Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
|Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones|
|Genre(s)||Tactical role playing|
|Mode(s)||Single player, multiplayer|
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, known in Japan as Fire Emblem: Seima no Kōseki[a] is a tactical role-playing game developed by Intelligent Systems, and published by Nintendo for the Game Boy Advance handheld video game console in 2004 for Japan and 2005 in the West. It is the eighth entry in the Fire Emblem series,[b] the second to be released outside Japan, and the third and last title to be developed for the Game Boy Advance after The Binding Blade and its sequel Fire Emblem.
Set in a separate continuity to any other Fire Emblem title, The Sacred Stones takes place on the continent of Magvel, which is divided into five ancient nations each with a magical stone said to be linked to the imprisonment of an ancient demon. When the nation of Grado begins invading the other nations and sealing the stones, protagonists Ephraim and Eirika of the royal family of Renais set out to gain allies from the other nations and halt Grado's conquest. The gameplay is similar to previous Fire Emblem games, focusing on tactical movement of units across a grid-based battlefield. Featured are permanent death for characters defeated in battle, and support conversations that grant advantages to certain units in battle.
The Sacred Stones began development alongside Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance as a side project, carrying over its systems from Fire Emblem while incorporating elements from earlier entries such as Fire Emblem Gaiden. First announced in mid-2004, it was heavily promoted in Japan. When released, it sold over 230,000 units during 2004, with a further 90,000 being sold upon its North American debut. Reception was positive overall for its story and gameplay, although many critics cited it as being too similar to its predecessor. The Sacred Stones would be the last original handheld Fire Emblem title until Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS in 2012.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a tactical role-playing game where players take the role of royal siblings Ephraim and Eirika during separate campaigns as they fight hostile forces invading their homeland, along with allies acquired on their journey. The world's setting of Magvel is navigating using an overworld map, with routes going to different maps which are unlocked as the story progresses stemming from the army's central base. In addition to story-related maps and dungeons, "EXP maps" and optional dungeons exist where chosen units can freely battle enemies, earning experience points which can be used to level up characters. Each time a unit earns 100 experience points, that unit will have their stats randomly increase: with one exception, each character has a 20-level cap. In addition to the single-player, the game includes a multiplayer option, where four players can take chosen units into battle in a zone called the Link Arena: victory goes to the last group standing or to the party with the highest score depending on the match conditions.
Battles use a turn-based battle system, with player, allied and enemy units each taking turns and moving across a grid-based battlefield. Players can end their turn at any time, at which point the allied or enemy units can move. In each battle, the player is given command of a limited number of units, and is given an objective to complete. Depending on a unit's stats, other available options include healing, rescuing player and allied units, and inflict status ailments such as "Poison" (a unit loses health each turn), "Berserk" (a unit attacks nearby units regardless of association), and immobilization ailments such as "Sleep" and "Petrify". A key element of battle is the Weapons Triangle, a rock-paper-scissors mechanic governing which types of weapon is more effective against another. Weapon types vary from close-range melee weapons like swords and axes to long-range weapons such as bows and magical staves. Weapons, along with items such as tomes, have a durability stat, and will break after a certain amount of use. Different weapons also feature different Support affinities depending on the wielder, which in turn grant boosts during combat: the Support level ranges from E to S, and when a unit reaches an S rank with one weapon, all other weapons are locked at A rank. Various items gathered during missions, such as healing items and weapons, can be traded with other units within the army, or sold at vendors found on the world map. Unit actions in battle can be altered through Support Conversations, talks between playable characters that can be initiated both within and outside battles: each Support grants stat boosts to a unit, with higher supports yielding greater boosts.
Each unit is assigned a character class, which determines their abilities, weapons, strength and range of movement. One instance is the ability for mounted characters can have a second move within the remainder of their movement range if they traded with or assistant a player unit. After a character has leveled up sufficiently, its class can be evolved. A notable change from earlier games is that multiple options are available for class evolution: for instance, a Cavalier can evolve into either a Paladin or a Great Knight. When a unit falls in battle, they are subjected to permanent death, removing them from the rest of the campaign unless the player restarts the current map. Some character deaths, such as those of Ephraim and Eirika, end the game. Permanent death is disabled in the Link Arena.
