[REVIEW] Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Publisher: Nintendo
Console: 3DS
Release Date: February 4, 2013 (NA)
Genre: Turn-based strategy RPG

I’ve never had a commute to work where I wasn’t driving myself, and if I’m at home I’m typically playing games on my TV rather than squinting at a handheld screen. However, I’ve found myself playing more on these little portable devices over the last year or so and I have a lot of catching up to do with my 3DS backlog.

The game that sat atop my towering must-play list since its release was Fire Emblem: Awakening, which I finally completed over the weekend.

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Even as a fan of RPGs, I’ve never had an attachment to Fire Emblem until now. I fumbled my way through most of Shadow Dragon on DS, but it never sank its claws in me (and got ridiculously difficult toward the end, which is a tough pill to swallow in a game with permadeath). I had similar feelings about the few hours I spent with Path of Radiance on the GameCube. Awakening, however, ended up on many Game of the Year and Best of 3DS lists, and it was consistently recommended to me by folks with similar taste in games.

Turns out those people were right. Fire Emblem: Awakening is fucking incredible.

Awakening is a turn-based strategy RPG, similar to Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together, and the Shining Force or Disgaea series. Like the aforementioned examples, players control a bevy of personable characters of varying job classes, strategically moving them around grid-based environments in hopes of toppling groups of menacing baddies.

In typical RPG fashion, the fate of the world is at stake, but the danger is quite real in Awakening since dead characters are gone forever. The ever-looming threat of permadeath proves that fear is one hell of a motivator, requiring the player to think more deeply about the units brought in to battle, their affection level with those around them, and the paper-rock-scissors nature of weapon blows.

fire-emblem-awakening-combat

Nobody wants to lose their favorite character, or one they’ve grown to love over the last handful of hours. You’ll be forced to second- and third-guess even the best case scenarios, but the victorious cash out is undeniably satisfying. However, if the added stress of mortality is unappealing you’ll be happy to know that it can be turned off. The colorful denizens of Ylisse and their overall narrative is strong enough to stand on their own, and if this is what needs to be done for you to experience it, then so be it. Your money; your game; your rules.

It is worth noting, however, that removing the looming fear of mortality does take away from some of the more nuanced tactics that are otherwise a requirement on the default settings.

The engaging story and its numerous plot twists are definitely high points and kept me guessing throughout the adventure, which was surprising given the predictable nature of JRPGs. At times it’s a cookie cutter tale of heroes and villains, warring kingdoms, and powerful relics, but Awakening’s stellar cast of characters and their personal growths and relationships are worth experiencing, with or without its mainstay permadeath feature.

The hero, Chrom, struggles to overcome the horrific past of his lineage, while simultaneously striving to preserve and exude the peaceful nature of his sister, Emmeryn. The series is known for its sense of humor as well, which is shown in heroes like Kellam, Gaius, and Tharja. Kellam, a massive armor-clad juggernaut, goes virtually unnoticed by every member of Chrom’s merry band of adventurers. Gaius, a thief with a severe sweet tooth, is completely obsessed with candy; to the point of having a pocket full of suckers in his avatar portrait, and issuing constant streams of battle puns like “piece of cake!” or “sweet!” And Tharja, a mysterious dark mage, reluctantly joins the party and becomes irrationally infatuated with the player’s character, Robin, in some seriously creepy ways. Like, making hair dolls creepy.

via SmashBrosCentral.
Storyboard conversation screenshot via SmashBrosCentral.

New to the series (as of Awakening) is the ability to pair characters together on the battlefield, which provides a number of benefits. For starters, it builds the pair’s affection level. If the pair consists of a male and female party member, and their affection is raised to max, they can marry and produce children via side-quests that can then be recruited on to your roster. These side-quests not only provide additional narrative bits that help flesh out the roster, but act as a secondary method of earning XP and loot.

These benefits also work their way in to the combat system, which proved crucial on tougher difficulty settings. Paired characters grant each other passive stat boosts and provide assists while delivering and receiving blows during combat. While on the offensive, the secondary character can potentially launch a follow-up attack, then step in to deflect oncoming damage when the roles reverse. The odds of them doing so is heavily dependent on their affection levels, so there was plenty of incentive for me to focus on friendship building and romance, atop the already in-depth class system.

Visually, Fire Emblem: Awakening’s blend of anime cut-scenes (fully voiced, no less), 2D storyboards, overworld pixel art, and 3D battle animations all work together quite nicely. The battle animations can get a little repetitive, especially if you end up using the same characters for each battle, but these can be turned off entirely. It’s definitely pleasing to look at, particularly the cut-scenes.

Combat screencap via In Third Person.
Combat screencap via In Third Person.

