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One of the best Fire Emblem titles with something for everybody.

Fire Emblem: Heroes of Light and Shadow (FE:HLS) is Intelligent Systems' (IS) latest title in the flagship turn based tactical Fire Emblem series. It's a remake of the third FE title on the Super Famicom titled Monshou no Nazo, continuing Marth's adventures after Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon to put an end to the reptilian (dragon) menace once and for all. FE:HLS is a significant improvement over FE:SD in both plot and character development, combat mechanics, content, balance, and difficulty settings.

The My Unit system lets you create and customize your own character to fight alongside Marth. You can select their appearance, class, and provide them with stat and growth boosts. As you might expect, an optimally configured My Unit will easily best anyone else in your army. My Unit gets his or her own prologue and side story chapters focusing on a group of assassins out to kill Marth.

Maps are better designed than FE:SD, with plenty of variety and unique conditions. Frequent enemy movement and reinforcements encourage the player to keep moving. There are few choke points for the player to turtle up and hide in, and if there is a choke points, you can be sure there will be large numbers of enemies trying to pass through it. There are many groups of enemies that are scripted to not move out and attack until you move one of your own units deep into their collective attack ranges, ensuring you'll need a durable unit that can take punishment from multiple enemies to proceed. The many scripted events and tactical map design ensures most players won't get bored or feel like they are dealing with a brain dead opponent.

Side story chapters are far easier to access than FE:SD, accessible by clearing the chapter with a very lax turn count, or meeting a very easy optional objective. You practically can't miss them this time around. This should appease gamers who were highly disgruntled at having to kill off more than half their army to reach the side story chapters in FE:SD.

New to the series is Casual mode, where units that reach 0 HP during chapters do not die permanently. Instead they are temporarily removed until the next chapter with no other penalties. Casual mode is selectable independent of the difficulty level selection, so you can play any difficulty while remaining on Casual mode. This should appeal to audiences of gamers that don't like the permanent death feature of Fire Emblem. Classic mode is still available for those gamers who enjoy their carefully laid plans going awry by a stray critical.

FE:HLS features the widest range of difficulty levels of any Fire Emblem game. You may choose from Normal mode up to Hard, Mania, Lunatic, and Lunatic Reverse (note: Japanese names, may not be the same in NA). On top of the difficulty selection, there is a ranking system that grades you on Speed, Survival, and Tactics. The easiest mode is a walk in the park, perfectly suited to beginners or those who aren't interested in a hard slog. Hard mode is most comparable to the original Super Famicom version - it can get a little stressful here and there, but you probably won't be losing any sleep over it. Mania mode is fairly difficult, but it doesn't go all out like Lunatic mode. Lunatic and Lunatic Reverse mode is a sadistic test of skill, patience, and planning that only gifted tacticians will be able to dominate. Clearing Lunatic unlocks Lunatic Reverse, which is a version of Lunatic mode where enemies always get the first attack in combat even during player phase.

One major difference in Lunatic mode compared to easier modes is that you don't get game altering items such as the Warp stave, so there are far fewer easy 1 turn victories like in FE:SD. Enemies promote earlier, come in vastly greater numbers, show up as reinforcements earlier or more frequently, wield powerful forged weapons as soon as the first chapter, and always have the highest weapon rank with a bonus +10 to hit. By the mid-late game enemies have almost fully capped stats with very powerful forged weapons. Having characters who can take more than one hit before dying are a valuable commodity on Lunatic. Finally, Lunatic mode has an anti-boss farming feature that awards decreasing amounts of XP for hitting any boss with regenerating HP. Getting low turn counts, every possible item, and every recruit on Lunatic Reverse is a worthy challenge for even the most experienced tactics veteran.

The class change system returns. There are no characters with abnormally high growth rates like in FE:SD, so the system is far more balanced this time around. Mid-battle save points make their return. These are a useful way to keep random bad luck to a minimum or reload for level up growths. Game balance isn't all perfect. Some classes such as Heroes are particularly worthless in comparison to the better classes. On Lunatic difficulty you'll be restricted to a handful of the best characters in the game if you want to survive. The ranking system only goes up to A, no S this time around. Veteran players will not have much trouble reaching an A rank on most difficulties, which is a disappointment.

During intermission, you'll have access to Everybody's Situation, where you can get free items, weapons, temporary stat boosts, and support conversation levels. This feature is somewhat unbalanced as you can get some of the best weapons in the game if you get lucky or wait long enough. There should have been more restrictions built into this feature, such as only being able to use it a limited number of times per chapter and removing the powerful weapons.

