A conflict is never as simple as good vs evil. Fire Emblem has always created narratives that show the complexity of war, as the story shakes the player’s moral compass with villains they can sympathize with. Path of Radiance shifted focus to the social aspect of conflict, showing how prejudice can be manipulated. Because they are so complex, the end of one conflict rarely creates a permanent peace. So, it’s no surprise the Intelligent Systems has another tale of Tellius in Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn.
Historically, Fire Emblem has an odd release schedule. In order to reuse an engine, some games released long after their systems had been retired. However, this would change with Radiant Dawn. Intelligent Systems wanted to be one of the first on the console now known as the Wii. Wanting to continue the story of Tellius, Radiant Dawn started development in 2005 and released in 2007. It was certainly a “next generation” game; each character had about 100 unit animations, the 38 chapter count was the largest the series had seen, and the overall ambitions were much more grandiose. Sadly, despite seemingly improving upon Path of Radiance in every way, Radiant Dawn sold poorly due to a simple translation error.
Radiant Dawn is notorious for being one of the hardest Fire Emblem titles. While it’s certainly not as easy as a game like Path of Radiance or Awakening, much of the foreboding reputation comes from an artificial difficulty increase. When Path of Radiance was brought overseas, the highest difficulty was removed, and an easy mode was added. So, the difficulties were named Easy, Normal, and Hard. Radiant Dawn did not have the same change when translated, yet the difficulty names from Path of Radiance were used. As a result, choosing the “same” difficulty for Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn would result in Radiant Dawn being a tier harder than desired. This apparent ruthlessness upset many critics, resulting in the game’s poor sales. This tells a simple lesson: no matter how great a product is, misunderstanding can ruin it. It’s a shame, since Radiant Dawn tells a superlative continuation of Path of Radiance‘s story.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn takes place a few years after the events of Path of Radiance. As such, I’d recommend reading Fire Emblem Frenzy #9 first, as it tells of the backstory of Tellius, the Beorc and Laguz, and of the conflict of Path of Radiance. However, I’ll provide a very light summary as well.
Long ago, the Zunanma evolved into two races, the humanlike Beorc and Laguz, who can transform into animals. When the two races fought, the goddess Ashunera flooded the earth. Her emotions became the goddess Yune, and her original body became Ashera, the goddess of justice. The latter went into a sleep, while the former was sealed into Lehran’s Medallion, which eventually was owned by Ike’s sister Mist.
In Path of Radiance, Ike fought for Crimea to help fend against the aggressive Daein, ruled by the corrupt Ashnard. Personally, he fought to find the Black Knight, who murdered Ike’s father. The game is filled with racial tension, as the Beorc and Laguz do not trust each other to the point that history is modified to portray racial superiority. Ike and Elincia of Crimea eventually defeat Ashnard, leaving Daein in the control of the Begnion Empire.
Three years after the events of Path of Radiance, Daein is being oppressed by Begnion. All able men are sent to work camps, crushing Daein’s culture and the nation as a whole. The Dawn Brigade, headed by a girl named Micaiah, forms to push Begnion’s occupational force out. Soon, they meet a man by the name of Pelleas, who claims to be the heir of Daein’s throne. They join forces, providing legitimacy to the group. Sanaki, the empress of Begnion, orders her forces to surrender once she hears of the atrocities committed. The Senate of Begnion, the cause of the atrocities, is displeased by this order, so they frame Jarod, general of Begnion’s forces, as the perpetrator. The Dawn Brigade eventually defeats Jarod with some help from the Black Knight, who was assumed dead. Pelleas becomes king of Daein, Micaiah heads its army, and the nation forms an alliance with Begnion.
Part 1 of Radiant Dawn is important in many ways. It serves as an introduction to fans both new and old. Daein, portrayed as villainous throughout Path of Radiance, is suddenly a nation the player can sympathize for. It’s a sudden change that embodies the theme for Radiant Dawn: things are not as simple as they appear. Granted, many Fire Emblem games utilize this idea, but this goes beyond the typical “bad guy isn’t that bad” trope. The protagonist comes from the land previously thought to be evil, an interesting change that could only be possible in a sequel.
However, in Part 2, the game shifts focus to Elincia, one of Path of Radiance‘s main protagonists. Even in Crimea, the winner of the last war, not all is peaceful. Elincia discovers the Heron princess Leanne being chased by Beorc who hope to sell them for a profit. After aiding the Laguz, Elincia has to fight a rebellion led by the noble Ludveck, who is discontent with Crimea’s demilitarization. Elincia and her knights fight a series of battles against Ludveck, culminating in his capture. He tries to usurp the throne one last time by threatening to murder Lucia, friend and retainer of Elincia. Interestingly, Elincia stands firm, despite her soft reputation. Luckily, Lucia is saved by the Greil Mercenaries, who were hired by Count Bastian to fight Ludveck.
