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Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance

Once again a world is in danger, and only you can save it. This time, you're a young, blue-haired mercenary named Ike, thrust into a position of power before your time, and caught in the middle of a mounting war. Like most role-playing games, Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance—the latest installment of a long-running Japanese franchise—relies heavily on storyline and character development to spice up strategic, turn-based gameplay. Each encounter finds a party of characters prepared to face the enemy on a grid-like terrain, where they can move and attack according to their individual abilities. Chapter objectives aren't always the same, and sometimes outright slaughter isn't the ideal. On harder settings, it's particularly important to pay attention to directions and think things through—when characters die, they're gone for good. The battles can get slow and repetitive, but RPG fans should be used to the thrill of delayed gratification. Plus, they'll be happy to know, the estimated minimum 40-hour journey hasn't been trumped up with unnecessary side-quests.

A few new, somewhat handy features have found their way into Path Of Radiance. Players now have the ability to control neutral troops, and a whole new race has stepped onto the scene: the Laguz, half-animal, half-human creatures who periodically transform in battle. The 3D landscapes sometimes make it hard to plan out moves, and the graphics are, for the most part, uninspiring. Character interaction, illustrated with stationary figures who occasionally flutter their eyelashes or wiggle their lips, remain equally simplistic. But the dialogue itself is well-translated, and even the offhanded banter offers some deep insight into a complicated cast of characters.

Beyond the game: Path Of Radiance had plenty of excuses to fail. It's the first title in its series to be developed for a console, and GameCube is hardly the preferred platform for RPGs. This game has succeeded in spite of the odds.

Worth playing for: The few gorgeous, cell-shaded full-motion video sequences.

Frustration sets in when: The dialogue lasts forever. There are only so many times we need to hear how a character's doing today.

Final judgment: Fire Emblem: Path Of Radiance doesn't say much that's new. But what it says, it says well.