Fire Emblem solidifies its place as the premier strategy RPG series.
Fire Emblem: Awakening Got Right
- + Deep, extensively tactical combat
- + Support, Marriage and Class systems
- + Three distinctive art styles
- + Quality localisation
Fire Emblem: Awakening Got Wrong
- - DLC priced inconsistently
- - 3D character models have no feet... yeah, that's right, no feet.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is the thirteenth installment in Nintendo's long-running, often overlooked tactical role-playing franchise. Fire Emblem isn’t as well known in the West as Nintendo’s other household names, but it’s clear Nintendo have given developer Intelligent Systems (of Advance Wars and Paper Mario fame) all of their support in establishing Awakening as on par with the likes of Mario and Zelda as a killer app and major reason to own the 3DS.
With high production values, extensively deep combat gameplay and customisation, the return of several past staples like the relationship and ‘My Unit’ systems and the addition of a 'Casual' mode alongside the series' trademark 'Classic' mode -- where units permanently stay dead -- Awakening is the most content-packed and accessible entry to date, one of the best games available on the Nintendo 3DS, and easily one of the biggest standouts of 2013 so far.
Watch Nintendo Australia's official launch trailer of Awakening.
Awakening is set in the fictional Halidom of Ylisse, a country plagued by a dark history and constant attacks from the neighbouring Plegia, who they once warred with. A rag-tag group called the Shepherds frequently travel across the country, protecting its borders and citizens from such violent incursions. In one of their scoutings, their leader, Chrom and his sister Lissa, also the younger siblings to the current Queen of Ylisse, find a mysterious person asleep in the middle of nowhere. Once they awaken, they reveal they don’t remember anything -- yet they somehow know Chrom’s name.
An attack in a nearby village and another by a new deadly demonic force called ‘The Risen’ prompts the Shepards to help repel its invaders; the amnesic figure helps the group fight back with skills and strategies they can’t recall where they learned.
"Awakening is the most content-packed and accessible entry to date, one of the best games available on the Nintendo 3DS, and easily one of the biggest standouts of 2013 so far.
This character becomes yours to live through, and the game opens up its customisation suite for you to choose your, favoured appearance, starting stats, and even birthday. Chrom soon inducts you into the Shepherds as their tactician, and the game really begins.
The initial plot isn’t anything completely mind blowing or different from previous Fire Emblem titles or anything medieval-based, but as Awakening progresses, more characters join the Shepards and the curveballs start flying, the main story really opens up into an engaging tale worthy of being a prime-time drama. Without spoiling too much, most of the action is focused on the burdened Prince Chrom, his family and country’s troubled past and his new friendship with your Tactician.
The Tactician isn’t the usual silent protagonist and while you can’t choose your character’s responses, you can choose which characters they get along with, fight the best with and even marry and have children with, altering the sub-stories and gameplay significantly with your choices.
Every character, no matter how minor they may seem in relation to the main story, have their own unique personalities and quirks that have been expertly translated in the English release. Vaike is a smart-ass with a big heart. Lon'qu is a deadly swordsman with a traumatic past with women. Cordelia is an honourable knight with survivor's guilt. It's evident testament to the level of effort Intelligent Systems have gone to provide a top-quality localisation, both in English dialogue and voice-actors, and the extra wait, while painful, was definitely worth it.
Awakening has some of the most memorable heroes and villians in a Fire Emblem entry yet.
Each story sequence is beautifully animated, switching between anime-style cutscenes with full voice acting, 2D stills of the characters and speech bubbles during interaction sequences, and 3D character models during combat and minor cutscenes. While the overworld and battlefield are still 2D, the game’s three distinct art styles all have their own charms and work together better than first impressions would give. The 3D features of the Nintendo 3DS screen help these sequences -- especially the anime cutscenes -- pop out with that extra level of visual flair.
The core gameplay of Awakening revolves around turn-based strategy and combat. Players move characters units on grid-based maps, and each unit have rules which govern how far they can move each turn, how they engage enemies and how they interact with each other based on their unique classes, weapons, and traits.
The basic premise is simple enough, almost like chess. There’s the return of the classic weapon triangle -- swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords -- and most combat is initiated by moving next to the enemy unit and attacking.