Part 2 reunites the player with many familiar faces. It’s nice to see Elincia take the spotlight as opposed to Ike. Her peaceful rule’s consequences are shown in Ludveck’s insurgency, as opposed to the classic “happily ever after” ending. I’d love to see something similar in Three Houses. Perhaps Dimitri will comment about a tariff issue during the Monastery phase that becomes a critical trade issue during the War phase. The time skip creates boundless potential for political drama, as seen in Radiant Dawn.
The other important part about Part 2 is that it provides continuity. Not everything has completely changed in three years. Just because Daein is the home of Part 1’s protagonists doesn’t mean that Crimea is now a warmongering empire (*Cough Cough* Grandbell *Cough Cough*). As was the case before, the Greil Mercenaries still are loyal to the purse, owing no fealty to the Crimean crown despite their previous work in Path of Radiance. Most importantly, it brings back the topic of race, which took to the sideline in Part 1. Tensions haven’t calmed in three years, and many conflicts, both official and unofficial, occur. Crimea is still sympathetic to the Laguz, while Daein and Begnion are much more opposed.
These racial politics culminate in Part 3. Begnion and Daein declare war on the Laguz Alliance. Ike and the Greil Mercenaries aid the Alliance in attacking Begnion. Valtome, a corrupt senator of Begnion, fights with Galliam troops in Crimea, drawing the final Beorc nation into the conflict. Sanaki, who was imprisoned by war hungry senators, escapes and brings her loyalists to the side of Ike and the Laguz. However, despite the news of the Empress, Pelleas’ forces continue to aid the Begnion Senate. Micaiah learns that Pelleas was tricked into signing an oath by Izuka, another member of the Senate. Should he oppose the oath, Daein’s citizens would be killed by a curse. So, the fighting continues, until the bloodshed triggers Mist to receive messages of the Galdr of Release. Micaiah releases Yune upon singing this, causing the reawakening of Ashera.
Part 3 is intriguing since it takes advantage of the various perspectives seen throughout the game. The player is forced to fight characters they’ve grown attached to, as the protagonists are forced into conflict against each other. My favorite part of Part 3 is the story of the Begnion Senate. This conflict had been seeded long ago when the Senate caused the Serene’s Forest massacre. Their brutality and political influence touched all of Tellius, climaxing with the imprisonment of Sanaki and waging of war. Begnion isn’t evil, despite the many atrocities committed in its name. Radiant Dawn tells of an internal conflict without blatantly stating it. Yet, despite all of this, the Senate is just another pawn in one man’s plans, as Part 4 will reveal.
After Ashera’s awakening, the combined forces of Ike, the Laguz, and Micaiah’s armies storm the Tower of Guidance to defeat the goddess. Yune revealed that though Ashera is revered as a patroness of justice, she is truly one of restriction and harsh judgement. Ike has a final duel with the Black Knight, ending a feud set across two games. Near the top of the Tower, the group finds Sephiran, the true orchestrator of Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn‘s events. After the Serene’s Forest massacre Sephiran decided that humans ought to be destroyed, so he created conflict to reawaken Ashera. He influenced Ashnard to usurp Daein’s throne, and used his power as Prime Minister of Begnion to influence the Senate. Once Sephiran is defeated, the group faces Ashera, using Yune’s power to defeat the goddess. And so, Tellius is at peace. Ike sets off for distant lands, Crimea, Begnion, and Daein are ruled by Elincia, Sanaki, and Micaiah, respectively, and Ashera and Yune unite to become Ashunera once more.
Part 4 is a stellar conclusion. It shows how Tellius unites against a common threat, ultimately leading to peace. While this is a bit of an overused trope, it certainly solves many of the problems the continent faces. No nation ends up oppressed, and the Beorc and Laguz gain stable relations after working together. I’d be surprised if Three Houses doesn’t use this plot device to end the game. The stereotypically evil cult has been revealed, so they will most likely cause the nations of Fódlan to join together.
However, I hope this isn’t the case, as I love the subtlety of Radiant Dawn. Sephiran isn’t obviously evil from the beginning, and the Begnion Senate doesn’t blatantly attack the rest of Tellius until Part 3. Everything is built up over the course of two games, and as one replays them, it becomes easy to see the seeds of war. Through its massive scope, the Tellius saga tells a story of a continent plagued by manipulation and corruption. Hopefully, Three Houses can tell a story of an equally grand scale.
Due to the length of Radiant Dawn, the return of three tier promotions from Gaiden should be no surprise. Most Beorc can promote twice, with the same methods for promotion as Path of Radiance (Reaching level 21 of a class or using a special item). The first and second tiers are the same as usual, but in the third tier, a character has higher stat caps and automatically learns their class’ Occult Skill. This makes these classes feel like more than extra level ups, despite often sharing animations with their second tier counterparts.
