The Game Boy Advance was home to two games that remain among my favorites. Strategy titles had a strong showing on the system, and in addition to the popular Advance Wars, the handheld was my first experience with the Fire Emblem series. Cut to 10 years later, and Fire Emblem has made its debut on the 3DS.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a turn-based strategy game set in a fantasy world. The lineage goes back a long way, but even for newcomers, the references to the previous games are not difficult to grasp. The game takes place in the land of Ylisse. The kingdom has a bandit problem and is on the brink of war with a bordering country. On top of that, evil beings from another realm are invading the realm. The story begins with the player’s customized character waking up with amnesia (yes, that old song and dance) and joining Chrom, prince of Ylisse, and his band of protectors, known as The Shepherds.
Awakening is a turn-based strategy game, with units on a square grid map. Advancing troops and attacking enemy units is typically the main goal for every mission. Taking out enemy leaders and protecting important units on your team may also be factored into the victory conditions, but for the most part, “kill the enemies” is the player’s main goal for each mission. The game incorporates the classic rock, paper, scissors mechanic from the previous titles. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances and lances beat swords. Knowing what equipment to use in a skirmish is essential for survival. Speaking of living to fight another day, the Fire Emblem trademark permadeath makes its return in Awakening, though now, the player can choose to play in a casual mode where units that die in a battle return after the fight is completed. Playing the classic mode is where players have to make every move and every attack count. Luckily, there are some friendly mechanics that will help out players.
One of these is the new “pair up” ability. During a battle, players can choose two units to combine for better defense and offense abilities. The resultant unit can be separated during any turn. The second mechanic is the support abilities that occur when two units are adjacent. When an unit with an ally next to it attacks an enemy, the friendly will help in battle by boosting stats and possibly adding an attack. After ending a turn, allies that are next to each other on the grid will increase their relationship with each other. This brings me to another mechanic. Every character can have their relationship increase with every other character on the team. Increases in the relationship will garner better stat boosts when supporting in battle. Using a certain weapon will increase the proficiency with that weapon type, and characters can also gain experience points and level up after a certain amount of successful attacks and kills. Leveling up rewards characters with improved stats.
In between battles, players can check on their units and listen to new conversations related to improved relationships, go into towns to buy new weapons and increase the stats of their current gear. Keep in mind that most weapons have a limited time use. There are also separate battles that tell a side story and can be played in between chapters. These offer up new weapons and, possibly, new units. If players are looking for more experience points, there are some random skirmishes that occasionally pop up in between chapters.
The game’s visuals are very nice. The pre-rendered cut scenes look fantastic, and the voice acting is superb. The 3D is never intrusive, and it all really pops when some flashy stuff starts to happen on screen. The in-game models look somewhat blocky, and for some reason, the art direction they went with required humans to have hoofs rather than feet. At least, that’s what it looks like to me. Still, Fire Emblem: Awakening looks good in most parts, and the presentation and musical score are top notch.
The story has some clichéd aspects, and some of the characters can become rather annoying due to overuse of old tropes, but there’s something very charming about the story and the relationships that come out of the battles. It breaks my heart when I lose a good solider in battle. That means something to me. I got invested in some of the characters, and knowing that one wrong move could mean death kept me on edge during every battle.
This game is very accessible, but at the same time very complex. The strategy involved can make it a life or death situation, and later on in the game, the AI becomes relentless. There were times I did get rather frustrated with the outcome of many of my battles and wanted to restart. The decisions are always high stakes, which is both an amazing feature and a curse. One wrong move and you may very well lose.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of those games to which I couldn’t help but become addicted. Even as someone that has a difficult time with strategy games, I was able to see just how brilliant this game is. The concepts are simple, keeping me coming back for more, and the relationships and story are the icing on the cake. Strategy game fans should not miss this game, and casual fans of turn-based RPGs will have a great time playing as well. If you own a 3DS, this game is one that should be in your library.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.