Fire Emblem Awakening Review (3DS)

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Nintendo 3DS – Fire Emblem: Awakening Trailer

Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo

Main Review

Review Context: I’m quite a big fan of the Fire Emblem franchise. I’ve played/finished almost every game in the franchise, looking forward to each evolution from the last.
Date of Playthrough: May 15-31, 2015

Once considered the last of its franchise, Fire Emblem Awakening single-handedly brought back its series’ repute. The Fire Emblem series was once only a Japan exclusive game, starting on the NES with one of its well-known characters, Marth in 1990. Traversing many of Nintendo’s handheld and home consoles alike, North America would not see a Fire Emblem game until Fire Emblem: The Sword of Flame for the Gameboy Advance in 2003. Now with quite a few English localized games under their belt, the popularity of the Fire Emblem franchise was waning. It’s been a while since a Fire Emblem game garnered enough respect, and developer Intelligent Systems was considering this as the last game unless it sold well. With them putting all their effort into its conception, does Fire Emblem Awakening deserve its rank among some of the 3DS’ best titles?

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The battle system implemented in every Fire Emblem game is a sort of rock-paper-scissors for weaponry and magic. Axes beat lance, lance beats sword, sword beats axe with weapon holding different characteristics for speed, attack and the like with the exact same “Weapon Triangle” implemented for the magic. Weapons will have various advantages over certain units and varying strength and skill making weapon collection essential. Weapons have erosion to them, as each weapon has a set amount of times it can be used until breaking which could force unwanted scenarios if one is not prepared. The leveling system is that of gaining experience dependent on your level and the level and class of your opponent. The stats that are leveled up have different percentages depending on the unit. For some units it may be easier to level up strength, but hard to level up resistance. Each character receives health in the game, which once depleted your character experiences perma-death. This is a key feature in the Fire Emblem franchise, as this rogue-like attribute makes strategy all the more challenging late game if you wish your characters to survive without having to sacrifice. Though this game does have Casual mode for those who wish to avoid the perma-death mechanic and not have that stress looming over them. While veterans will feel like this mode at times is a cop out in comparison to older titles in the franchise, it’s quite understandable as to why they added it in, making the newcomer have the ability to play the game without the stress of perma-death.

The player maneuvers across a map to a destination of their choosing, but only amongst the places unlocked at the time. Originally used in Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, Fire Emblem Awakening easily enhances both the aesthetic look as well as more possibilities. Green locations on your map are sidequests unlocked by continuing through the story or meeting certain requirements. Every area has a shop with items, monsters can spawn on places already visited in order to fight for experience, secret merchants appear on places to showcase better items; all in all, it truly showcases how much more evolved the map system has grown from just a cutscene to an overworld, as it was in early titles of the franchise.

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Support conversations have all of a sudden become a more personalized aspect comparatively to games in the past. The characters that you have paired up with on a number of occasions while during battles begin to feel more of a connection, which prompts unlockable discussions outside of battle. The rankings of these discussions go from D to S, with S only being for the marriage proposals between members.  This mechanic is far more diverse in this game with the writing truly delving into each character as a person. The added bonus to the game is after marriage, you will unlock special side-quests later on in the story to recruit their child into your ranks. This adds a layer of depth to the pairing mechanic, as you can see the abundance of replayability from the support conversations alone. Pairing two units together is also a new mechanic for Fire Emblem: Awakening, which can cause many things to happen. It can assist with the raising of a support rank between two characters paired with each other, while at the same time giving them a stat boost. During battle, the allies may also either take the blow causing no damage from the attack or attack themselves. The chance of this happening grows the longer the units are paired with each other and their support rank.  Added with this replayability comes the Seal system where one can reclass their characters to various different classes in order to switch up the characters base stats or gameplay. Don’t want your Avatar to stay a tactician? Well you can reclass him into a Myrmidon, it’s all possible now. If you want to dedicate hours to your characters you can reclass them in order to obtain specific skills only found in some classes. The layers of depth and strategy implemented in Fire Emblem Awakening is a great way to make your player experience more personalized as you can endlessly replay to marry countless people together.

One of the gripes I have for the game would have to be with the story. Now don’t get me wrong, the story is grand, but at the same time will have a lot of plot holes for what it wants to achieve. Thematically it also isn’t one of the strongest in the franchise, but for all its faults it makes up for in the beautiful moments it creates. Across the continents of Archanea and Valm, this story of war weaves a beautiful tale of loss and sacrifice and the understanding of both sides of a conflict. The reason why this story is executed as well as it did was truly because of its characters.

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The diversity of characters is awe inspiring for this game and it excels greatly because of both antagonists and protagonists alike. The development and understanding of a lot of characters comes through the support conversations discussed previously, giving at times, an in depth conversation about who they are and what are their ideals. No character shies away from the limelight in this game, even the comedic characters like Cervantes and his many mustache jokes. This game is solely dedicated to its characters and it’s been a while since you feel such a connection with each of them. It hurts to see them die, especially in such a multi-tiered story such as this, which at times you can change the dialogue in some scenes because of your decisions. The paid DLC also gives extra insight into some characters, but most of the time it would only be for fan service even if at times it can be very revealing dialogue about pivotal characters in the plot. This game never stopped adding onto the characters creating one of the best casts of characters in video games.

