Published on March 21st, 2013 | by Darik Kirschman3
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Brigands and foes scattered the mountainside, armed with bows, swords, lances and axes. My ragtag team of warriors had faced numerous battles before, effortlessly dispatching all who fought against Ylisse. As their faithful tactician, their lives were in my hands. I hadn’t lost a single soul yet. To them, I was a peerless strategist, able to conjure victory even in the most dire of consequences!
Little did they know, I’ve gone back in time to fix my mistakes — a lot.
The world of Fire Emblem: Awakening is an unforgiving one, with death constantly stalking your units. It’s also one very much worth exploring, filled with wonderful characters you can’t help but grow attached to. As such, it’s all the more painful when you screw up, delivering a faithful ally into the arms of the Grim Reaper.
Fire Emblem: Awakening starts off fairly simply: you customize a character to serve as your avatar throughout the story, who wakes up in the middle of a field with a touch of amnesia. Unable to recall much aside from your name, you’re “recruited” to help a band of fighters led by the charming Prince Chrom. The troupe is called The Shepherds, and they are spreading good cheer to the citizens of Ylisse and murder to those counted amongst the country’s enemies. Political intrigue, dragons and magic make appearances as well, in a story that’s not incredibly deep, but interesting enough to keep pushing on. There are even a few twists along the way.
Story has never been the main draw in the Fire Emblem series, though; it’s all about the deceptively simple combat system. With enough grids and stats to make even resident strategy nerd Fraser salivate a little bit, Awakening’s got quite a bit going on. Battles use a grid-based system, with players moving their troops forward and engaging enemies, It’s rather similar to Intelligent System’s other series, Advance Wars, in this respect. Weapons have a strength and a weakness (the holy “Weapons Triangle” that fans of the series know by heart: Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Lances, and Lances beat Swords) akin to a game of Rock, Paper, Scissors — allowing amateur tacticians to get the leg-up on the various brigands and marauders they come to blows with.
Things never have time to get stale, however, as Awakening regularly brings in new concepts throughout the main storyline. Unique weapons are thrown into the mix that ignore or reverse the Weapons Triangle. New units show up to totally destroy any battle plans you might have thought up. These new obstacles never seem unfair, they just serve to show players how far they’ve come from the beginnings of their adventures in Ylisse. It all adds a great sense of growth — not just in the leveling up of characters, but in the player’s own abilities to think ahead and plan.
Battles might be the meat of Awakening, but the relationships between troops are undoubtedly the heart and soul. On the field, characters have the ability to team up and form a super-unit, becoming able to take on enemies as a pair. This obviously has an impact upon the battlefield, giving both characters stat bonuses, but the real joy comes when you’re not out delivering sweet justice to the bad guys, in the form of Support Conversations. These little discussions often help enhance backstories or flesh out a character’s personality. Level up your Support Conversations between two appropriate people enough and they’ll get married, adding even more stat bonuses and perks while paired together. These chats are usually quite fun and endearing to boot, making it all the harder for players to watch their beloved characters die alone in the heat of battle. Intelligent Systems can work your heartstrings like a seasoned violin prodigy.
On a purely technical level, Fire Emblem: Awakening uses the 3DS to its fullest. In motion, the game looks fantastic, with a rich color palette and character models that are faithful to the art style while also bringing a unique, cutesy flair. The 3D effects don’t hamper the gameplay, but aren’t really necessary for enjoyment either — though with the switch turned on, the overhead battlefield view gives a lovely feeling of a miniature diorama. The in-battle sequences are also fun to watch, dynamic camera angles and all. I’ll admit, pausing the action when one of your own pulls off a Critical Hit to admire their handiwork never truly gets old.
There’s a a full suite of online aspects attached to the title, including — most interestingly — DLC map packs. At first, it was a bit jarring having downloadable content I had to pay for, in a Nintendo game. But the map packs provide extra (replayable) skirmishes with certain twists; from fighting against, and then recruiting, previous Fire Emblem characters, to defeating a team of bandits hoarding a treasure trove of gold, they provide an excellent addition to an already jam-packed game. While not at all necessary, the ability to grind these battles for EXP and gold makes Awakening a slightly more leisurely affair.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a must-own title for the Nintendo 3DS. A mixture of deep strategy, engaging characters and a fun storyline propels this entry in the series to new heights. Whether you’re a seasoned tactician or a fledgling recruit, there’s a lot here to love. Here’s hoping that Nintendo won’t let future installments stay in Japan as long as this one.