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It's no secret that I have a lot of problems with Radiant Dawn. I've ranted about it a few times on here and have said that it's my least favorite game in the series. When I went into it blind after playing Path of Radiance, I was very disappointed. The fact that I had to play on easy mode only compounded my disappointment, preventing me from appreciating this game's greatest strength.
It was only after replaying Radiant Dawn over the course of these past few weeks that I was able to appreciate what it does right. Radiant Dawn's gameplay is some of the best in the series. Here's a mini review.
Part 1 is a dream. You constantly feel overpowered and have to plan every movement carefully. Compared to the rest of the game, there fewer units on both the enemy's side and yours, but everyone goes down in a few hits. You're given a bunch of units that start weak but are rewarding to grow. The plot is also interesting, as past games never really showed us what happens to the losing country after the war.
Part 2 is also unique, focusing on Elincia's new rule as Queen. The mechanic of trying to end battles without killing citizens could have been handled better, but that's okay because the map design continues to excel. Trying to maintain order within a single country's border is something else that we haven't really seen elsewhere in the series, and I appreciate the exploration of the aftermath of the previous game's war.
Part 3 is where things begin to falter. Map design and gameplay are still mostly great, but the plot gets bogged down with a big bloated race war without much nuance. Not much happens in terms of the broad plot: we advance into begnion, reatreat, and then advance again- taking a detour into Daein. Instead of exploring more unique ideas we get a bland war campaign that can't possibly compare to the journey of Path of Radiance. A lot of the narrative problems with Radiant Dawn come from trying to outdo it's older sibling instead of continuing to be a unique entry in the series. I much prefer the new and interesting politcal angles of the previous two parts over the dumbed-down war against cartoon villains. At least Skrimir's arc is good.
Then the gods wake up in part 4 and the maps become expansive wastelands and the game's idea of a challenge has completely shifted from giving the player relatively few tough enemies to throwing an absurd amount of decently skilled enemies at the player. The plot drags with convoluted baggage about the relationships of ancient people and the goddesses and it becomes a bit of a mess. At times it doesn't even feel like we're playing the same game.
So we have a phenomenal first half that starts to decline somewhat afterwards before things get rough in the last quarter. I'm not a fan of the big dumb race war or the conflict with the goddess or the contrived blood pacts. It feels like a cheap ploy to raise the stakes above those of the previous game. The interesting part of that whole ordeal (a man who has lived for centuries and has seen the atrocities humanity has committed across several generations decides that the world would be better off starting over) isn't explored enough. I'm interested in the new characters, but the butchered support system strictly limits how much we get to learn about them. What little we do get from base conversations is very well written and makes me want more. Other people cite issues with a bell-shaped difficulty curve, but that doesn't bother me as much as how the game's multi-army structure makes plenty of worthwhile character unnecessarily hard to use due to low availability. Most of the character from part 1 are going to be underlevelled by the time you get to use them again.
But on the other hand, the map design for most of the game is among the best I've ever played. They're designed to make for interesting challenges while still feeling like authentic parts of the world, which is no small feat. The defense missions are divine, and babying weaker units is more rewarding than it has ever been. Being able to swap abilities between characters opens up a ton of new strategies. I also like the graphics and music, and the new characters are interestingly designed. There's also a nice variety of locations used for maps, such as the streets of Daein, the tower, rural Crimean towns, a Daein ruins filled with treasure, and a battle in the sky.
Overall, Radiant Dawn is a game of extremes. What it does well, I love, but what it does poorly bothers me quite a bit. If I can look past the troublesome parts of the story and some dull levels later in the game, this is a superlative strategy game. I cannot think of any other time my opinion has changed this much upon revisiting a game.
Radiant Dawn's character portraits and battles look great. I think the presentation was a good step up from what Path of Radiance achieved.
Some of the maps wore me out, though. I feel like the difficulty can be pretty steep and unforgiving. I was bummed out that support conversations were so drastically simplified compared to Path of Radiance, too.
That said, the level designs are strategically interesting and fun. It feels really satisfying to turn the tide of a battle in this game.
Good writeup. I remember being pretty floored that you got to play as "the enemy" in the first chapter, and then seeing how Crimea was still picking up the pieces in Part 2, and that both were pretty damn tough in a way that complemented the narrative. I don't remember being so bothered by Part 3, but I probably just liked being back in Ike's shoes. I do remember Part 4 feeling like it came from a less interesting game, but it still had its moments.
One of the two games in this duo is my favorite. I'm not sure which. If I had the time, I'd go back and play both to figure it out.
I really like both of these games, most I've played (and first, in order) of any Fire Emblem games that I played. So when the 3rd game released under my watch, and it ended up on 3DS, it was a pretty sad time. Still waiting for something to come to Wii U..