While Fire Emblem has seen much success in the west since it was introduced here, Path of Radiance was released to a relatively small western audience. There were two Gameboy Advance Fire Emblem games released prior, and these were the only two that most westerners would have been familiar with. Path of Radiance ultimately turned out to be one of the best in the series, and holds up very well as a fun and challenging tactical role playing game for the Gamecube.
The story to Path of Radiance is completely disassociated with the rest of this series. This made it, and still makes it, a great jumping in point. The central character is Ike, a swordsman mercenary who has recently come of age and been welcomed into the company of his father's mercenary group. There is much to spoil in the story, so I will stay away from it, but it is a tale of war and equality. The main races in the game are "beorc", whom are simply humans, and the laguz, who can shift into an animal form. Though these races war, Ike's company come to include laguz, and they set out to end this conflict.
As you progress through the game, your goals will occasionally change, but usually revolve around eliminating a threat, capturing a certain point, or protecting a point from capture. you move units in a similar fashion to other tactical RPGs such as Final Fantasy Tactics, and then select the action you wish that unit to perform. It's a tried and true formula that's been around for years. Each character is of a particular class that determines not only movement distances,defenses, and other such stats, but also what can of weapons they have access to. Axes, lances, and swords have a rock, paper, scissors relationship that really makes you think about which units to send out. there are also magic users, most of whom have very weak defenses, and of course the laguz, who can at times feel a bit broken.
Battle scenes play out in full 3D, and can be quite fun to watch. while the character models used here aren't nearly as detailed as I feel they could be, they still look nice and animate well. Despite the lack of any blood or gore, these battle scenes feel quite violent and jarring. There's just something that feels brutal about them. Perhaps it's the exquisite sound effects, or perhaps it's the finality of it all. When a unit dies, they are gone for good. There are no life spells, or phoenix down - only war, and death. You must fortify your army well, otherwise you will lose men (and women) for good.
Sprinkled throughout the story there are animated cutscenes. these sequences are cell shaded, and look almost like an anime. They have held up exceedingly well and just look spectacular in motion. On the battlefield, and during dialogue sequences, character models are small, and sprite-like. They still look smooth, but are much more lacking in detail.
Fire Emblem game has a lot of really nice orchestral style music. None of the sogns ever really struck me as memorable, but they were still very befitting of their scenarios and the production values are quite high. I already mentioned how the great sound effects contribute a lot to the battles, but where the sound loses recognition is the voice acting. The voices almost seen "overdone", as if the actors were just trying way too hard. On top of this, some characters' voices just aren't befitting of their appearances.
Path of Radiance is a spectacular Gamecube game, and one that has held up remarkably. Its few issues revolve mostly around some sound design issues, and are easily overlooked. This game is very engaging, and hard to put down as well. I really enjoyed the almost late 80's/early 90's fantasy-esque art style that isn't seen a lot these days. If you have yet to experience Path of Radiance, it should definitely be on your gaming bucket list, but you better hope it gets a virtual console release unless you want to dish out some serious dough, as the lowest price I was able to find while researching it was $80. Luckily, I got my copy for $15 at a used game store several years ago. My how the times have changed.