Fire Emblem Hands-On

We practically had to tear ourselves away from this GBA strategy RPG from the makers of Advance Wars.

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One of the best Game Boy Advance games on display at this year's E3 has to be Fire Emblem, a turn-based strategic role-playing game that's actually the latest installment in a long-running series. Thing is, the Fire Emblem series has never hit these shores, for whatever reason. But the latest Fire Emblem game's domestic release seems imminent--why else would Nintendo show off a fully English-langauge version of Fire Emblem for the GBA? Still, there's no official US release date as yet. But that's OK. We'll hold our breath. Because from what we've played of this game, which was developed by Advance Wars' Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem seems like an excellent and addictive strategy RPG.

Fans of Advance Wars will be in familiar territory here. Much like Intelligent Systems' previous GBA game, Fire Emblem seems surprisingly deep and complex, and yet the beginning of the game's campaign seamlessly integrates tutorial information right into the early stages of the plot. You guide your characters on an overhead map, encountering enemy units and trading blows with them until they're defeated. You can use different weapons that have various strategic advantages. Combat is displayed in a side view, using very nicely animated 2D sprites. There's a good, fast feel to the gameplay, despite this being a turn-based game.

Fire Emblem does have a lot in common with Advance Wars, but the fantasy setting and the story-driven campaign give it a very different feel. Additionally, being able to equip different weapons and use various items definitely gives this game an RPG feel, as does the fact that your characters level up as they gain experience.

We're willing to bet our copies of Advance Wars that Fire Emblem will turn out to be a mighty fine game once it finally hits these shores. What really impressed us about the game right off the bat was that, when we arrived to check it out, we noticed both kiosks holding the game were dominated by gentlemen who were looking very, very comfortable and very, very involved playing the game while sitting on the ground. Amidst the chaos and nonstop foot traffic of Nintendo's floor area, these guys were more than happy to just hunker down and play as much Fire Emblem as they possibly could. If that doesn't reflect well on the game, we don't know what does.

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