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Fire Emblem: Awakening Review

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Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Image © Nintendo
The Fire Emblem turn-based strategy series has been around for a long haul. The first game was born on the Famicom, Japan’s version of our own beloved NES, and though it took some time Fire Emblem eventually made its way to English-speaking audiences. The series’ fanbase is small but hardcore; the games are not well-known for being easy or forgiving.

Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS successfully widens the series’ reach by letting in players of all skill levels while maintaining a high challenge level for veterans. In fact, Fire Emblem: Awakening isn’t just a successful strategy title: It’s exceptional. The adjustable challenge levels are the key to letting every player enjoy the game’s story, characters, humor, and endlessly customizable battle system, but the experience as a whole is thoroughly fun.

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Turn-based strategy/RPG
ESRB Rating: T (Teen)
Compatible With: Nintendo 3DS
(Also downloadable from the eShop)

GOOD: Adjustable difficulty makes the game accessible. Lots of tweaks to an already-solid battle system. Great graphics and sound. Good script. It’s fun to forge relationships between the characters. Tons of content.

BAD: Customization options for your own avatar are limited. Would be nice to have the option to set up same-sex marriages.

THE BASICS: A Few Good Men (and Women)

Like most games in the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening revolves around a complex, political story that’s cut with a few servings of fantastical creatures. To get more specific, Chrom, the prince of a country called Ylisse, suddenly finds himself at war against a hostile neighboring country and its armies of “Risen” zombie warriors. Things only get more complicated with the appearance of a masked swordsman who calls himself Marth, a nod to the legendary king from legends past.

That’s just the start. The story for Awakening takes several twists and turns before all’s done. Kingdoms rise and fall, friends become enemies, and vice versa. Opposing troops that initially appear mindless reveal themselves to be figures worthy of sympathy.

Awakening still suffers from a few clichés and bad jokes (including the “classic” trope about men almost falling for effeminate-looking soldiers that are actually men themselves—horrors!) . Its overall story doesn’t exactly rival humankind’s best war literature, but the tale certainly ranks amongst Nintendo’s best, and that’s high praise.

GAMEPLAY: Blood, Fighting, and Friendship

The base mechanics for Fire Emblem haven’t changed much over the decades. Fire Emblem: Awakening doesn’t mess with the original formula, which still holds up after years of use. However, Awakening does make some tweaks and additions that are largely welcome.

As usual, your army and the enemies’ armies take turns moving across the battlefield. When warriors meet, they clash. Most units have strengths and weaknesses that you need to take into account as a strategist: Horse-mounted units move well on regular ground, but have trouble indoors and in deep sand. Wyvern riders and Pegasus riders hold up well against magic-users, but risk being devastated by archers. Knights are heavily armored against physical attacks, but magic attacks crack them open like walnuts. Fire Emblem: Awakening adds several new classes to the classic line-up of swordsmen and mages, and as usual, you need to balance each fighter’s pros and cons in order to come out of each battle as cleanly as possible. You also need to keep Fire Emblem’s “Weapon Triangle” in mind: Sword-wielders do better against axe-wielders, who do better against lancers.

Fire Emblem games have always encouraged the player to build up relationships between characters, but in Awakening, it’s especially important to participate directly in character development. The better your characters get along in the barracks, the better they’ll get along on the battlefield, and now that your fighters can pair up to take on enemies, their bond can literally mean the difference between life and death. Unified fighters might get in an extra strike, or they might even save their partners from a devastating attack. Over time, soldiers that help one another on the battlefield enjoy increased stat bonuses and may eventually get married, have children, and fight alongside said children (when they’re the appropriate age, of course).

Hardcore Fire Emblem fans might be compelled to stick to the series’ lonely one-on-one battles, but here’s the beautiful thing about Awakening: You don’t have to do anything that you don’t want to do. You can fight in pairs, or opt not to. You can build up relationships between your characters, or focus on fighting first and foremost.

Most importantly, you can select your difficulty level. Fire Emblem games are notorious for character “permadeath”—-typically, if a fighter falls in battle, he or she is gone for good. However, in Awakening’s new “Casual” mode, fallen warriors will merely retreat, then return for the next fight as good as new. If you favor Fire Emblem’s famed ruthlessness, you can play on Awakening ‘s “Normal” setting, or go for broke and try “Ludicrous” difficulty.

In fact, if you’re Fire Emblem-curious but haven’t touched any of the games, Awakening is the game to grab. Casual mode makes it highly accessible, and you can have fun bonding with the game’s characters without worrying about that character dying forever in the next fight. Given Awakening’s strong dialogue and soap opera-worthy moments, you want the cast to stick around for as long as possible.

There are also online and local multiplayer options to play with when you get bored going up against the game’s AI, as well as a plethora of fun options and missions that can be passed along via SpotPass. That’s in addition to free and paid downloadable content available from Nintendo. Combined with the game’s high replay value and numerous side-missions, Fire Emblem: Awakening will keep you busy for ages long after the credits have scrolled.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND: The Sights and Sounds of War

Fire Emblem: Awakening utilizes 3D models for its battle scenes. Each character is constructed well (aside from inexplicably tiny feet), as is his or her mount when applicable. What’s particularly fun is that series veterans should be able to recognize that some of the characters’ attack animations are derived from the games’ sprite-based roots.

Each battlefield background is carefully rendered, and some carry impressive flourishes. There are snowstorms, sandstorms, and rainstorms that send characters splashing through muddy puddles as they attack.

Outside of battles, Awakening’s campaign map screens look quite primitive. The simplicity is understandable (not to mention typical of a Fire Emblem game), but it’s easy to mix up the tiny character sprites when you’re moving around. This can result in big, potentially deadly mistakes. This issue is easily resolved by acting carefully--not a bad habit for anyone fighting in a war.

Awakening’s soundtrack contributes to the game’s atmosphere. It’s upbeat when appropriate, and melancholy when sobering events happen. There are also some remixes of classic tunes, so keep your ears open.

The voice acting is quite decent, but the bitten off dialogue clips (“Huh?” “Ah!”) might get on your nerves. If they drive you batty, go ahead and turn them off.

CONCLUSION: Boots and Saddles, Get on Your Feet

Fire Emblem: Awakening is an unquestionable must-have if you’re a fan of the series or the turn-based strategy genre. It’s even a must-have if you’re into role-playing games, or if you’ve just been toying with the idea of jumping into the series. The battle system is solid, the challenge can be as easy or as difficult as you want it to be, and often-hilarious/sweet dating sim aspect just caps off the experience. War is hell, but Fire Emblem: Awakening demonstrates that it can be pretty danged fun, too.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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