Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) Review

Let's celebrate SuperPhillip's birthday with a brand-new review for a big game for Nintendo 3DS owners, Fire Emblem: Awakening. We've played many hours, unlocked many characters, and completed the game's many chapters to come up with our verdict. Will you agree with it? Read on and find out!

Reawaken Your Strategic Mind

Fire Emblem is a series steeped in tradition. For such a heralded and long-lasting series, the West has only seen five of the eleven Fire Emblem games released thus far. The latest, and the first that has hit the Nintendo 3DS, is Fire Emblem: Awakening. I have very limited experience with the franchise. I am talking about someone who owns all of the North American releases yet have completed zero of them. That has changed with Fire Emblem: Awakening, and for good reason too. Find out why with my review.

You start Fire Emblem: Awakening creating your own character, something not seen often in games of this sort. While the creation options are limited in what you can do (hair style, color, gender, and voice are pretty much it), it gives you a personal touch and better attachment with the story. Speaking of the story, it starts with you waking up in a field. Travelers Chrom, Lissa, and Frederick allow you to join them on their cause to stop an impending war. Little do they know (and you probably too) how big your seemingly innocent meeting will matter in future events. The majority of the story is presented with in-game cinemas with brief moments of voice acting, but the really important scenes are displayed with CG graphics that look absolutely spectacular. These are fully animated and fully voiced, quite unlike the rest of the game. What ties everything together is the masterful script. Then again, what else would you expect from Nintendo's Treehouse?

See what I mean regarding the cut-scenes?
As stated in the intro, Fire Emblem is a series steeped in tradition, and one of such traditions was the permanent deaths of characters who pass on in a given mission. Bucking the tradition, Fire Emblem: Awakening sports an incredibly welcomed (and incredibly optional) casual mode. In this mode, units that die will return after a given mission is complete. Of course many fans will yell at you for even thinking of turning on such a mode, as they believe that the true essence of the entire Fire Emblem franchise hinges on the permanent deaths of your characters. That said, don't listen to them-- just play as you want. You can choose to play casually on any difficulty, offering a true Fire Emblem game that can be said is for everybody.

Playing Fire Emblem game is a lot like playing any tactical turn-based role-playing affair (what a mouthful that was!). If you've never touched a game in the genre, then let me relieve your feeling of ignorance. First, it's okay because we were all ignorant about the genre at one time, so don't feel bad about it. Second, Fire Emblem is a lot like a game of chess. You're strategically maneuvering your units to get the better of your opponents.

You see, each unit that joins your noble cause for world peace has their own set of stats and weapons that determine a wide range of things: who they are strong against, who they are weak against, how far they can move on the grid-like battlefields of the game, and so on and so forth. For instance, archers are very strong against flying enemies such as pegasus knights and wyverns. However, they cannot defend themselves against melee attackers, which just happen to be most foes.

Nothing like a warm sunset to complement
the cold blood pulsating through your veins!
When it is your turn to move your units, you have a wide assortment of options and things to think about. For one, when you decide to attack an enemy, you can see on the bottom screen the outcome beforehand (i.e. how much damage you will deal, if they will counter with their own barrage of blades or spells, etc.). This is a must for knowing the right unit to send in attacking. And even when you do decide to attack a foe, you don't have to do it alone. Fire Emblem: Awakening has an aspect to it where a unit can team up with another. This will occasionally increase their attack, their ability to dodge, and even sometimes your partnered unit will completely block the foe's counterattack for you. Additionally, you can call upon the useful X button to show enemy ranges, shown in pink. This is essential to knowing where to arrange your men and women soldiers. Sometimes it's useful to purposefully send a few stronger units into the pink zone to lure enemies towards you to pick them off. Failure to carefully plan your actions is the difference between a mission's success and a grim game over.

See what will happen before it happens.
You're like a Psychic Friend!
In Fire Emblem: Awakening, most weapons and spells have a specific amount of times they can be used before they are thrown away. Each unit can carry five different pieces of equipment, items, or spells (what they can carry depends on their class). When a weapon, item, or spell has had all its uses up, it disappears from that character's selection.

As units gain experience, their stats grow stronger. Once they have reached level 10 (20 is the maximum), you can change their class with a special item called a seal. Make it so your starting avatar can grow from a Tactician to a Grandmaster (it goes with my chess analogy, after all) with increased magical capabilities and strength, Chrom can grow from a Lord to a Great Lord-- it's all up to you what jobs you decide to expand your units into. Just be weary of stat changes.

I talked briefly about how units can team up together and form partnerships. Well that is just one piece to this proverbial puzzle. When units continually support one another in battle, their relationships become better. Through accessing the Support menu on the world map or before a battle, you can see exclusive conversations between close members. All relationships start at C, and if they are the same sex, it can go up to A. However, if the two involved are of the opposite sex, then their relationship can reach an S level, allowing them to get married and have a kid. These kids will show up in completely optional paralogue chapters with the option to unlock them to aid your cause and play as them. This is one reason why many Fire Emblem veterans chastise the idea of casual play. You lose the feeling of consequence-- that is, if you were playing with normal rules (see: not casual), then every death would mean something as you had an emotional bond with that character. All the leveling up, all the battles, all the improved relationships, etc.

Better to fight with someone than alone.
Outside of the paralogue chapters, there are 26 for the main story, but the game is far from over once you reach the end. Nintendo is constantly (as in on a weekly or biweekly basis) providing DLC chapters to purchase, offering new maps, scenarios, and teams to face. The earliest chapter grants you the ability to play with Prince Marth and even recruit him to your side. There are also SpotPass teams to take on. Unlike the DLC missions, these teams are free to play (and tough to boot!).

Shops around the world offer many
interesting wares. Buy till your heart's content!
Fire Emblem: Awakening has a terrific presentation to it. It looks phenomenal for a Nintendo 3DS game. I mentioned the story elements and cut-scenes, but I wanted to further clarify about the voice acting. The majority of it are one-off statements either in an in-game cinema or in battle. As for battles, you will see plenty. Perhaps too many, as I found myself simply pressing the Start button to skip them all as I drew closer and closer to the end. They're nice to begin with, but they become increasingly more and more as wastes of time, especially if you are in a hurry. As for the character models, they look great, but the choice of having them looking like they have no feet might perplex some players. I thought the models were clipping into the ground until someone set me straight that it was an artistic decision. On the music side of things, Fire Emblem: Awakening features a sensationally wonderful soundtrack, full of emotion and perfect for setting each scene and conflict.

A colorful cast of characters await
you in Fire Emblem: Awakening.
For anyone who has been hesitant to enter the series because of its punishing difficulty, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a grand starting point. Perhaps after you've played through this game fully (that will take enough time as is) you will find yourself wanting to try out the other Western releases of the franchise. As is, Awakening is a tremendous entry in the series and the genre. Whether you play it old school with permanent deaths or casually without them, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the perfect place to see why this franchise is so loved in Japan and gaining traction worldwide.

[SPC Says: 9.0/10]

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