Also known by its full name – TearRing Saga: Berwick Saga Lazberia Chronicle Chapter 174. And no, Lazberia Chronicle Chapter 173 doesn’t exist. Nor does Chapter 172.
I’ve often heard Berwick Saga referenced as “Shouzou Kaga’s magnum opus.” If you want the TL;DR, I don’t agree. I believe it’s a very good game; I like it, I don’t love it, and I’m still of the opinion that FE4 is the best Kaga game. If you want a more detailed explanation, then read on.
To start with the basics, Berwick makes a lot of changes from the typical Fire Emblem formula – so much so, that I hesitate to consider it an honorary FE game (compare this to its predecessor TearRing Saga, which is close enough to FE to honestly be considered a spiritual FE title). The most obvious deviation would be the hexagonal grid. Maybe Kaga became a super-fan of Brigandine: The Legend of Forsena or Dark Wizard for the Sega CD or something, but whatever the case, this is an interesting change that makes it easier for units to attack and move around. Another important change is Berwick’s combat flow. Instead of player phase/enemy phase like every FE + TearRing Saga, Berwick took a page from Feda: The Emblem of Justice. Every turn, you’ll start off by moving one unit of your choice, then the enemy will move two, then you’ll move two, and so on. Turn order can be slightly altered if either you or the enemy has vastly more units than the other, so it’s a little different from Feda. Conceptually, it’s the same idea though.
Combat itself is fairly complex. You can read Aggro_Incarnate’s guide on the details, but basically: if a unit is hit, it cannot retaliate under normal circumstances. Doubling is impossible without special skills or weapons. This makes every hit matter a whole lot more. Berwick Saga is much more RNG-reliant as a result, especially since hit rates in the game are so low throughout. Other factors also make the game very RNG-reliant. Capturing enemies is back from Thracia, but here, it’s impossible to capture an enemy unless you’ve crippled her/him. And crippling depends entirely upon RNG. Shields make their return from TRS and FE2, but here, whether they activate is dependent upon RNG. Also, durability is completely overhauled and is (you guessed it) dependent upon RNG. The complete reliance upon RNG for virtually everything in Berwick Saga is the biggest thing I dislike about it. Since the game already made so many deviations from the FE formula, couldn’t it make one more deviation and eliminate – or at least reduce – the amount of luck involved? There are other SRPGs which strike a fine blend between luck and strategy, like Super Dungeon Tactics, Grand Guilds, and the Katauri King’s Bounty games to name a few. Even most FE games feature a healthy bit of luck without going overboard.
Continuing in the Kaga tradition of systems which aren’t explained, there are some doozies here (including the RNG durability, which the game doesn’t really explain to you either). The most tedious one would be the restaurant, Kingfisher’s Pavilion. Here, you can buy food which will temporarily buff your units stats. Food will provide a stronger or weaker buff depending on your characters’ personal tastes. It’s a neat system, but the problem is there’s no way of knowing who likes what unless you do a boatload of painstaking trial and error. You can still save/reload and learn that way, but it’s obnoxiously tedious if you’re going to do that. Thankfully, there’s a page on SerenesForest to help out with this.
Furniture is a similar issue, as are other things like promotion conditions and even some recruitment conditions.
“Oh yes, I’ll simply kill 60 enemies with Dean, hire Thaddy for a cumulative worth of $5000, then kill a very specific enemy with Perceval. How obvious!” – said no one ever.
Although I like many things about Kaga’s design, this is one thing that I’ll never enjoy. There’s a difference between interesting challenges and unexplained, obtuse secrets that you have no way of reasonably figuring out without a guide. One of the most annoying things about Kaga’s design is that a lot of stuff in his games tend to fall into the latter category.
I also feel he went way overboard with some things regarding difficulty balancing. The most flagrant example of this would be Lance Knights – basically, cancer-on-a-horse, and some of the most frustrating enemies in any FE/Kaga game. Chapter 9 is veritably infuriating because of these fuckers. Lances have a gimmick that makes them do extra damage with every hex traveled. Couple this with 7 mobility, and you’ll routinely see Lance Knights chunking your units for 35-40 damage a pop. Oh, and did I mention that they can’t be countered? And that they always appear in groups of 4? Yeah, have fun. The worst thing is that there’s no effective way to deal with them. Because they nullify counters, you can’t tank them/counter with a beefy armor knight. Because they wield shields, you can’t consistently and quickly take them down with melee units – they’ll just move away next turn after you’ve done some damage to their shield. Because they have obscene mobility, archers/mages aren’t well-suited for attacking them… not to mention, mages will likely get OHKOed if they’re anywhere near lance knights.
