Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS is the newest game in the long running strategy RPG series, Fire Emblem. Although relatively new to Western shores, Fire Emblem games have been released in Japan since 1990. This game marks certain changes for the Nintendo franchise, including options to tone down it's notorious difficulty, making it especially friendly to newcomers to the series. The simple fact that it's also amongst the best games in the series is also an excellent reason for anyone not yet familiar with Fire Emblem to jump right in and play their hand at being a tactician.
The basic premise is simple enough, the player controls a squad composed of various unit types. There's a basic strength/weakness system, called the Weapon Triangle, where swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. Of course there are several variations on this system, such as flying units which are especially vulnerable to bow attacks. On top of this, each one of your units has a distinct character and personality which you learn through scenes between the strategic field battles as well as private events that occur in the barracks over time. New to the series is the ability to pair two units up, raising their affinity as they work together in battle through several ranks, which finally can lead to marriage, gender permitting. Yes, there is no same-sex marriage in Fire Emblem: Awakening. No, I don't think it's a meaningful statement coming from the developers, but rather a necessary mechanic due to a plot and gameplay related point that I won't spoil here for those who haven't played yet. But trust me, there's a good reason! One of the trademark characteristics of the Fire Emblem series is permanent death of characters. Let your unit stay in the wrong place for one turn, and you'll be burying a newlywed husband and leaving his wife a grieving widow far too young. This plays a big role in attaching yourself to the characters, though it is an optional feature for the first time ever in a Fire Emblem game! Playing on the "Casual" setting allows you to retrieve dead units after the successful completion of the mission they passed away in. I don't recommend it for a first playthrough, however... the tension and drama of losing a character you like and have put a lot of work into is a huge part of the fun!
Chrom clashes swords with a masked swordsman
The game stars Chrom, the prince of the Halidom of Ylisse, as well as a rather mysterious, amnesiac tactician created by the player. When Chrom finds the tactician (known as "My Unit" henceforth referred to as "MU") unconscious in a field, he helps him find his bearings and together they defend a local town from a bandit raid. After a successful defense, MU finds him/herself drafted into the Shepherd's, Plegia's elite military group. From there, political tension from the neighboring Plegia combined with the mysterious new threat of the Risen, inhuman things that attack relentlessly, force the Shepherd's to go to war. The story that unfolds is one of trials and tribulation and is well written, but I found the connections I made to the characters themselves propelled me forward more than a desire to see what would happen next.
The game shifts between three distinct, and gorgeous, art styles. What you'll be seeing the most of is the map screen, a square grid that all units involved in a skirmish move upon. The grid itself is overlaid on the flowing terrain, giving a more natural feel to the typically stuffy grid-based strategy genre. The 3D effects are put to excellent use on the map, as birds fly by overhead and smoke from the battle clouds the sky it layers itself over the terrain. It's a simple and impressive use of the 3D capabilities of the console and I'd love to see more developer's take this approach. There are also several cinematics, a lot of dialogue, and the actual combat itself that uses 3D models of the characters textured lovingly and modelled similarly to the character's in Square Enix's Final Fantasy remakes on the original DS. There has been much ado about the models supposed lack of feet, but it's really just a stylistic choice. The last graphical style that makes an appearance is traditional anime portraits and animations that make excellent use of the 3D as well. Many of the marriage proposal scenes involving MU contain detailed portraits that take full advantage of the depth allowed by the 3DS. I really appreciate how these 3 different styles are blended into an absolutely breathtaking game.
The map screen is efficient and aesthetically pleasing
The title is largely a game of choice, with you choosing who pairs with who, who gets married, what equipment each unit carries, and even what order to do certain missions in. Beyond that, there is also a branching class system that allows you to use special items called Seals to upgrade a unit's class or even change it completely. Love a character but don't find her class very useful? Level her up to the maximum level, 20, use a Second Seal and turn her into a Wyvern Rider! The "Paralogue" system allows a lot of choice, too. Every few chapters you'll unlock a new Paralogue, basically a side mission, these often allow you chances to recruit an enemy character or to interact with an NPC. The way you prioritize your actions in a Paralogue chapter can have a huge impact on who you recruit or what items you receive!
I wouldn't necessarily recommend this title to someone who wasn't a fan of Strategy RPGs, but to someone who's never tried one I think it's a perfect game to dip your toes into the genre. The wide range of difficulty options allows you to truly take control of the experience you get playing through the game. Just interested in the story or meeting all the character's? Play on Casual Easy and never worry about making tough tactical decisions or losing a favorite unit. Avid number cruncher with an addiction to breaking games or a tactical mastermind? Play on Lunatic and strategize to your heart's content! I really think this game offers something to anyone willing to give it a go. I highly recommend anyone with a 3DS to go out and purchase this game. If you don't have a 3DS, there are a bunch of good reasons to get one, but Fire Emblem: Awakening ranks high on that list.
This is easily the best game I've played this year, and maybe last year, too. It's a crime not to at least give it a shot. The brilliant writing, likable characters, tough tactical decisions, and gorgeous graphics combine to make a package that is too good to pass by. Fire Emblem has always been a series I admired, but Fire Emblem: Awakening gives me hope for the future of the series I never had before. It's a little to early to say this for sure, but I have a good feeling Fire Emblem: Awakening is my Game of the Year. For all of these reasons, it's with no hesitation whatsoever that I rank this game as highly as I have.