The plot and characters are more fleshed out, with lots of personal conversations, base conversations, and an expanded plot featuring My Unit. Much like Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, supports are developed by deploying characters in the same chapter together then initiating support conversations during intermission. Gamers disappointed by FE:SD's bare bones plot and low character development will like the greatly increased personal development of the cast.

Wi-Fi features such as the Wi-Fi store are back. Nintendo is offering free Wi-Fi goodies like the 77 use Rainbow Potion that gives your party members +2 to every stat for a chapter. Expect the Rainbow Potion to show up 3-6 months after the expected NA release, if the JP release is anything to go by. The Wi-Fi store contains the usual selection of items that you make the game significantly easier with, such as a Rescue and Again stave and hero weapons. I would have liked to see more restrictions on Wi-Fi store usage on Lunatic difficulty mode.

The UI is responsive and well designed as would be expected from IS, but not everything is perfect. The intermission management could have used some consolidation between the unit selection, trading, and class change sections. There are a lot of unused buttons that could have been employed to do so. The roster details section doesn't include pages where you can check a list of your army's weapon levels, which is something that previous FE titles had.

Clearing the game unlocks features like the ability to change male characters into a wider range of available male classes, adding stat boost items in the base store, unlocking 4 extra missions, and other goodies. The extra maps have their own scoring system independent of the campaign and getting a top score is not an easy feat.

FE:HLS is a major improvement on FE:SD and one of the best console tactics games thus far. There's something for everyone, no matter your skill level or whether you like combat or plot. I highly recommend you pick it up if you're at all interested in tactics games. I would definitely call it the best console tactics game of 2010 in Japan.

If you'd like to read more about FE:HLS, check out my guide <a href="https://sites.google.com/a/tbstactics.com/mjguide/fire-emblem-heroes-of-light-and-shadow-guide-walkthrough-faq">here</a>.

Strategic Depth: Medium-high. All of the micromanagement and tactical combat you'd expect from a Fire Emblem title.
Strategic Difficulty: Low to very high. A very wide selection of difficulty modes ensures just about every player will be satisfied.
Overall Score: 9.2/10 - A great tactics title that only falters when it comes to balance and abusable features at the higher difficulty modes.

2008/09/09 [iPhone/iPod Touch/PC] [1] Reign of Swords
Version Reviewed: 1.2.42

Reign of Swords is a wargame lite for iPhone and PC. It's got a fairly basic selection of generic units, a few special abilities, and a beginner level campaign. The single player campaign consists of main story missions and optional skirmishes. Skirmishes can be grinded repeatedly for more recruits and upgrades, while multiplayer fights can be won for the same sort of rewards. Even if you stay offline and don't play the skirmishes more than once, the campaign difficulty is still around the beginner level. The campaign is fairly non-linear, so if a skirmish or mission is too difficult, you can come back later with more appropriate units. I do like that there is a deployment cap for each mission based on the value of each unit, so you can't just grind until you have a mass of the best units in the game and slaughter everything. Unit upgrades are handled with currency earned by winning fights - if you screw up your unit upgrading, you can always grind skirmishes until you get what you need, although if you plan correctly you will not have to grind or fight online to get the units needed to clear the campaign.

Strategies are fairly basic and you're generally just moving from point A to B killing everything using standard tactics, aside from two or three missions. Rarely you'll be put into a defense or escape situation but they felt pretty uninspired. There are quite a few missions where you're expected to siege enemy fortifications, which tends to be boring as it takes a while to push through chokeholds even using the best ranged and air units, especially when you need to wait around for allied and enemy units to take their turns. If you're a beginner to the genre you'll probably appreciate the simple combat, as most of the mainstream reviewers seemed to. The main problem with the strategic depth is that there aren't many units that feel different from your average generic foot soldier/mounted unit.

There's multiplayer, but not in the way you'd expect. Instead of a full on battle, you give your units general tactics then the AI plays the game for you in your absence and reports the results. This is meant for people who don't have time to play out a long battle, but it defeats the purpose of tactical combat if you're relying on the computer to do most of the work. Even stranger, once you commit your units to a "PvP" fight over the net, you can't use them elsewhere to keep playing the single player campaign. Reign of Swords 2 does away with this so apparently it wasn't as popular as the developers thought it would be.

The touch controls on the iPhone version are unfortunately poor. The game fails to register a tap unless it's placed perfectly on the games smallish grid, leading to repeated tapping just to get the game to recognize a tap. I've played the majority of tactical TBS titles on iPhone and this is the first I've ever encountered such a sensitivity issue, and looking at other reviews suggests I am not alone. Once you issue a move command to a unit, the UI changes to a vastly different setup where you need to drag from the selected unit outward instead of being able to scroll the map as usual and click on the destination. This is both needlessly confusing and inefficient. The PC version using a mouse and keyboard is generally the superior choice for controls.

