, good to know the game is self-aware.

Ephraim is more or less the same way, but a little more headstrong and noted as a clever strategist.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Ephraim and Valter

He also prefers fighting in the battlefield rather than ruling a kingdom. But he’s just your archetypal “badass” hero with nothing that really sets him apart from the other main characters of the series. I would say he’s even duller than Marth.

But he took control of a fortress with just four people!

Yeah. And one of his soldiers betrayed him and he got captured for it. What are the fucking odds?

And furthermore, if you unlock all of the support conversations between Eirika and Ephraim, you get cringeworthy lines like this.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Eirika and Ephraim
Dude… talk about twincest.

In fact, one of the male supporting characters got so jealous of their closeness that he considered Ephraim a rival for Eirika’s affections.

*snickers*

Okay. Whatever floats your boat, Innes.

I’m not much of a fan of many of the supporting characters either. They seem so… flat and uninspired. Even when fans come to claim that this game has some of the best support conversations in the series, I don’t really see the three dimensions of these characters. For example, I can’t stand Lute’s braggart, holier-than-thou attitude… whether in the storyline or in her support conversations.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Lute and Artur

Though I can kind of see why some other characters would make an impression. The unfortunate thing is that it may take multiple save files to dig up some interesting conversations. Ross and Gerik, Dozla and Rennac, Moulder and Vanessa, Duessel and Cormag, Knoll and Natasha, Joshua and L’Arachel. Just to name a few, really. It’s like there wasn’t that much time to flesh out the characters. I’m sure they could’ve been excellent characters with more time and effort.

However, the antagonists can be pretty entertaining. Especially the likes of a resident Wyvern Knight known as Valter the Moonstone.

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It’s like Hannibal Lecter and Fabio had a secret love-child with a permanent slasher smile and a psychotic lust for Eirika. This guy is the biggest ham in the game, and there are plenty of large hams to be found. He’s by far the most entertaining character.

I also thought Caellach the Tiger Eye was kind of cool. A mercenary turned general who wants nothing more than a crown. Not to mention he has a history with Joshua.

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones Caellach and Joshua

But even with my mixed feelings with the characters, the story is questionable. One can argue that the story is the most focused of the series, but that is mainly because it’s so short. There are only about 20 chapters in one playthrough compared to the usual 30 that existed since the first game. And that’s where the game kind of drops the ball.

The characters weren’t given much room to breathe in the story conversations, therefore the best way to learn more about them is through supports. Because of that, the story just gets carried away by its generic warring kingdoms plot.

But worst of all, the story itself is so predictable. Once the eponymous Sacred Stones have been mentioned in the plot, you go on a quest to collect them like they’re Dragon Balls. They’re nothing more than MacGuffin plot devices. Even the Fire Emblem, which is one of the stones in the game, is not as important as you think. Each time you try to save the stones, you fail each and every time.

Gee, where have I heard this before? Um, Final Fantasy IV?

And as soon as the game brings up a “Demon King,” you pretty much know what’s going to happen at the end and what the final boss will be.

What annoys me about the story is that it is more about “we must go do this and that” than watch characters have their moments. There are rarely moments when the story just pauses the action and lets us get to know the characters more. Even when those moments come though, the dialogue does more “telling” than “showing.”

And while we’re at it, let’s bring in the contrived as hell character conflicts. Many times in the story, especially in Eirika’s case, one character tries to stop another character from doing something stupid, only it happens anyway. I swear to Christ, this happens to Eirika, Ross, Neimi, Lute, Tana, L’Arachel, Ewan…

Let me explain this in a step-by-step process:

  1. Person #1 tells Person #2 not to get involved into a certain conflict.
  2. Person #2 disagrees and either pleads to get involved or becomes stubborn about it.
  3. Person #1 gives up and says, “Okay, you can come/do what you want to do. I’m sure you’ll be fine anyway.”
  4. Person #2 says, “Oh, thank you very much!”

This doesn’t make for interesting conflict. It’s just tedious and I facepalm every time this kind of moment is being used. I’m sure there is a trope for this somewhere. But for the life of me, I don’t know which one it’s called.

And then… we get ANOTHER collection quest for sacred weapons. Holy crap. I wouldn’t mind so much except this is so cliché. This game is a little obsessed with its numbers. There are six Generals of Grado, five Sacred Stones, five ancient heroes, and ten legendary weapons.

But there is one more thing I failed to bring up earlier. The diverging storylines.

At one point in the game, you can continue as either Eirika or Ephraim as your main lord. Not only will you get access to six exclusive chapters, but the endgame’s chapters will also be somewhat different in the context of the story.

Eirika’s route is the easier of the two, but also has the most interesting backstories. However, Ephraim’s route is more difficult and is not as interesting. Not really a good tradeoff.

However, you might consider that both storylines might make up a whole story, right? Well, not necessarily. They feel more like parallels. Once you pick your main Lord for the rest of the game, the other Lord loses focus and sort of falls into the background.

It’s like the story changes in order to center on your main Lord. Even the villain’s motive changes depending on who you picked. It wouldn’t make sense that the two storylines are one and the same.

The point is that The Sacred Stones tried something different in order to follow up with its successful predecessor. Mind you, I don’t hate this game. But by the gods, I wished I enjoyed it more. The story is pretty forgettable by Fire Emblem standards (though the villains are done alright) and the characters fall short. However, the gameplay is still pretty good despite how easy the game is overall.

If The Sacred Stones is one of your favorites in the series, I apologize. I don’t think it’s bad, but I just don’t enjoy it that much. I almost passed up the whole series because of this game.

However, there is one entry that allowed me to give the series a chance.

Fire Emblem: Awakening game art

Yep. Are you disappointed yet? Well, don’t be just yet. I’ll be getting to this one soon…-

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

Price Varies
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
73.75

GAMEPLAY

8/10

    STORY

    6/10

      GRAPHICS

      9/10

        SOUNDTRACK

        7/10

          Pros

          • The gameplay is mostly identical to the original Fire Emblem, so it is still addicting and comprehensible.
          • The character portraits and battle sprites still look good, despite being identical to those of Binding Blade.
          • While the soundtrack isn’t that good compared to that of the previous game’s, it still has a few noteworthy tracks.
          • There are some good characters despite not being fully fleshed out.

          Cons

          • The uninspired warring kingdoms and MacGuffin-collecting story is rather average and forgettable.
          • The main characters, Ephraim and Eirika, are bland and dull.
          • The main story is too easy since the world map provides quick grinding options.
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