Right after beating my first Fire Emblem game, I was so hyped and excited that I started Sacred Stones the very next day. With the two GBA Fire Emblem games sitting right next to each other on my Wii U menu, it just felt right and I was carrying enough energy from the first game to keep going. Despite a familiar game engine on the same system; a whole new cast, new maps, different enemy designs and a modified gameplay structure made Sacred Stones feel fresh and exciting immediately. I’ve just beaten this game after another 30 hour journey and I thought I’d write about the differences while both games are fresh in my mind. I won’t talk too much about gameplay specifics since that took up most of my Fire Emblem 7 writeup, but I will talk about what makes Sacred Stones a bit different and special.
The first thing I noticed coming from Fire Emblem 7 is that Sacred Stones just gets right into the meat. In the first GBA game you have one difficulty at the start, but here the tutorial is optional with the option to start with Easy, Normal or Difficult. I’m pretty sure Easy and Normal are the same gameplay difficulty, but Normal just skips the explanations which is perfect for anyone familiar with Fire Emblem. I like both options because it means this could still make a great first Fire Emblem game for anybody, but after just conquering FE7 I was ready to dive right into it.
Sacred Stones has another HUGE cast of individual characters and a lot of new names to learn. It was a bit overwhelming at first for me to simply forget everybody from Fire Emblem 7, but Sacred Stones soothed me pretty quickly with a different tone to the story. There is a bit of mystery in the air from the get-go, as something is causing the land to go to war with itself but nobody’s quite sure why. Bad people just use it as another excuse to start murdering people, but there’s a bigger problem looming in the distance. Monsters start to appear, and these were not in Fire Emblem 7. I had no idea how much damage they would do, or what they were weak to, so as well as being immediately engaged by the story scenario I was quickly sinking my teeth into the gameplay. The surge of monsters and people acting strange hints that something is wrong with the balance in nature, and as you play through the chapters the story pieces itself together in quite a clever way.
The colourful character designs, and somewhat innocent, proper nature of main characters Eirika and Ephraim enhance this feeling of impending darkness, making it feel huge and foreign. There’s this feeling in the air that the world is not ready for what’s coming. The tone of the story really helped make this game feel different to Fire Emblem 7 for me, and the music once again had a huge impact. It’s epic and Fire Emblemy, but with a bit of mystery. I talked about the same thing in my Fire Emblem 7 writeup but I have to emphasise again how fucking good Fire Emblem music is. It’s like they structure a song with triumph and sprinkle little bits of sorrow inside, as if the songs themselves are taking small hits of damage. The sorrowful songs also contain small moments of hope. Precious little rhythmic bits that perk up the songs out of nowhere, like a friend’s hand on your shoulder. I’ve never felt this contrast done so well before in any form of music, and Fire Emblem nails it in both games I’ve played so far. There’s something about the Game Boy Advance sound output that actually emphasises this too. The notes are so strong in a digital sense, with perfect timing that you can’t argue with. With melodies this good, it sort of drives them into you like the songs are haunting the TV screen. Sometimes I’d just look at the screen and listen to it, enjoying a good background or impactful line of dialogue.
Sacred Stones has a few similar melodies to Fire Emblem 7 (like the main theme and a few battle tunes), but I found the best tracks to be brand new like the map music, and overall I was even more impressed with Sacred Stones because of the new songs. It’s one of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard in any game. The core gameplay music gets more exciting as you progress through the game and it really got me hyped in the second half, with completely new compositions appearing for just a few maps. The fact that such high quality music only appears for a little while adds a bit of surprise to the mix of emotions. I was just constantly feeling it. In the last few chapters of this game I was having so much fun, breaking every weapon, celebrating every successful hit and soaking in all the music and story.
The gameplay remains largely the same, but with a structure that allows you to organise your squad a bit more than Fire Emblem 7. Instead of a linear progression going through the chapters, you can chill on the map for a bit and look around. There’s a tower you can replay at any point, and you can also revisit earlier maps when monsters invade them to get more EXP. I thought it might make the game a bit too easy if you could grind, but in reality these unfold just like normal chapters. You still wear down your weapons, play defensive, and risk death. Apart from the first floors of the Tower of Valni, I found revisiting areas to be just as difficult as the normal chapters in the story. Even moreso I would say, with the introduction of fog on previous maps. I have a bad habit of exploring a little further than I can see, and that’s a very easy way to get someone killed. Fog and monsters is a scary combination, and it made this little sidequest to get EXP quite dangerous. I revisited a few areas just for a change of pace, but I don’t think it’s something that makes the game unbalanced since it’s not really worth the risk. The other factor that discouraged me from grinding is that you don’t get much money (if any) in these maps, and my weapons were running out faster than I could rebuy things.
There are a few other gameplay improvements such as item storage. Instead of lugging around and protecting a tent, you simply have access to all your items through the Lord in your team. This makes less sense in the game world, because carrying 100 spears / swords / axes might slow somebody down, but I will overlook that simply because it improved the gameplay. Basically there’s less menus to navigate now, with a few small changes to the presentation. I also had significantly less deaths in Sacred Stones, with 4 in my total run. I think the game is just a little easier than Fire Emblem 7, but a big reason for that is that I was mentally prepared this time. I was smarter in earlier chapters to distribute EXP properly, and learned a lot of things about defending just by having more experience. Sacred Stones had a lot less re-spawning enemies too. It was still a lot, but nothing like some of the very difficult chapters in FE7.
I had so much fun with Sacred Stones and thought it was an even better game than Fire Emblem 7, with more solid gameplay, more interesting map design, cooler enemies and even better music. They are both SO GOOD though it’s barely worth an argument. The story of FE7 did have a bit more branching depth and I think the characters were more interesting, but Sacred Stones balances that with a different mood, and a stronger emphasis on the world and humanity. I don’t want to spoil anything but let me just say that the ending had a big impact on me. The messages are very deep, and the writing is absolutely on point to deliver it hard. I absolutely love both GBA games, and my respect for Fire Emblem keeps growing. I’ve only played two games and already recognise it as an AMAZING series that emanates quality design from all areas. On the outside, it might look like an intimidating series with difficult gameplay and overwhelming art design. On the inside, it’s a captivating and wonderful journey that strengthens the soul and warms the heart. I’ve now flushed out my Sacred Stones and I’m ready for an Awakening.