Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance Hands-On

We take a four-level demo of the upcoming GameCube rendition of the great fantasy-themed strategy RPG series for a test drive.

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LOS ANGELES--One of the numerous Nintendo titles on display at this year's G-Phoria awards show was Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, the first fully 3D installment in the beloved strategy role-playing series. Despite the series' transition from the Game Boy Advance to the GameCube, the signature gameplay remains intact--the game generally plays it safe, presenting the sort of experience that fans of the series would expect…along with a huge ensemble cast of characters and plenty of swords and sorcery. We're still spending quality time with the recently released Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones for the GBA, but were eager to compare and contrast with this upcoming GameCube title, which was recently released in Japan.

The demo we played let us cut to the chase by choosing from four different chapters interspersed throughout the campaign. Fire Emblem games are typically long on storyline, weaving complex tales of chivalric battles between the forces of good and evil, and Path of Radiance appears to be no exception. We were pleased to see that the quality of the English-language localization appears to be as high as that of the Game Boy Advance titles, though newcomers to the series may be put off by just how much text-based dialogue there is to wade through before delving into the turn-based strategy gameplay. But the dialogue is lively, all the more so because of the animated hand-drawn character artwork used to depict the dozens of unique personalities in the game.

Fire Emblem fans won't be surprised by the game's mechanics, which feature many of the series' familiar character classes (like cavaliers, Pegasus knights, fighters, and thieves) and rock-paper-scissors-style balance between sword, axe, and spear weapons. Gameplay is pretty brisk, but the 3D animations do seem to take a little longer to play out by default than their 2D counterparts. They look pretty good, but maybe lack some of the charm and personality as seen in the GBA titles. Still, the core strategic gameplay itself appears to be as complex and involving as ever. Leveling up all your different characters, and carefully working to keep them all alive during the course of the campaign, is how Fire Emblem keeps you glued.

Since Path of Radiance was recently released in Japan, the game can be considered to be pretty much locked down--it's just a matter of painstakingly translating all that dialogue into English. We're very curious to see how this first 3D installment in the series finally stacks up, and whether its story and characters will be as intriguing as those of this year's The Sacred Stones. Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance is due out this fall. Check out our previous coverage for more details.

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