Fire Emblem has always been a franchise that at least in my eyes, seems appealing but difficult to get into. Maybe its the permadeath that serves as a barrier to new players or maybe its because the first impression it gives is slow, boring, and overwhelming. Fortunately for us that couldn't be further from the truth. In reality it's a very simple yet deep game that is more enthralling and exciting than almost any other series I have played.
Fire Emblem is one of the original franchises that started on the NES along with Mario, Zelda, Metroid, Kirby, and other beloved games. For whatever reason the good folks at Nintendo didnt think we "Engrish" players would like it so they held off until (fortunately for us) SSB made characters from the series popular. Our first release named Fire Emblem was actually the 7th game in the series. It released on the GBA and quickly became a popular series. Since then we have had every game in the series localized bar 12 which was a remake of three which was a sequal to 1 that included a remake of 1. Confused yet? All you need to know is Awakening is the 13th game in the series and hands down my favorite.
For those that dont know Fire Emblem is a Srpg. It is played on a square grid where players get a turn to move/attack and then the enemy does. Different troops can move different lengths and different terrain hinders certain troops (like desert, trees exc). A knight for example has high defense but low movement, say 5 squares. A pegasis rider may have low defense but be able to move 9 squares. Mages have low defense but high resistance to magic. Physical attackers have high defense but low resistance. Everything has a pro and a con to it even the weapons themselves. The three main weapons are lances (which beat swords), swords (which beat axes), and axes (which beat lances). There is more like bows damaging flying units but the weapon triangle is the main crux of the battle system if you will. There is still more to consider when fighting though such as attack range (bows/magic can hit 2 squares away while swords/lances/axes can only hit next to an enemy). I can attack a guy with a sword but my life is low and if he counters I may die so maybe I will use a ranged attack like magic or a bow. That may then leave a weaker bowman in range for the enemies turn. Using strategies and thinking ahead is a must if you want to make it through on classic.
The maps you battle on are the most beautiful in the series. From castle courtyards, villages, boats, to mountains, and other really cool environments I do not want to spoil for you. There are some very good maps which have great layouts and amazing atmosphere. One map which takes place in the rain ( you will recognize it when you get there) was a highlight of the game for me. The only problems are the lack or objectives and how many open maps there are. In past games there were varied objectives like stealth, defend for X turns, flee, where here most are all route the enemy. There are sub objectives like rescuing villagers, recruiting characters, avoiding hazardous gound, and one defend and one flee map but the majority are straight out battles. Again the maps are beautiful and some are among the best in the series but the majority are basically wide open with only a few trees, forts, and some walls. Theres very few maps that have choke points which is dissapointing in my eyes. Still I can't hold it against them too much just for the amount of content and quality of content. There's twenty something main chapters, 17 or so side chapters, and dlc maps. You won't run out of battles to fight or troops to recruit anytime soon.
Awakening has far more than just the combat though. Supports are back and better than ever. By pairing (think stacking two characters) or fighting next to another character in battle you raise the support level. There are 4 levels. For each one you get a scene of your two characters bonding and getting to know each other. Level them up to an S rank and those two characters will fall in love and get married (which produces some amazing scenes). It doesn't stop there. Once married you will have a child who can then be recruited later on in the game. There is just an insane amount of character backstory, interaction, motivations, and social stuff to get lost in. It's all designed to make you care for the units and let me tell you, it works! This leads into the permadeath mechanic. In classic mode when a unit falls in battle they are gone for good, dead. This gives the game a tension and excitement that other games lack. Losing a unit you grew from a weakling into a beast, a unit you laughed with, heard about his hopes and dreams, had fall in love exc die is CRUSHING. You really don't want to rush out because this is the result. It makes strategy and careful planning a must. Some people like me love this but as I said earlier, it is a barrier for new fans. Thankfully they decided to add in a casual mode this time (12 had it also but that was never released here). This is a great thing for new fans who want to learn the ropes or just experience the story. Units are not killed when defeated in this mode, only knocked out for the battle. It really widens the audience which is good because the series has never been able to achieve success like fellow Nintendo franchises.
