While most gamers know the Fire Emblem series from Roy and Marth’s appearance in Super Smash Bros. Melee, the series has actually been around since the original Famicom. Nintendo finally localized the seventh game in the series in 2003, simply titled: Fire Emblem. Since then, a majority of the games in the Fire Emblem series have been localized outside of Japan. Fire Emblem: Awakening further pushes the series forward for the age old tactics genre by adding a deep relationship system, while adding more streamlined mechanics that make it easier for first time strategy players.
All of the Fire Emblem plots are very similar, and Awakening is no exception. Set in a fantasy world known as Ylisse, you aid a young prince in destroying the inevitable evil that awaits you in the end. You’ll recruit dozens of characters each with their own personalities, and the dialog between these characters is genuinely good, and sometimes even comical. While the plot remains mundane, the translation is well done and gives your squad of characters some much needed substance.
For the first time in the US/EU versions of the Fire Emblem series, you are able to create your own in game character. Don’t fret, he/she isn’t a silent protagonist. Your character has his/her own set of dialog. While this doesn’t really change the story, besides the ending choice, it does help give you more of an attachment to your avatar.
One of the major hooks that Awakening is touting, is the addicting relationship system. Your little army can build relationships off of each other that can be upgraded over time. When on the battlefield, your characters can boost each others stats while supporting each other. They can defend the attacking character, or attack the same enemy. This gives a great incentive on keeping your characters close together, while building their relationships. In between battles, your crew can converse with each other, leading to either marriage or a strong friendship. Through “magic”, your married characters can have children that can join your group after a minimal side quest.
The strategy game genre hasn’t changed drastically in the recent years, and Fire Emblem: Awakening isn’t doing anything to advance. The main combat, and tactic mechanics remain the same as the others in the franchise. Your soldiers are placed onto the field at your command. A lot of hard and risky decisions need to made, and this balances the risk/reward of confronting enemies. There are a myriad of classes in Awakening, and certain items grant you to change and modify them as well. Once your character reaches level 10, he/she is able to choose to upgrade to a more powerful class. These classes have even more abilities, skill sets, and the ability to use different weapons. So when you find a Master Seal, hold on to it.
The Entire Fire Emblem series is known for its incredible difficulty due to permanent death. Awakening makes this easier by adding multiple difficulty settings for newcomers. The “casual” difficulty turns permadeath off, so that your characters are only knocked out for the remainder of the stage. I refused to go easy and selected the normal difficulty. I also repeatedly powered off my 3ds whenever one of my characters were killed. This can become incredibly frustrating as there is no real “saving” while in combat. There is an option to suspend your game, bringing you back to the main menu, but it doesn’t really help when you just want to save before a risky move. This could be debated by fans. Claiming that not being able to save is part of the Fire Emblem experience. I disagree. When you spend an hour on a really difficult map and one of your beloved characters gets killed, it’s infuriating. That said, when you conquer some of the demanding levels, it is beyond satisfying.
Awakening’s presentation is all over the place. The cutscenes are absolutely gorgeous and should always be viewed with the 3d turned on. On the other hand, the main game’s graphics just seem lazy. While on the battlefield, your units are viewed as low-res sprites. When you engage the enemy however, the characters are suddenly displayed in 3D. Fire Emblem has used 3d character models in previous games before. It just makes the transition awkward. Music is placed well within the right areas, and both english and japanese voices are selectable for cutscenes. Dialogue that is not in the cutscenes can be really…weird. Characters will grunt, sigh, and say strange things as you read the conversations between them. Lastly, characters don’t have feet. Never addressed or explained.
Nintendo really nailed the strategy and character elements on this title. The strategy is difficult and satisfying and the character interactions are as charming as a japanese anime. All proud owners of a 3DS (Buy an XL!) need to have this game in their library. Digital or physical.
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