Part of the long running Smash Bros. fans confusion causing franchise, Fire Emblem the Sacred Stones is a tactical RPG for the good old game boy advanced. Despite its somewhat generic animesque art style, it is an excellent strategy game with a decent plot, a good cast of characters, and addictive battles that will make you go “just one more turn” ten times in a row. But, it’s not without its issues.

The plot though decently crafted with some nice political intrigue and splitting story paths is basically your standard tale of an evil empire trying to summon a demonic monster to take over the world while a plucky rebel groups of misfits and weirdos do their best to stop it. What makes the game interesting however is the character dynamic. Certain characters get buffs when they are standing next to each other adding an interesting layer to combat. This is determined in the story with some characters being father and son, potential suitors, best friends, or because the game thinks these two could have something interesting to say. The more they stand next to each other the more their support level increases. This not only gives you character development as the characters converse, but it gives better advantages and encourages repeated use of characters.

It’s a bit annoying that you can’t actually which character is compatible with who in actual battles when this data would be most prudent but I guess that’s what using a computer while playing your portable game is for. It’s also a tad annoying that your weapons break and you have no way of fixing them requiring you to buy brand new ones. This wouldn’t be so bad except short of a few treasure chests and story events the game is incredible stingy with giving gold in battle. What makes this annoying is you’re encouraged to grind and backtrack since there is a literal temple of grinding and groups of enemies will randomly appear as you traverse the map.

So the game wants you to grind, but forces you to use lame starting weapons. The game wants you to train new characters but forces you to be choosy since money is hard to come by. It’s not like you can magically fix weapons. Oh wait you can, but only with a special staff and only in battle. Said staff breaks after 3 uses so choose carefully. Why a magic staff made specifically for one-purpose breaks just by doing that purpose is beyond me. Though perhaps most annoying is that if your characters are fast enough they can attack twice in a row during their turn. How is this annoying? Well in battles it’s not, but if you want to use the classic RPG method of weakening a strong enemy so your weaker unit can finish it and get a ton of experience tough turtle tails Tim it aint happening.

Another interesting potential annoyance is permadeth. If a character dies in battle they are gone like a freight train. This isn’t bad by itself, it makes you act cautiously and not do something stupid like sending your dancers and monks out to the front lines against a horde of dragon riders. But than the game will do something like give you a new character, one whose whole story is his quest of revenge against one of the bad guys for murdering his brother. This character Cormag, is at a decent level and the game doesn’t really give you much chance to train him so logically you think, “I’ll send him to kill Mr. Generic Sociopath Soldier guy he must be at the right level and the game is practically telling me to do it.” Than you can watch as Cormag misses his attack, and dies instantly forcing you to redo a battle that has taken over an hour to get to that point!

It’s as if the game is taunting me telling me “Go back to your Shining Forces and Pokemon you simpering simpleton! Come back when got the skills to play in the Fire Emblem League!” “
Skills?” I reply. “Your main mode of difficulty is loading the field with enemies most of my units can kill in 2 hits, including mages who somehow can’t hit my units with a magic bolt of lighting. The only time things get difficult is when you send out an overpowered boss who will standby and watch as all of his men are slaughtered and still make me attack him first. And don’t get me started again on your backwards grinding system Sir Mixed Message!”

Before this argument with the game (my fractured psyche?) continues, let me clarify and summarize that this is a fun game of over 20 hours with addictive combat, cool characters to tinker with, and a decent story to get invested in. But a necessary but oddly discouraged grinding system, underpowered enemies, and annoying weapons system hamper an otherwise fine game. Than again since there are eleventy billion games in this series maybe it’s something they refine or you’re just suppose to get used to.