Published on May 2nd, 2013 | by Illiya Vjestica1
Fire Emblem: Awakening Review
With such a vast variety of exceptional games being published this generation alone, you’d be forgiven for finding the time to play them all. Rarer still, is when you manage to unearth a game that does more than simply tick the go-to checklist of video game design. These particular gems transcend into something deeper, capturing your imagination and sustaining your attention with effortless ease for months, if not years to come.
Fire Emblem: Awakening just happens to be one of these games. And just like the mystical Fire Emblem shield, contained within the miniscule cartridge is an immense power, one that will have you addicted from start to glorious finish. Play this game and watch your free time disappear — but why would you care when every second feels like a moment worth cherishing.
The story in Fire Emblem: Awakening plays out like an epic military fantasy novel and is expertly crafted; never does it feel stale or cliché at any time. Every animation in Fire Emblem: Awakening is painstakingly crafted and you can appreciate the nostalgic feel that the main battle map and sprites provide each time you set out to battle. The graphically rich artwork resembles a beautiful anime and the witty dialog can lead to some quite humorous lines.
Your avatar begins the storyline found lying on the ground by Chrom with no recollection of your prior memories. You follow the journey of the Prince of the Halidom of Ylisse (Chrom) and his band of merry companions (the Shepherds) as they fight to save the world from a difficult and troubled era. After showing Chrom that you can handle yourself admirably in battle, he rightfully appoints you as the group’s Tactician and it’s from there that the story begins.
The Build Of A Hero
When you begin the game for the first time, you’re given the choice of creating your own avatar with a set of simple customisation options such as hair, sex, name and a choice of best and worst stat.
There’s a wide variety of class types to explore and play with, each with its own set of strengths and weakness. Take the Pegasus Knight for example: they can cover great distances quickly and even fly over impassable terrain; however, they start with very low HP and defense meaning they’re more fragile than other characters early on. Oh, and you should never send your Pegasus Knight up against an archer unit unless you want instant death.
Some classes available can wield both tomes (magic) and weapons such as the Grand Master, making that unit a complete badass and a strong all-rounder. Each class has a unique set of class skills (abilities) which can be gained by leveling up. Children can also inherit skills from their parents (more on that later).
Class Is In Session
There is a five skill limit per unit, but units can choose what skills to use once they are gained. You can choose to use a second seal at level 10 or above to re-class your character to gain new skills. Note: there are certain ‘special classes’ that cannot be reclassified such as Manaketes.
Classes can also be promoted to their advanced class by using a master seal at level 20. This happens when your character’s level is maxed out and you want to ‘evolve’ to the next class. Watching the transformation scenes as your class changes had me smiling similarly to when Charmeleon evolved into Charizard for the very first time.
What sets this game apart from others in an arguably stagnated strategy RPG genre is that Fire Emblem: Awakening genuinely gives you a reason to care about the characters on screen. They may just be colourful little sprites moving around different squares on a map, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to let any of my characters die.
That’s right, Fire Emblem features a permadeath system of sorts, which created a bit of a personal problem. While it may not affect everyone, I for one found myself resetting the game to replay a battle each time a character happened to bite the dust, reloading the game just so I could achieve total victory – the perfect scenario where all your characters survive.
Of course, there was an occasion where I let two ill-fated characters fade into the afterlife as both characters didn’t have the cutting edge I needed. Miriel was a moody, whiny, weak-willed Mage and Stahl should have transformed into a great Knight, a leader of men, but sadly, he had his flesh chewed off by undead soldiers.
So when characters die, you’d think they’d be gone forever right? Wrong. Certain characters are only retired from service and can even feature heavily in the characters main storyline — something feels rather wrong about that. Surely they should be resting peacefully as honor of their brave sacrifice for the cause and not getting married to the main protagonist instead. But in all honesty, it’s a minor qualm.
Naturally, to cater for those who dismay at the mere thought of having to lose their characters, there’s an option to play the game in either classic or casual mode. Playing the game in classic mode means that when your characters die, they’ll be lost forever, never to feature in battle ever again. Casual mode removes the looming threat of death hanging above each battle. But in all honesty, removing this tangible risk dampens the impact of each confrontation and robs the series of some of its hardcore charm.
