Fire Emblem: Awakening is a fantasy Strategy-Role Playing game for the Nintendo 3DS. Intelligent Systems (with Red Entertainment) developed the title, while Nintendo published it. This is the thirteenth entry in the Fire Emblem series that Intelligent Systems has developed, although, only six Fire Emblem games have reached America including Awakening. Awakening is the first Fire Emblem for the 3DS and unfortunately is also currently hard to find due to Nintendo having production issues (as many probably have struggled with when trying to purchase a retail copy). Thankfully for those who need to experience some Strategy-RPG action, Fire Emblem: Awakening is also available on the 3DS eShop. Is Awakening worth all the hype surrounding it and the difficulty in tracking down a copy though?
This is the first of a few odd occurrences that happen to Chrom, but as the player joins the Shepherds, more strange events happen. The mysterious undead “Risen” show up and start attack villages, in addition a masked swordsman masquerading as the hero of legend, Marth shows up to help Chrom fight the new threat. While the Ylissian leaders deal with strategy on what to do with the Risen, Plegia ramps up its instance on war until no other choice can be taken, but to enter open conflict with Plegia and the Mad King Gangrel. Now, Chrom, the player and the Shepherds must seek assistance from willing allies while devising strategy to remove the Plegian threat. Ultimately, Chrom wants to restore peace to his lands, but the path to this resolution is fraught with heartbreak, struggles and strife.
Awakening’s story is full of political moves, military planning and strategy while introducing plenty of fantasy elements to hint at a larger overall conflict. The small country bound war that sets up the first arc is compelling and leads to some great character building moments for Chrom. As the story continues, it gets more complicated and fantastical, but never not interesting. The biggest strength of the story is the characters and the sheer number of characters that the player can possibly recruit is staggering. Yet all of the characters are fleshed out through the relationship system and getting to know them (if they do not die) is delightful and compelling. The dialogue is fantastic. These character moments help feed into the overall intrigue of the story.
Awakening’s gameplay will be intimately familiar to any gamer who has played a Strategy-RPG before. The player will move Chrom across an overworld map with various towns, fortresses, castles, etc. Each of these points will feature a story battle, random Risen battle, secret store, side mission battle or simply a place to shop and buy gear. As gamers move through the story, the map becomes larger and they can traverse over a larger amount of areas. Battles take place in on a grid map with sprites of Chrom’s army. Each player can move across this grid (more or less depending on class) to attack enemies scattered across the map. When attacking an enemy, the game transitions into 3D models of the enemy and the character where they fight. The weapon triangle system returns where certain weapons have advantages over each other, swords are strong against axes, lances are strong against swords, and axes are strong against lances. Adding to this certain weapons has specific advantages against armored, mounted or flying enemies. Thus, there is plenty to take into consideration when entering battle and players need to adjust their strategy accordingly.
Intelligent Systems has smartly added a dual attack system, where when characters are positioned near each other, when they attack an enemy they have a chance for an extra strike against the enemy. Characters can also pair up, so stronger characters can shepherd a weaker character around to give them a chance to gain exp, or a slow/short moving character can be moved a longer distance. When paired up or positioned near each other, characters who have the ability to build stronger relationships/bonds will nurture these relationships in battle. This gives several benefits in battle because the stronger characters’ relationships are, they will gain higher bonuses when paired or positioned together making tough battles slightly less hairy. There is also an option for “S” relationships between male and female characters and achieving these will result in marriage. This gives characters better bonuses in battle, but will lead to interesting branching dialogue in support relationships later in the game.
The game offers various difficulty options ranging from easy to lunatic plus. In addition, it offers a casual and classic mode, where players have the option of turning off the iconic perma-death aspect of Fire Emblem. It is a nice option for those that do not want to be frustrated about losing a beloved character, but it kind of misses the point of Fire Emblem (as Olly Jones pointed out). There is something that makes a player think a bit more before hurdling unsoundly into battle if there is actual consequences for their foolhardy decisions. Awakening offers a larger number of classes for players to choose, 40 in total. Each character when they reach level 10 at a base level class can use a Master Seal to turn into a much more powerful class. The battles in Fire Emblem: Awakening are often tough and players need to think carefully before making their moves because a wrong move can lead to the enemy wiping out their army. With tons of nuanced features, there are plenty of options to explore and options to weigh when devising their strategy.
Graphics and Sound
Fire Emblem: Awakening features a mix of 3D models, 2D sprites and hand-drawn animated cut scenes. All of these are visually impressive, especially on the 3DS. The 3D models are well realized and have a good amount of detail for Nintendo’s handheld, the 3D backgrounds while not hugely dynamic give a nice backdrop for these models. The only complaint is that none of them have feet which is hugely disconcerting. Most likely, that artistic decision is a stylized option. The sprites have a charm to them that only 2D sprites can offer and their animations are delightful and the hand-drawn animated cut scenes are lush and beautiful. In watching these cut scenes, it hard not to want a Fire Emblem on Wii U using this specific animation and art style done similarly to Level-5’s Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch.
Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh composed the larger soundtrack for Fire Emblem: Awakening. The soundtrack is beautiful and lush. So many memorable songs will hit the player when they are in either battle or enjoying a conversation in the support system. The game also features limited voice acting, which is well acted and sounds great on the 3DS. There is occasional voice acting in profile conversations, which always creeps up on the player. The funniest part of the recorded dialogue is the weird sprinklings of character sound bites throughout conversations between characters.
This is one of the few 3DS titles to feature paid downloadable content, outside of Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. The question of DLC is always is it worth the relatively paltry amount (compared to the price of the game) to add to the life of the main game. Currently there are two map packs available for purchase for Fire Emblem: Awakening: The Champions of Yore Pack (with the first map available free until Mar 5) and the Golden Pack. The Champions of Yore Pack is quite fun with a storyline featuring Old Hubba (a lecherous old man) who falls prey to a femme fatal and loses all his einherjar cards. This einherjar feature hero from classic Fire Emblem games and it is quite fun battling against these past heroes. The dialogue with Old Hubba is funny and it is a delightful side-story. For completing each map will yield the user a einherjar card featuring Marth, Micah and Roy respectively. These einherjar can be used in battle, but cannot nurture any support relationships.
The Golden Pack features three maps: the Golden Gaffe, EXPonential Growth and Infinite Regalia (currently only Golden Gaffe is available, but when purchasing the pack, players will get the others once released). The maps will give the player good places to farm gold, experience and items respectively. The Golden Gaffe is an interesting map and it features some of the funniest dialogue in the game. However, this pack unlike Champions of Yore may only be suited for players looking to bolster post-game time or tackle the harder difficulties. At this point, the Champions of Yore is worth the price and most players will enjoy the story and the ability to recruit these classic heroes. The Golden Pack is good for anyone looking for an easy place to farm or buff up his or her team. These two packs will currently cost the user $10 on the Nintendo eShop.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is certainly worth whatever hype it has garnered. The game is well written with an intriguing story that deals with smaller conflicts within larger conflicts brewing beneath the surface to give the story a great rising presence of danger. With tons of complex and nuanced systems in place, it makes battles fun and dynamic requiring players to think out their moves smartly before taking on the enemy. There is tons of content for the player to tackle and it will suck gamers in with its charm, difficulty and characters. Any 3DS owner should preserve when trying to track down a copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening.