Platform | Release Date
3DS | February 4, 2013
Developed by Intelligent Systems
Published by Nintendo
Fire Emblem Awakening offers a unique blend of in-battle strategy, vast character customization, and lush 3D cinematic graphics that appeal to a wide range of gamers. In this game, you’ll join Chrom, brother to Ylisse’s empress and commander of its forces, in a fantasy world teetering on the brink of war. It’s your duty to guide a team of Ylisse’s finest soldiers–knights, mages, archers, and more–against the marauding Plegian bandits. To succeed, you will need to carefully choose the units you take into battle. As you lead your team through battles across maps that span entire kingdoms, your army will grow. Some characters are willing to join you quickly, while others may need more persuasion. Each character earns experience in battle, leveling up and gaining strength and abilities as they do so. It’s up to you to guide their moves, choose their weapons, and direct their attacks.
Ever since its 2003 international debut, I’ve been enamored with Fire Emblem’s personal approach to the strategy RPG genre. I love how every unit I manage is a fully-realized character with a unique look and story. I greatly enjoy helping these characters grow as warriors and as people by managing their combat movements and relationships. As things progress, I grow so attached that I feel compelled to protect everyone at all costs, which proves difficult in a series where perma-death can strike in a flash.
On one hand, the fear of death adds a critical layer of emotional weight. However, the stress that comes with losing comrades can be too much to bear for some. I’ve sacrificed dozens of hours of playtime across every entry in the series in order to complete a casualty-free run. Regardless of how you feel on the matter, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first to implement features to appease both crowds.
Purists can continue to play with perma-death on by choosing the Classic setting at the outset. Or, you can try out the new Casual setting, where fallen allies will be available again in your next battle. Playing with this on also grants you access to two mid-level save slots. Not only is this a means of lowering the barrier to entry for newcomers, but it also serves as a great way for veterans of the franchise to take on harder difficulties. Both are viable ways to play depending on where your priorities lie, so feel free to choose either.
Also a first in the series is that fact that players are represented by their own, nameable avatar. You’ll have the opportunity to change your avatar’s name, appearance, and a few of their traits before assuming the role of your squad’s tactician. You’re entrusted to work with Chrom, the prince of Ylisse and a warrior in his own right, to defend your nation during a period of conflict.
Chrom and the player-character have a great dynamic going throughout, but the writing behind the rest of the game is a bit lacking. Most of the characters aren’t that interesting and the plot mostly meanders until it pulls itself together for an epic finale. It’s never repulsive, but definitely short on the charm that its Gamecube and Wii predecessors possessed.
On the battlefield, it’s a much stronger product. You move your units one-at-a-time across a grid map to engage in battles, support teammates or better position them for future strikes. Nintendo always does an amazing job with this aspect and it’s no different in Awakening. Every level is intelligently designed to test your wits and I never got tired of thinking my way through every obstacle.
Where things really get interesting for veterans of the series is in the way it handles relationships. In past games, units have gained stat boosts when standing beside their friends. In Awakening, teamwork is taken to new heights. When one of your units engages in battle with an ally standing beside them, both will partake in the skirmish. These 2-on-1 encounters open the door for your troops to double team their opposition or for one to protect the other from a potentially fatal blow. Thanks to the game’s gorgeous visuals and myriad of animation routines, I always got a kick out of watching these fights play out.
As relationships grow, the stat boosts they gain from working together increase. Nurture these relationships enough and partnering characters will get married, have a child, and through the mostly unexplained magic of time travel, their child will return from the future as an adult to fight alongside their parents. Yes, it’s wacky, but it serves as a great reward for leveraging this mechanic. On subsequent playthroughs, definitely experiment with different pairings to see what offspring you’ll be rewarded with.
Fire Emblem: Awakening does a lot of great things to make the battlefield experience better than any of its predecessors, from the inclusion of Casual mode, to the cool new dynamics that come with teamwork. Its gameplay alone has been compelling enough for me to beat the game twice before finishing this review. I only wish that it had stronger writing behind it to really pull at my heartstrings like previous entries in the series have. As is stands, this is still a top-notch strategy RPG and a must-play for Nintendo 3DS owners.