The Sacred Stones is set on the continent of Magvel, which is divided between six nations. Five of those nations have a shared history stretching back over 800 years, when they were each given charge of a magical gemstone used to seal away the Demon King Fomortiis at the end of a conflict between humans and monsters. When the game opens, the Grado Empire launches an unexpected assault on the neighboring nation of Renais, home of the royal siblings Ephraim and Eirika. Taken by surprise, the two siblings are separated: Eirika escapes with the king's general Seth, while Ephraim goes underground to mount a resistance against the aggressors. As Eirika seeks aid from the other nations, the land becomes plagued with undead monsters.
In Eirika's route, she is forced to reach the allied nation of Rausten by passing through the new republic of Carcino, which is allied with Grado, then through a mountains track to the nation of Jehanna. Her forces are eventually cornered by twin factions of Grado's army until she is aided by Ephraim. In Ephraim's route, the young prince meets with allies from the nations of Frelia and within Grado itself. He also learns that both the Emperor Vigarde and his son Lyon have been acting strangely since Lyon performed an occult ritual involving the Sacred Stone of Grado. After defeating the Emperor in battle, Lyon reveals that the Emperor was merely a resurrected puppet: having died, Lyon sacrificed his nation's Sacred Stone to revive the Emperor, and declares himself as the prime power behind the war. Burdened with this knowledge, Ephraim heads to help his sister. During each of their journeys, Grado and its allies systematically destroy each nation's Sacred Stone.
Once reunited, the siblings head with their forces and liberate Renais, there retrieving its Sacred Stone. Heading to Frelia to ally with further reinforcements and secure the final Sacred Stone, they are forced to face the remainder of Grado's forces after their Frelia allies are destroyed. Heading to confront Lyon, the siblings are bested and Renais' Sacred Stone destroyed. Retrieving the last intact Sacred Stone from Rausten, the siblings pursue Lyon to Darkling Woods, where he is performing a ritual he thinks will save Grado from a future catastrophe: the ceremony in fact kills Lyon, who becomes the final sacrifice that resurrects the Demon King. Ephraim and Eirika use the Sacred Stone of Rausten to seal the Demon King's soul, then their forces destroy its body. The siblings' allies from the other nations return home, while they themselves seal the final Sacred Stone away and set about restoring their nation.
Development and release
The Sacred Stones was produced by long-time developer Intelligent Systems, running parallel to the development of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, an entry for the GameCube. According to staff, development began unexpectedly in 2003 alongside Path of Radiance: the staff thought they would not be developing another entry for the Game Boy Advance. Production on the two titles ran parallel to each other. In addition to Intelligent Systems staff, freelance staff were brought in to help with development, including former Capcom developers. Character designs were done by Sachiko Wada, who had previously worked on The Binding Blade and Rekka no Ken, the latter localized as Fire Emblem. She also acted as the game's director. A second character designer was Ryo Hirata, a designer who had worked on Rekka no Ken, in addition to projects for animation studio Production I.G. The scenario was written by Kouhei Maeda. The majority of the gameplay systems designed for Fire Emblem were carried over into The Sacred Stones, barring some minor additions. Some of its gameplay mechanics were borrowed from the 1992 entry Fire Emblem Gaiden, along with other unspecified mechanics from the Super Famicom entries. It was later stated that the inclusion of these elements was a deliberate tribute to Gaiden by the staff. The series' titular "Fire Emblem", which takes different forms across each Fire Emblem universe, appears in The Sacred Stones as the gemstone kept by the Grado Empire, which was used to seal the Demon King's soul. Its setting of Magvel is the only setting within the Fire Emblem series to date which remains unconnected to another title. The Sacred Stones would be the last Fire Emblem game to be developed for the Game Boy Advance, along with being the last original Fire Emblem on handheld devices until Fire Emblem Awakening in 2012 for Nintendo 3DS.
