Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) Review
The Fire Emblem series is one that I was not familiar with until I played as what seemed like generic swordsmen in the Smash Brothers games. Since Melee, I’ve been trying to get my way through all of the Fire Emblem games and since the North American release of the latest 3DS iteration, Fire Emblem: Awakening I managed to complete all of the ones I never got around to finishing on my initial run (which thankfully were just the Wii and Gamecube iterations). Having a good base to compare the games with Fire Emblem: Awakening, as well as on its own merits, I dived into Fire Emblem: Awakening with relatively high expectations. And despite not being the most enthusiastic strategy role playing game player, I am very happy to report that Awakening blew most of my expectations out of the water.
Fire Emblem: Awakening sees players taking on the role of an unnamed customisable avatar within the Halidom of Ylisse, a world under threat from a suspiciously acting nation, Plegia. Chrom, the prince of Ylisse, joins the Avatar and recruits a large amount of soldiers to fight the Plegia’s force and the mysterious Risen, a mysterious force who have recently appeared out of seemingly thin air. Chrom, the Avatar and his squad of Shepherds must move to fight both the Plegians and the Risen to win the war and protect Ylisse. I say this about almost every game but Fire Emblem’s story really only acts as a way to push the player through the game for the most part. There are a few pivotal points here and there throughout the game and when the player reaches them it will re-ignite a possibly dwindling flame to continue playing. There are a few “choices” to be made throughout the story but most of them don’t have far reaching consequences.
The other thing worth talking about in terms of narrative and storytelling is Awakening’s character roster. Despite having over twenty characters to recruit and train, there is something about each character and their personality that makes them very endearing. It’s even more fun to pair up obvious personality opposites to see how their dialogue plays out between one another. And despite having such a large wealth of characters, you’ll be sad whenever you see them fall in battle too, whether the effects are permanent, however, are up to the player.
What we mean by “up to the player” is the different modes that Fire Emblem offers the player. There are your standard difficulty modes – normal, hard and lunatic. We advise thinking about this long and hard before jumping into one as it could make the difference between giving up on the game for being way too unforgiving or cruising through it without a challenge. The Fire Emblem staple, however, is the choice of Classic mode or Casual mode. The latter sees your units revive post-battle, but the former sees your units’ death in battle become permanent. This makes the game incredibly difficult but also more realistic and ultimately rewarding, but be warned it is brutal especially in later chapters.
The general gist of the gameplay is your typical strategy RPG – the map is divided into a grid, while certain units can move or attack across a certain number depending on your class. Certain units are weak against others, while the reverse is often true too. When attacking, the battlefield shifts to a proper three dimensional landscape and the attacks are carried out before returning back to the two dimensional sprite based grid. There are several other actions that can be carried out to bolster you assault. Attacking while a friendly unit is nearby will allow both units to attack and strengthen each other’s stats, as well as offer the chance for the second unit to jump in and defend the primary unit during an attack from an enemy, or even add a second counter attack.
Besides the obvious rock-paper-scissors approach to weapon strengths and weaknesses, Fire Emblem: Awakening also places a major emphasis on character relationships. When pairing up units their affinity for each other grows as they experience more and more battles, while their statistics are also improved too. Listening in on conversations between them in the team barracks also improves their affinity while awarding players with new equipment and the like too. They can even get married for ultimate affinity though some characters can’t be married because their personality types just aren’t compatible at all. This is determined by the game and not the players, mind you. Characters can also level up and specialise into even more powerful classes – and with a grand total of forty five different classes, it’s very possible to build your team the way you like it.
There is of course a whole bunch of other things to do besides the main quest too. Side quests appear following completion of main quests and most require the player to recruit a new unit (though almost every unit is missable and the game doesn’t give you indication explicitly when a recruitable unit is in the area, which is quite frankly annoying.) On top of this, several randomised battles appear to give players opportunity to grind if they wish without proper objectives – as well as shops to upgrade and purchase equipment.
Fire Emblem: Awakening’s campaign can be completed in anywhere from fifteen hours to thirty hours depending on whatever difficulty combination is chosen. Nintendo are also providing copious amounts of downloadable content for the game through free SpotPass updates (which add literally hundreds of new characters, weapons and such from older games) as well as paid downloadable content maps (which are designed to be remakes of older maps from older games). Needless to say, Fire Emblem is an incredibly hefty package and the fact that there is so much extra content coming out for the game is to be commended – this is downloadable content done appropriately.
Veterans of the series would not be surprised to find that the game employs a mixture of two dimensional, sprite based art along with three dimensional models for actual battle sequences. I’ve always been of the opinion that the three dimensional models used during battles (ie. When your units clash and attack each other) have much less personality than the sprites used in older iterations of Fire Emblem. This is a minor and personal nit-pick from me, though it did have me skipping a lot of the animations towards the end of the game as I’d seen them all and they didn’t impress me enough for repeat viewings.
The pre-rendered cutscenes for key moments look absolutely fantastic and easily rival the graphics you’d see on a high definition console (though of course this is why they are pre-rendered). The 3D effect gives depth to the battlefield to make it look almost like a paper pop-up battlefield, but elsewhere it doesn’t do anything too ground-breaking. The sprites themselves during battle are cute and have a lot of personality despite being quite small on the screen, while the character portraits do a good job at portraying the characters and their emotions during dialogue despite the lack of voice work.
Fire Emblem: Awakening does a great job at streamlining the rather overwhelming strategy role playing genre into something that is not only approachable for newcomers of the series, but also for those who want that extra depth as veterans of the series. Its story peaks at the right moments, its gameplay hits the sweet spot between difficult and challenging, and it features a lot of things to do for the player. And best of all, it’s really freaking addicting. There are a few minor issues I have with Fire Emblem, but all are personal nitpicks that I can’t mark the game down for objectively. Having played a large majority of the Fire Emblem games, I might even go as far as to say that this is my favourite in the entire series. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo did well.