If you are anything like me, the first time you ever heard of Fire Emblem was not when you decided to pick up a copy of one of the classic games. No, instead it was when you we playing Super Smash Bros. Melee and you began to wonder who this badass named Marth was, where he was coming from, and why he was making your pants feel oddly tight. (That last one just me? Oh, all of them just me? Well then, write your own damn review. Moving on…)
Fire Emblem is a classic series that most of us western-based gamers are shockingly unaware of. As I stated before, I’m included in those who were unaware, but now that I am aware I’m passing the savings onto you! If you take nothing else away from this review, know this: Fire Emblem: Awakening is reason enough to buy a Nintendo 3DS; whether it’s the classic, the XL, or the Fire Emblem: Awakening bundle. If you’re still unsure, download the demo on your 3DS and see for yourself.
Prior to Awakening I had very little experience with Tactical RPGs; hell I had very little experience with tactics of any nature. While I do think and plan in games, it’s usually more focused on the story elements and less on the sitting back to figure strategy. Even in higher difficulties of games, like my insanity playthroughs of the Mass Effect series I typically just run in and hope for the best. Fire Emblem: Awakening can not and should not be played in this manner. If you play in such a reckless manner you will lose a lot of your people or you will have to restart, a lot.
“Now, I heard you can just play this game on the ‘casual’ setting to avoid all that pesky permadeath. Isn’t that more enjoyable and drop the risk of losing people?” I hear you say from over there wherever you are. Well yes, you can certainly play that way. You would be wrong however to make such a decision. The beauty of Fire Emblem is in that risk of potential loss. Even your most well-trained characters can run the risk of dying because you accidentally left your Falcon Knight exposed and surrounded by hordes of Wyvern Riders with zero support. (Yes, this has happened to me more than I care to admit.) That’s the fun in the game though; you’re held accountable by your actions in a way that a simple morality scale can’t measure up to. If you’re really worried about losing people though, just know that saving them is a simple 3-button restart command away.
It might be the coward’s way out, but dammit I refuse to let Lissa die due to my cough syrup fever dreams!
Battles in the game are held on a grid with your troops are arrayed somewhere across, or sometimes within an enemy grouping. The goal is always the same: Kill the enemy’s troops and/or kill their commander. You want to be careful when doing this though, as sometimes you can send Chrom (the main character) or your Avatar over to them to get them to switch side mid-battle. There’s nothing better than seeing a thief named Gaius down a castle corridor and “buying” his loyalty over during a fight.
Love is in the Air, and the Art Style
Let’s talk about my two favorite things in Fire Emblem: Awakening, the features that sold me on the game from the moment I turned on the demo.
[pullquote]The beauty of Fire Emblem is in that risk of potential loss.[/pullquote]First off we have the game’s support system. The support system is also known to some as the romance system in the game. This is probably my favorite aspect of the game and something that on its own would keep me coming back to the series. The basics of it is that if you place two character side-by-side, or pair them up on a single space, they’ll gain affection for each other. This occurs anytime one of them enters and successfully takes part in a battle. As your character’s rank up in support (“C”, “B”, then “A”) they’ll have conversations that you can view via the support menu in game. These conversations can be serious, funny, or downright confusing — sometimes all three — depending on the match-up between characters. Now, if you’re characters are of opposite genders, and not directly related, there is one more rank that can be unlocked: “S” rank. This is the love/wedding rank and should not be clicked lightly as it will cause your two characters to marry on the spot without confirmation — which is part of how I accidentally married Miriel and Ricken and became so disturbed that I never used them again.
I almost don’t want to admit it, but I probably spent more time debating who my Lissa would marry in-game than I have spent on nearly any other decision in any game ever. Hours were allotted to my building up her relationship with assorted characters to “A” rank before I thought, “Well, are they really the right match for her?” No, this matching was not based in stats or who would be a good complimentary class for her. My matchmaking was based exclusively on who she would be happiest with in her future. “Well, I could pair her with my Avatar, but what kind of friend would bang his best friend’s sister?”; “There’s always Donnel, the princess marrying the villager motif is interesting.”; “Well what about Frederick, having her marry her mentor could be an interesting storyline.” This thought process went on near indefinitely until I finally came across the previously mentioned Gaius, the sweets loving thief. If I have to go any further in explaining my choice it will prove that you clearly haven’t tried the demo as I request, and as such I will leave it up to you to see for yourself.
Now we discuss my personal love of the game’s art style. A note about me: Up until maybe 2 years ago I absolutely hated anime, manga, and anything too similar to either. This loathing didn’t always stretch over to gaming as I had a love of Final Fantasy once upon a time and I wholeheartedly consider the Kingdom Hearts series as one of my all-time favorite gaming experience/universes. Usually it only surfaced in a game much like Fire Emblem: Awakening, which is why even with my growing appreciation of the art form I’m incredibly surprised about just how much I love the look of this game!
Essentially there are four art styles that you’ll come across in your travels: the battle grid semi-chibi style; the in-battle/conversation character models (without feet); the actual conversations featured in this article; and the cinematic cutscenes. Each of these styles blends and benefits each other in many ways, while working fluidly with the 3DS’ visual capabilities. While the first three styles are a thing of beauty, it’s the cinematic movies featured throughout the game that truly shine through. The emotion, and movement of the characters jumps right off the screen better than I have seen in any handheld game to date; possibly in any console game as well.
Overall, this game is simply gorgeous, hands down.
I’m not sure how many times I can say this: Buy Fire Emblem:Awakening! Don’t have a Nintendo 3DS, but have considered the system for some time? Buy one AND Fire Emblem:Awakening! The game is just that good. Plus with this morning’s Nintendo Direct video we know that the Nintendo 3DS is only going to be improving in the coming year.
5 out of 5!
For more of Josh’s thoughts and frequent rants about Fire Emblem: Awakening, or assorted other things both geek and nerdy, check out the GNN Gaming Podcast and the Constantly Calibrating podcast. You can also find his occasional rants and raves on that ol’ Twitter.