I’ve come to learn that it can be much harder to review really good games than it is to review even really bad ones. At least I can put the bad games down for more than a couple minutes. Fire Emblem: Awakening ate my time faster than a Kirby on cake.
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release: February 4th, 2013
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a turn-based tactical strategy game in which you send various different types of units to defeat the enemy’s different units and complete each level’s objective. These objectives usually include defeating every enemy unit, defeating the enemy’s leader, or capturing a village/castle/throne. Each level is a grid of squares that the different units occupy and traverse through.
In most cases, defeating enemy units involves sending one of your units within attacking range of an enemy unit, attacking it, and then watching the actual fight unfold in a short automated turn-based combat sequence.
The levels themselves act sort of like puzzles, and you are supposed to figure out how to best move each unit to complete the objective without getting them killed. The “without getting them killed” is very important, because in Fire Emblem, when one of your units die, they stay dead (unless you choose to play the new casual mode), forcing you to continue through the story completely without that character. This feature has been consistent throughout the entire Fire Emblem series and teeters somewhere between truly immersive and truly annoying. In most cases, I find myself simply resetting my 3DS and redoing the entire map rather than let even a single character die. While my inner masochist refuses to allow me to play casual mode, I am very glad that the Fire Emblem team decided to make it an option, because it can be a very heartbreaking detail to find out about if you are new to the series.
Speaking of hearts, Fire Emblem includes an amazing “support” system by which each character has a relationship level with various other characters. Having two compatible characters fight side-by-side will gradually increase their relationship with each other, which unlocks support conversations. The support system is not just for collecting the different conversations, either. Having two units fighting side-by-side will buff the acting fighter, and higher relationship levels will generate stronger buffs. Additionally, the “other” unit will occasionally help in the fight itself, offering an extra attack or completely blocking the enemy’s attack. Finally, each character can get an “S” support rank with one other character of the opposite sex, which will result in the two getting married. The support system is insanely fun to play with and will leave you spending hours trying to max out each relationship.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is also one of the few in the series that allow you to grind all of your characters indefinitely. By buying a certain item, you can summon an army of undead units to the overworld, which you can fight, creating a new swarm of enemies on an old map. This lets you try out the characters that you wouldn’t normally use in the main story and allows you to grind up support levels between all characters. This can be a dirty trick to make your characters overpowered for the next level in the story, but doing so ends up taking quite a bit of time, so it evens out.
It is unfortunate, but almost every installment of the Fire Emblem series has nearly the exact same story. Nearly every time, the main characters are some sort of royalty – either princes, princesses, or lords – and nearly every time, the main characters are being attacked or oppressed by an evil king or emperor from another nation who turns out to be the puppet of some evil sorcerer or warlock or whatever who in turn is actually being used by some giant dragon or demon or something of that nature. It’s actually really funny how consistent the storylines are: king to sorcerer to dragon. Awakening is not much of an exception, but this time there is some Terminator-style time travel involved, which at the very least throws in a little extra flavor to the dish we’ve been eating for years now.
That’s not to say that the story is bad. If Fire Emblem: Awakening is your first Fire Emblem game ever, then the story is actually really fun, and the conflicts that exist between nations is very believable. After going through “My First Fire Emblem,” though, it really is more about the addicting gameplay and the wide cast of characters.
The characters are some of the best aspects of Fire Emblem. Each of the units that I’ve been droning on about in the gameplay section is actually one full-fledged character with a name, a face, a background and personality, and this time even a voice actor. Much of the time, you may find yourself more interested in one of the side, or even optional, characters than you are in the actual plot of the story.
Oddly enough, Fire Emblem: Awakening has several different styles of graphics throughout the game. There’s the sprite-based graphics that you see during the actual gameplay in the overworld and the different maps. There’s the anime-style portraits of each character that appears whenever that character has a bit of dialogue. There are the roughly rendered 3D models that act during the combat sequences and during small cut-scenes behind the anime dialogue. Finally, there are the fully rendered 3D-anime cut-scenes that are scattered throughout the campaign.
The small 3D models in the fight sequences can appear rather ugly most of the time, but it is decent for a relatively early 3DS title. The other three graphical styles are very nice, though, and it is very easy to focus on the anime portraits during dialogue rather than the 3D models that sometimes play behind the dialogue.
There is a lot of great music to be found in the Fire Emblem series in general, and Awakening is no exception. The music is often inspirational and fantastic in most cases, and it plays very well through both the 3DS and New 3DS speakers.
While the voice acting is limited mostly to a few words, phrases, or grunts that play when each character’s dialogue box opens, it is rather impressive that every one of your characters and most of the enemy characters each have their own voice work. Even your player character has spoken phrases for both the male and female options. In some cases, he or she has more voice acting than some of the side characters.
Fire Emblem: Awakening originally costs about $40 USD, but it has been out for over two years now, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to find a used copy or one on sale. Even at full price, though, this game is more than worth the cost. I have personally poured over 60 hours on my third play-through alone, and that’s not even halfway through. Howlongtobeat.com suggests that it takes about 37-42 hours to beat it once.
I will have to admit that I a huge fan of the Fire Emblem series, but I feel that Awakening is by far the best installment to come to the US. They have added many fun and unique details to this installment’s gameplay that Awakening is the definitive Fire Emblem game that I would point anybody to if they were interested in getting into the series for the first time. The story may be another rehashed version of every other Fire Emblem story, but the time travel managed to keep things relatively fresh, and I found myself liking each of the characters. All in all, I would have to say that Fire Emblem: Awakening is a must-play, and I cannot recommend it enough.
+Addictive and useful support system
-Same story as every other Fire Emblem
-Slightly ugly 3D models
Score: 5 / 5