It Burns So Good –
Nintendo’s tactics-based fan favorite has been strategizing fans for over two decades. Awakening not only builds on the success of previous entries while introducing new gameplay elements to make this entry one of the most accessible and entertaining yet, it also stands as one of the best games on the 3DS hardware.
Veterans will feel right at home while newcomers should be able to quickly understand the basis of gameplay thanks to the opening missions and on-board help system built right into the touch screen. The story is also easy to follow although it starts with the stereotypical RPG cliché of “I have no idea what I am doing because I have amnesia” opening. And unlike other Fire Emblem’s, Awakening revolves around your custom made avatar instead of solely following a prince/princess on their quest to rid evil.
The plot is linear but there are many side missions and random encounters to keep players busy. These side missions are also used to grind levels, something that other Fire Emblems have not fully explored in the past. Because there is a huge roster of characters and the ability to change jobs often, grinding is actually never as tedious as it might sound.
There are so many new gameplay additions and tweaks to Awakening it is difficult to list them all but they are welcomed. Post battle, for example, players can explore the easy-to-use menu system to listen in on conversations between party members or play around with equipable items and skills. In fact, this 3DS Fire Emblem puts a strong emphasis on building relationships between characters. If characters consistently fight within close proximity of one another they become stronger in battle and might even get married and produce offspring that can be added to your team. It is an interesting concept but takes time and dedication to yield such results, however. In my full play through, with several hours spent grinding random battles, I did not experience a single marriage or new child although many relationships were close to reaching that apex upon seeing the end credits.
Missions return as a turn based affair with one side playing offense while the other defends. Like other Fire Emblems, players will quickly learn how the enemy reacts so it is becomes easy to plan ahead – enemies always cherry pick the weaker enemies, move into attack when opponents enter their field of movement, and flying creatures will always be picked off by bow users. But even though the AI can be predictable, Awakening is no cake walk. Unique to the series, Awakening offers a Casual mode where characters do not experience permanent death. However, it is highly encouraged to play through the campaign on the Classic mode where characters will permanently die if they perish on the battlefield. Players are bound to spend the extra time thinking about each move and will feel a deeper connection and satisfaction with flawless play-throughs on Classic mode. There is even a higher difficult setting for those dedicated enough.
Fire Emblem Awakening is a big game on its own but the developers have continued to support this title through a wealth of DLC. In fact, Awakening might very well have the most amount of DLC for any Nintendo published game yet. Positively, players are treated to both free and paid DLC. About once a week, new items will magically appear in the Bonus Box, Nintendo’s way of saying Thank You for buying this game. Here, players will be treated from everything to unique items, weapons and other special content; players can even challenge popular Fire Emblem characters from pervious Fire Emblem games. This fan service adds tons of replay value and gives gamers a chance to spark interest in previous games in this long running series, even with titles released only outside of America. And for those willing to spend a few extra bucks, there are tons of extra downloadable maps that offer hours and hours of challenging extra content. If you do not connect your 3DS to the internet, you will miss a major (free and welcomed) chunk of Awakening.
Surprisingly, there are many fully animated anime cutscenes that are highly detailed and beautifully drawn. It might look a little awkward having simple 2D sprites running around 3D grid based levels when in battle but this visual style references the past while embracing the 3DS’ more powerful graphical capabilities. The dialog isn’t fully voiced but each character will exclaim emotions like surprise and dismay through stutters and sighs during each dialog scene; it helps provide even more personality. Even the opening avatar creation tool is detailed and the soundtrack stellar. The only complaint with Awakening’s assets are the stumpy feet on each 3D character model; for some reason, each character walks on their ankles. Either all characters do not have feet or there is some serious clipping going on and it looks very strange.
Intelligent Systems took the best parts of their series and combined them with several new gameplay features to make Awakening one of the best, if not THE best, entry in the franchise. Strategy fans will crave the difficulty. Newbies will embrace the accessibility and addicting gameplay. And veterans will love the fan service and care put into this title. Awakening has refreshed the series in the most positive of ways and has given gamers a reason to pick up a 3DS.
Better Than: other games in the series (and those were all great games)
Also Try: Tactics Ogre: Let Us Cling Together (PSP)
Wait For It: a new Advance Wars