Fire Emblem: Awakening builds on a long-running foundation of successful strategy games. The easy to learn difficult to master system is assisted here by some fantastic new features that should become a mainstay of Fire Emblem games to come. But how does this measure up to the series so far?
Basic Fire Emblem gameplay, if you haven’t played it before, is a strategic war game whereby you control several units of differing types to victory by moving them around on a game map and defeating your enemies. Battles are usually small skirmishes consisting of 10 – 20 enemies and can last from 2 minutes to half an hour depending on the scope and difficulty. If you like tough strategy games (and cool flashy effects) , you’ll love Fire Emblem: Awakening.
You proceed through the game between cut scenes and battles as you join Chrom on a journey to regain your memory and save Ylisse from danger. Your travel around the world is indicated by map and there’s always something to do, whether there are random Risen plaguing villages or side quests that offer new opponents at sometimes blisteringly frustrating difficulty. The difficulty is an interesting point, as the game gives you some options when you start. I chose Normal and picked a mode where even if my characters die in battle they returned to me. Sort of silly really because for the longest time if a character died I often restarted it anyway. Old habits die hard I suppose. There is also a difficulty level available where fallen comrades exit the game for good.
New for this game, at least among the Fire Emblems I’ve played before, is that you create your own avatar. Your own creation (from a list of acceptable customization options) that is the main character. Arguably it’s Chrom, the prince-come-ruler of Ylisse really, as your character is the amnesia-ridden stereotype that comes in to save the day. Your role is strategist, which is a smart move. It means that you, the player, the strategist, is actually given a character in-game. Aside from just controlling the troops with no avatar this change really makes you feel part of a team.
Character models are well-rendered, and continue to prove what the 3DS is capable of. The only complaint I would have is that their legs are stubby, reducing their height somewhat and making them look honestly, a little dumb in places. It’s not something that really takes away from the game though, as the rest of the body is fine and its something you get used to.
Character growth is pretty standard, you defeat enemies, you gain experience, and you level up. Though different characters such as Priests or Dancers gain experience simply by helping their comrades. Some systems, whether it be random or in a more Pokémon EV driven way, hand out stats at every level-up. This lasts until (at least for most characters) until level 20 where they cannot level up any longer. But items called Seals allow your character to change their class or upgrade it. For example Chrom was a Lord at level 20, but add a Master Seal and he can level up to 20 again as a Grand Lord. My character went from a Tactician to a Grand Master, making him even more powerful. Second Seals are also available which can completely change your class; for example from a spearman to an archer.
Weapons use is interesting, each character has a certain type of weapon they can use, and some troops can use different types. Staffs, swords, staves, spears, books and axes are among the weapons you can use. Your rating goes from E to A depending on how skilled you are, and increases with use. This also makes a difference to which weapon you can equip, the higher your rating the more you’re able to equip. Weapons have varying effects; certain weapons allow you to attack five times in a row for less damage, or attack from a large distance than usual. And certain weapons can even heal you on each turn just by having them equipped.
Character abilities are also interesting and provide buffs later on, allowing a character to grant your other players bonuses. Certain abilities allow characters to deal more damage, or even add a vampire element to their attack, replenishing their health as much as they take away. Certain bonuses are passive, like the ability to be stronger outside, or to make all male party members stronger within four tiles. All in all the abilities and weapon system is so diverse it’s hard not to be enamoured by it. A ‘forge’ system is also on hand to help you customise weapons to make them more powerful, but it is rather expensive.
Battle animations are aesthetically satisfying and show your character in all their glory decimating enemies and looking ‘oh-so-cool’. Characters that attack twice in a row are often given different animations instead of reusing the same one, which is hugely gratifying. The effects for spells are also impressive and characters that ride a mount usually stroke their mount after combat, which is a charming touch.
The combat system takes a further leap forward when using the pairing system, by pairing up characters they sometimes attack together and defend each other, ignoring damage completely. Seeing two characters fight side by side is cool enough, but seeing them fighting together or encouraging one another and taking turns to attack really layers on the feeling of true teamwork and friendship. The fact that making moves together also improves friendship helps a great deal to this. The only annoying thing about this system, at least where I’m concerned, is the lack of permanence as to when your partner attacks. Sometimes your partner will attack with you, sometimes they won’t. Whether this is random, or depends on some outside variable, isn’t made that obvious and it can sometimes make the difference between victory or defeat. Also, the fact that it takes an entire turn just to separate from someone is a little discouraging, and made me hesitate to team people up.
Character interaction also makes big deal in terms of the stories you are rewarded with later on. I found that in pairing up different characters and developing relationships they eventually get married. This then leads to future events where characters that are married have children. Your kids will then fight for you and have a resemblance to either one or both of their parents. This means every play through can yield different characters. This system reminded me of a much more evolved version of Unholy Heights. It’s nice to see the reaction between parents and children, and in some cases even siblings. This advances to the point where you can potentially have an entire family fighting on the battlefield. This does also mean the amount of characters you can choose goes up, while the limit on actual battle usage stays the same, meaning some characters just get unfortunately forgotten for superior offspring.
Music and sound effects are surprisingly good for the 3DS, the music is great and always sounds as it should for the situation. The sound effects are excellent with sword swishes, axe throws, magic spells and general sounds of pain and discontent all equally satisfying. There is some voice acting and it’s fairly good where it is, but after one or two full lines of dialogue it becomes a ‘hmmm’ or ‘yeah’ which covers an entire sentence. It usually fits what the character is saying, and fully voice acting an entire game (especially a game with this much dialogue) would probably be an expensive and unnecessary addition.
Fire Emblem’s Streetpass function is somewhat touch and go. The idea is that you can send your team onto Streetpass for the purpose of fighting other people’s teams, and their team enter your game in the same way. Fighting is the same as normal here, except you’re fighting someone else’s team controlled by the computer.
The problem comes with the range of difficulty. You’re rarely treated to an even or challenging match. Players are often way ahead of you and much more levelled; which would be okay if you weren’t faced with a GAME OVER when you lost to insanely unforgiving odds. At least if you were allowed to walk away with what experience you garnered and it just registered as a loss it might be forgivable. Instead you get nothing. At least you can check their stats before decided to fight and approximate how quickly you’ll be demolished. On the flip side (and frankly far less often) you’ll find players that are below you and not enough of a challenge. This could all be remedied with a scaling system where player’s teams are given a level closer to your own. In the game’s defence this game has been out for a while and I am a relatively new player, it may just be because I’m late to the game, but why should I be punished for that?
You can recruit their leader for free when you win them too, winning also nets your Renown which you can use to unlock special items, and all in all it’s a pretty solid system, if you meet the right people.
A wide range of DLC is available if you’re willing to spend a fair amount of money. Searching forums I discovered some are recommended more than others, but for now I’m happy with the bulk of quality content on offer without spending more money on DLC. But it’s both interesting and disturbing to see Nintendo venturing more into the DLC side of things, especially when it’s as expensive as it is. The whole collection costs about £40, £5-10 more than the game itself on most markets. For a handy breakdown someone made a GameFAQs article here.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is everything its predecessors was and more, with a in-depth battle system, satisfying visuals, intriguing story, an enjoyably wide array of characters and interactions it has risen above all the expectations and truly made a benchmark in strategy games. It’s one of those games that really make the 3DS a console worth owning and stands on the top of on the growing list of amazing games released for the 3D handheld.