The lights are on
Unlike most of my reviews where I begin with a question that makes my opinion on the game relatively a mystery; I'm just going to come out and say it. Fire Emblem: Awakening is awesome. There's more to it however. Sure a game could be awesome for a number a reason, but I encourage you to read on rather than just look at the verdict and move on so I can explain just why this game is so great.
For those of you who haven't heard a thing about Fire Emblem, its a turn based strategy RPG exclusive to Nintendo. It was among the original for it's genre, but was exclusive to Japan durring it's NES and SNES days. It was long before the rest of the world got their hands on one of the numerous sequels on the GameBoy then the GameCube. You may even recognize a couple characters from Super Smash Bros. Awakening continues the series following a brand new story line, that is friendly to newcomers, so don't shy away if you're new.
Admittedly, I haven't seen too much of the 3DS. But regardless of how the game looks in comparison with others, I was still impressed by the visuals. The sprite based grid maps make up the most of what you'll be seeing, but the simplicity is intentional, and it looks good. There's no trouble differentiating the sprites one from another, which is actually rather important.
The fighting sequences also look great except for the lack of feet on the character models. They all got peg legs (this is a very minor gripe), but besides that the models look great, each character performing it's own move sets.
What really blew my socks off was the cut scenes. They're gorgeous. Like straight from an anime on TV. They're pretty spaced out in the games storyline (you might even call them rare), but whenever one shows up you're in for a treat.
The 3D effect's look great, especially during the fighting sequences, though I've never been too big a fan of the 3DS's 3D due to the fact that you're forced to look at it head on, which means stiff comfort at times, but this is in no way FE:A's fault.
Voice acting is good when it's present (most of the story telling is through text bubbles), and the sound track is enjoyable. You won't be humming along to it, but it set's the mood for each battle and moment perfectly to where it's noticeable.
Playing a TBSRPG usually uses a number of menus. This is no exception, but the menu's are highly easy to use. From navigating your team on the battlefield, to managing inventory, it's all simple and easily accessible. .
FE: Awakening is very well polished over, and doesn't disappoint. Truly a good looking, and sounding game.
Story is fantastic. It's starts off a tad bit slow (all RPG's do) but once it get's going, it's quite absorbing. You begin as a character (originally named Robin, though you can change this) who awakes with amnesia. You're in the Kingdom of Ylisse, and the Prince so happens to be the one who has awaken you. Unsure of nearly anything you stick with the prince. A neighboring country has been sending small bands of mend to attempt to instigate a war, and what begins as a few skirmishes turns into something more as strange characters appear and things take some drastic turns.
I can't really reveal much else, so that summary will have to suffice. The story is full of twist and what I call "plot extensions" where one event leads to another, and just when you think things are coming to a close, they take off rapidly again. 3 times I felt I was close to the end before actually reaching it. And those 3 times were endings, but at the same time they worked as beginnings for something else.
The story is long, and the main characters are well created. All of the characters are for that matter. Beyond the main story, there are several smaller character stories formed while characters bond after fighting alongside each other in battle. These bonds they form build a huge foundation on character development, making it almost unbearable to loose one of your team members. It can even go as far as marriage if you bond 2 compatible characters long enough. Playing the match maker is fun in it's own, and the character "support conversations" they have are rather rewarding to not just you but the story itself.
Following the same basic structure, FE:A plays essentially like other Turn Based Strategy games. You make your move, attack, or use an item or other function, then you're opponent does the same. The strategy comes in once you realize that once you've made your move, and it's you enemy's turn, you're stuck, and you better hope the positioning of your troops can withstand the incoming attack.
Ok, so nothing new right? Well, FE:A doesn't bring too much new to the table as far as gameplay. Though this isn't a bad thing. In fact, it does what it does so smoothly, I couldn't even bother asking for more. Planning on the field is easy to manage. And it's highly customize-able. You can alter the transparency of the grid, toggle the red "danger" zone on or off, turn off the battle animations for quicker experience, ect. ect. I already mentioned everything looks great for the display, and the controls are just as easy to manage. Add in short cut buttons like using the left trigger to quickly swap between selected character.
Some other cool strategic features include pairing up squadmates, which not only builds their relationship, but gives them advantages in battle such as increased stats or better chances to dodge or strike a critical hit. You can pair them by having them on adjacent spaces, or by joining them on the same space which can be used for a number of strategic moves, but also has it's disadvantages.
Even the terrain changes the flow of the battle. Towers across the map will give additional advantages, and mountains can only be crossed by flying soldiers, and staircases will spawn enemies. And each map has it's own unique build, making sure the experience never get's dull.
The enemy AI is great, they don't hesitate to charge and seek out your weaker men, nor will they show mercy on a lone soldier left behind. Be sure to keep your valuable but weak characters (such as healers and archers) out of the red zone, because they'll make easy targets for the enemy. They're not predictable either, often attacking someone else rather than the character in front of them, any reinforcements can come in at any moment.
One of FE more traditional concepts is Permadeath. This means that when a member of your squad dies, they're gone for good. You won't be playing as them again. Some of the characters essential to the story won't actually die, but they'll "retreat" and refuse to fight in future battles, but will still retain their part in the story.
You are given the option to turn permadeath off, but I would highly suggest avoiding this. Even if you're new to the series. With permadeath on, your moves matter, and the gameplay is more intense because of it. I plan to post a more in-depth blog about this, so look out for that.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best portable game I've played in a long time. It's a brilliant TBS RPG that deserves some attention from anyone in favor of TBS games and owns a 3DS. A gripping story, addictive and intense gameplay, and reason to continue playing long after the game has been beat makes this an excellent game to have on the go, and at home. Don't pass this one up.
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