Partia: Fire Emblem on a Budget [iPad Game Review]

As I established in my last review of Blockheads, the indie market is filled with knockoffs of popular game series, and while some might consider this a bad thing, it certainly makes it easier for a game to get noticed.  After all, there is already an established audience, right?  Partia: The Broken Lineage (for IOS) is just such a game:  a strategy RPG developed by Imago Software and inspired by titles such as Fire Emblem and Tear Ring Saga (which is basically just Fire Emblem via not Nintendo).

Actually, ‘inspired’ is a nice way of putting it — but if Nintendo can continue to make dozens of games in the same cookie cutter mold, who’s to say someone else can’t do it too? But with all of this said, does Partia stomp its competition into the ground? Or is it the one biting the dust?

The game begins with a huge backstory-dump-of-an-intro that drags on and on for what seems like ten minutes.  Although in reality it probably was closer to three. You’re told a tale of two feuding kingdoms, where the Prince of one kingdom marries the Princess of the other – and thus the two kingdoms are now joined (shocker!). Then, after babbling on about unimportant local politics and revealing that you are a prince (yay!), it reveals that apparently your parents had a son before you so that you are not the true heir to throne (boo!).  The only thing left for you to do is to meander about until the plot decides to make an appearance.  Only after all of this, are you able to establish and name your character.   Typical for a knock-off, this entire intro is reminiscent of Fire Emblem 8: The Sacred Stones… but I digress.

After that, more exposition: your brother is a pretty cool guy, but doesn’t have the time you do to spend with the commoners.  So guess what?  The peasants like you more than they like your brother. Oh, and you also have a small unit of soldiers.  And a sister.

Anyway, after the game finishes its rambling, you finally get your mission: save your sister who has been kidnapped by a rebel force that opposes the joining of the kingdoms. Prince “whateveryournameis” sets out to rescue her with his trusted knights. Long story short, you crush the rebellion but your sister ends up sacrificed to the great god of plot points (meaning dead — to create conflict and emotional resonance), causing a grief-stricken Prince X and family to regret the failure to save her.  Overcome with sadness, the king actually dies a short time afterward. Your brother (the true heir) takes his place as king while you go angst around to deal with problems requiring sharp steel weapons as a solution.

The story quickly gets too convoluted with politics and self-important characters introduced suddenly with increasingly hard to remember (and pronounce) names. From what I can gather, there really is no overarching plot –you just run all over the kingdom and fight battles that need fighting. The dialog isn’t terribly helpful, and almost always forgettable, which at times makes it difficult to understand what is actually going on.

Aside from a confusing storyline and characters making spontaneous entries and exits, this app has a few structural problems as well. In the very first mission, you get your objective and the commands are simple enough for the average Joe to figure out, but there’s absolutely no explanation of how to play. It doesn’t readily reveal to you how the characters work or what the rules of the game are, you’re just dropped in to sink or swim. I never imagined that after a five-minute long build up to a mission, I would be so clueless.

I’m still unsure if the weapon protocols from Fire Emblem hold true in this game because the battle results are too inconsistent. In addition to not knowing what weapon is good against what enemy unit, the difficulty level is brutal. Some enemies can kill you in one hit and you won’t know that until its too late. That being said, its probable that you will take out everyone with a few already high leveled characters you’ve had from the start (like FE8) and just have the lower level characters land a shot every now and then.

Like in Fire Emblem, if a teammate of yours dies, he doesn’t come back; so if you have a heavy conscience like me, you’ll keep restarting the mission so that you can complete without losing a man.  Then again, that’s not really the games fault.  However, most of the soldiers have hardly any character at all so it’s a lot easier to not care when they die.  Although, I read that the developers are actually looking for fan feedback on how to make these soldiers more interesting.

The AI is passable, but it can be really unfair at times.  Enemies tend to target the weakest character and ignore everyone else. Placements are downright cheap at times. For example in chapter 3, I started off with one unit, the Prince, already surrounded by 7 or so enemy soldiers (like FE8). I only barely managed to escape by opening a door with a key I had and finding the entire rest of my team on the other side. Why couldn’t they just open the door to begin with?

But despite its problems, Partia is an altogether decent game. The full orchestra soundtrack is good, although it clashes a bit with the pixilated gameboyish look of the game. A retro 16-bit soundtrack might have been a more appropriate choice.  As a strategy game, it excels at putting the player in a position where they must think and plan every attack if they want to survive. There are many unique and interesting twists and challenges the levels throw at you to make for a varied experience and tactical change. The terrain is more diverse than in Fire Emblem, and that’s just based on the first three chapters.  And there’s a Pirate Level (like in FE8)…  and who doesn’t love pirates?

The lay-out of the game additionally complements the gameplay.  Instead of recruiting characters by talking to them with the right person (a la Fire Emblem), some characters can be met and hired at the local inn between missions.  Other characters just randomly join your group at the beginning of a level.

You can also grind for experience and money at the pub as well as buy incredibly powerful items there, so the game does more than it’s fair share to compensate for the difficulty.

Still, Partia falls short of matching the depth of Fire Emblem.  But, such is the life of a knock-off.  Starting a battle with an enemy doesn’t show an amazing little animation like it does in Fire Emblem and thus, it isn’t as satisfying. The gameplay is also infinitely slower than Fire Emblem and that makes it easy to lose interest very quickly. I can really only recommend this game to people who are already Fire Emblem fans, specifically Fire Emblem 8.  Though it takes a bit of time investment to really get into it, Partia is a pretty good mobile replacement.  And for the price, you can’t beat it.

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