Review: Fire Emblem Awakening – Perfect Strategy

You may ask why I’m posting a review of a game that was only released yesterday, which has been the recipient of notable stock shortages? Well the reason for that is the magic of breaking street date. I’ve had this game for over a week to run it through its paces, and I’m at the point where I can give it a fair shake. Fire Emblem Awakening is the latest entry in Nintendo’s venerable Fire Emblem series. Despite only having come to the west in the GBA generation, Fire Emblem is an old series that is currently on its thirteenth instalment, which is the reason that Fire Emblem characters have a slot in the Super Smash Bros. series, despite the fact that many western gamers see it as a new series. Awakening is the first Fire Emblem game to be released on the 3DS and the first portable Fire Emblem game to use 3D graphics like the Gamecube and Wii Fire Emblem games. As you may have noticed by today’s subtitle, Awakening is a good game, a very, very good game. The Fire Emblem series has always been known for its hardcore, punishing difficulty, and Awakening brings this and more; however, it is also the most accessible Fire Emblem game ever made, and perfect for newcomers to the franchise.

Surprisingly yes, you can play as Marth in this game, but not the way you think.
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The storyline of Awakening is pretty standard fare for Fire Emblem games. There’s royalty, political intrigue, dragons and plenty of anime tropes to go around. The story isn’t an amazing piece of work, and it does little to distance itself from other Fire Emblem games except for a, generally, unnecessary time travel incident, but despite it being somewhat ho-hum, it rarely stumbles. The barebones are overdone, but it’s told very well, and most importantly, the characters are compelling. Fire Emblem games live and die by their characters. After all, in Fire Emblem, a character death usually means that character will be gone forever. The developers make sure that you care about your team, and don’t just see them as empty statistics. Characters also have a series of supports, that, besides giving combat bonuses, unlock mini story arcs between characters as they fight together. These are usually played for laughs, but they go a long way in humanizing your team, and making them so much more valuable to you, emotionally. When you first start the game, you’ll create an avatar, being able to customize gender, appearance and voice. Thankfully, your avatar in this game actively takes part in the story, both as a combatant and as a fully voiced distinct character. Awakening shows you just how much you can squeeze out of a standard story.

These guys are what make the story worthwhile.
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Fire Emblem games have been steadily evolving throughout the years, adding in a ton of complexity as new games have been released. The core gameplay plays out like many other strategy RPGs. You will field a group of soldiers and have the opportunity to move and attack with them before the enemy gets its turn. The soldiers come in a wide variety of classes ranging from slow and tough knights to lightning fast pegasus riders. Each class has its own weaknesses and strengths, and each individual character has his or her own unique stat growths that make them all unique. Your soldiers can level up, and you can equip them with a wide variety of weapons, as well as level up their weapon affinity through use. At certain levels units will also learn abilities, which can be simple like a stat boost or major like the ability to recover damage with your attacks. As you progress through the game, you will be able to buy items that allow you to upgrade and change the class of your soldiers to new or upgraded classes.

Yes, there’s even something in this game for the bronies.
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New to Fire Emblem is the ability to pair up. This gives huge strategic advantages. Basically, you can join two units to fight together. In reality, what you’re actually doing is using one character to provide a stat boost to another. When joined, you will only control one character, but you can switch between the two at will. The stat boost you get is based on the class and support level. So two comrades in arms in upgraded classes will get significant boosts. On top of this, there is a chance of the paired up character executing an attack with you, or blocking all damage your character receives. Another new addition to Fire Emblem Awakening are multiplayer battles, which aren’t bad, but don’t really excel either because RPGs are rarely suited to multiplayer due to the often large disparity between player’s character levels. There is also a promise of DLC. At this point, one DLC level has been released, and, truthfully, it isn’t very good, and hardly inspires confidence. Spot pass is used to unlock new areas, and characters, but mainly serves as a nice bonus. Finally, one of the biggest new additions is the ability for characters to marry and have children, who will join your army. As previously mentioned, there’s a time travel aspect to the story that makes it work. The creation of children is another neat aspect as your parents skills and stat growths effect the children, and choosing the best pairings adds a certain level of complexity to the system.

I don’t know what it says, but I can only assume it’s pretty raunchy.
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As mentioned before, Awakening is the most accessible Fire Emblem ever, but without sacrificing its hardcore edge. When you play the game, you can pick either classic or casual mode. Classic mode has it that character death is permanent, while casual makes character death temporary. This isn’t a fun mode for veterans, but it allows less skilled gamers to enjoy playing the game, without having to worry too much about strategy. On top of casual mode, there are five difficulty modes: easy, normal, hard, lunatic, and lunatic+. On higher modes, there will be more enemies per map and enemies will be significantly stronger. Your ability to grind for experience is also greatly diminished and on the highest level, enemies will come pre-equipped with extremely deadly skills. While casual mode caters to the casual audience, hard mode and above certainly cater to the hardcore.

Even hard mode won’t save this sucker, but it might help the tragic counter attack.
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Graphically, the game is just as anime-inspired as ever. Despite the 3D rendering, almost the entire story plays out through written dialogue below two character sprites, who change expression based on the emotion the character is trying to convey. It’s a tried and true system, but it may turn off some people, who prefer live action cutscenes. However, for those who aren’t crazy, the anime graphics are really well drawn and clean and crisp. The 3D models are seen in some scenes and in combat. They are heavily stylized, so don’t expect realism. As for how they look, they do a good job of utilizing the 3DS’ graphics engine. The 3DS’ inherent 3D effect is particularly beautiful in Awakening. Because of the abundance of 2D art, the various planes look great, and the game definitely is improved, visually, with the slider turned up.

Don’t be fooled by the 3D slider. You can’t actually see the 3D now.
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Fire Emblem Awakening is the most refined Fire Emblem game ever made, bringing a lot of new innovations, while somehow opening the game up to new players unlike any before it. The story is simple but effective; the characters are varied and well developed. Most importantly, the gameplay is still up to the excellent standard of the series. All of these aspects together make Fire Emblem Awakening a game that’s hard to ignore. Despite some people being turned off by anime-influenced games, Fire Emblem Awakening is a game I would fervently recommend to any owner of the 3DS. Along with Super Mario 3D Land, Fire Emblem Awakening is one of the biggest reasons to own the system.

Pros

– Excellent Combat system
– Huge amount of depth
– Great characters
– As hard or easy as you want it
– Graphically beautiful
– Great use of spot pass

Cons

– Multiplayer is tacked on
– The bare story isn’t anything special


Score    9.5

– Mistranslations for the Modern Gamer

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