In the realm of strategy RPGs, I’d place Awakening in the upper echelon, alongside Final Fantasy Tactics and Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together. I regret not playing it earlier, though I’m certainly glad I set aside time and saw it through to the end. It was a fully enjoyable 40-hour adventure steeped in mystery, heartbreak, and friendship, made even better by Awakening’s deep combat system and its special roster of memorable characters.

This is not only a fantastic RPG though. Awakening is a downright incredible game as a whole. It just does so much right; the visuals, storytelling, character growth, combat, and fantastical soundtrack was clearly given an insane blast of TLC. Whether I’m still riding high on my latest completion remains to be seen, but as of now, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the absolute best 3DS game I’ve played to date and I can surely see myself coming back to it again in the future.

I can’t wait to jump in to Fire Emblem: Fates now. I need more.

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11 thoughts on “[REVIEW] Fire Emblem: Awakening

  1. Fates picks up where Awakening left off and I feel it’s even better than the latter. I recommend starting with Birthright and then trying Conquest. Birthright felt like a nice transition on from Awakening, where Conquest is a little less forgiving due to its increased difficulty through lessened gold, exp, etc.

    Glad to see you enjoyed Awakening. It’s what got me into the series and the newest iterations hold up just as strongly, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah, like I mentioned in the review I just never got in to Fire Emblem when I tried it on DS and GCN. That had a lot to do with why I passed on Awakening at launch, but I kept hearing such great things about it.

      I had no idea Fates picked up right after Awakening, since that didn’t seem to be commonplace in other FE games. Same universe, but not an immediate follow-up. That’s awesome to hear!

      I already picked up Birthright and Conquest, so I’ll take your word for it and start with Birthright first. Awakening had DLC maps that made grinding far less tedious. Does Fates have anything similar? I’m always short on time and I’m not against paying to shorten a grind I’d be doing either way.

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      1. There are extra optional maps/battles right in the game – Birthright at least, don’t know about Conquest yet. Also DLC, but that’s more for additional side stories and maybe a special item or character to unlock.
        If you have a compatible amiibo (like Marth) there’s also some very cool extra stuff to do!

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Awakening had those extra maps as well, with the Paralogues popping up after being triggered and Xenologues available to buy as DLC. That’s handy, at least.

          I have Robin and Lucina amiibo, but not Marth or Roy. I also don’t have the New 3DS with the amiibo reader, so I guess that’s not going to happen either way lol.

          Thanks for the info =)

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  2. Awesome review! It sounds like you loved Awakening just as much as I did. :) The cut scenes were a nice touch, the characters were entertaining, and I had so much fun playing matchmaker with my units, haha. I never understood why no one ever noticed poor Kellam. He’s so big!

    I have an unopened copy of the Fates Special Edition on my shelf… I really want to start it, but I have to focus on my Final Fantasy goal.

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    1. I really loved Kellam and I was trying to get him hooked up with Panne because I thought it’d be cute. Never got them beyond an A though, since I didn’t use her much. I was also stumped on who to pair Gaius with. A lot of the maps allowed an odd number of units, so he was always the one who went solo.

      I have Birthright and Conquest, but I want to finish up the RPGs I’m still in the middle of first (Persona 4 Golden, World of Final Fantasy, and Persona Q). I’ve also been putting off my Wii U for a while and would really like to finish Xenoblade Chronicles X and Tokyo Mirage Sessions sooner rather than later.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve never understood why some people shun handhelds because they don’t commute. The 3DS and Vita probably see more action in my house than the PS4. Sitting on a comfy sofa with a handheld for me is akin to some people settling down with a good book.

    Shadow Dragon wasn’t great, so I am glad it didn’t scare you off from Fire Emblem completely. With respect to Fates I would advise that you curb your expectations. It’s good, but a step down from Awakening. My suggestion would be do research to see which version you want to start with (one is easy the other is tough.)

    By the way, when given the choice I disable permadeath despite playing the series since FE7 on the GBA. Characters reviving after battle for me is no different to playing a RPG were you rez a member of your party if they get incapacitated. Some people who play with permadeath will restart a level if one of their units dies, which seems to defeat the purpose.

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    1. For me, I have a comfortable couch, a nice wall-mounted TV, and a plethora of home consoles, so I never found myself wanting to play a handheld over these other options. At least until the last 2 years or so.

      I played my GBA and DS a ton during their lifecycles because I’d take it to work, play on the way there, during breaks, lunch, on the way home, and then when I got home I’d plop in front of my PS2 or Gamecube. That’s just how I associated it.

      Now I seem to play on my Vita and 3DS more than anything.

      I see your point on the permadeath front. Most folks that demand you play with it on are the same folks who’ll just restart the mission once their favorite character dies. So it can definitely feel unnecessary.

      Toward the end of Awakening, when I was really invested in the story and didn’t want to interrupt its flow with more grinding, I bumped it down to casual and pressed on without caution. I still played the game as I would with permadeath; characters dying on the battlefield still put me at a disadvantage either way.

      Liked by 1 person

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