However, once you factor in bows, magic, shapeshifters, supporting items, character skills, a level system and the peripheral and underlying strategy systems working in place that separates Fire Emblem from the usual strategy-RPG template, you'll realise true patience, practice and tactics are necessary to progress and experience everything on offer.
Learn about the extensive support system.
The most notable of these systems is the support system. During battle, you will be encouraged to ‘Pair Up’ your units to inflict maximum damage, ensure your team protects each other and take advantage of the unique moves a team-up can create. Every time you have units fight next to each other or as a pair, their ‘Support’ rank rises, which has benefits outside and inside battle. Your units will be able to have unique support conversations dependent on the Rank level - C, B, A (and S with the opposite sex), provide more statistical advantages when engaging an enemy, and even get married and have children. Depending on the character and their equipped skills, their children will inherit such traits.
With over 40 characters, a multitude of learn-able skills and an extensive Reclass and Promotion system -- which allows players to completely change a character’s class progression or upgrade into a better version of their current class -- there are an amazing amount of tactical possibilities to experiment with to face any combat situation. The children of your first generation characters will eventually become units themselves, available for use in battle, and their progression is directly linked to how you trained their parents.
The sheer depth of the combat system and micromanaging your units can seem overwhelming at first, but Awakening stylishly and cleverly eases you into learning its multiple gameplay mechanics one at a time. There is no overly annoying tutorial and players can even opt to skip such sequences entirely - this extends to cutscenes, battle animations and dialogue.
The brutal experience and nature of battle -- once a character dies, they and their unique personalities, storylines and possibilities are gone for good -- will resonate with series veterans, who will not doubt opt for Hard and Lunatic difficulty mixed with Classic. The game presents worthy challenges that will test your mettle (and sanity), but for those who just want to enjoy the story, Easy difficulty with Casual mode -- where units don’t die permanently -- is for you. The added intensity of Classic mode and the great job the game does of making you care about every character is ensured to make you restart your save rather than move forward because you will always wonder ‘what if?” of that character’s future.
The StreetPass features of Awakening involves exchanging army information with other players, increasing your renown and gaining rare items for use. Your character and your team will appear as a random encounter on the overworld of another player's game, available for recruitment by beating opponents on the field.
The battlefield constantly presents new challenges and ways of engaging the enemy.
SpotPass is also integrated seamlessly, allowing players to update their game to recieve the newest free content in the form of teams of special past Fire Emblem heroes available to recruit and unique weapons to use. Paid content is accessed in-game through the Outerrealm Portal, available after Chapter 4 on the overworld. The paid DLC provides new maps, stories and battle scenarios for players to sink their teeth into, with the first 'Champions of Yore' Map pack currently free, with more paid DLC to come.
In terms of shortcomings, Awakening has very few, if they can even be called so. The chibi anime style incorporated in the 3D character models has resulted in characters with stumps for feet, and though it is noticeable early on, it hardly is a problem that affects the enjoyment of gameplay. The paid DLC for the currently available map packs is also inconsistently priced, showing Nintendo still is learning how to appropriately handle paid additional content.
Perhaps the only true disappointment of Awakening is the lack of meaningful multiplayer. There is a local multiplayer mode that lets two players select three units each and team up to fight a computer controlled army, but it feels tacked on compared to the deep solo experience on offer.
It's hard not to like Awakening, even if you're not a major SRPG fan, due to the sheer quality and level of content on offer. The possibilities of customisation -- from tailoring the speed of cutscenes and battles, reclassing units and experimenting with supports and marriages -- to the gorgeous visual quality and distinctive art-styles, to the mesmerising soundtrack -- all remind us that the 3DS and portable gaming in general is still a platform for triple A gaming experiences.
The Final Verdict
Fire Emblem: Awakening is Intelligent Systems’ love-letter to both loyal fans of Fire Emblem and Advance Wars and new gamers eager for strategic, turn-based action. Packed full of content, deep and rewarding gameplay systems, a unique art-style and extensive customisation for new players and veterans, Awakening provides an unforgettable gaming experience that you'll struggle to put down -- I'm 30+ hours and counting!
Nathan Misa is the senior games writer, reviewer and contributor for MMGN.com and GamesFix. He is an over-enthusiastic Fire Emblem fan who is dangerously in love with Tharja. You can hear his ramblings and thoughts here on MMGN, Google+ and Twitter.