Many gamers probably remember the first time they saw Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee. They were unknowns outside of Japan and their bio was in all Japanese. Little did we know how great their legacy was, but we soon would. Fire Emblem, the series from which Marth and Roy hail, was finally brought to the international scene on the Game Boy Advance, due largely in part to their popularity in SSBM. Though it was the seventh game in the series, it was a huge hit with international audiences and has made Fire Emblem a huge series on Nintendo’s handhelds and to a lesser extent on their consoles. Fire Emblem: Awakening, the first entry on the 3DS, continues the rich history of the strategy series in spectacular fashion.
Your adventure begins a bit differently than it has in previous games. This time you customize your own avatar, who will act as the tactician. You can select gender, face type, hair color, voice, even birthday. There isn’t an infinite number of possibilities for customization, but what is available is more than enough. Upon completing your customization you are discovered by the main protagonist, Chrom, and his “Shepherds”. Plagued by amnesia, you are invited to travel with the Shepherds back to Ylisse, of which Chrom is prince. Of course, what fun would there be if things went as planned? Barbarians begin to ravage towns, zombie like creatures known as Risen emerge to further threaten the safety of Ylisse, and the nation of Plegia prepares for war.
Fire Emblem: Awakening does nothing special or out of the ordinary with regards to story. This is exactly what you would expect from a Fire Emblem game. A great evil threatens the world and a rag tag group from the little country that could rises to fight it. The game is broken up into acts that feature different territories and different conflicts. One of the biggest issues with the story is its lack of flow. The first act flows rather nicely and in traditional Fire Emblem fashion, but the second act, which begins a few years after the first, is where things start to get a bit weird. There are some stunning revelations and the like, but the story itself feels disjointed, especially in the second act which often feels out of place and unnecessary in the grand scheme of things. The story itself is still quite enjoyable, but your time is often better spent in the Paralogue missions which are more character driven and thus, a tad more interesting. Completing everything will take a solid 20+ hours depending on difficulty and how quickly you complete each mission. You’ll invest a lot of time into Awakening and you’ll likely be compelled to jump right back in when all is said and done.
In fact, it is Awakening’s character driven nature that is its greatest strength. All of the characters have a well defined personality, something that will be familiar to fans, but the addition of voice acting further builds upon this. Much of the voice work is in the form of grunts or a few words in normal dialogue. Sure, it can be a bit off putting at first (especially when what they say doesn’t match the text), but it adds a bit of personality to what is otherwise scrolling text. During fully voiced sequences the acting quality is great, delivering appropriate emotion and consistently good performances.
The interactions between characters is more important in Awakening than it has ever been before. It is easier than ever to learn more about the various members of your party, which in turn means you’re likely to care more about them. You quickly pick favorites and ensure they gain the most xp or always out of harm’s way. It is a little aspect of previous games that has been taken to heart, and it is a pleasant surprise indeed. Support conversations are easier to achieve and hold more value. Their purpose is still to build relationships between characters and deliver bits of backstory, but unlike previous games where the fruits of your labor were only shown at the very end, you can now appreciate various benefits during your playthrough. The most exciting benefit is the ability for character to get married and have children, children that you can later recruit into your party. Children will inherit the best abilities and skills of both parents and many will far surpass their parents in stats. It is an interesting situation of the parents starting the war and the children finishing it. The only potential issue to come of this is the sad truth that you may have to bench some of your favorite characters in favor of their often superior children.
The other benefit of the support conversations has a more direct effect on combat. Building support required units to fight when next to each other. When units fight together they receive a small boost to things like hit chance, dodge chance, and even critical chance, and the supporting unit can sometimes block attacks. They even have a chance to execute a bonus attack that can quickly turn the battle into your favor or bring it to a swift end. Building support levels increases this benefit. It is in your best interest to build support levels with many characters early on so that they may reap these benefits later in the game. The new pairing system is another way to quickly boost support levels, but more importantly it provides additional stat boosts. Pairing units is a simple process, move one unit onto another allied unit or move next to them and select pair. It is somewhat similar to the old rescue system, but pairing is more of an offensive maneuver rather than defensive. One unit will always be in front and will be the unit to attack or be attacked while the second unit enters a support role. The stat boosts increase as units gain levels and change class. Pairing is a great way to quickly level weaker units by giving them extra strength against higher level opponents.
