Betrayal, bloodlust, and one man’s rise from simple mercenary to lordship are a part of Ike’s legendary myth. Rising from the kingdom of Crimea, Ike’s tale changed the fate of the world by mere chance. His popularity was so great that it led to his inclusion in Smash Bros. Brawl, with his signature powerful attacks being his main strength. But just who is Ike, and what game did he first appear in? For that knowledge, we must travel back to the generation of the GameCube and a lesser known game titled Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. The first game in the series to hit a console for fans of the series in the U.S.
Western fans might not believe this, but Fire Emblem wasn’t always relegated to portable consoles. While fans in the East had the opportunity to play Fire Emblem on the Super Nintendo, players of the West probably started out with the game (known as Rekka no Ken in Japan) on the Game Boy Advance. These days, it’s no surprise to know that it was actually the seventh game in the series, but back then almost nobody knew anything about Fire Emblem. After all, the only exposure that was had was thanks to Super Smash Bros. Melee, and the inclusion of Roy and Marth. A few years later, the sequel Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was released, also on the GBA, and no more than a few months down the line, we received Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance.
Fans of the original western release would be pleased to see Fire Emblem return back to its roots with Path of Radiance‘s formula being more similar to those than of The Sacred Stones. But just what makes Path of Radiance so great? Isn’t it simply Fire Emblem with prettier graphics? The answer to that question is no. While the basic formula of the game is present, the developers built onto it to create a very solid gameplay experience. The end result being a new way to enjoy Fire Emblem from the comfort of your couch, at least for Western fans.
Skills, beastmen, new classes, a revamped magic system, alterations to the popular support system, classes no longer required to have an item for upgrades, and finally bonus experience for finishing levels in a specific manner are some of the great ways in which Path of Radiance adds to the series. Some of these features were so popular that they actually became staples of the series, and appeared in following games such as Fire Emblem: Awakening. Yet none of this explains what makes Path of Radiance yet another underrated GameCube jewel.
Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance opens up with a training session with Ike’s father Greil, the leader of the aptly named “Greil Mercenaries” of Crimea in the continent of Tellius. But the winds of destiny soon change for the worse, as the kingdom of Daein, ruled by the “Mad King” Ashnard, invades Crimea. Fate happens upon Ike as the group discovers Elincia the Princess of Crimea as they fled the invasion. Greil’s life soon ends as a fight with the Black Knight ends with his defeat, leaving Ike as the inheritor of the “Greil Mercenaries” group. However, infighting leads to two of the senior members leaving in a refusal to follow the young mercenary. Unprepared and shorthanded, Ike sets off to save the kingdom of Crimea in pursuit of riches as any good mercenary would.
His journey leads him to Gallia the kingdom of the beast laguz (humans are called beorc), human-animal hybrids which can shapeshift between forms at whim (unless you’re in combat). Relations are initially uneasy and somewhat hostile, but through the storyline, it is discovered that Greil has ties to the king of Gallia. Caineghis offers Ike and company asylum, but his offer is refused, thus he sends two of his vassals, Lethe and Mordecai, to assist the mercenary group. Their journey takes them across the oceans, and into the theocracy of Begnion. A kingdom ruled by a 10-year old empress Sanaki and descendant of Altina the hero of legends and the original ruler of Begnion.
While Sanaki is hesistant to help Crimea, Ike and company remain in Begnion while the negotiations are being made. That is until the discovery of the long lost heron prince Reyson’s captivity by one of the senators of Begnion. This sparks a search which helps mend the relations between human and beorc after the Serenes Forest massacre. Ike is responsible for the rescue and, as such, is awarded the title of Lord by Empress Sanaki. Using a small army provided by Begnion and his rag tag group of mercenaries, Ike leads the invasion of Daein, and the eventual rescue of Crimea. But not before “avenging” his father’s death, and uniting even more people of different nationalities under his banner. The story ends with some foreshadowing that would come to fruition in the sequel, Radiant Dawn, but that’s a story for another day… and we’ve still much to discuss regarding Path of Radiance.
Ike is certainly one of the most memorable characters in Fire Emblem. He’s been the subject of a much heated sexuality debate, and also one of the most popular protagonists of the series with a fair share of both male and female fanatics. Strong-willed and passionate, Ike fights for his friends and will do anything to be a fair and understanding leader. His eventual rise into Lord makes him a legendary soldier both in-game and outside of it, as he would come to star in Super Smash Bros. as one of the biggest powerhouses. Yet he wasn’t the only reason to play Path of Radiance.
Almost every character in the game has a very unique story which can be elaborated upon via multiple runs of the game. Utilizing support conversations you can dig up fragments of each characters past, and learn their motives for joining the war. The addition of classes adds even more variety for different gameplay, and almost every character has enough power to justify their use. I didn’t feel as if any character was really underpowered except for one specific one called Sothe, and there was a reason for that in the sequel. The twists and turns of the story are cool in their own right, and the villain of the game, Ashnard, is someone you could really hate.
You see, Ashnard ends up as king by virtue of being a truly horrific human being. He killed his father’s entire family using dubious methods and, once he is king, he prepares Daein for the eventual conquest of the world. Ashnard venerates power as the only qualification for kingship and knows that even if he loses the war, the world of Tellius will be forever altered. Whether Ashnard lives or dies is irrelevant, as his is merely a path of destruction. He ends countless lives for the sake of a pointless war which he intends to use in order to drive the world into chaos. We wouldn’t discover a lot of this until the sequel, but in Path of Radiance, Ashnard has already provided reason enough to despise him.
Ultimately, once the journey is over, the player will feel a good sense of satisfaction, as everything “seems” to be back to normal. Ike and company go back to being simple mercenaries, instead of generals of an army, and Elincia is now crowned Queen of Crimea. The relationships between beorc and laguz are starting to mend, and in the center of all of this was Ike. Personally, though, my favorite character will always be the resident catgirl, Lethe. But as with every other female character in the game, Ike shows no overt interest in any of them.
Eventually, players will discover in Awakening that Ike does have a descendant, revealing that the Tellius series is either a side-story or a prequel to the Archanea games, which featured Marth as the protagonist. Path of Radiance features some solid writing, interesting characters, and some familiar gameplay which welcomes all of those who play with open arms. I played it recently and it still holds really well against the newer games, especially if you’re a fan of the older games. Undersold and underrated, Path of Radiance can still be purchased for the GameCube online on websites such as Amazon or eBay. But don’t take it from me; give it a chance if you still own the console, and be mystified at the secret of the Fire Emblem. You will not be disappointed.