Three Houses has a large promotion system, likely encompassing four or five tiers based on screenshots. However, it seems that only the last tier or two will be equivalent to Radiant Dawn‘s third tier. In Three Houses, promotions seem to be closer than the usual 10-20 levels apart, likely to instill a sense of progression. Based on the details about the School and War phases, it seems that Three Houses will be one of the longest Fire Emblem games, so seeing classes similar to the best of the Beorc is expected.
However, the Laguz did not receive the same type of promotion addition. This makes sense, since Laguz never promoted in Path of Radiance. Instead, adjustments have been made to the transformation meter. Now, it ranges from 0-30 and always starts at 0. However, the meter fills up much faster from combat now. This seems to be to encourage players to keep Laguz in the front lines, instead of just having them hide in the back until their transformations have been completed.
This change is a clever one, since it rewards aggressive play as opposed to turtling, something Intelligent Systems tries to do in every game. It’s a shame that this was the last occurrence of the transformation meter. In Awakening and Fates, beast units simply transform using stones or runes, reverting back to human form after battle. In those games, the units simply feel like “just another class”. While I doubt Three Houses will divert from this aspect of Fates and Awakening, I would love for a future game to focus on differentiating beast units from human units. Granted, Laguz are prominent in the plot of Tellius games, so there are many of them in the army. Most Fire Emblem rosters only have one to two beast units to begin with, so perhaps an entirely separate system would be superfluous.
Systems such as the Base and Biorhythm make a return. These have had some general adjustments. Skills are still based on a capacity system, as was the case in Path of Radiance. The usual system of terrain bonuses and hindrances has returned, and an altitude system had been implemented. Units at a higher elevation than their enemy have boosted battle performance. It’s certainly a realistic system, and it benefits the design of Radiant Dawn‘s maps. The defender of a fort, for example, is in a stronger position than the assailers due to being stationed on the wall. Oddly, this system hasn’t returned since. Perhaps Awakening and Fates had too few maps with varying elevation to justify the system. I think elevation bonuses are fitting for a game like Radiant Dawn due to the many sieges, but Three Houses won’t be ruined without it.
The final major adjustment of Radiant Dawn is the support system. In this game, supports are broken into two types: Bond and Buddy. Bond supports are preset bonuses that boost unit performance when adjacent to certain others. This is similar to the support system of Mystery of the Emblem, in which certain units gained bonuses from being near others. These simply exist to synchronize plot and gameplay. It encourages fielding units with certain relations, making the army feel a bit more homogenous than picking randomly from the 70+ playable characters.
The Buddy supports do the opposite. In Radiant Dawn, any two units can support after gaining support points. Usually, this only occurs with certain units. Buddy conversations follow a template, while the “handcrafted” supports occur in the Base’s Info conversations. This freedom of who can support who was a precursor to Fates, in which almost any unit could support with any other unit. This style has a strong chance of returning in Three Houses, since it would make sense for all the characters of a house to know each other and have encounters outside of the main plot.
To me, Radiant Dawn is interesting since it is one of the few direct sequels in Fire Emblem. Thracia 776 was drastically different from Genealogy of the Holy War, so it didn’t cause sequel fatigue. The Blazing Blade was extremely similar to The Binding Blade, yet that was due to a quick production in order to release a Fire Emblem in the west. Japanese fans grew a bit tired of the GBA games, which led to the drastic changes in Path of Radiance. Radiant Dawn, though completely different in scope, is quite similar in gameplay to Path of Radiance, likely to inculcate a feeling of continuity. Perhaps blaming the poor sales entirely Radiant Dawn‘s fearsome reputation is improper. Maybe it was simply caused by fatigue from a small audience?
Intelligent Systems certainly thought so. After the release of Radiant Dawn, Intelligent Systems began working on a Fire Emblem game unlike any other for the Wii. Little is known, but it was said to be similar to traditional JRPGs, with free-roaming, towns, and dungeon crawling. This was designed to have wide appeal, yet was ultimately scrapped because it lacked focus. However, the dungeon crawling would make a return in Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia. This is pure speculation, but I believe that this game may have inspired Three Houses. Three Houses also includes roaming, and the day-to-day life of Garreg Mach Monastery is similar to JRPGs. Some have accused Three Houses of being devoid of focus, the very thing that destroyed this project. The architecture of the monastery seems to have a bit of a Southern European flair, an area that was mentioned as inspiration for the canceled game’s world. This was the last main series Fire Emblem to be developed before Three Houses, so it wouldn’t be surprising if some concepts were brought back.
Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn has a strange legacy. To most, it simply is “that one hard Wii game”. To me, it’s a wonderful expansion of the world of Tellius: the new conflict had seeds in the last game, yet isn’t too predictable. The gameplay is a bit too similar to Path of Radiance barring difficulty, so it’s not surprising that the latter is what most fans remember. It’s like division; to get the quotient, you cross out the variables shared by divisor and dividend. However, the next Fire Emblem would return to handhelds, telling a tale from 1990.