tales from tellius

Path of Radiance and its sequel, Radiant Dawn, are the ninth/tenth games in the series, released in 2005 and 2008 respectively. Contained on their own continent and the only games to be released on a home console (GameCube then Wii), these two games are insanely difficult to get ahold of due to their limited production run - and indeed, even though I sat and held out hope on Radiant Dawn ever being localised for well over a year, the release was so quietly, almost reluctantly done that I would never have known of Tellius without my involvement in Fire Emblem at large.

Which is dreadful, as these are my two favourite games in the franchise. Radiant Dawn is my favourite videogame, period. Logically I should separate this page further, and if it was 2010, I would, but here in 2017, these two games are so intricately tied - a grand opus where the second half just happens to be my personal best, that I canít. We are one. Mufasa voice included.

Radiant Dawn is the console I bought a Wii for - it was the game that banished me from the main TV set in my parentís house, because they were sick of watching me play it. Behind the dread in their eyes anytime I plugged in a console after this was the soft clicking of the cursor moving from one square to the next - the repetitivity that gave me order just didnít have the same effect on them. (Understandably. Thereís no dialogue save for a handful of cutscenes.) Which is why I bought a Wii, because, yíknow. Between then and Awakening, I could play through Tellius, I donít know, three more times before moving on to something else.

(The conclusion of this story is that after this point in my life, we no longer discussed the games I was playing and I had to fight for every lick of time on the PS3. Ah, my apartment, how I love thee.)

I guess I'm stalling, but the greater my love for a thing the harder it is to articulate it, and tearing something so fundamental to who you are apart is a scary process. And with something as important as your favourite thing in your favourite media, there's quite a bit of self-inflicted pressure to get it right.

Not that thereís anything bad to find about Tellius, objectively. But sure, I can be impartial. Maybe.

With so much to love, where to start? My expectations and standards were smashed by Tellius and havenít been surpassed in the same way by a Fire Emblem game since. The Tellius series took everything I loved about Fire Emblem and made it bigger, grander, urgent - itís the passage of time and the weariness of war that matures the main characters just as much as the developments underpinning the plot, and even taking my bias into consideration, these are games with fantastic plots. The final machinations are set in motion as early as Path of Radianceís opening chapters. Early, seemingly innocent actions have the greatest of repercussions. The choices the characters make affect countless people, and if Sacred Stones is a game about belonging and family, this is a game about perseverance and living with the choices you make - much of what I enjoy retrospectively in the earlier games exists in some way in Tellius, and I was blown away by so many twists, and the care the narrative had taken in establishing them so far in advance. Because it is all there.

Having played these games thrice a piece each at least, I should know - and in my early gaming days, I rarely played games twice, especially not those easily totalling a hundred hours each.

And to think I feel this strongly for a game where I dislike the main character. The main cast I do like (Mist and most of the rulers come to mind here), but they are not my favourites. And Ike, well - once again, Rems just does not like your main not!lord and his attitude towards being a protagonist. Younger Ike is more of an amusement to me now, and though older Ike is much more chill, he doesnít hold a candle to Micaiah. Who is, like, one thousands times more interesting (why does Ike have so much popularity. Help).

My Queen: Nephenee
I don't have any fascinating revelations about Nephenee, because right from the start I was determined to make her amazing following my experience with Amelia. What I didn't know was that I didn't have to try - Nephenee is by far one of the best units in Radiant Dawn, and my absolute favourite unit and character across the entire franchise. Ever. It would be remiss of me not to mention her, however brief. My lance queen dominates every situation pitted against her and always comes out on top. Ike who? Please. Nephenee is the real hero here.

Using Nephenee is a dance of dodging and skillful hits, and she takes the stereotype of the meager, nondescript and useless soldier and tears it down. She's a country bumpkin here to show you that villagers mean business and absolutely is the best (step aside, Donnel), and has no admirations of being a great fighter because she knows she's plenty capable. Sheís invited to join the army and just goes home to look after her family? Girl. Nephenee picks up a lance and defends her village successfully countless times before the narrative begins, gets thrown in jail because she has no chill and Brom can't talk her out of doing the right thing, and takes the role of a lord in one of Radiant Dawn's chapters and marches right down to the capital to inform Queen Elincia that she should act because bad things are aícominí. Girl.