What also helps this game is the production values. Everything is top notch. The music is some of the best I have ever heard in any game ever. The cutscenes are some of the best I have ever seen in any game ever. There isn't very many cutscenes ( about a dozen or so) but you will look forward to them. The opening itself was one of the most impressive intros ever. Everything from the menus to the character portraits is amazing. The graphics themselves are very well done. There are two different character graphics, one for the battle map and one for attacks and conversations. The map characters are more similar to the sprites used for past games. Small characters on a huge map. Not too much to talk about but they are fairly detailed, unique for each character/class and get the job done nicely. When your character attacks another unit the view changes to give a close up of the battle one on one. These are the normal full 3d character graphics and are very charming to say the least. The attacks are pretty cool from standard sword swings to critical hits and skills that have lots of cool effects and flair. Definitely the most beautiful 3ds game by a country mile.
SPOILERS FOR FIRST 5 MINUTES!!!
I won't touch on the story too much because I don't want to spoil it but the jist of it all is a story about Lord Chrom. He leads the Shephards, a group set out to protect their nation from at the start bandits to other nations and the dead rising themselves (the risen). It escalates nicely, has good twists and turns, and has characters you really care for. You create your own character (looks, gender, voice exc) and start. The game then begins with you and Chrom battling some powerful menace. You defeat him only to turn your magic on your companion Chrom. You kill Chrom. The screen blackens and you are awoken in a green field by none other than Chrom, The friend you just murdered. Don't worry this is the first 5 minutes of the game. I want to give a little taste of what is going on and what grips you right away. It's defenately a jarring introduction and leaves you wanting to know what led up to these events. The story is very well done overall. There are very memorable moments and I even teared up at a few points in the game. Very heartfelt is a good description.
Awakening is just brimming with content. In addition to the battles, supports, and story sequences there is also a world map which leads to random skirmishes for leveling weak characters, shops, side chapters, chapters to recruit children had from S rank marriages, and not only is there spotpass, streetpass, but also dlc. Spotpass gives you fan favorite characters from past Fire Emblems. There's got to be well over fifty free characters to battle and afterwords recruit. You can also streetpass your team for others to battle, download dlc chapters or packs, and even battle online against other people. This game is basically an all-star game with the best characters and elements of the best games blended into Awakening. Every fan favorite is here but everything is optional so you don't have to fight or fight with past characters. It's an option for longtime fans just as the casual mode is an option for new fans. This game is all about choice. You can keep permadeath, skip skirmishes and side chapters for a pure experience or play spotpass teams, dlc, side chapters, and turn off permadeath. You can play on lunatic and skip extra chapters or play easy and grind to dominate the battles. Both are equally fun and satisfying imo. There's 4 difficulty modes and tons of options from turning off attack animations, making movement faster, skipping dialog, turning on or off only certain aspects like enemy attacks and making text come all at once. It really is a game you can tailor to you. I wish more games allowed this level of customization.
This is defenately the best use of 3d in a game yet. It's not jarring but it ads the right amount of depth with particle effects flying in front of you. In a story scene for instance the character portraits are front with the in game character models standing in the game environment. The farther the slider goes up the deeper you look into the game. Cutscenes pop out and go into the screen, and attack animations are a joy to watch. Honestly I usually turn 3d off in most 3ds games outside of cutscenes but not in this. Played the whole game in 3d and it really does add a new dimension to the game. It's something you need to see to really get.
In all this is the best intro for anyone who hasn't played the series before. It is also a celebration of everything Fire Emblem and the best parts of past games. It's great for fans and newcomers alike. I said earlier its my favorite Fire Emblem and I stand by that. It's the most playable, enjoyable, has the best music, graphics, cutscenes, best customization, and the story and characters are among my favorites (I do love the Tellius games also). I won't say its the best because that is subjective. Some may prefer old sprites, certain characters, a certain plot device exc. The fact that I say its my favorite is all I can say. I highly recommend this to people who haven't played the series. I won't recommend it to fans because you all own it already lol. Enjoy the game people.