Well fire my emblems, I didn’t think the Wii could do Hard Mode

Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn (2008)

Oh God, it’s happened. I have suffered the most ignominious of gaming embarrassments. No, it’s not that I died to the first Goomba in Super Mario Bros; when you think about it, that guy has probably claimed more Marios worldwide and throughout history than any other.

No, I loaned my PS2 and Metal Gear Solid 2 game to my pal, who was wanting to get up to speed up on the Metal Gear lore. No small task trying to make sense of that whole series, of course. I suppose it must be a bit like wanting to get a copy of War & Peace for your bathroom. But in any case, he took a look at the save file I previously had for the game, and there it was, in plain black and white text – the designated difficulty level for my playthrough was ‘Very Easy’.

Well, so what? What can you expect? I’m not made of time. I just wanted to view the story as well. In fact it would have been nice if the Very Easy setting could have made the MGS2 story easier to follow as well, a bit like using the Simple English option on Wikipedia. I had no interest in being the stealthiest sneaker of all. I was just gonna be a casual tourist of the game, so why would I want to make things harder on myself, less accessible? I felt pretty intimidated even by the mere name of the European Extreme difficulty, wouldn’t you be?

But no, my pal laughed at me, and rightly so. I had let myself down – I hadn’t trusted my instincts as a soldier, as a gamer. You do see it in games these days though, even games without nanomachines that want you to watch less movies and perform more inputs, like God of War. They’ll give you an easy, casual story mode setting that allows you to take a spin through the game world and enjoy it, even if you’re otherwise wretched at games.

Oh God, did I say the word casual? It makes one think of the Wii, a gaming experience possibly even more casual than Candy Crush. But soft, what game through yonder stereotype breaks? Why, it’s Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the tenth game of the series.

Interesting game, this. I’m told it nearly sunk the Fire Emblem franchise as a whole. I definitely don’t remember it ever being advertised by Nintendo, nor was it shown at any E3 conferences. Why would they have, when they had ghastly displays of Wii Music cringe to show off instead?

It’s also a direct sequel to a Fire Emblem game that nobody played either, the GameCube’s Path of Radiance. Getting the two games together isn’t an easy task, but even if Fire Emblem isn’t a series that piques your interest, you have to respect a game like Radiant Dawn. It is so unabashedly hardcore, and it goes against all tenets of the Wii system.

This might be the only first party Wii game I can think of that doesn’t have the dreaded motion controls anywhere in sight. I think you’d be using the GameCube controller anyway, if you weren’t a fool, but I must say it’s a lovely change of pace. No wonder Nintendo refused to advertise it.

And another thing that I immediately respect Radiant Dawn for is its tough difficulty. Nobody’s going to select this as their first Fire Emblem game, but even if you’re a bit of a legend of the series like me, you’ll find this one quite tricky. Now this notion of a difficult game is just unprecedented for the Wii – even my granny was making progress on Wii Sports, until she got to face Matt. And it’s just luck and guesswork that determines who wins at Mario Kart Wii.

But I was told to make sure I picked the Easy Mode in Radian Dawn because, owing to some translation mishaps, this actually referred to the Normal difficulty. Go any higher than that and I’d be slamming my own private parts in the door, they essentially said. And you have to know that I’m a very middle of the road person, really. Some of the more treacherous among you might say I’m boring. But I’m never gonna go for the Hot Indian food option, it’s Medium and that’s as far as I’ll go. But I’m too proud for Mild, and I’m too good for Easy mode.

But you better pick Easy in Radiant Dawn because otherwise you’ll be having one hell of a difficult time. At several stages in the game, you’ve got maps with about fifty enemy units to take down – try to picture a chessboard where your enemy has fifty pawns, knights and bishops, but if you lose a single piece then you’ll feel guilty and wish to start all over again. It’s permadeath in this series, remember, and you’ll grow attached to your characters.

Although, just when you get used to one band of jokers, you change perspectives and commandeer a whole new set of units. Huge cast of characters here, with plenty of new ones in the fold. If you’re anything like me, however, you’ll have really liked the prequel’s cast of characters and you’ll therefore have little time for the new class.

Hence the game is divided into four distinct parts, and in terms of raw chapter count I reckon this could be the longest Fire Emblem of all, getting on for about 45 hours of gameplay, with replays encouraged. Who’d have the time for that, Easy Mode or not? In typical Fire Emblem fashion, the setting, story and stakes stay pretty grounded throughout, before going quite bonkers in the last 10% of the game. Suddenly you’re up against goddesses and omnipotent conspirators, and the days when you were merrily throwing axes at pirates seem like a former life.

As for Wii improvements, well, you know that the Wii was approx 1.5x the power of a GameCube, which was great for a spell but it looked pretty damn pedestrian next to the PS3 and Xbox 360. But that was, and still is, Nintendo’s prerogative, so if you want to play their exclusives, then what can you do? You have to step forward and take it, like it was communion. Indeed. Everyone is looking at you, so you had better get up there and receive the Lord. The body of Christ. Amen. The graphics of last gen. Wait, what?

But listen, at least it’s not waggle bullshit. Really, just stick a GameCube controller in if you have one, and treat it like Path of Radiance. But maybe that’s not such a good idea either, because having played through and thoroughly enjoyed the excellent GameCube Fire Emblem title, on more than one occasion while playing Radiant Dawn, I sort of wished it was Path of Radiance. It was difficult to see the Wii title as its own thing.

To be fair, it’s got brand new models and hand-drawn 2D art, but we ain’t on about Super Mario Galaxy level graphics here. As for the soundtrack, always a matter of personal preference this, but I find it okay and all, just inferior to Path of Radiance’s OST. And actually that’s the overall opinion I have of this game – it’s a longer but less fun version of Path of Radiance, and at least it’s a bit cheaper as well.

Not that it’s a good starting point for this series, but I do advise you to play it, cos there ain’t many console Fire Emblems to this day. And don’t be afraid to stick with Easy Mode. It’s a lot more manageable that way and, unusually for the Wii, it’s tough enough and hardcore enough that nobody who’s anybody is gonna Easy-shame you for this.

21 April 2023

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