I love Nephenee to bits. Raising her is a pleasure; using her is wonder. Wrath is the perfect failsafe if anything does touch her. She can act alone, cover your mages, work side by side with your swordmasters - sheís incredibly versatile. And this is no fluke. We're talking countless runs in two different games for Nephenee to climb up to her well deserved pedestal. On four of five occasions where Iíve finished a Tellius game, sheís placed first in the unit rankings - only outdone by a surprise Boyd who had ten chapters to rack up a deathcount before she entered the picture.

Nephenee is the unit you should train, the one I would pick every time, and this is an unabashed excuse to gush about her prowess. Feel free to move along, but do me a favour and use her and tell me all about it.

Though I missed (and still miss) the sprites of the GBA trilogy, the move to a home console gave Fire Emblem the chance to look, and to sound, like it never had before. Donít get me wrong. Those 8-Bit tracks are a pure nostalgia trip, but with a full range of instruments at your disposal everything sounds so much more. Then thereís range - again, 8-Bit is perfectly good at making you feel something, but Iím much more likely to cry at a really moving score played by a violin, to feel the triumph when greeted with trumpets, the gentleness of a piano. I love a good quality soundtrack.

Not only was I sold on narrative and sound, Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn were also visually impressive in comparison to other games Nintendo was producing at the time. Thereís no cartoon or cutesy Mario to be found here - the twilight sections of Twilight Princess are the closest in colour scheme and aesthetic style in my rose-tinted memory lens, but nothing else in Fire Emblem nor its genre looked anything like it. It was a unique offering for an incredibly niche corner of the gaming world.

Plus thereís marked improvement from one title to the next, so it wasnít like Intelligent Systems sat on their laurels. The 3D figures havenít aged all that well and Path of Radianceís look exceptionally polygonesque, but the artwork and remaining sprite work in the profile pictures has, and if there was any artstyle I would happily marry, particularly in terms of armour I could see a woman wearing (hi, Titania), it would be this one. I loved it all then, and I love it all now.

No Damage: Oscar
Oscar is the story of a Cavalier that defied the odds of his class and managed not only to break himself, but to surprise me. Unlike its predecessor, no lord whips out a horse at promotion in either Tellius game - unless we're talking Mist picking up swords instead of tomes when she becomes a Troubadour which limits her offensively, or Elincia producing a pegasus when she dismantles her role of damsel princess - youíre going to stay on whatever you brought with you. What mounts do get is the Canto skill, which actually utilises the mount in question by allowing them to use up the rest of their movement in a turn if they do not fight - you might wonder what use this has. Thereís a few, but the most important is allowing a unit to rescue others effectively. I could feasibly have flier A rescue say, Ike, and have flier B collect him and approach mount C, for C to take him and then move on upwards to mount D, and pass him around the entire map. In one turn.

Finally, I whispered. As it should have always been. This quickly became something I utilised a lot. In a way itís encouraged if you dig deep enough to spot it - itís far easier to sneak your way around and take out an optional boss and still have the movement to head on back to protect your base defenders.

Cavaliers gain a further boost in Tellius by having their weapon use restricted. Oscar, for instance, specialises in lances, and only lances - in his third tier Radiant Dawn promotion, he also gains a bow. Back up, I said. A bow? Suddenly Oscar's use soared, and on my second and later runs, I bonded him with Nephenee and he proved not only an excellent buff to her stats, but useful for that extra bit of damage. Sure he couldn't realistically take on Ashera's tower, but he could take a hit, and thatís why he went. Iíd tried using other Cavaliers in Tellius without much success, but Oscar changed my mind. I had such a good run with Oscar in that Radiant Dawn file that on my next two-game run, I decided to stop ignoring him in the earlier Path of Radiance chapters for a hoot.

The joke was on me. Before we even left for Gallia, before I even started getting the opportunity to recruit half the cast, where you break Nephenee out of her dungeon in chapter 10, less than a third into the game - Oscar was stuck in a doorway facing off some half decent enemy soldiers. Each level up, he had consistently raised defense, but that was when it happened.

No damage. Oscar had already capped his defense.

For the rest of the game, nothing could touch him.

