The lights are on
After their overwhelming boom in popularity by being featured in Super Smash Bros. Melee, American fans demanded more of the mysterious combatants, Roy and Marth. After two years, Intelligent systems answered with the series first US release, Fire Emblem. A decade and four localized games later, Fire Emblem surrendered its GameRanking title as highest rated in the series to the newly released Fire Emblem Awakening.
Despite initially following a clichéd storyline along the lines of "Hero wakes with amnesia and helps save the kingdom," Awakening really picks up about halfway through, delving into intriguing concepts of destiny, and insane plot twists! Playing as your customizable avatar, you are woken in a field by (Your soon-to-be best friend) Chrom, and his band of knights, called Shepherds. The narrative quickly unfolds into a story filled with warring lands, politics, betrayals, and various relationships, comparative to a medieval drama.
As always with Fire Emblem, most of the excitement comes from the combat system. While fans of the series will already feel at home on the sprite filled tactical battle grid, the fantastic tutorial will ease newcomers into the turn-based combat style. The tutorial is never an interference, popping up on the bottom screen throughout the game with quick tips educating new players on the different elements of combat, such as the weapon triangle (Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords). The different units you come across categorize into various classes, be it archer, knight, thief, or mercenary, and when a character levels to ten, you gain access to advanced classes. A satisfying feeling always comes from seeing your weak mage transform into an unstopable dark knight!
Riding shotgun with combat is the relationship system, more specifically, the dual system. Two adjacent characters will pair up on-screen in a battle, whether it be support characters buffing the lead, or them both attacking the enemy. Two nearby sprites can also join to make one powerful unit, and depending on the supporting character, the lead will receive various stat bonuses. Working with other members of your party raises your support level with them, increasing the odds of them blocking an attack/dual attacking. The relationship system works off a C-B-A scale, where every level, the specific characters partake in quirky, humorous banter, from joking to training. Certain characters can even scale to "S" rank, where they will marry, and you can find/recruit your children later in the game on side quests!
Seen only in one past installment, Awakening features the choice between a casual or classic playthrough, turning the famous permadeath feature on or off. New players may feel inclined to take it easy on casual, at the same time if you choose the classic option, you will immerse yourself in a much more strategic, emotionally draining (Yet rewarding) journey. While in other permadeath games, such as XCOM, frustration comes solely from the time put into leveling up a character, where in Awakening, guilt and grievance come from the emotional investment, simulating a more devastating death. While I experienced a fair amount of loss, it made the successes and character progression that much more rewarding! While you may adopt a certain group of characters you continually bring on quests, the story (Combined with Chrom's extremely trusting nature) showers you with extra characters. This makes it easy to replace a specific class, however fails to fill the void in you heart from seeing your spouse or best friend fall in battle.
Switching between three different types of graphics, Awakening employs some of the best looking CG cutscenes seen on the 3DS. With with CG scenes being few, it switches most often to crude avatars, and battles during the game use Fire Emblem's famous sprites on a tactical grid map. in spite of finding the battle tracks repetitive, the individual tracks shined brightly, especially the series' iconic main theme!
Fire Emblem Awakening is one of my favorite games on the 3DS, yet it is not without its shortcomings. For instance on easier difficulties, certain overpowered units seemed to break early game immersion (However you will love those characters on harder difficulties!). The crude in-game graphics do not seem to utilize the full power of the 3DS, and combat can sometimes seem to rely on luck, where one misstep in your strategy can potentially lead to dead allies, and you restarting the battle. Imperfections aside, my experience with this game quickly had me on the edge of my seat, cringing when an enemy would move closer to a weakened ally, or cheering from the excitement that I beat a chapter with no one dying! Whether you have played the series or not (For some strange reason!), if you have a 3DS, it would be wrong not to add this fantastic title to your collection.
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