To add insult to injury, Lances in the player’s hands aren’t even that great. For one thing, you’ll never have access to more than three units who can use lances… and two of your playable units who can wield lances (Leon and Adel) can’t even use them unless you pamper them and give them inordinate amounts of experience. So you’ll never have access to the annoying tactic of overwhelming your enemy with 4-5 Lance Knights the way the enemy does. For another thing, the enemy will always outnumber you, so even if you do manage to kill an enemy with a lance-wielding Clifford… well, congratulations, you haven’t accomplished much; by comparison, if the enemy kills one of your units, it’s much more devastating because of how few units you have. Lances are also expensive, and money in Berwick is rather sparse. Anyway, suffice it to say: I hate everything about lances in the game.
As another example of obnoxious game design, I’ll call your attention to chapter 14. The objective is to seize the throne with your main character, Reese. It’s challenging enough in its own right. After deftly maneuvering him into position and seizing the throne, however, you can still get a game over due to an unintuitive Kaizo Trap. Once you seize the throne, the objective straight-up CHANGES on you. Reese is now in a vulnerable position and he can get killed by a stray ballista. It’s just complete bullshit. You had no way of knowing that the objective would change on you like that, and now you have to reset your game and load from your previous save.
You see that door in the lower left-hand corner? Yeah, well, it just appears out of nowhere. Before you seize the throne, there are no indicators that you’d be able to access that lower section of the castle.
At least the game lets you save every 5 turns, but if you ask me, that’s still not enough, considering how much bullshit is in the game and how luck-reliant every facet of it is. FE4 let you save every turn, and that was already a vastly easier game. If Berwick let you save every turn, or even every other turn, it’d be a far more enjoyable game than it currently is. Actually now that I think about it, if the game gave you this option, that’d probably alleviate every complaint I have about it, and would instantly catapult the game into S tier.
I still have other grievances with the game, but I feel I’ve already talked at length about the game’s problems and don’t want to make this article even longer. So let’s switch gears and start talking about what the game does really well, because there’s a lot of great stuff in Berwick. Aside from the basic innovations with the core systems – which are all positives IMO – the game has some of the best writing in any Kaga/FE. In some ways, it’s like the anti-FE4. Whereas FE4 focused on large-scale conflicts, Berwick doesn’t show you most of the war, and instead concentrates on your small army. Whereas FE4 was a big ideas game that didn’t develop its cast that well, Berwick instead fleshes out its individual characters in great detail. Whereas FE4 featured a rigid, linear narrative, Berwick offers you optional sidequests and civilian requests (side objectives you can optionally complete during main missions). Whereas FE4 offered you near-limitless customization with its marriage system, Berwick character progression is stiff and inflexible with extremely low growth rates. And whereas FE4 is one of the easiest FE/Kaga titles in existence, Berwick is by far the hardest.
If you ask me, Berwick’s greatest strength is its richly-humanized cast of characters. Every single character in your army has a moment in the sun, although some, like Faye and Ruby, get a little more attention than others. Optional cutscenes abound, wherein you can see what your characters are doing when they’re not battling for your army. Sherlock spends his time listening to Ophelia, a local musician. Sylvis spends her time obsessing over Weiss, a pirate king who’s eluded her. Axel spends his time caring for the downtrodden in the abbey. And Volo… er, I guess he just sulks in the corner like the edgy Navarre archetype he is; I never saw any cutscenes for him. There’s an armor knight who has 0 base stats – his only stats are his class bases – which raises some questions about who he truly is.
Probably the best story in the game comes in the form of the interplay between father-daughter duo, Clifford and Ruby. Matilda, who was Clifford’s wife and Ruby’s mother, has died. Ever since, Clifford has devolved into a drunken, despondent mess. He doesn’t want Ruby to become a knight because he’s afraid she’ll die and leave him all alone; in a way, he views Ruby as the only fragment of his wife that still exists, and as a father, he harbors the natural desire to protect her. Meanwhile, Ruby has dreams of her own and aspires to be a knight… perhaps to make her daddy proud, or perhaps to spite him in a way, or perhaps to show him that the two of them can still continue on living, despite Matilda’s death. Ruby is a fairly complex character. So is Clifford, really. And although Ruby ranks as one of the worst units in the game, it’s worth it to train her up just so you can see how her story with Clifford concludes. It’s one of the high points of the entire game. Ruby and Clifford stand as some of the best-written FE/Kaga characters ever. You’ve got realism, emotion, and a markedly human dimension here.
Another unexpected highlight is the story with Theodore and Minas – two enemy units whom you encounter as part of a side quest. Initially, you’re contracted by a noble by the name of Barselphon. He claims that Minas was his lover who was later brainwashed by Theodore into serving the Raze Empire, so he sends you to capture Minas and kill Theodore. You can already sense that something’s amiss, but I won’t spoil anything major here. You get your reward and the game doesn’t bring Theodore and Minas back into the picture until several chapters later.
Then they come back completely out of nowhere, culminating into one of the most badass moments in the story.
It’s utterly unexpected, yet equally awesome. Then, in the final chapter, the two of them help you out by giving you powerful sword that lets you kill Berwick’s version of FE9’s Black Knight. How the hell is it that two unplayable, minor enemy units eventually become some of the most memorable and heartwarming characters in the entire game!? Berwick Saga is full of little gems like this. Even the shopkeepers have optional side missions that you can complete. When even the shopkeepers in Berwick have more development than many FE characters, you know that the game’s got a legitimately brilliant story.
I’d also mention the art direction as another one of Berwick’s strong points. Instead of skanks like Cowmilla, Tharja, and Female Byleth, Berwick features modest, tasteful, and beautiful art designs for its girls. Berwick should stand as an important lesson that you don’t need to flaunt every inch of your body to be pretty. My favorite two character designs are Faye and Paramythis.
I would certainly love to see more designs like Paramythis, and fewer like Lara Croft, Zero Suit Samus, or the entire cast of FE13/14 sans Oboro (I think her outfit is actually very good, but when it comes to modern FE, she’s unfortunately the exception, not the rule).
Surely, the overarching plotline of Berwick Saga isn’t anywhere nearly as well-developed as the individual character stories. Arguably though, it doesn’t have to be. It’s still more coherent than the TearRing Saga story, it still makes sense, and it gets the job done. Again: Berwick is the anti-FE4. FE4 was all about the grand, wider narrative. Berwick is not. It’s a different style – Berwick is character-driven, like what FE7 was trying to do, but overall much better.
Still, all things considered, I actually marginally enjoy FE7 more. Of all the FE/Kaga games, Berwick is one of my least favorites (I enjoy FE1, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and TRS more than Berwick). The writing is unquestionably spectacular, and I love pretty much everything in the game related to graphics, music, and presentation. The changes the game made with regards to game mechanics, such as turn order, combat flow, and crippling, are very cool ideas in theory. There’s a lot to love about Berwick. Unfortunately, this is all brought down by a few crucial factors. Firstly, an overreliance upon RNG for almost all of the game’s systems. Secondly, needlessly obtuse secrets that you won’t figure out without trial and error/a guide. Thirdly, stupidly frustrating game design with Lance Knights and a Kaizo Trap. No other FE/Kaga game is as frustrating and infuriating the way Berwick is, and this is to the game’s detriment.
If you’re the sort of person who can stomach the flaws of FE5 and TearRing Saga, then you will probably love Berwick. However, it takes a specific type of person to enjoy the game. It’s definitely not the most accessible SRPG out there, and I doubt whether even average FE fans will love it. I can respect anyone who loves the game and gets deep into optimizing it; there is some great stuff there, but I’ll likely never be able to accept its flaws the way others do.
I’ll just close with the same statement I used to open the article. I believe it’s a very good game; I like it, I don’t love it, and I’m still of the opinion that FE4 is the best Kaga game.
Developers: Shouzou Kaga, Tirnanog Studio
My video review
I recommend reading Aggro_Incarnate’s guide before playing the game
Translation patch: https://forums.serenesforest.net/index.php?/topic/80209-berwick-saga-translation-finished-v23-updated-23-jan-2021/
For more fun, here are some images that only Berwick Saga fans will understand