I am currently working my way through a Lunatic run of Conquest, but I can only stand to play maybe one chapter a day without getting overly frustrated. After resetting Conquest Chapter 12 for the fifth time I decided to take a step back and try some of the older Fire Emblem games that I own and have not played in a long time. I have not played Path of Radiance since it came out and barely remembered anything about it, so I spun up my Gamecube and decided to take a crack at it. It was a shock to me just how much of drop in difficulty this game was. I am no expert at Fire Emblem, I have only played and beaten: Sacred Stones, Path of Radiance, Awakening, and Conquest (Hard Mode); and three of those titles are considered the easiest of the Fire Emblem games. While I expect maybe four or five resets for every Lunatic Conquest chapter, I only reset five times in total during my Path of Radiance run, and most of those resets were just pure laziness and recklessness. Granted, I have an American copy of Path of Radiance so there is no Lunatic Mode, so I settled for Hard Mode, but it is still way too easy.
There are a couple of reasons why the game is lacking in difficulty. The first and most obvious reason is that the enemies just suck. For the vast majority of the game my units completely out-leveled, there were un-promoted enemies up until Chapter 26, which is sad considering all of my units were promoted by Chapter 18. Another reason why the game is so easy is that mounted units are completely busted. On top of having far movement range and being able to ignore terrain in the case of flying units, they also have a couple of other things that make them so strong. Being able to move after an action allows them to move forward, attack an enemy unit, and move back to safety all in one move. It allows the player to make aggressive moves with very low risk. Mounted units also have the ability to rescue other units which provides them with a lot of utility on the battlefield. The last reason why the game is so easy is the Bonus Experience (BExp) system, now I love the concept of BExp, but it was poorly done and it allowed for units to get so much stronger than the enemies.
While the BExp does make the game too easy, I think it did have a lot of upsides as well. It encouraged me to play a lot faster and to not turtle because there was a BExp reward if you finished the Chapter in a certain number of turns. Since you could distribute BExp to whatever unit you wanted, it was generally better to finish the Chapter early to get the reward rather than killing all the enemies for their experience. Also, there were interesting BExp rewards in Chapters 11, 15, and 22. Instead of just fighting the opposing army, there were vigilantes, rebels, and priests, who were all enemies for the purpose of gameplay, but there really were not evil in the grand scheme of the game, so if you let them live you would get BExp rewards which was a great way to add an extra spin on the game. Being able to give BExp to whoever you wanted allowed some of the lower-leveled units in the game to catch up without having to invest to much effort into them which was nice. On a side note, the Base Info conversations were also pretty cool despite not adding much to the gameplay. The Info conversations did add some more backstory and character development that I wish was implemented into the more recent Fire Emblem games.
The strongest point of the game for me was easily the story. I felt like the story was extremely engaging and interesting. Every Chapter felt like it had a purpose and was important to the story, which is not something I can say about the more recent Fire Emblem games. The game was also really well paced and it gave a good chunk of story between each chapter, not too much, and not too little. The game also built a very memorable world and every nation played a significant part. It also had a good explanation for why an untrained group of mercenaries was able to essentially defeat an entire army. I also liked how many units were in the game. I think you can get around forty-six different units for your army and you can only realistically use about fifteen of them a playthrough. So if you really want to experience all the different characters you will have to play through the game about three times. Most of these characters were pretty interesting as well and they had good character development throughout the course of the game, and their support conversations were pretty decent as well. The story was easily the high point of this game for me, and it did make up for the fact the gameplay was lacking.
