Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is a Strategy RPG developed by Intelligent Systems and published by Nintendo. It released on the Game Boy Advance in 2005. I played the game in 2019.
Here we are, 3 Houses is just around the corner, and this is my last retro Fire Emblem game before getting into the new one!
The Sacred Stones begins with a brief exposition of the continent of Magvel: six nations had enjoyed hundreds of years of peace. But then everything changed when the
Fire Nation Grado Empire attacked.
Eirika, the princess of Renais, flees her castle home as her father attempts to stall the Grado soldiers. She scrambles for the neighboring kingdom of Frelia, who accepts her with open arms and provides her with soldiers. She begins a bold mission diving into the Grado Empire in search for her missing brother, Ephraim.
Right away, this story had me hooked. Fire Emblem does a fantastic job with their female protagonists: Lyn, Celica, and even Lucina are compelling characters to follow. I loved witnessing Eirika grow from a timid princess to a strong army leader.
However, I was frustrated that after the first eight chapters, Eirika’s character progression halts. Midway through the game, the player is allowed to choose between Eirika’s path or Ephraim’s path, and there the story loses its focus. Eirika takes a backseat as several lords from the neighboring nations join the cause, with none of them being as interesting as Eirika’s initial arc. What started out as a story I couldn’t put down became a rather unimpressive JRPG plot.
What I can’t praise enough, though, is the gameplay changes made from The Blazing Blade. The Sacred Stones adopts the structure that both Awakening and Echoes had: a freely traversable map with overworld enemy encounters for the player to level grind.
I understand that many Fire Emblem fans don’t enjoy this approach, because it removes a layer of strategy, and it lets the story become unfocused. However, I think this trade-off is overall to the benefit of the series. Having to worry about who gets experience points was fun at the beginning of The Blazing Blade, but it grew tiresome near the end. In The Sacred Stones, I can finally get most of my units to promote into the classes they need, and I can finally see all of the support conversations without having to rely on a YouTube guide.
Being able to level grind also allowed me to revisit old maps and appreciate their design. These GBA games have overall stellar map design, and in my opinion Intelligent Systems has recently struggled to match that caliber. Be it labyrinthine temples, or large monster eggs putting me on a timer to stop them before they hatch, The Sacred Stones always had a new curve ball to throw at me, but it never felt punishing. That satisfying pace to a battle is back in full force, complete with baiting the enemy, rushing ahead to get optional objectives, and spreading out my units wisely.
Once again, the perfect Fire Emblem game eludes me, but I can’t help but come back to this series. I’ll take a hiatus on retro Fire Emblem games with the advent of 3 Houses, but once I’m done you bet your bells I’m going to dive into Path of Radiance and The Binding Blade.
Hype train here we go!!