Review: Fire Emblem Awakening for Nintendo 3DS
Though the series dates back to the days of the original NES/Famicom, Fire Emblem is a relatively new series to gamers outside of Japan. Only six of the 13 total releases have made it to our shores, and admittedly, I’ve only played one other in Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones (though I have one or two more I’ve yet to play around here somewhere). As such, I’ll admit that my frame of reference isn’t quite as deep with Fire Emblem as it is with some other titles.
For those unfamiliar with Fire Emblem, it’s a sort of mix of East and West; that is, Western-styled fantasy with a more Eastern (Japanese, of course) aesthetic and design sensibility. The stories tend to involve war and political intrigue, often with one land invading the other, and are flavored with the importance of magical items such as the eponymous Fire Emblem.
The main gameplay involves going from place to place on your journey, interacting with townsfolk and taking on opposing enemy armies. This plays out through turn-based strategy and employs a triangle of weapon-based rock-paper-scissors styled strengths and weaknesses: Lance beats sword, sword beats axe, and axe beats lance. Additionally, there are other attacks which fall outside of this triangle, such as magic spells and archers, whose ranged attacks not only put them at a tactical advantage, but can absolutely devastate the otherwise potent Pegasus Knights, who ride in on winged steeds. Each type of unit has their own strengths and weaknesses to take advantage of or take precautions against.
Further enhancing the strategic element is the option of having different pairs of characters work together to form bonds, which can grow as they advance, turning them into a potent fighting team. Together, a strong duo can increase their stats, defend one-another, double-up on attacks, or get in extra blows. And, in some cases, love can bloom on the battlefield, resulting in the child of different pairings taking on different traits depending on who the parents are.
If there is one word which is well-suited to the Fire Emblem series, it’s “hardcore.” It is known well for not pulling its punches, particularly when it comes to the well-being of those in your army. Simply put: Dead means dead. If a member of your army (such as the aforementioned Pegasus Knights) falls in battle, that’s the final curtain for them… at least, unless you’re willing to sacrifice whatever progress you’ve made since the last time you saved, that is.
At least, that has long been how the game is run. Fire Emblem Awakening, however, opens its doors to attract a wider audience in a few different ways. One is the inclusion of a wide range of difficulty levels, ranging from “Normal” and “Hard” to “Lunatic” and even “Lunatic Plus.” Beyond that, you can also choose whether to play in “Casual” or “Classic” modes; Classic brings the well-known Fire Emblem heat of “dead means dead,” but if you opt to play in Casual mode, you’re spared permanent loss, as characters will all only for the duration of the battle and rejoin you after, sparing us the need to reload saves constantly.
The gameplay experience is furthered by the inclusion of various– and purely optional– downloadable content, which Nintendo promises will be available in months to come. Some is free, some you’re charged for, but much of it can be useful and nostalgic. There are various new maps you can download to fight on, and you can also download units from previous games in the series. To get these spirit warriors to join you, you can either pay for their services using in-game currency, or best them in combat to have them at your side. It goes without saying that finding a character you’re well-acquainted with from a previous game and adding them to your ranks is something of a joy to experience.
Beyond building your army as you see fit, Fire Emblem Awakening offers a degree of customization unseen in previous iterations of the game. Though the story follows Lord Chrom as he seeks to keep the peace in his homeland, you’re allowed to create your own custom character through a small pool of options, including different names, hairstyles, skin tones, and gender. In a fun bit of tapping against the fourth wall, your created character becomes the chief strategist for Chrom’s army, meaning that it is literally you/your character dictating what everyone does.
The customization goes further, however, as your character and team of choice can be transmitted to other players through the game’s StreetPass function. Much like the downloadable content, the recipient can either pay (again, using in-game currency) to bring your character on board, or otherwise best you in battle for them to join. Similarly, they can also purchase weapons your group has on hand.
Further gameplay includes a local wireless “Dual Tag” mode. With this, you and another player can team up to take down enemy forces, and reap the spoils of war.
Fire Emblem first came to North America’s mainstream eye with the inclusion of Marth and Roy in Super Smash Bros. Melee, and their popularity in that title led to the eventual western release of the simply-titled Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance in 2003. But if you’ve never touched a Fire Emblem game before, this is the one you’ll likely want to start with.
Fire Emblem Awakening is a very rich game, from its character models (tiny feet notwithstanding) and backgrounds to the music and animated cutscenes. It also features a story which is both engaging, yet not too dark or offputting– certain situations carry the appropriate amount of gravity, while others can display a certain amount of entertaining levity (just wait until you see what Frederick does to “inspire” the group). It features plenty of content and things to do beyond the main story of the game, replay value in the different choices you can make, and options for difficulty to make it welcoming to series newcomers and veterans alike.
This is, without a doubt, one of the finer games the Nintendo 3DS has to offer. There is little to recommend against it– say, if you simply don’t like medieval/fantasy warfare, or dislike strategy games. But even then, there is a free demo in the Nintendo 3DS eShop, so I can at the very least recommend taking that for a spin if you have any reservations. Perhaps even if the aforementioned elements don’t sound appealing to you, this could still sway you.
A review copy was provided by Nintendo of Canada.