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 Awesome niche games already have an unfair advantage though, which is that no one plays them except the people who already know that they will love them, for the most part.
Especially if it is a port like MH3U. I think the reason it is so high above MH3 is because for the most part the people buying it were the diehard fans of 3, while the solid to ok to not really fans of 3 passed on it.
I've determined, in my head, that MH3U is PROBABLY going to be my first 10.0 ever. Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III tried hard, but couldn't get there, and Ocarina of Time was never a 10.0 in my head (9.6), even though it is accepted as the greatest game of all time. And it should be in any conversation as such. But 3U...just wow.
I haven't pulled the trigger just yet, but it is very much on pace to be. As ridiculous great as MH is on Wii, 3U just went above and beyond.
@Mr_Mustache But you may as well say if it doesn't play like SMT, what SMT would be in there? Probably it will play as some kind of hybrid.
For instance, one thing you can do in the SMT: Devil Survivor SRPGs is have your main character and then up to two demons as a "team" that you move around the map, allowing you to return them to your stock and summon other demons, etc. to change-up your strategies as you go. Almost like Ogre Battle! I imagine this will work itself into this game in some form. As stated in the review, they already added the ability to team-up in this latest Fire Emblem, so I'll bet they take the team idea a bit further and work in the demon summoning and such in this crossover.
That's just one example. I think we will see all kinds of stuff mixed up between the two series. Maybe. Tough to say for sure.
Good review Sad Waluigi! Nice to see an ambitious new writer join the Negative World crew.
I'm very excited to play this game, hope to pick it up soonish. The only Fire Emblem game I haven't played yet, besides the 3DS game, is the DS remake Shadow Dragon. There are simply too many games to play and not enough time, whoa.
Haha, I have every Fire Emblem game, but have only put an hour into the first GBA one (in America) and Shadow Dragon. I was going to play them all in chronological order, starting with SD. Didn't go too well.
@Mr_Mustache REALLY? First 10, eh? It's a 10 for me, but I have a lot of 10s. I think I might give Tri the edge, though, just because of the difficulty balancing.
@Zero I prefer my lists, cigarettes, and Google searches unfiltered.