Nothing as sacred as sisterly love, straight to the stones

Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (2005)

You know, when a woman walks into the room, I look the other way. When she looks at me, I look at her shoes, trying not to catch her chest on the way down. If she talks to me, I go full clam. I know, I know, you wouldn’t expect a thunderchad like me to let himself down on the big stage like that, but why are you surprised? There were no girls in my schools. No girls in my chess clubs. No girls in the pro Pokémon trading card circuits. And certainly no girls in my house, apart from my mother, but she hardly counts now does she?

No wonder I can’t “relate” to women, it’s because I don’t know what a hair straightener is. But what if I’d had a sister? I reckon it would have been great. Get one near enough your age, and, unless she’s a complete dorkazoid herself, she’ll bring home plenty of mates for you to… still clam up around. But at least it’s a start.

Well, bringing home girls is one thing, but when she brings home guys is where the trouble begins. If you get a tough dad then you’re alright, he’ll do the threatening for you. Get a mild-mannered church pastor though, and you’ll have to administer the beatings post-breakup yourself, and good luck with that if your sister brings home the freakishly tall quarterback, or whoever’s the top dog in those American high-school movies. Imagine he not only filled you in, but then your sister, disgusted with your poor fighting performance, made your name mud among all the pretty, jealous girls? You’d be finished both at home and in school.

Well, I say I’d have liked a sister, but I understand that there is supposedly no greater wind-up merchant in the world than your sister, and if she’s older than you then she’ll probably batter you every day anyway. And then she’ll mock and emasculate you completely. So if she’s younger than you, you’ll have to throw hands to keep her safe from, essentially, guys like you. And if she’s older than you, she’ll kick lumps out of your everyday and twice on a Sunday.

But what if she’s good looking? You’ll be beside yourself with worry if she goes on a trip to Dubai. Go out in public somewhere with her, like the shopping centre, and well-hung chaps will be coming up to the two of you, openly asking her why she’s going out with a goblin.

And what if she wears a low-cut top? Your eyes won’t know what to do, will they? And that’s just it, what if you fall in love with your sister? I know you think I’m a raving madman for even bringing it up, but you better believe it happens a lot more than you think, especially among the great unwashed. After all, you know that incest is fun for all the family.

And I was definitely getting incest vibes from the brother and sister Lords of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for GBA, the eighth game in the series – and released in Europe and the USA as well, would you believe it. Probably for the best, the brother and sister are kept apart for much of the game, which means I can dispense with this creepy incest pretence and just talk about the game.

I would ask you a question though – how well do you know Fire Emblem? Do you know your stuff? I suspect you don’t, but fear not. I was once like you, an oik who became overwhelmed by the dozens of anime sword fighters cropping up in the Smash Bros games. It was a Nintendo series that I hadn’t cracked yet, a stain on my gaming record.

Well, it took me a fair while to get into Fire Emblem – first trying the previous game, FE7, just called Fire Emblem over here. Then I went back to the start and looked at the very first game, a localisation of the Famicom game, translated and released on the Switch for about 5 days. Then I tried the GameCube Fire Emblem, probably my favourite, before a spot of Fire Emblem Awakening for 3DS.

And now The Sacred Stones, which I’ve have to recommend as an ideal entry point to the series if you were looking for one. Sure, the previous game gave huge amounts of help to newcomers with its Tutorial Lyn Mode, but even that game can get tricky near the end, and it’s a bit longer. Longevity is no bad thing, but a lesser commitment is always welcome when you’re carrying out an experiment. On top of that, The Sacred Stones is a standalone game storywise, while other games are connected through dragons or something, I don’t really remember.

It’s also pretty easy, which is what most fans know about this game, although to be fair there are three difficulty levels to get through. By the end of the 21-chapter game, you’ve got the cast of The Expendables as your squad, except in medieval form. It’s pretty much impossible to lose – just what you need for an intro game, right? Because remember, you need to play through every Fire Emblem game almost perfectly to ensure no waifus or shonens are obliterated and left behind, so the less need for you to restart the mission, the better.

I do think it was a bit of a hurriedly made game. It’s not altogether lengthy, there aren’t any of those nice art pieces throughout the game, and obviously it was released to a console that was on the way out. This does mean that the game retains most of the beautiful spritework from the other GBA titles – always great to watch when you get a critical hit, and you’ll get many in this game thanks to how overpowered you become.

The story is OK, serviceable. Again, it’s definitely your typical Fire Emblem story, a template which does exist even if some games have direct sequels. You’ll fight your way across a region (complete with “explorable” World Map, quite an innovation although you don’t get to do much with it) of several kingdoms, all getting along in beautiful fantasy harmony until one day one of the kings goes all crazy and starts fighting with other nations.

Of course in the end he’s just a puppet, being mind controlled by the Demon King, but anyway it’s all misunderstandings, backstabbings and intrigue as you bumble about the land fighting off enemy brigands – and in this game’s case, large monster groups including (shudder) giant spiders. Actually, it’s the dastard villains who capture my imagination the most in FE8’s story, but you can’t play as them, of bloody course.

That’s the Sacred Stones then, a fine way to get into the Fire Emblem series. I know all about the series now of course, so you can always feel free to tap me for clues. We’ve got naïve Lords, and super strong starting Paladins, a trifecta of Pegasus Knights, a gathering of Cavalry, a few bizarre late game characters, and dragons, always with the dragons somewhere. Especially when they’re 1,500 years old, but conveniently come packaged in the form of what soon-to-be-incarcerated weebs would call a “lolicon”.

This might just have been the game to lure you away from Advance Wars, back in the GBA days. Advance Wars paved the way for Fire Emblem to get an English release, actually, and now they are called sister series. But while AW is the younger, sometimes prettier but unfortunately much more elusive sister, Fire Emblem is very much the tougher older sister -not always as nice, perhaps, and perfectly willing to knock seven shades out of you. But on certain days – and The Sacred Stones is one of those days – she looks a lot prettier, and that’s something you just can’t fail to notice, no matter how much you may try to look the other way.

9 September 2022

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