Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.