@Anand At the moment, yes, if we're talking about games that have the 10 ratings required to get into the top 10 list so there it is at the top. Overall though Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate is sitting at a 9.8 between 5 ratings.
I'm sure my brother will come in and knock Fire Emblem down a bit eventually. The things I've heard him say about it are basically along the lines of "it's pretty good, but I don't get why everyone is saying it is the best Fire Emblem ever, it's basically the same as the others". Then again, the only other one he has rated he gave a 9.2 to, so that's still pretty high.
One the one hand, I can see why some people like it way more than other FE games.
1.) Superficially, I think it's more user friendly. Simple, subtle changes make the experience better. When you attack an enemy, you pick the enemy first, and then your weapon, and you can cycle through them easily to see the stat differences. On the second screen, you can easily touch things like weapons, Skills, items, etc to see what they do. I think they did this in Shadow Dragon, but I don't think many people played it. There are other examples that I'm probably forgetting. Essentially, nothing really feels 'buried' in this game to me. I rarely feel like I'm going to hit the wrong button and screw myself over. 2.) Casual mode lets more people get through the whole game. We all know FE can be really difficult. For me, it's more of a convenience thing. I always try not to let anyone die, but I hate feeling like I've wasted an hour just to get a death out of nowhere. 3.) Speed, speed, speed. This game retains the speed of the GBA games. You don't have to wait for battles to load. You can even hold a button to fast forward through them (or hit start to skip them). You can even hold the L button when you initiate a battle and skip the animation entirely. Things go quickly, and I've never felt for one second that I've had to go into the menu to turn animations off. 4.) The music is pretty awesome. At first, I didn't know what I thought of it, but there are some epic tracks. What I really love about the game is that the music doesn't change when you initiate a battle. What happens is that more instruments come into the mix, so all of a sudden it sounds super epic. It could be jarring to some, but I like not having to listen to 3 seconds of some song that I'll never hear in its entirety. It's fun to listen to the 'epic' version of the music in spurts, and I always hope I can hear different parts of each song in that new light. 5.) The new support system gives me a reason to have certain characters next to other characters. In older games, you could basically just have Support with one other person. I'd always want to keep Ike near Ilyana or whoever. In this game, I'm constantly thinking "Oh, Chrom only has a C support with Kellam, so for this mission, maybe I'll keep them close. Then next mission I'll keep him close to someone else." It's a really cool way IMO to encourage you to keep your encounters varied. 6.) The marriage/child system is pretty awesome and encourages you to experiment. I like trying to play matchmaker with all my characters, haha.
That being said....I can see why some people are turned off, especially the more hardcore: 1.) I've read that it's hard to find a satisfying difficulty level for people very good at the game. Normal is too easy, while hard is too hard. Lunatic is probably ridiculously cheap. However, if you're at all a fan of James Jones at NWR, I believe he found a great setup with Hard/Casual. It gave him a hard difficulty, without the penalty of losing hours of gameplay over nothing. 2.) The ability to grind characters can make things too easy. There are side missions in the game that pop up, along with battles that you can initiate on the World Map. With all of the battling going on, I'm sure it's easy to get your characters at a point where they feel too powerful. I've experienced this, but I'm also playing on Casual (and I rarely get through a mission without someone falling in battle, so obviously I'd get my ass kicked on Classic). 3.) People have no feet. Or at least, they look like they have no feet. It's pretty weird looking, but the battles go so quickly, I don't notice it all that much. 4.) The story isn't that good. Well, I shouldn't say that, but if you've played Fire Emblem, you know what to expect. I do think, however, that of the FE games, this has been very interesting. I'm curious to see where things go. 5.) Level variety feels low. Too many of the maps feel wide open, and I don't feel like every level really does a good job at introducing a new gimmick. For me, this isn't a huge deal, since I've played two and a half FE games before, but I can see people complaining about things feeling repetitive. 6.) You can't "battle save" on Classic mode. At all. You can do a hard save whenever you want...but only on Casual. What could also be annoying is that there are only two slots to do this with. 7.) The game only has three primary save files. I do not understand why Nintendo does things like this. I think Radiant Dawn let you have 6 or 7 save files at a time? Really, what is the point? These cards hold several gigabytes of data nowadays. It's just dumb. Zelda, you can only have three save files. Pokemon, they give you one. And let's not forget how many other games limit you to three save files. Why can't we just...I don't know, save as many times as we want, and be responsible for our own data usage?
Thats suggesting that your brother -- by default -- doesn't come on here and knock down any game that gets above Ocarina of Time. If he F's up MH3U, I'm going to drive to Chicago and stuff a bag of Tanzia Chips down his throat.
@Shadowlink Well, I'll probably raise the rating limit on our overall top 10 list. It kind of doesn't make sense to me that a game with 10 ratings can sneak onto the top spot when the rest of the top 10 all have way more ratings (around 100 for a lot of them.)