Very little has changed with regard to the strategic combat Fire Emblem is famous for, and that is absolutely for the best. Every move in every turn is important since one wrong move could mean the end for any or all of your characters. Permanent death is very real and even on the easiest difficulties, very possible. Sometimes moving in for the kill will put you in position for the enemy to return the favor the very next turn. Just the same, you can lure the enemy into traps of your own and make short work of their remaining forces. The new additions such as pairing and other support maneuvers only add to the level of strategic depth available. For those a bit intimidated by the thought of permanent death, there is a new casual mode which removes permanent death. While this is good for players taking their first baby steps into the series, purists will enjoy classic mode as tears fill their eyes when their favorite character dies.
Similar to previous games, your characters level up and become stronger, eventually classing up when given a Master Seal. Classing up makes characters even more powerful and allows them to gain even more levels. New to Awakening, you can use a Second Seal to change the class of a basic unit level 10 or higher, or and advanced unit class at any level. This allows you to tailor your characters more to your play style, rather than the reverse as it was in previous entries. You might have been the type of person who never used a Dancer in previous games, but now you can make her into a fierce Myrmidon and eventually into a mighty Swordmaster who can handle multiple opponents at a time while you position the rest of your forces. By the way, that is all true.
Despite being on the 3DS, Awakening rivals the production quality of previous entries on the Gamecube and Wii. Visuals are a bit more rough around the edges than they were on consoles, but that is to be expected. Where the game really shines are the beautiful cutscenes and combat animations. Each cutscene feels like a reward and is a joy to watch since they are usually action packed and full of juicy story. The combat shines purely because it flows better. When characters attack, their actions look weighty and don’t come off as the canned animations they are, it is exciting to watch. You can even change camera angles and speed up battle to make it a bit more cinematic or to hasten the enemy’s demise. The accompanying music is appropriately spectacular with tracks ranging from thrilling to downright depressing, each one perfectly fitting the mood of the scene.
Being a 3DS game, Awakening naturally supports 3D. The 3D effect is about what you have come to expect from 3DS games, interesting with certain environmental pieces popping off the screen in a satisfying manner, but ultimately imperfect and not worth the extra battery drain. One curious decision regarding visuals, most apparent in 3D mode, is the continued use of 2D sprites. Environments are rendered in 3D and are only amplified when increasing the slider, but the 2D sprites look out of place whether playing in 3D or not. Considering the excellent design of characters outside of battle, it seems strange that they did not try higher quality characters in combat as well. Sure it has its fair share of nostalgia, but it is a curious decision nonetheless.
Awakening also features some of the limited multiplayer experience found in some of the previous titles, such as the ability to fight your friends. You can also use the Street Pass function of the 3DS to find the Avatars of other players and have them spawn into your world with their designated Street Pass team.It is an interesting insight into how other people play the game and build their party and may inspire you in turn. Multiplayer is far from a long term destination, but it is worth a look and the occasional stop every once in awhile to see what new Avatars you have discovered. In the Wireless menu you will also find your renown rewards which can range from weapons to stat boosting items. Over time you will also unlock teams featuring past Fire Emblem characters that can be summoned to the field. Engaging these teams allows you to buy special items, engage in combat for the right to recruit the leader, or to simply buy the hero. Heroes can then be used in missions as you would use any other soldier, though they cannot gain support levels.
Awakening does adopt one unfortunate modern trend, downloadable content. The Outrealm Gate is unlocked after progressing through the early part of the story and allows you to purchase DLC missions. These missions can revolve around recruiting a character or giving you bonus experience or money. The missions themselves are not without a level of charm, but at an average price of $2.50 per mission or $6.00 for a pack of three, the cost of adding extra content to an already content rich game grows quickly. Only those absolutely desperate for more things to do should consider this content, otherwise your experience and wallet are no worse for wear.
Fire Emblem’s debut on the Nintendo 3DS is undoubtedly its strongest. The game manages to be more than satisfying for veterans while providing a certain ease of entry for players who have never played before. The game looks, sounds, and plays great and is a shining example of the experiences that the 3DS is capable of. The tactical combat is as satisfying as ever and the characters are some of the best the series has known. Awakening may very well be the best game in the series, and it wouldn’t be absurd to say that this game is worth the cost of the 3DS. Fire Emblem: Awakening is an absolute must play title.