The gameplay in Path of Radiance was not that good in my opinion. While their were some interesting maps, there were a lot of completely forgettable and just all around boring maps. Chapters 24, 26, and 28 all come to mind as maps that were just so similar they kind of melded together in my mind. They all are late game chapters that are in a giant, open, grassy field which have a ton of enemies and spit out even more enemies in the form of reinforcements. In chapters 26 and 28 specifically I can remember thinking “when does it end” in regards to how many enemy reinforcements were spawning. There was also an issue with how many units you could use in each chapter. One chapter you can use eleven units, the next chapter you can use nineteen units, this led to me just using a consistent core of about twelve units because I did not want to invest experience into units that I was only going to use for two or three chapters. Another issue I had was the boss battles that the game tried to implement. I think boss battles are very hard to implement in a turn-based strategy game because there is not really much strategy other than just hoping that your units are strong enough, however that was not the issue I had with these battles. Since I played Path of Radiance before, I did remember the Black Knight fight, so I got my Ike to 20/20 and capped him out in everything but Magic, Luck, and Resistance, meaning he was about as strong as I could possibly make him. Even though he was capped, the Black Knight, Ashnard, and Berserk Ashnard battles all came down to the Random Number Generator hoping that Ike would activate his ability, Aether. The Black Knight fight is a little better than the Ashnard fights because you can run away from it if you get unlucky, while the Ashnard fights you have to restart the whole chapter if you do not get a couple of Aether activations. I got lucky and was able to beat these without resetting, but I could see how people could get unlucky and have to redo the whole chapter.
Here is a small tier list for the units that I used in my playthrough with some reasoning behind it. This is not a comprehensive tier list because I did not get to use every unit in the game, and I may have gotten some bad growths for some units as well. This is just my personal opinion about the most valuable characters for me.
Nobody: I think S-Tier is reserved for a unit who is just incredibly strong and outdoes the rest of the cast (think Seth in Sacred Stones or Ryoma/Xander in Fates), there were none of these types of characters in the game.
Oscar: You get Oscar super early on, hes a mounted unit, and he has great stats. There is not much more too it than that.
Kieran: While Kieran has slightly better stats than Oscar, I think Oscar is slightly better because you get him earlier in the game. Other than that Kieran is extremely strong.
Jill: She is another relatively early game unit, and she is a flier at that. She brings massive utility through her flight and also has great stats.
Reyson: I did not use Reyson that much because I thought he made the game way too easy. Being able to sing (and give an extra move to) to four different units every turn is ridiculous utility. The only reason hes not higher is that he cannot fight on his own and you get him pretty late in the game.
Titania: While Titania does fall off late in the game, she is extremely powerful for the first seventeen chapters or so. She also brings utility through being a mounted unit.
Marcia: Another flying unit, she is comparable to Jill but I think she lacks in the bulkiness department so I could not be too aggressive with her.
Boyd: He was pretty invaluable to me in the early game, but his low defenses and hit/avoid rates made him way too unreliable later in the game.
Ike: Ike was great once he gets Ragnell, but he only gets it for two chapters which is unfortunate. He was pretty mediocre up until that point combat wise. He also lacks in utility because he is foot-locked and sword-locked.
Mist: Once she promotes she is really useful as a mounted healer. She needed a bit of babying to get going.
Ilyana: She is a decent magic user, but her speed was lacking so she did not frequently double-hit the enemy.
Zihark: Pretty strong in a 1v1 scenario but he lacks in utility and is sword-locked.
Haar: Another flying unit, hes decently strong but unfortunately comes really late in the game.
Tanith: Another flying unit, she does not have great stats and she comes pretty late in the game.
Mordecai: I used Mordecai for a couple of chapters as a Smite-bot to give my other units some more mobility. He was useful but did not see much use later in the game.
Volke: I just used Volke on the chapters which required him to open chests. Pretty useful but I did not use him much outside of that.
Overall I really enjoyed Path of Radiance despite its shortcomings. I wish some of the chapters were a little more unique, but there were some good and memorable chapters sprinkled across the game. The story was easily the best of the Fire Emblem games that I have played and I do think that this game deserves a playthrough just for the story. The Base was also pretty cool and I wish more games implemented that system. I cannot wait to play the sequel: Radiant Dawn, once I get a copy.