The Fire Emblem series has always been known for its cast of characters: you could almost say it’s the main draw of these games. However, one particular entry in this franchise has always had a particularly standout cast in my eyes, namely the Gamecube title Path of Radiance.
This is hardly a rare opinion within the franchise’s fanbase. In the very first Character Popularity Poll for the mobile game Fire Emblem Heroes, the main character Ike won the first spot in the Men’s Division by a landslide. Other characters from the Tellius duology have continued to rank highly in popularity polls ever since.
So I asked myself why this is, and I noticed that the game employs a few rather clever tricks to get you invested in the cast of characters that many other titles in the series do not – both in its writing and in it’s gameplay.
For starters, almost every single character in the game can be turned into a valuable ally on the battlefield thanks to the help of the Bonus Experience mechanic – a tool that lets you freely assign EXP points at base to the units you wish. Thanks to this, any character who’s lagging behind can quickly be leveled up to match the stronger characters in their usability. This allows the player to truly get comfortable with using their favorite characters without worrying about whether they’ll be able to carry their weight in the battles ahead, something that many other Fire Emblem games have struggled with.
The game also makes its character dialogue very easily accessible compared to most titles in the series. The addition of “Base Conversations”, a set of optional dialogue scenes in between chapters allowed players to watch certain characters develop even without actively using them. Not only that, but Support Conversations that players had come to love from other entries were streamlined here.
While your standard Fire Emblem tends to require precise positioning of your units in battle in order to unlock Support Conversations between them, Path of Radiance simply asks you to deploy the two characters together in the same chapter. This shift made it far easier for every player to learn more about the soldiers in their army than previous titles – and some may even argue that it’s more accessible than even later entries in the series.
While I could ramble on further about the specifics of certain characters in the narrative and how they’re written to catch your interest, I think it’s equally interesting to examine the mechanical groundwork for how the game cleverly used its structure to build your attachment to its cast – especially considering several of these mechanics haven’t returned even the modern releases. It’s a speck of game design brilliance that I hope to see return again in future entries.
Hampus Lindbergh graduated from the University of Skövde with a degree in Game Writing, and has previously acted as the lead writer for indie games such as Die, Recompile. He loves being overly analytical about video games, television, and all other forms of fiction.