The Sacred Stones was first announced in Japan in June 2004, scheduled for release in Autumn that year. It released in Japan on October 7, 2004. To promote its release, a special commercial was created for broadcast in September of that year: it involved a girl playing on a Game Boy Advance being drawn into the worlds of the Fire Emblem series. Two guidebooks were also published focusing on the game, the first on October 21 and the second on November 17. A Western release was first hinted at in a Nintendo report, revealing its prospective release of both Path of Radiance and what would turn out to be The Sacred Stones. It released in North American on May 23, 2005: in Europe, it released on November 4. The Sacred Stones was the second Fire Emblem to be released in both North America and Europe. According to Nintendo Treehouse staff members Tim O'Leary and Alan Averill, The Sacred Stones was an easier game to localize for as it had less text content than its predecessor. The move from the first Western game to The Sacred Stones and Path of Radiance meant that any work on localizing The Binding Blade could not be managed. The title was later re-released as part of Nintendo's promotional "3DS Ambassador Program" as a free download on December 16, 2011. It was later re-released on the Wii U virtual console: it released in Japan on August 6, 2014, the PAL regions on January 1, 2015, and in North America on June 18 the same year.
Upon its day of release in Japan, The Sacred Stones sold 97,842 units, achieving a sell-through rate of just over 64%. By the end of 2004, the game had sold 233,280 units, reaching #48 in Famitsu's annual video game sales rankings. In North America, The Sacred Stones was among the top 20 games in the Nintendo hardware charts, with sales of 96,000 units. Although no exact total sales figures have been published, Nintendo cited the game as being among its successful Game Boy Advance titles for 2005.
Famitsu praised the story, with one reviewer saying the characters had a tasteful charm. Karen Chu of 1UP.com said the story shone through, keeping players from burning out after the battle segments. IGN's Craig Harris called the storytelling "absolutely top-notch, if just a little wordy for comfort", praising the writing for making him care about his characters. David Chapman of GameSpy noted the storyline being rich. GameSpot's Greg Kasavin said that The Sacred Stones had "a well-written, surprisingly sophisticated narrative featuring plenty of endearing heroes and villains". Eurogamer's Tom Bramwell called the storytelling "wonderful", positively noting the more exotic narrative when compared to its predecessor. Simon Parkin, writing for NGC Magazine, praised the game's "delightful, uncurling narrative", and positively noted the translation quality as it helped him understand the workings of the game's world and characters. PALGN reviewer Mark Marrow said the story was a step above its predecessor, calling it "a beautiful narrative featuring plenty of action from villains and heroes, and even some comic relief in-between all of this". Matthew Foster of RPGamer, while noting the quality of the translation, said that the story was the game's weakest point due to its cliched nature. RPGFan's Alan Knight called the plot "light and fairly easy-going", noting its eccentric characters eased players along.
Speaking about the gameplay, Famitsu enjoyed the tactical gameplay and new elements, along with appreciating the thrill induced by the permanent death mechanic. A minor criticism was issues with the pacing. Harris enjoyed the gameplay despite noting that little had changed since the release of Fire Emblem, saying that players would not find any notable changes from their original experience. Chapman positively noted the improvements made since the release of Fire Emblem, along with positively noting the multiplayer options. Kasavin praised the deep strategy gameplay, and positively noted that it was geared towards players of various ages and skill levels. Foster called the gameplay the game's biggest feature and greatest strength despite not having changed much since the previous game. Knight enjoyed the gameplay experience, but was mixed to negative about the lack of true innovations, feeling that it was an overly similar experience to earlier Fire Emblem games. Bramwell enjoyed the gameplay despite getting frustrated at the permanent death mechanic, and positively noted the nuances in character customization. Parkin stated that it was quite easy to spend large amounts of time creating the perfect strategy, and that restarting a level after a character died or going to one of the EXP maps to boost character levels was extremely tempting. In the latter case, he noted it might upset the game's intended difficulty. Marrow enjoyed his time with the game, and praised the additional features that made playing easier for newcomers.
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