Graphics and sound are fairly bland and unassuming. You can't turn off movement or combat animations but they go by quickly so it's not a big deal. There are no fully animated cutscenes for combat between two units. The plot is a simple empire conquest tale and all the units on the field are generic, so don't expect an SRPG level plot here.

Strategic Depth: Low-mid. Wargame-lite with a couple units, not a lot of customization.

Strategic Difficulty: Mid to high beginner level. Sometimes you'll need to bring specific units to win efficiently, but it's pretty obvious what to take most of the time. Grinding takes all of the guesswork or strategy out of what units to upgrade.

Overall Score: 6.9 iPhone, 7.6 PC. Despite costing a few dollars more, the PC versions controls are far better. It's mildly amusing if you need something to occupy your time while mobile, just don't expect much besides the basics.

Reign of Swords II brings much of the same, with the addition of about 8 new units, and real tactical turn based multiplayer. The pace of the game is helped by more responsive controls, faster movement animations and better map scrolling, and the game auto-selecting the next unused unit automatically. There are additional graphics and the campaign has a bit more story to it. Whereas Reign of Swords felt like a freshman effort, its sequel feels a bit more experienced and the additional unit variety helps keep things from getting too monotonous. The difficulty is about the same, though, and there are some boring stretches where you have to move your units around the map and through teleports with no combat whatsoever. I'd give Reign of Swords II an 8.0 and I'd recommend getting it over the first game if you have a choice.[img]

Wargames were the first type of tactical game to be developed, sometimes based on even older tabletop games back before personal computers. Wargames attempt to be as historically accurate as possible, with many combat variables, hundreds of historically accurate military units, and real life nations. Wargames are sometimes played at the operational level with battalions and groups instead of individual units, such as The Operational Art of War, which most resembles the old tabletop games.

Most recognizable Wargame examples in NA:
Panzer General

A tactical level Wargame with reduced strategic depth compared to full fledged wargame titles. The wargame-lite usually replaces the hundreds of historically accurate units and nations with a handful of generic units and fictional nations or factions. Most wargame-lite titles add unrealistic or abstract combat systems that separate them from traditional wargames. Wargames and wargame-lite games rarely have any kind of repetitive grinding or easy to abuse combat systems, making them a better indicator of tactical skill.

Most recognizable Wargame-lite examples in NA:
Advance Wars
Military Madness

Simulation RPG or Strategy RPG (SRPG):
SRPGs primarily come from Japanese developers, and they are usually fantasy based with living creatures instead of military machinery. They typically take the standard RPG format and place it on a grid with more units. While some titles attempt to make legitimate challenges that can't be mitigated through grinding, save/load abuse, etc., the large majority of SRPGs simply use the grid based format as an excuse to tell yet another generic RPG tale. There's little point to playing most SRPGs unless you're interested in the plot and characters.

Most recognizable SRPG examples in NA:
Final Fantasy Tactics
Shining Force
Front Mission
Fire Emblem
Super Robot Taisen/Wars

Sandbox SRPG:
A tactical game that contains a sizable amount of strategic depth by the way of gimmicks and combat systems, yet rarely requires the player to utilize it to solve a challenge. Instead the player is allowed to develop whatever strategies they want and almost always win, provided their numbers are big enough. Usually involves copious amounts of repetitive forced grinding and a focus on abstract numbers instead of strategy. This type of game usually feels like messing around with an obscured graphing calculator instead of playing a strategic chess-like game. These generally require the least amount of skill and the most amount of patience out of any type of tactical level turn based game. Almost always features fanservice for the ronery crowd.

Most recognizable Sandbox examples in NA:
Disgaea and other NIS titles
Record of Agarest War and other Idea Factory titles

2010/07/15 [DS] [1] [2] [3] Fire Emblem: Shin Monshou no Nazo Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu

The next entry in the Fire Emblem series is a remake of the new content in Fire Emblem: Mystery of the Emblem, also known as Fire Emblem 3 for SNES. The English translation of this title is Fire Emblem: New Mystery of the Emblem - Heroes of Shadow and Light. However I doubt the official English name will be so wordy. Most of the details about the game are now official, so let's get started.

The original SNES title contains 21 original chapters, which is a bit slim for a main Fire Emblem entry. Thankfully, Nintendo is adding a new story for "My Unit", a character you create and customize to your liking, including class, appearance, and background. Your personalized unit will star in the tutorial prologue, fight alongside Marth in the main story, and engage in their own side chapters throughout the game. In addition, 4 trial maps from the SNES Satellaview releases will be included. This should push the number of chapters to an acceptable level, somewhere between 30-35.

Your personalized unit will be able to talk to others in your army during intermission, although it's not clear if there are any rewards for doing so. There will be over 300 conversations available throughout the main story. This is akin to the Base Conversations of Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn. Much like FE: Shadow Dragon, the interpersonal character guide will return, plotting out how every person is related in the Fire Emblem story. There will be characters added to the game from Shadow Dragon, the Satellaview maps, in addition to completely new characters to the series.

The reclassing system will return, where you can change a characters class and alter their base stats and growth rates. Hopefully it's a bit more balanced than it was in FE:SD. Gaiden chapters featuring your personalized unit will be available provided you meet certain requirements, which probably don't involve killing off more than half your army this time around, like you had to in FE: Shadow Dragon. I'm sure the developers have heard the sentiment of disgruntled fans who didn't like the lack of character development, personality-erasing reclassing, and having to kill off most of your army to access the side chapters, and it looks like the developers are working hard to address those complaints.

Wi-Fi returns with a couple new features. You'll be able to download new maps from Nintendo, both multiplayer skirmishes and single player chapters. The DLC single player maps will include new story content, not just trial maps with no plot development. You can trade characters with other players, although I'm not sure what the details on this are. The online store will be returning, which is one of the things I really disliked about FE: Shadow Dragon. You can go online and buy very rare items and ruin the games balance and difficulty, and you have to wait for a specific time of the month to buy the item you want.

Keeping with Nintendo's philosophy of catering to a wide range of player skill levels, there are now two difficulty altering settings available. New to the series are the addition of Casual and Classic modes. In Casual mode, if a unit reaches 0 HP, they will not die permanently, while Classic mode is the typical Fire Emblem permadeath feature. There are four difficulty settings, Normal, Hard, Maniac, and Lunatic. The two difficulty mechanics are independent of one another, so you can play Casual mode on Lunatic difficulty if you choose.

I have not heard anything about a score or ranking system, so I'm guessing there isn't one. That means this games challenges are not legitimate because you can boss/arena abuse, use the online store, etc. and ruin the games difficulty. I appreciate the extra difficulty modes, but they are pointless when you can spend infinite turns on a chapter farming XP and weapon skill, or going online and buying rare, powerful items that are only available once a month. And who knows how wi-fi unit swapping will upset the balance of the game? We're far removed from the legitimate rank based challenges of older Fire Emblem titles.

Graphically, the game looks a lot like the Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon. It uses the same sprites and character art. Whether you like it or not, it seems like it's here to stay on the DS.

As you may already know, Fire Emblem and Advance Wars set the gold standard for tactical turn based strategy user interfaces. They are always extremely responsive and packed with useful features and management tools. I've seen quite a few tactical level games botch the UI and make the game a drag to play. Not so here. Expect the same polished quality that Intelligent Systems has been delivering for decades.

Import gamers may be unhappy to learn that the game may be 'DSi Enhanced', which means it will be region encoded if you try to play it on a DSi system. You'll be fine if you play it on a regular DS or DS Lite, however.

Overall this looks like another solid Fire Emblem title, difficulty issues not withstanding. It should please fans who were soured on Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, and the new casual mode should bring in more sales, appeal, and fans of the series. Look forward to import impressions once I've spent some time with the game.

2010/08/31 [PSP] [1] [2] Valkyria Chronicles II

Valkyria Chronicles II is the direct sequel to Valkyria Chronicles for PS3. While the BLITZ combat system remains intact, the developers have made some significant changes elsewhere to suit the new portable format.

The first significant change is that you no longer fight on one large battlefield. Each mission is broken up into small segments that can be traveled between. This significantly alters the battlefield making each area into a small combat zone that favors mobile classes that can shift from one area to another without being vulnerable. To match with the smaller map size, you can only deploy up to 6 units per battle.

Next, quicksaving has been removed. You can no longer save and reload abuse until a potential procs or a lucky shot hits. Orders are back, but they are more expensive and harder to abuse. You can no longer stack orders on a scout and send them running to finish a mission in one turn while nearly invincible. This balancing out of the game may frustrate poorly skilled players who relied on these tactics.

The developers have added multiplayer PvP and co-op play, which is a bit of a strange decision to me. VC is not optimized for speedy multiplayer gaming. Each unit needs to move, aim, and fire, which will make for some very long turn waits even with the 6 unit limit. It may end up feeling like playing a squad TPS in super slow motion.