A Family Affair
Fire Emblem: Awakening isn’t just about battling enemies with different class types on different maps in a grandiose game of chess. No, the heart of this game is firmly placed on building relationships with other characters. This is where your maternal and paternal instincts will kick in, as you nurture your many different combatants. You’ll be strangely excited to see how the cutscenes will play out, and how each character’s relationship develops with one another. If the connection is strong enough, your characters can even marry.
Characters are able to ‘pair up’ or work side by side in opposite squares on the map. Each time they fight together little pink hearts will appear above each character to show their relationship has improved. Building up relationships and pairing the right characters together to take advantage in battle is one of the key elements to your success in Fire Emblem: Awakening.
The Kids Are Alright
The highest rank a character’s relationship can reach is S Rank. This is the accumulation of all your hard work, resulting in a blissful marriage between the two characters. Your wife/husband won’t just help you out in battle by boosting your stats; they’ll also be the proud father/mother of beautiful offspring.
The offspring of your loins can combine the abilities of different classes and inherit their parent’s base skills to become a super hybrid of sorts. Some characters may have more than one offspring and I’ve personally found that the kids can handle themselves even better than their older, wiser, more battle hardened parents (even at lower levels).
The main crux of Fire Emblem: Awakening has you selecting the type of weapon you want to attack with and once you’ve selected your move, a short battle cinematic plays out as you chain attacks together depending on your advantage against the enemy unit or which team member you’ve paired up with.
When pairing up teams in the dual system – when two fighters take to battle together – the supporting character can often block attacks or cut in to perform a critical attack to help defeat your foe.
During battles you can either watch each action unfold on screen in beautiful 3D, or you can press start to skip the action. Alternatively, holding down the L button sees the character sprites fight it out in a quick one-two as you see hit points go up and down directly on the map.
The Way Of The Land
Certain maps contain terrain that can make it more or less difficult for your squad to move freely; however, air units can move over impassable terrain or access parts of the maps that certain units cannot. Each map feels different and the 3DS lends itself well to some nice 3D effects in the latter parts of the game. It adds to the overall experience and is one of finer examples of 3D used correctly to add comfortable depth and weight to the visuals.
Random battles can spawn during different points of the campaign where you’ll fight with The Risen, an undead like army. These intermittent battles are great training for your troops; you can optionally buy a ‘reeking box’ from a merchant to call Risen armies directly to the map to challenge at any time you like. You’d think that this would slow the pacing of the game down having to break off and fight mini-battles, but instead it allows you to fall in love with it over and over again as you explore your weaker troops and help develop their skills.
Weapon Of Choice
Throughout the game you’ll be able to buy or find various weapons which include different bonuses and stats. For example the ‘Beast Killer’ is a lance you get later in the game that deals bonus damage to horses, pegasus’ or griffons. Learning what weapons should be used against particular enemy units is crucial to your success at higher levels.
You’ll also find that certain weapons are more effective against other weapon types. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and finally swords beat lances. Weapons or staffs can be found that can extend the range of certain abilities such as the highly useful Catharsis, that restores a large amount of HP to a distant ally. Characters can also improve their ability to use certain weapon types by leveling up their weapon proficiency. Changing classes can subsequently mean access to new weapon types as well.
The Battle Rages On
The barracks system happens to be another nice touch, which really adds to the longevity and addictiveness of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Each time you boot up the game and visit the Barracks you’ll be greeted to certain random events happening. Sometimes characters relationships will improve or they’ll get some EXP or find a weapon for you to use. Each character has their own birthday and if you decide to visit the Barracks on that particular day you’ll gain some bonus items. It’s compelling additions like this that make Emblem such a remarkable game.
After you have played the 40+ hour campaign you’ll also have access to the DLC map packs, the first being the Champions of Yore, extending the game into further episodes for you to enjoy. Additional bonus characters can also be unlocked via SpotPass and players can also choose have their units play in a mode known as “Dual Tag”, which allows players to pair up to fight enemies to earn extra renown and items. This can be accessed in the Wireless section of the game. Earning renown will give you access to rare items as you play through the game.
Summary: Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of finest examples of a turn-based strategy game and has all the RPG elements you could ever want. Newcomers to the series and will find themselves utterly engrossed in this extremely addictive game; for long-time fans of the series, Awakening is Fire Emblem at its very best. Carry Awakening wherever you go, because the burn for your next Fire Emblem fix may just be eternal.