Oscar placed second in that run of Path of Radiance, with Nephenee in third. Boyd, to my shock, placed first. I reasoned Boyd in that I used him instead of benching him and you get him ten chapters earlier than my lance goddess, but for Oscar, it was without a doubt his undamagability, his sudden reliability to be the Cavalier that should have always been: and he has mediocre defense growths. I guess the RNG felt like throwing me an unexpected blessing that run, and I enjoyed it immensely. Thanks for the laughs, Oscar.

My favourite mechanic in Tellius - and yes, I have a lot of favourite things about Tellius, but this is hard beaten - is in Radiant Dawn, with the switching back and forth between armies. Multiple paths wasnít new, yet the game takes it a step further by having the player raise multiple armies at the same time. The smaller of these groups are swallowed depending where their opinions fall in regards to the war, and what you get is this - the Laguz Allianceís Greil Mercenaries led by Ike, and Daeinís Dawn Brigade led by Micaiah. These are the armies you are raising. Your two sides of a story. And the game pits them against each other constantly. In Part III as Ike pursues Micaiahís company, the perspective begins to shift chapter by chapter.

This facing off isnít merely new versus old, as the Dawn Brigadeís make-up isnít entirely fresh faces. Itís quite possible for good friends to find themselves on opposing sides, and characters can defect if persuaded, unwilling to fight the people most important to them.

Eventually it cannot be avoided, and a chapter arrives with the goal of routing the enemy. You have to rout Micaiahís army. All of them. Itís frightening and confusing because no one knows what is happening - this particular map gives you a chaos counter in correlation to the events on the battlefield, and once high enough, the Herons and Mist collapse from the spiral of senseless violence as Ashera approaches awakening, but - this isnít before units are forced to face down their friends on the opposing side, and many of them actively refuse to engage even if the player prompts them to do so anyway. Just, wow. 3-14 gives me chills every time I reach it, and this is one of my favourite videogame moments. Then the world is judged, everyone comes to their senses, puts their differences aside, and, realising their party is much too big and they can do more individually, split off into three groups - effectively giving the leading characters screentime to reach a new resolve. Man, guys. I really cannot tell you enough how much I love this entire game.

It all comes back to time. Tellius takes the time to build - the time to make a war, to show the aftermath, the struggles and hardship outside of it. This is a well-rounded, developed world in which the characters live, and the game shows, shows, shows. Everyone has a reason. Everyone has motivation. These monarchs are going to save their world, just like Sacred Stones - Ike and Elincia see and learn of the entire world, Ike no longer just Some Guy, and Elincia no longer just Some Girl With A Throne Claim. They learn. They grow. They decide. As does everyone.

Backstory: Jill
Prior to Jill and Haar, I neglected Wyvern Riders. A lot of them showed up with axes, pitiful res, and lacking the speed of a Pegasus Knight, so I justÖ passed them over. Spoilers: one of these was the sword fighter of the air and it wasn't the Wyvern Rider. But not only was I missing out on what is now one of my favourite classes, I was missing out on perhaps the most interesting of all the characters in a specific game - outside of the lords, these men and women were the ones with development and history, inevitably tied into the plot itself, because they defected. Being defectors from the enemy nation, they had to be endearing - they had to have a reason for fighting against you, and a reason for changing their mind. As Fire Emblem was certain to contain a squabbling pair of red and green Cavaliers, pre-promotes and late bloomers, I suddenly realised that upon every wyvern I had ever benched sat a rider with a treasure trove of backstory and motivation just begging to be explored. In any and all games post-Tellius, replay or not, a spot has always been reserved in my roster for a wyvern.

Jill, however, is special, because she made me realise this. Jill also happens to be one of my favourite characters in any media because she admits she is wrong - her words are not merely an empty apology, as she actively changes herself.

In her introduction, Jill vocally loathes laguz - her hatred for laguz ends in her allying herself with the enemy because laguz are lower than Crimeans on the "things Daein hates" list. But before her deferral, Jill is given time - we see her try to rouse Haar to fight the Crimeans, that she has a chip on her shoulder with something to prove, that she's loud and angry yet retains a moral code, and she is willing to defend her enemies from pirates. She didn't just appear - she had her reasons. And so I didn't bench her for hating laguz; instead, I wanted to know why she hated laguz, and this is how you present a fictional character with a prejudice. (Path of Radiance deals with the laguz prejudice in an extremely mature, thought-provoking manner.) Then, you must give them the chance to learn that they are wrong, to realise it for themselves, and for them to come to their own conclusions.

