The anticipation for Fire Emblem Awakening from Nintendo fans has been monumental. The famed strategy RPG series – which has had 11 entries in the franchise to date, and only five of them have been available in North America – has developed a strong cult following due to fantastic turn-based gameplay, strong storylines and interesting mechanics, like the dreaded perma-death. It’s no wonder that fans have been clamoring for a new entry in the series, and thankfully it’s now here.
Does Fire Emblem Awakening live up to the pedigree of its predecessors?
Fire Emblem Awakening
Developed by Intelligent Systems/ Published by Nintendo
Available on the Nintendo 3DS.
* Review Copy provided by Nintendo.
I believe that it’s pretty safe to say that it does.
Fire Emblem Awakening tells the tale of Chrom – prince of the Halidom of Ylisse and a Shepherd (a protector/soldier of the realm) – and his faithful band of soldiers. In addition to the constant threat of bandits who roam the countryside and attack invulnerable peasants, a new dark force known as the “Risen” has arrived and is causing chaos and misery. Dark and inhuman, these horrific beings threaten humanity, and Chrom, aided by a mysterious swordfighter going by the legendary name of Marth, must fend off the evil before it’s too late.
The story in the game is absolutely fantastic, full of twists and turns, and comedy and tragedy. The nicely written dialogue and careful pacing also does a beautiful job at ensuring players fall in love with the nicely varied cast of characters, and feel the pain of losing them if things ever go south.
The gorgeous visuals and superb audio do a great job at complementing the intricate storyline. The animated cutscenes are gorgeous, full of lighting-quick action and vivid scenery that really pop out, especially using the 3DS’ 3D features. In-game, the visuals are a mix of charming 3D models in-game cutscenes and cute 2D sprites for the battlegrid. The environment detail in the stages is really great, and always feel new as you venture into different locations like castles, forests, coliseums, and more.
In regards to audio, the game features great voice-acting and a moving score. Sound effects also perfectly capture the sword and sorcery theme of the game, with the clinks and clashing of swords and shields, and the sweeping suction and energy effects of the many magic spells.
When it comes to the gameplay in Fire Emblem Awakening, it’s very similar to its predecessors, but comes with a couple new additions and tweaks. Players still take a army of soldier units to the battlefield and engage in turn-based scrimmages against enemies, but this time however, they are lead with their in-game avatars (which is a cool touch). Customization options for said avatar are somewhat limited – with a handful of selections to choose from – but it’s still an excellent addition that allows players to become even more involved in the plot.
The turn-based combat takes place in a 2D grid with 3D details, and players must take their units and move them across the map, usually with the end goal of defeating all enemies. Combat starts out quite simple enough, having players attacking and defending until winning, but soon the game’s deep combat system slowly starts seeping out, and requires players to make use of tactics like pairing up, team-based attacks, skills, and more to survive the blades and spells of enemies. Weapons also benefit from bonuses or suffer penalties when the clash against other weapon types. All of these elements together make the game play out like a virtual match of tug-of-war, with various units on the field attacking and retreating strategically. As complicated as it may sound, the game does a great great job at simplifying the mechanics and presenting them to a player in a clear and logical matter so they aren’t overwhelmed.
Combat is addictive, brutal and fun. At one moment you can find yourself winning a match, only to accidentally leave a unit unguarded and attacked by a foe who just so happens to land a critical blow and kill your unit in one fell swoop. Players really have to keep an eye on everything at all times, and must think out their moves ahead of time in order to keep everyone alive. Battlefields aren’t linear either affairs either, so multiple approaches are possible for the player and the A.I. Occasionally things could get a bit frustrating, but overall it’s great and thankfully never grows old, even if your grinding to gain some much needed levels.
Units also grow as they participate and survive ( there’s perma-death here, remember?) in battles. First, there are experience points that are gained by attacking enemies and performing healing spells on allies. These lead to units leveling up and gaining permanent stat improvements. Then there’s relationships, which allow units to establish strong bonds and therefore allow them to be stronger when in the presence of each other. Building relationships is particularly an excellent feature, as it rewards players for using team-based tactics, and also breathes some life and personality to the units as they talk amongst themselves. Finally units can also level up their weapon grades by repeatedly using their weapons. Once a unit has leveled up enough, they can upgrade to various classes/jobs, which grant units additional skills, weapons and strengths.
The game’s campaign moves forward in chapters, each one presenting a bit of story and a battle to participate in. While you initially start out the game with a small cast of units, Chrom’s team will eventually grow large with a variety of cool and quirky characters with unique personalities and traits. The constantly growing cast and class options also keep things from ever going stale.
When players are done with the main campaign, the game features a couple of option for keeping players happy. First are the new DLC maps, which will feature additional battles where you can recruit some nice units from previous Fire Emblem games. Second are the Streetpass options, where players can battle or recruit other units from other players teams. Then theres also the Double Duels, where two players can team up to take on stages on local wireless. It’s pretty cool that you can keep gaming way after the main game is done.
Fire Emblem Awakening is already a challenging game, but some might like it harder. Thankfully, multiple difficulty levels exist for those seeking a “real” challenge, and if any players are put off by the game’s signature perma-death mechanic, they can always shut it off before a campaign is commenced.
Overall, Fire Emblem Awakening is a phenomenal game and worthy entry in the storied franchise. If you own a Nintendo 3DS, then you really owe it to yourself to get this game. And if you don’t, well unfortunately you’re missing out on one of the finest handheld experiences out there today.