My experience with Fire Emblem started, like many, with Super Smash Bros. Melee. Many gamers in the U.S. were first exposed to the characters Marth and Roy thanks to that game. So it was only natural that they grew an interest in what the Fire Emblem series was. Then Fire Emblem was released for the Game Boy Advance, and I’ve got my first real taste on what this series was all about. Although I can’t really recall most of what I’ve played in that game, but I do remember being hooked onto it for quite a while. Since then, I haven’t been too into the Fire Emblem games, with only having played a couple of hours into the Gamecube titles, and beating Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon on Nintendo DS. So I get what Fire Emblem is, but haven’t been really into it as much as I would like to be. Thankfully, with the 3DS release of Fire Emblem Awakening, I have grown this newfound interest in the Fire Emblem franchise and also regained interest in strategy RPGs.
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Genre: Turn-Based Strategy
Release Date: February 4, 2013
Fire Emblem Awakening is the latest Fire Emblem game and marks the series debut on Nintendo’s latest handheld, the Nintendo 3DS. It still holds the same traditional strategy RPG gameplay the series is known for. Also, many other things like permanent death among characters in the game and side stories that occur between characters. If you’re a fan of the Fire Emblem series, there’s really no reason to not pick this game up. So let’s get that settled right away.
The story of Awakening follows Chrom, the royal prince of the Halidom of Ylisse. You follow his adventure, along with his group of companions known as the Shepherds. Players will assume the role of their own Avatar as well, which they can customize to their liking. This Avatar serves as the group’s tactician, and is also a part of the story. While the story gets a bit predictable in some spots, I found myself engaged with it to the very end.
With Fire Emblem Awakening though, it seems the guys at Intelligent Systems were looking to expand upon some of the mechanics that they’ve laid out across the series. First of which, is with the game’s perma-death mechanic. Characters who die in battle are lost for good, though some characters still occur within the main storyline of the game, they won’t be useable on the battlefield. This brought some challenge for players, since there’s this added layer of pressure when you make decisions on how you play your units. For Awakening, there is now an option to take that pressure off, with a new game mode called Casual. When set to Casual, you no longer have to worry about characters being permanently gone, and they’ll return to your squad at the end of the battle, should they be killed. It’s not a mode most Fire Emblem veterans would undertake, but it does help make the game more accessible to new players to Fire Emblem and strategy RPGs. Not only with this Casual option, but Fire Emblem Awakening does an overall good job on slowly introducing the player to its mechanics.
The strategy gameplay is mostly unchanged. It’s still turn-based strategy, with your units trying to outlast the enemy. With battle animations occuring during engagements. Newly introduced in Awakening is the ability to ‘Pair Up’ units. By having units next to each other, they’ll be able to help each other out against an enemy unit, making a two versus one situation where you can possibly have two characters attaking one unit. Even further, you can have two units group together to form one unit. When paired up, the secondary character will provide stat bonuses to the primary unit. It’s a very useful mechanic in certain situations and can help low level characters not be as vulnerable when paired with a higher leveled unit.
Also pairing characters with each other helps build up another aspect of the game, which are Supports. When certain characters fight more together in battle, they’ll build up a bond with each other. Off the battlefield, these bonds trigger support conversations that players can view. Support conversations are ranked C, B, A, and S. The S rank only occurs for characters of opposite genders, and is basically the rank that means marriage between the characters. Filling out supports for characters is an optional thing, but it provides an extra amount of backstory for this large group of characters. Even further, married couples will have children, who can then join the army at a later point in the story. Not just for story use either, these children characters inhereit abilities and stats based on the parents, so you can create some powerful units through this process.
The gameplay for Fire Emblem Awakening is mostly unchanged, with some additional features that help make the game more accessible and to further develop storylines amongst characters. The ability to pair up units can also help the player in tough situations to prevent the death of someone. You also have the many different classes that each character can assume and even more advanced classes as you level further. The amount of depth that can be found in this game is really impressive. However, the game can become a bit easier because of some of these things. Pairing up characters helps in certain situations, but it can also lead to dominating entire battles with just one pair of characters. And the class system can be abused to earn really high stats for your characters. Now, these problems don’t necessarily occur when playing on the game’s harder difficulties, but when played on the Normal difficulty, these things make the game very easy in the later portions of the game, and it does make gameplay a bit stale at some points. While I did find myself rushing through chapters with my pretty overleveled group of characters, the story was interesting enough to motivate me to keep going. I also found the final few chapters of the game to pick up on the challenge, which was nice.
With a legnthy story, multiple side missions, DLC missions that you can purchase from the eShop or get for free from SpotPass, and the many different combinations of supports to obtain, there is a lot of things for you to do in this game. With the different tiers of difficulty and checking out other support combinations you missed out on, there are reasons to play the game again, and even a couple things from previous saves can be carried over, like the ability to purchase your created character from another save to use as a unit in your army. There is also a multiplayer mode, but I didn’t get a chance to check that out. It’s local multiplayer only too, so there’s no online battles in this game, which is a bit disappointing.
Presentation in Fire Emblem Awakening is also nicely done and looks great on the 3DS screen. The game is more stylized that Shadow Dragon was on the Nintendo DS, switching in 3D models for more 2D drawn ones for character portraits. Although the battle animations use 3D models. The cutscenes in the game also look great, especially when viewed with the 3D switch on. There is voice acting in the game, but not full on voice dialogue. Characters have their little grunts and catch phrases they’ll occasionally yell out at times. I would have liked more voice overs for the text portions of the game, as there is a huge amount of it. It also would have brought more life to the huge cast of characters.
Fire Emblem Awakening is a great game for the Fire Emblem series, and is easily one of the top experiences out there for the Nintendo 3DS. The strategy gameplay that the series is known for, and other mechanics like perma-death, are kept well intact with the additions of other features that help open the series up for new fans and adds a further layer of depth and story for the multiple characters. Fire Emblem is well known for their characters, and they’ve brought together another memorable group that players will really care for, as I have found myself doing. I’ve invested so many hours into Fire Emblem Awakening and have yet to really see everything the game has to offer. It’s great to see Fire Emblem back and I’m really looking forward to seeing how they further advance the series, especially with the amount of great ideas they’ve poured into this game.