If the handling of events in Iraq over the last couple of years is anything to go by, the art of planning and conducting a military campaign appears to be a lost art. True, strategy is an acquired skill, of sorts, but it is something that can be improved with practice.
Enter Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Okay, the setting is more Mordor than Middle East, but the underlying principles of battle are all present and correct. Your task is to tactically advance through territory (in step with a sumptuously detailed and involving narrative, it should be noted) and to outsmart and overpower your fiendish opponents through the clever use of weaponry and magic.
Navigation and conflict is turn-based, meaning each side gets a go at meticulously planning the deployment of their units. Different units affect others in various ways (the game employs a scissor-paper-stone dynamic, so spear defeats sword defeats axe defeats spear, for instance) and you'll pick up reinforcements on your travels as key characters join your ranks (again, these tend to be deeply integrated plot developments). In a nod to reality - if you can call the mystical setting real - and unlike similar games, once defeated in battle these characters become unusable for the remainder of the game. Look after them, though, and they'll evolve their skills to become fearsome warriors.
Ultimately there's too much depth to The Sacred Stones to adequately convey in these few words. This is an excellent and intensely absorbing lesson in strategy, backed up by an elaborate and reasonably involving storyline. The Sacred Stones' distinct style of play won't appeal to those searching for quick arcade thrills, but will reward anyone looking for a gaming experience to engross their brain in the lost art of tactical engagement.