Name: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones
Release Date (US): May 23rd, 2005
Platform: GBA
Score: 76
Beat: July 26th, 2015
Written: August 28th, 2021

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones released in Japan in 2004 and 2005 in North America and Europe. It is the follow-up to Fire Emblem and features a brand-new continent known as Magvel. The main protagonists are two lords named Eirika and Ephraim who struggle to reclaim their homeland of Renais after they were driven out by the invading Grado Empire. Expanding on the relatively simplistic nature of 2003's Fire Emblem, The Sacred Stones brings back the navigateable world map and dual-protagonists last seen in Fire Emblem Gaiden, and skills, which were last seen in Fire Emblem: Thracia 776, albeit in a more complex way than The Sacred Stones. Also returning are monsters, last seen in Gaiden. A large portion of the game is spent fighting fantastical creatures such as zombies, animated skeletons, giant spiders, centaur, and more. One more returning feature that originates from Gaiden is the third tier of classes, though in The Sacred Stones it is more of a technicality due to the trainee classes. Which brings me to new features of the game. Trainee classes are classes that gain double experience (not unlike the Elite skill in the Jugdral games), and automatically promote at level 10 into a base class. There are three trainee classes in the game: the Trainee, Pupil, and Journeyman. The Trainee and Journeyman are physically-oriented while the Pupil is magically inclined. Base classes can promote into one of two advanced classes, marking the first appearance of branching promotions. Another new feature in The Sacred Stones is a post-game. After you finish the game, you can convert an Epilogue save into a Creature Campaign save, which allows you to journey around the continent fighting the remaining creatures from the story. This mode is endless. You can also recruit certain story characters like Callaech, Lyon, or Selena (plus more) in this mode by completing the Tower of Valni and Lagdou Ruins a specific number of times or by reaching certain milestones. Anyway, onto the actual review of the game.

The gameplay as mentioned earlier is more complex than the previous entry. The branching promotions allow for more customization of your army and add replay value. Not only are there brancing promotions, there is a branching storyline. After a certain point in the game, you can continue the story from Eirika's perspective or from Ephraim's perspective. Both sides of the story happen, though I'd certainly question how the character you don't pick manages to One-Man-Army their way through their part of the game. The support system makes its return, once more bringing a lot of nice character development and fleshing out for the side characters. Each chapter of the game is pretty fun, starting out quite easy, then slowing climbing in difficulty. There are a few standout chapters here and there, particularly if your entire army is terrible, but otherwise the game overall trends on the easy side. Which is not the worst thing in the world - I tend to prefer easier games over harder ones. However, it could be disappointing for those looking for a challenge. I have only played on Normal Mode so I do not know if Hard is actually hard or not. So all these new unit development features means that the game gives you a ton of chapters to develop them right? Wrong. The game is 22 chapters long in a single playthrough, which is shorter than even the original Fire Emblem, Dark Dragon and the Sword of Light on the Famicom. However, if you add the six additional chapters from the other route, then the game is longer. Now I want to stress, longer does not equal better. If it's short, but really good, that's better than long, but rather mediocre. It's disappointing that more recent FE games seem to value length over quality. Despite the shorter length of the main story, the game does provide the Tower of Valni pretty early on for your character-strengthening needs.

The story and characters are good. Mostly. Eirika is a much better protagonist than Ephraim for one huge reason: Ephraim is Mr. Perfect. His ideas always go well, he manages to overtake an entire fort crawling with enemy soldiers with only 3-4 guys. He practically charges into anything and comes out on top. Until he realizes that people don't exactly like his strategies so he stops. Though Eirika has her moments too, plus one major "you seriously did not just do that" at the end of the game if Eirika remains the main lord by going on Eirika's route. Most of the side characters are endearing, especially Ross since he became the biggest meme character, but more on that later. The supports themselves once again are pretty good! There's some cool lore dropped by characters throughout the game concerning the eponymous Sacred Stones, and about the monsters that start showing up and spreading throughout the continent. The story itself is not too crazy by FE standards, evil empire invades good kingdom, annihilation ensues, but our heroic protagonists save the day! Okay, when it's boiled down a little too much, that is the plot. It's a little more complicated than that, and involves the struggles of fighting a (now possessed and practically dead) childhood friend.

Musically and graphically, The Sacred Stones is interesting. The color palette is much darker and varied than the previous two GBA entries. By the time the game released in Japan, there still was no backlit GBA SP, and certainly no DS. I have not played the game on a real GBA so I cannot exactly comment on how it would look, but I imagine it would be rather hard to see things. Regardless, the new color palettes are a nice change of pace from the much brighter palette of the previous two games. The new sprites for the new classes all look pretty good and fit in alongside the older sprites from the previous GBA games. However, the animations for some of the new classes just feel off. Like I recall the Ranger animations being a little choppy, the Great Knight dodging animation being weird, and there's more but those are the ones that immediately come to mind. Speaking of the new classes, the Great Knight returns, last seen in Thracia 776, though now they can use lances and sword in addition to axes. Due to this, paladins no longer can use axes, an ability they gained in The Binding Blade. Mage Knights also return from Genealogy and Thracia 776, though due to the strength and magic split of the GBA games, they lose the 'Knight' part of Mage Knight and become a glorified Valkyrie. Forrest Knights from Genealogy and Thraica 776 also return, this time gaining the ability to wield bows, though they were renamed to Rangers in the English version. Moving onto the music of the game, Saki Haruyama does a good job again, this time in collaboration with Yoshihiko Kitamura and Yoshito Hirano. Unfortunately it is unlikely to know who exactly did which composition, though I suppose we can just appreciate what they did as a whole. The world map theme changes throughout the game and fits with what is going on in the plot. The normal battle themes are a little lacking, but the boss themes are pretty great. The chapter themes that you hear throughout the game are pretty good as well. I will say, the recruitment theme in the game is a little meh. There's been much better compositions in the past, though it can be hard to top some of the earlier recruitment themes.

Overall, The Sacred Stones is another good entry in the Fire Emblem series. It is overall a bit weaker than its immediate predecessor due to its lesser protagonists and short length. Its difficulty is on par with Fire Emblem so I cannot exactly say that's a reason why The Sacred Stones is weaker than Fire Emblem. Along with Fire Emblem and Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, The Sacred Stones is one of the first FE games I have ever played. I never made it very far as a little kid, though I finally played it to completion for the first time in 2015. I don't exactly have too much to say about my history with the game because there really isn't much to say, other than the Ross story. So one time my brother was playing The Sacred Stones and he was doing Chapter 6, the fog-of-war chapter with the giant spiders that go attack the family. Ross was hanging out in front when he got attacked by a spider with around 95 hit. We were both like "Oh, he's dead," but he dodged. We were saying, "Oh, you know, that happens," when another giant spider came out of the fog and attacked Ross, once again with around 95 hit. We thought he was dead for sure this time but he dodged again and my brother and I were enlightened as to Ross's excellence as a unit. That Ross went on to have near base stats after promoting into a pirate, but he was never benched for the miracle he performed that day was too great to ignore. So, to wrap this whole thing up, The Sacred Stones is another good starting point to ease yourself into the series. I would personally recommend Fire Emblem over this game to start with, but you really can't go wrong with either.

-Hat Kid

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