And Path of Radiance does. In Jillís supports, we learn that persecution of laguz is a taught thing. Though Jill is drawn back to Daein, she can't leave: now she knows laguz are different, she becomes a truthseeker - and she never uses what she was taught as an excuse for her behaviour. Actions speak far louder than words, and that is how she is forgiven. Jill matures and ends the game with some of the most steadfast, true relationships I've seen built for a minor character in the Fire Emblem universe. Heck, she even has to deal with her father's loss as her new allies fight against him, and itís after this that Haar realises he can't blindly follow Ashnard anymore and steps down to Jill's side. Jill paves the way. She acts on her words. She actively begins to defend the laguz. She becomes a better person. What more can you ask for?

And thus she and Haar both earned a hard-won spot in my Radiant Dawn roster, and there theyíve remained ever since.

I could recommend basically everyone for use in Tellius, because at one time or another Iíve raised them. The only characters that often get left on the backburner is everyone on the Dawn Brigade sans Edward, because hey, I absolutely need three whole Trueblades, and unlike the rest of Micaiahís squad, Edward can stand up to his counterparts. Generally, the only unit type I donít raise is a sniper, as magic typically has more use, even with thunder quashed in Radiant Dawn. Bows didnít have the same edge they used to, honestly.

Strictly talking Path of Radiance, Iíd recommend Ike, Boyd, Oscar, Rhys, Soren, Mia, Ilyana, Mist, Marcia, Nephenee, Zihark and Jill. Use Jill with care, as she might leave once the group arrives in Daein without a sufficient support - I would always use Marcia over Jill if necessary. Otherwise, this squad is sound and one thatís tried and tested - Mia, Zihark and Ilyana make for excellent infiltration teams. Otherwise, you can fill out with select laguz (choose royals) and late arriving promotes (Elincia and Haar for instance) if need be. As much as I love the laguz and as much as I lament not highlighting one of them (Ranulf), theyíre very difficult to use - Iíve only found real success with the royals and Ranulf, in either of the games.

Radiant Dawn has some changes to my preferred roster, and Iíd recommend focusing your efforts on Micaiah, Edward, Sothe, Zihark, Jill, Marcia, Haar, Nephenee, Ike, Soren, Mist, Oscar, Rhys, Mia, Ranulf, Sanaki, Tibarn, Pelleas, and Kurthnaga. (So, not much difference.) Obviously youíre going to have to drop a bunch for the tower climb, but thatís a case of picking your overall best - your best Trueblades, taking both Haar and Jill, a varied mix of mage types, and healers. And Nephenee. Be sure to protect Ike from mages and youíll be golden. I like to use Pelleas in the later stages of the game because heís surprisingly really good. If you have a spare slot or want some variety, Kurthnaga is a good addition, but Tibarn should always be prioritised as the token laguz.

Also, make use of turn saves, especially in a partís endgame. Turn saves are a lifesaver - especially as some of the chapters in Radiant Dawn can get really, really long, just this page.

Orchestrate: Zelgius
It's rare that I will dedicate a section to a villain. Rarer still is when it's a character that is explicitly villainous and one that I'm fond of: one that I like, one that has beautifully woven foreshadowing, twists and traps, and motivation that doesn't quite make sense until that final piece slots into place - a villain that acts outside of the true grandmaster when it suits him because he isn't entirely subservient, yet also offers him the greatest respect and trust, both ways. And better yet, a villain that's competent and wins on multiple occasions before you do get to the chance to thrash him - Ike literally has to be at his peak to even consider touching the physical might that is Zelgius, the Black Knight, and only Ike, as Ranulf almost dies to the manís blade attempting to do so. Twice.