One of the unique new features is the Avatar. Originally created in the remake to the sequel of Shadow Dragon, Fire Emblem: Shin Monshō no Nazo: Hikari to Kage no Eiyū, it was only available in Japan. This means it was first given to Western audiences through Awakening, making this quite the unique and welcomed addition for Western fans of Fire Emblem. It allowed you to create your own character to place within the story and to grow as you see fit. It doesn’t have a lot of customization for the second time it was incorporated into a Fire Emblem game, therefore it seems more like an oversight on their part since its predecessor easily had just about as much customization if not a bit more. Nonetheless, there were additional features that made up for this small backstep in evolution. You were allowed to fight against other people’s Avatars through the Streetpass mechanic on the 3DS. If you passed by someone who had the game data you would transfer your Avatar to their game and their Avatar to yours. This allowed you to fight against them on map the same way you’d fight any other encounter on the map. If you had become victorious over your opponent you can then recruit them into your roster. Your Avatar is also the only person who can do support conversations with everyone and marry anyone of the opposite gender no matter where you obtain them in the game. This certainly makes up for that small misstep in the customization aspect.

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The cutscenes in the game are top tier quality, with very vibrant images and great facial expressions. Everything has a more European aesthetic in the continent of Archanea, while some areas in Valm have a more Eastern aesthetic, especially with the Swordmaster class. The models of every character is almost always unique to them until they are reclassed. The more unique classes like the Tanguels and the Manaketes are well-designed with a lot of tiny details, making them quite the beautiful feats of animation. The problem with the human designs for me personally are the feet, which are practically non-apparent. It makes it seem as if they had a hard time animating foot movements, yet in the cinematics they have feet. A small little visual preference, but it doesn’t hinder the great designs and unit animations. When entering into battles though, for the first time ever on a handheld Fire Emblem game there are 3D models. During the battle you can change the perspective of the battles, making it almost as much a cinematic experience as it is a life and death situation. The 3D setting on the 3DS is taken into full use, making this potentially the best looking use of 3D. Each of the sprites on the battlefield are now propped up against a 3D terrain much like an elevated type of strategy board. Each bit of elevation and depth is shown, and this shows up equally as much during the battles as the scenery comes alive with the 3D models fighting on top of it.

The soundtrack is a bit smaller than previous games it seems, with many of the tracks having several variations. They make enough of a difference to fit each into the tone of the scene, but it just makes it seem as if there was less time put into the music of the game. The thing is, it shows the songs abilities to be melded into different scenarios, ultimately changing their base composition. Songs such as “Id” had this sort of effect and there are ones you can continually listen to even outside of the game itself. Each variation had a different instrument as the forefront piece, making it dance between joyful and empowering, to somber and painful. With what little voice-acting there is in the game, each character’s voice is brought with a sense of enthusiasm and excitement. This brought a believability to each character making each unit feel more human and understandable in any given situation.

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The extra content in the game for the most part is free, and gives little goodies or extra stages to the player. You can fight against old units from Fire Emblem’s past and recruit them to your ranks, like Eliwood from Rekka no Ken or Marth from Shadow Dragon. There are extra missions where you can recruit secret characters later on in the story, each with their own support conversations with the Avatar and difficult combat maps. There are “renown” rewards given out at different milestones, as you earn it through the battles in the game, giving you items like a strong and unique sword or a stat increasing item. The amount of encouragement to play the game after you’re finished is astonishing and truly makes this a diverse and lengthy game, but at the same time manageable for those who won’t go after everything. The problem being that it feels like they are giving away items, which is actually another feature to the extra content, making the game slightly easier if you level up a certain weapon proficiency enough. The past games did not have this type of handout, and I don’t feel as if it was needed with the loads of items you can obtain through renown.

One other key problem is the inaccessibility of the multiplayer aspect. You can team up with a friend to face off together against groups of enemies lead by a specific unit from the game. Unfortunately, while this sounds like an awesome idea, it was executed far better in previous games. You will not be placed on a map together, but rather be forced to fight solo battles taking turns against the enemy. As much as I would enjoy a multiplayer, this was lackluster comparatively to the games of the past such as Shadow Dragon, which had a competitive mode where you face off against your friend on a map with your chosen champions. You also can’t connect to others online but rather they need to be direct contact. It’s these little backtracking mistakes that makes it seem like they had less time to think on various points of the game.

Despite some miniscule hiccups, Intelligent Systems’ Fire Emblem Awakening is one of, if not the best title on the 3DS. They made a more personalized experience comparatively to games in the past and easily has one of the largest and best cast of characters. The strategy RPG elements are much like they were in previous installments, only changing up a few things here in there to create more strategies with elements like reclassing and pairing up units. The multiplayer is completely lacking and the game at times seems like it’s just handing you items to make it easier. You’ll never really run out of money, making weapon management only essential early to mid-game. That being said, Fire Emblem Awakening is nothing short of an immersive experience with the support conversations, the marriages, the children, the extra content, as well as the Avatar features, making it a memorable and timeless experience for all varieties of players; both veterans in the strategy genre and casual players.

Similar Games Liked:
Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones (GBA)
Advance Wars (GBA)

Similar Games Disliked:
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon (DS)

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