Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, like it's predecessor, is a turn based strategy game with heavy RPG elements. It adds a number of features that the first GBA title lacked giving the player even more strategic depth and role playing facets. There are so many additions to gameplay that I am going to use this overview to highlight a few of them rather than just repeating information that was covered in my overview of the first game.
The game offers three different challenge levels: Easy, Normal and Difficult. Easy includes a tutorial which, just as it did in the first game, walks you through all the need-to-details of game play as you go through the early battles of the game. Even easy mode provides enough challenge to make the game interesting and will take many hours to complete. The additional modes add replay value after you have already completed the game.
After reaching a certain point in the game a "world map" is opened that the player can then use to move from one area to another. This is useful for a number of reasons. The first being that you can return to any armory or store that you've run into in the past. If a certain store sells something you don't have the money for at the moment you can always go back and get it later. The map also allows you to access the Tower of Valni and the Lagdou Ruins which are repeatable challenges that one can use to make extra money, find extra items and train units. At the end of each of these you are given a score that you can work to improve later by playing through them again. The world map also has a number of creatures "spawn" on it occasionally. Moving to one of these spawns will allow you to start a skirmish. You can clear out the spawns as they arrive or wait until one is actually blocking your path to remove it. Again, they are a useful source of experience.
One of the more interesting new additions is underdeveloped units. There are several you can find throughout the game and they start out significantly less powerful than a normal level one unit. However, if you lead them to victory until they reach level ten they will transform into a more powerful version of a level one unit. That means that by the end of the game they are some of the most powerful units you possess. It adds a unique strategic element to the game that is even worked in very well from an RPG aspect.
The supply convoy takes the place of the equipment tent from the first game. In some ways it is more convenient because one character, usually Erika, acts as the supply officer and can move around the map dishing out supplies as needed. It also holds items if a character's inventory is full and they receive another item. However, it has a limited amount of space and you will probably need to sell items at some point in the game in order to make room for more.
Another new RPG element is the idea of "support". Two character's who spend enough time in each other's company can eventually form a support bond which makes them fight more effectively when they are adjacent to one another. These bonds are formed with "support conversations" that tell you a bit more about the characters involved and the story actually changes to small degrees based on what happens with each character's support bonds.
At one point in the game you have to decide which of the two main character's story you are going to follow. "Two roads diverged in a yellow wood..." Whichever path you take you will eventually end up back together, but you will only see five of ten battle maps with their related stories no matter which way you go. Again, this adds more replay value to the game.
In truth these are only a few of the many new elements added to the game. I only touched on those I found most interesting or game changing. The best way to see all the new content is to play through the game yourself.
Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones is certainly the spiritual successor to the original GBA title even though their stories are completely separate. If you haven't played it yet you've missed something special. I encourage you to give it a try.
The in-game tutorial gives you all the information you actually need to play the game. So, I'm going to use this space to offer a number of helpful hints:
Spend some time with the trainees! The game offers three not-quiet-developed units, the Journeyman, the Pupil and the Recruit. Take the time to level them up to normal units and then see them all the way through promotion and you will have some super units at your disposal. At first they are a little weak and you have to be careful with them, but they are an investment with a very high yield. Work with them and you'll be glad you did before the end of the game.
Show some emotional support! Support relationships are, in my opinion, one of the most complicated aspects of the game simply because of the number of options you have. However, it is definitely worth spending the energy required to strengthen the support bonds. The payoff is a static bonus whenever characters that share a bond are adjacent to each other. Pay attention to it and forge bonds between as many units as you can.
Don't just ignore your enemies! Dark spawn are going to start appearing on the world map after a certain point in the game. It may be tempting just to go around them, but don't. Strike them down whenever you have the chance. You'll end up with more experience and more income and all it will cost you is a few weapons. Skipping a skirmish wastes resources and in this game that's not a good idea.
A person can only learn so much! Once a unit hits the level cap promote them or stop using them. If you kill enemies with units that are at the max level you are wasting experience. That's just not good policy.
Share the love! As with the former game you want to spread the experience around a bit. You don't want to top out one or two of your characters and leave the other's at their starting levels. There will be times when you are probably going to want to use every unit. Make sure they are ready when you call on them.
Don't waste Myrrh! One of the rather limited units of the game is Myrrh. She has an item called a Dragon Stone that will one-hit-kill most enemies. It only has a limited number of charges and then she is out of ammo for the entire game. It's best to save her until you are on a map where she will get a level out of every kill. Work her up to level twenty and then stop using her. She can't be promoted and you may want her and her Dragon Stone later in the game.
Money makes the world go round! Money is very important, especially early in the game. You will often want to buy the best weapons you can find in the game. Don't do it! The cheapest weapons in the game will make your enemies just as dead as the best ones. It may take more time and more planning, but it will save you money and that can be very important.
Throw something! Don't overlook thrown weapons, especially for lesser armored units and trainees. If a journeyman gets hit a couple of times he is probably a goner, but he can strike enemies with a handaxe and not worry about a return attack. The same applies to the recruit and javelins. They are a bit more than normal weapons, but in this case it is worth the expense.
Don't waste the good stuff! I know I mentioned this same point in my directions for the first game, but it is really important. You are going to get a very limited number of super weapons. Don't waste them on nameless nobodies, save them for when it really matters.
Keep in mind everyone has their own play style and you will certainly develop your own. These are just a few hints to put you on the right road.