This is the chapter where we can finally breathe a sigh of relief and stop worrying about needing to drop items when visiting buildings or defeating enemies. That’s right—we finally have access to a convoy! That’s just the beginning, though. We now have access to skills, bonus experience, optional flavor conversations that tell us more about characters and the world (and that sometimes give us items or new recruits), and support conversations between characters who have spent a lot of time together that impact things like hit/avoid rates when they’re near each other. We can even buy, sell, and forge items now, and wisely managing our money instead of blowing it on every shiny thing that shows up will be (slightly) important.
And what better way to start the chapter than finding out that Shinon and Gatrie have left? Hurray for not having to suffer their presence any longer! According to the other characters, they left as soon as they found out that Ike was going to be the new commander. Everyone else reassures him that they’re on board, though, and so we’re finally given control over everything in the form of the base menu.
The base menu is our safe place, and we’ll love and cherish the minutes we spend flipping through its menus, moving items around and otherwise preparing for upcoming challenges. There’s something almost hypnotic about conquering a difficult chapter, then coming back to unload loot, buy new weapons to replace those that broke, and dole out bonus experience (when necessary).
Bonus experience is given to you after chapters for completing them in certain ways, such as having allies escape before Ike does or finishing them within a certain turn limit. We won’t be worrying about that at all because fretting about meeting some arbitrary condition is a great way of sucking the fun out of the experience.
You need more bonus experience to level up as characters’ levels become higher, so leveling up Titania is pointless compared to how little it costs to put a level into Mia. In Path of Radiance, the levels you can gain through bonus experience are normal, randomized levels. Any stat can go up, which means that you can reset the console over and over again until you get a great level up, save, and repeat. We won’t be doing this either, because it’s also a quick way of destroying the game’s entertainment. It’s worth bringing up, though, because Radiant Dawn tried to disallow that kind of thing by changing its system and arguably made it more useful. I’ll probably talk more about that when we start Radiant Dawn and it becomes necessary to explain why we’ll be ignoring bonus experience for most of it.
For the longest time, I thought that Path of Radiance used the ordinary Fire Emblem system where unlocking supports required having characters fight while adjacent. Turns out that units merely need to be deployed on the same map a certain number of times, so having Soren sit around doing nothing should still eventually net us our A-level support. Neat, though I still want to try to get some levels into him. The whole system is incredibly confusing and the explanations on various sites only make it more so, but it seems that character affinities (shown if you flip through their details) impact the bonus provided when those characters are near each other.
This is one of those systems that I’ve never really figured out in any meaningful way beyond “have units that can support and who would fight well together stand near each other and eventually things get easier because magic.” One of the weirder quirks that going through the menus here reminds me of, however, is that characters only get a certain number of supports in the game, so you have to be selective about who each talks to. Since Oscar is always awful and therefore isn’t likely to become one of our high-level units, we’re not going to waste an Ike support on him.
One of the optional flavor conversations here introduces the members of the merchant convoy we’ll be traveling with. These are the people we’ll be buying from and selling to. Aimee in particular will be useful since she sells staves and we’ll be burning through ours pretty quickly. There’s also Daniel, though, who we can have craft us more powerful versions of weapons (for exorbitant prices if we jack up the stats as high as possible). Like so much else, that’ll be much more of a factor in the sequel, but it could be helpful here if Soren or Mia need a lot of fast experience.
I had totally forgotten that this was the point at which Shinon and Gatrie leave, so I still had the Miracle skill the former found in a chest sitting in his inventory. Luckily, their items are transferred to the convoy when they leave. Losing the Miracle skill really wouldn’t have been a big deal because it’s only useful if you make enough stupid mistakes to come close to dying, but more options > fewer options.
Suddenly, Daein soldiers arrive and surround the castle. That’s right—this is another one of those “defense” missions where we’re protecting a point from enemies while they swarm in from all sides. I’ve always found this to be one of the most memorable stages in the entire game, though. The rain, the number of enemies, the struggle of trying to beat a bunch of enemies will leaving the one recruitable character alive so that you can talk to her. Definitely one of my favorite stages in the game.
The recruitable character is named Ilyana, and she’s a mage who comes down from the top-left with a bunch of axe-users and sword-users and lance-users and bow-users. It’s tempting to block this part off with someone virtually invincible like Titania, but Ilyana is weak enough that the biggest struggle is recruiting her before she kills herself trying to attack someone. Using someone weaker like Ike (who is the only one who can recruit her) is useful since he won’t be finishing off most melee enemies who attack him, which means that if Ilyana attacks, she’ll do so from a range that won’t open her up to counterattacks. That’s the thought, at least.
Another thing to be aware of is that there’s an enemy on the right side of the screen who has a longbow. This is a weapon that gives archers extra range, which means that whoever’s blocking off that side will likely take a bit more damage than you initially expect. It’s useful to have whoever’s blocking that way have a ranged weapon like a javelin or hand axe, because the longbow is a dropped weapon and it loses a bit of its durability every time the archer uses it against us. That means getting rid of that guy first takes priority. Personally, I used Boyd for this.
Some mages eventually come down from the right side, though, and Boyd’s resistance is terrible. I decided to have Boyd start out on the right and Titania on the bottom and then switch them. That worked out for the best since it allowed Titania to take out some of the mounted units down there who can move after attacking, which can potentially become a problem for Boyd if he tries to take them all on first thing.
Another observation: my plan of keeping enemies between Ike and Ilyana didn’t pan out, but she didn’t attack. As grateful as I am for this stroke of luck, I have no idea why it happened; I could swear that I’ve had her rush to her death in that very situation before. The only thing I can think of is that Ike (and maybe even Soren to a certain extent) have had such great stat gains that the computer recognizes that attacking would be suicide. It’s not always so perceptive, but it really saved me here.
As much as I wanted to kill every enemy unit, there were some late reinforcements (and unlucky misses) that kept it from being possible. Still, the boss unit and everyone who drops items—including one with a red gem that can be sold for a lot of money—were taken out, so it wasn’t that big of a loss.
Despite there only being a few enemies left, the stage ends with our allies being overwhelmed, only for two new laguz characters to show up and save everyone. These are Lethe and Mordecai, and they’ll be joining us later on. Like Ilyana, they can be incredibly powerful units if you focus on them (my first time through, I turned Lethe into an absolute monster), but they won’t be useful enough in the sequel to justify doing so here. Anyway, Lethe stirs up trouble because she distrusts humans, and a fight almost breaks out between Mordecai and Soren, but Ike’s newfound orphan status grants him the maturity needed to deescalate things.
Someone really should have murdered Shinon’s parents. It’s done wonders for Ike.