To make up for the small deployment limit, you're now able to customize your units with far more detail. Characters can choose between 30 different classes when upgrading from the original 5. Weapons can be customized into hundreds of varieties. There's also a few new vehicle types to deal with. The new morale meter changes based on your performance in battle, which should reward efficient play. The scoring system remains the same as before. You're graded based on turns taken, with extra points given for destroying aces, leaders, and tanks.

The game progresses month by month. Instead of a straight single campaign, there are a variety of side missions that can be completed before moving on with the main story and advancing a month. There are a large number of missions available, over 100, although some of them don't take very long.

As for hands on impressions, I've completed the Japanese demo that was released a while ago. The BLITZ system feels fine, but the confined maps take away some of the epic scope and strategic depth of the original. It was also very easy, to the point where you'd have to try hard to lose. From import reviews I've read, the most of the game is quite easy. I doubt you'll be seeing anything as difficult as the original EX-Hard missions.

The plot and characters target a younger audience, with less war and more school dating sim. It's definitely got more of an average anime feel and less of an epic war story like the original.

VC2 should appeal to anyone who enjoyed the originality of the BLITZ system, anime fans, and anyone looking for an original turn based multiplayer experience. I don't expect much of a challenge but maybe the developers will have some surprises in store.

There were three big pieces of SRPG news to come out of E3 2010. Atlus has announced a NA port of Knights in the Nightmare for PSP with a release date of October 19, 2010. This SRPG is a little unusual with some realtime elements like bullet dodging, but it's a fantastic and creative game. If you have any love for the genre you'll enjoy learning and mastering what Knights has to offer. If anything, you should buy it so I don't end up weeping at the sight of a bunch of good Atlus titles in the bargain bins next to the shovelware and yearly sports titles. Just do it!

Valkyria Chronicles 2 has an official release date of August 31, 2010. Sega has taken the title portable, cutting the big battlefields into smaller segments. The game is aimed at a younger audience and the main campaign is apparently quite easy. According to a developer interview, the PSP was chosen not only for portability but also for multiplayer, which is new to the series. There are a lot more customization options available, but it remains to be seen how balanced they are, or how much of it is utilized by the mission content. I'm probably going to write a video guide for VC2 like I did with the original, so look forward to that.

Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions has been announced for the iPhone/iPod Touch with a release date of September 15, 2010. This is one of the most popular SRPGs in NA, with a frenzied Final Fantasy fanbase that still obsesses over the game to this day, even going so far as to hack and modify the game files to make it more challenging or balanced. The PSP version suffered some lag and load time issues that I'd assume an iPhone 4 or iPod Touch 3rd gen would avoid, in part because the data will be stored on the phones flash memory and not accessed from a disc. FFT is a decent game but suffers from slow pacing, many overpowered and imbalanced classes/characters, and general lack of difficulty. I doubt this version will do any balancing, but it proves Square is serious about the iPhone/iPad Touch as a games platform.

One last tactical game at the show was Magic: The Gathering Tactics for PS3 and PC. This is an online multiplayer game that's free to play with purchasable card decks. Each player has a summoner that uses cards to summon their creatures, and if the summoner dies the game ends. Like any card based microtransaction game don't expect to compete without spending some coin. This game was only being shown off behind closed doors at E3 2010, so there's not much news about it. You can read some impressions here and here.

Finally I'll talk a bit about Civilization V, which was revealed at E3 2010. According to a developer interview, they have revamped the tactical level combat with inspiration by games like SSI's Panzer Tactics. That's on top of all the strategic level diplomacy, nation building, resource control, etc. If they can successfully merge quality tactical combat with the strategic level play Civ is known for, it could be a standout title for any kind of strategy fan. The screenshot here shows off some of the tactical or operational level combat that will be taking place.

I didn't see any news regarding Skulls of the Shogun, but don't give up hope yet. It looks like a fun title that should do well on Xbox Live Arcade.

There was a new trailer released for Disciples III: Renaissance, although the game wasn't being shown at E3 2010. This is an RPG where combat takes place on a tactical level turn based grid.

Coincidentally or not, 3 SRPGs were announced in Japan around the time of E3 2010. Fire Emblem 3 DS, Blue Roses (PSP), and Agarest Senki 2 (PS3). These were not at the show and there's no news regarding a NA release for any of them. Fire Emblem 3 DS is pretty much a given, while the other two I'm not so sure about. NIS is publishing Blue Roses in Japan and given their pro-NA stance I'd say there's a good chance Blue Roses will see a NA release. Agarest Senki 2 may also see release by Aksys, although it may be DLC only on the PS3.