When someone mentions Nintendo, a lot of people think of Super Mario Bros. Others think of The Legend of Zelda, others think of Kirby, others think of Super Smash Bros., and others think of the Wii series of games starring the Mii characters. Very few people think of the strategy RPG Fire Emblem, outside of the more devoted fans, which is perfectly understandable. The series was never heavily promoted by Nintendo and never reached million-seller status. Despite dating all the way back to the NES days it wasn’t localized for American and European release until the seventh entry, known in the west simply as Fire Emblem for the Game Boy Advance.
So after Nintendo of America skipped on the localization for the second Fire Emblem title on the Nintendo DS (a sequel to Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, which got poor reviews) and then Fire Emblem: Awakening was announced for release in Japan, the fanbase was fearing the worst: that Nintendo had given up on the franchise outside of Japan and that this game wouldn’t be localized either.
But boy, we were wrong. Not only was the game announced for American release, but Nintendo started to give the game actual promotion. A spot at the front page of Nintendo.com, behind-the-scenes on the localization through Nintendo Direct videos, several tutorial trailers released periodically on Youtube, character spotlight updates on Facebook, and even a TV commercial. Nintendo was actually making the mainstream aware that the series exists, something most of the fanbase never expected to happen.
But let’s move on to the game itself. The basics of Fire Emblem have always been the same. You control an army of characters, moving them on a battlefield like you would move chess peices on a board. Each character has his or her unique traits based on his or her class. We have the main character (usually referred as the “Lord”), and several other classes such as Cavaliers, Knights, Archers, Fighters, Pegasus Knights, Mages, and many others. You battle against the enemy army and win by defeating them. Sounds simple, but here’s the catch. In Fire Emblem, when a unit dies, it’s gone forever. That’s right, if you let a unit die, it’s removed from the game completely. The fans refer to this as “Permadeath”.
However, this game is very welcoming to new users and series veterans alike. You have three difficulty settings (Normal, Hard and Lunatic), as well as a choice between Classic or Casual mode. Casual mode allows you to play without the permadeath, meaning that if a unit dies, it only retreats from the current map and returns next chapter. If you’re new to the series and don’t feel like resetting every time you lose a unit, then play on Casual Mode and enjoy the ride. Those who want the extra challenge can stick with Classic and a higher difficulty. The game is suited to any kind of playing style, there’s no right or wrong way to play it.
The cast of characters is where the game truly shines. You have a vast array of to choose from, each with his or her own looks and personality and their individual experience gains. The game gives you a lot more characters that you can deploy on every chapter, but you can choose to use those you like better and just bench the rest. Using certain units together in battle allows them to bond and unlock support conversations between chapters, which allow you to learn more about your characters and even even marry them to each other (this is actually important for plot reasons, which I won’t spoil for you). With so many different options it’s really hard not to not get attached to a good number of characters, and the possibility of losing them to the aforementioned “Permadeath” makes them even more valuable. If anyone dies, you miss on lots of side stories and character development.
You also create your own Avatar character that serves as one of the main characters in the game alongside Chrom, the main Lord in this game. You can choose to make the avatar male or female, as well as change some of his or her attributes and looks, and even the avatar’s voice. It’s a great feature, and definitely a better way to immerse the player into the game than what Fire Emblem on the GBA did.
The mechanics of the game are detailed quite nicely within the game. If offers a whole section of tutorials that can be viewed at any time on the lower screen. These are optional, so unlike before series veterans don’t have to look at them or spend any time hurrying through them.
From a technical standpoint the graphics are quite good. It combines 3D models and 2D sprites, but it works really well here with the little sprites on the map grid and the bigger models on the battle and story cutscenes. Perhaps the one complaint on the 3D models that a lot of people agree on is the lack of feet. It’s likely done as an artistic choice, but I agree that it looks odd. Personally I got used to it and stopped noticing after a while, but mileage may vary. On another note, there are also some fully animated cutscenes at some points in the game, and boy do they look amazing. If this is a testament of what the 3DS can do, then color me impressed. Oh, and watch them with the 3D effect on. It’s gorgeous.
The music has always been great in this series, and this game is no exception. We get the trademark Fire Emblem Theme (which I can never stop loving, no matter how many times it’s remixed) and a whole slew of new tracks, all perfectly fitting for the scenes and chapters they play for. It’s hard to pick favorites, but I have a soft spot for “Divine Decree (Ablaze)”, one of the best battle themes I’ve ever heard for a climatic battle. Voice acting enthusiasts will also appreciate the high-quality work put into voicing the characters and some will definitely love that original Japanese voices are included as well, which is rare for a Nintendo-published title.
I don’t want to spoil the story so I won’t go into details, but it’s fine. It’s not the best in the series, but overall it does a good job at keeping you interested. There are times when it drags a bit, but there are also a few intense moments and plot twists. The story still falls into some clichés and tropes from some similar games, but they’re not too bad and don’t hurt the game to the point of being unplayable.
Awakening is also compatible with all the features of the 3DS. You can fight other players’ teams through StreetPass, receive more maps and characters through SpotPass, and buy some extra maps through purchasable downloadable content. All of this will be released on a weekly basis for the upcoming months, so even when you’re finished with the main story you will have extra stuff to play afterwards. And don’t forget, Fire Emblem games are meant to be played through multiple times. If you want to complete those support conversations, you’ll have to start over again and marry different couples.
I’d say that Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best game on the 3DS right now. The flaws in the game are minor ones that don’t detract from its high quality the effort that was put into the game’s creation. The 3DS has several big hits such as Super Mario 3D Land, Kid Icarus: Uprising, Theatrhythm: Final Fantasy, and several others, but out of all of these Awakening is definitely the one that stands at the top. If you’re a fan of the Strategy RPG genre, this game is an absolute must in your collection. If you’ve been on the fence on getting a 3DS but there are a couple of titles that interest you, maybe this game will tip the scales on getting the system. If you already own a 3DS, then you simply have no excuse.