The Fire Emblem series stretches back to pretty much the beginning of all time - from cosy old NES classics to the more recent Path of Radiance on GameCube, and the Game Boy Advance essential The Sacred Stones. But while almost every game in the series has been a shining beacon of the strategy RPG genre, Radiant Dawn feels more like a stepping stone on the path to the next true advancement for the series.
Not to say that this is anything less than a brilliantly balanced game with oceans of tactical depth, but simply that Radiant Dawn is regrettably similar to its GameCube predecessor. None of the Wii's available features have been implented - you won't find any motion controls here, and the game is sadly bereft of any online options.
As a strategy RPG staple, Radiant Dawn has you commanding a massive cast of characters across over 40 turn-based battles, each fought on a tactical grid. At its simplest, the battle tactics require you to adhere to the timeless rock, paper, scissors philosophy but with with swords, lances, axes and so on. At the same time you also have to take into account direct and ranged damage and the order in which you attack. At the more complex end of the scale, you'll be processing an unyielding flood of intimidating statistics, while promoting units and juggling their various skills to ensure success.
Advance Wars is the best reference point for those unfamiliar with the series as the same mechanics of movement costs, unit effectiveness and attack ranges come into play during every turn.
Empowering you to strategise in every detail of the battle, the game throws information at you at every turn - from showing you the amount of damage you'll inflict before you attack to the chance of your attack missing, or the chance of the enemy retaliating with a critical hit.
Radiant Dawn delivers a satisfying and precise breed of strategy, leaving very little to luck, and everything else down to that piddly blob of grey you call a brain. In fact, there's very much a right way and a wrong way to play any Fire Emblem title, and the problem for newcomers to the series is that both ways look extremely similar.
This is a harshly difficult game to wrap your head around and it doesn't tolerate complacency for a second. Every action must be deliberate, and failure can be staggeringly swift. Leave a weak character unguarded for just one turn and the enemy will most likely nip in and tear them to little pieces, regardless of how well you thought the battle was going.
The death of one of your handful of main characters punts you rudely back to the title screen. For the rest of the cast, death is surprisingly - if realistically - permanent. The game simply continues without the deceased, their demise affecting the storyline to varying degrees. It's an unforgiving consequence that will deter players who will, quite rightly, hate seeing all of their hard work fall to irreversible pieces.
A newly implemented Battle Save system softens this blow though, allowing some much-appreciated recourse when you've irresponsibly allowed your favourite character to be thwacked. Using this system you can essentially save and resume games mid-battle, rather than the usual 'suspend' system (which allows you to resume only one measly time).
The introduction of new characters is equally dynamic, with the ability to talk with some enemy units during battle leading to dialogue that might not only be helpful, but could lead to that character joining your team. Likewise, visiting houses on the battlefield rewards you with items, information and weapons, and supportive conversations between your characters in the midst of all the fighting lend Radiant Dawn its unique RPG flavour.