True, Zelgius holds a boon thanks to blessed armour and the possession of the legendary sword Alondite, but the point remains. Heís still unbeatable without it. I don't even mind facing down or avoiding whatever section of the map Zelgius has chosen in which to brood, given that he can and will tear my perfectly raised units to shreds, which is truly something when they themselves are a finely tuned execution squad. There is no "and he came back for another round" with Zelgius. Ike faces him alone twice, the first time mercifully interrupted by Zelgius (presumably) being crushed beneath the rubble of a falling castle - canonically, Ike wins the fight, but I use the term Ďwiní extremely loosely as Zelgius is injured anyway, and only the second is on equal terms and strength. But it has taken Ike two whole games and several grueling years of training and multiple wars to get to Zelgius (and Greil's) level. This is the kind of dichotomy I like to see. This is the villain I want, because the fear is real.

Then Radiant Dawn throws you a curveball when the Black Knight shows up in the woods to protect Micaiah. Suddenly, he is on your side. He is protecting you. He is good... or just complicated enough to not be a blank canvas villain but to have his own wants and ends? He wants Micaiah to rise up and become great. He needs the Maiden of Dawn. And I promptly lost my mind with the possibilities, the thought that villains could be so much more than batches of samey cookies.


this is a very handsome cookie man

Ashera is the final boss of Radiant Dawn, but she isn't the one pulling the strings - Sephiran is the man behind the metaphorical curtain, and heís the one with sway over Zelgius. But Sephiran is always a little suspicious, aloof, and lies to Ike's face - Zelgius doesn't. Zelgius leads a perfect, duplicitous life as himself and the Black Knight, and he's extremely good at what he does - Sephiran might give Zelgius the order, but Zelgius executes it. He is a master at manipulating events - be it openly on a battlefield in Begnion by furthering Chaos, or by pushing Micaiah towards the Daein throne to fill the void Ashnard left. Even early on, he gives Ike the resolve to pursue him by killing Greil (this wasnít planned, but Zelgius seizes every opportunity). He is a master at moulding players into their parts, including the player - the player trusts Zelgius because he is likeable and accommodating, and manages to remain chivalrous even whilst facing off against the laguz alliance.

The hints are dropped from the start as to who the Black Knight is if you bother to go back and look, but it's not an obvious reveal - it's a conclusion the characters draw from Zelgius' slip in fighting Ranulf in both his identities, and as a tactician, of course Ranulf would notice. I certainly didn't see it coming. Ranulf drops the bombshell and it makes sense - the theory is embraced by Ike and the rest. Even then, no one is absolutely sure until the mask comes off.

And Zelgius keeps up his entire charade successfully hiding that he is a Branded. Though never explicitly stated, he has Raven laguz in his bloodline - Ravens specifically known for cunning and deceit, but not for strength. And he is considered stronger than most Beorc. That stereotype he smashes.

Does Zelgius know his desired fight with a strengthened Ike will kill him? It's possible. He's doomed to live a frightfully long time, always alone - and if Tellius is judged, that won't change. This fight is the one thing he desires, and I donít think itís merely a test of his strength against the techniques of his former master. The outcome is his want. But his secrets go with him, and Zelgius remains a villain close to my heart.

Oh, yeah, and that Wii I bought? Itís named after him.

It would be wrong of me to say there is nothing I dislike in Tellius, because there is. The lack of supports in Radiant Dawn bothers me to this day, since itís such a fundamental part of what makes Fire Emblem unique in its genre, and the game only really gets away with it by being an immediate sequel. Only the Dawn Brigade suffers without this feature - thereís base conversations, but itís not really the same.

As for my disinterest in the main charactersÖ well, thatís more a personal preference than a criticism. This isnít the character type that works for me, but hey, I can overlook it, especially with everything else so spot-on to what Iím looking for in a videogame.

To close, Tellius is an incredibly exceptional and optional foray. The broad scope to strategy sticks in my mind, as so many chapters have turn limits and optional bosses that you donít have to fight - even if you get more out of them if you do, which pushes you to become a better player. The cast is huge and thereís someone in here for everyone. I have so many good memories, so much fondness and so much more to say, but Iíll relent. Would I play these games again now? Absolutely. One day I will pull out my long neglected Wii and lose hundreds of hours of my life to Tellius all over again, and I look forward to the day that comes. Until then, my heart holds a torch for you somehow, Ike.

And if I was going to recommend anything in Fire Emblem, these games would most certainly be the first. Hopefully Iíve convinced you - please give them a go.

Thatís it. Congratulations, we made it through Tellius! Iím going to go massage my aching fingers or something.

is marth in this game? - shadow dragon

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