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Fire Emblem: Awakening review

Excellent
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AT A GLANCE
  • Strategy mixing relationships with tactics
  • Clever Street Pass options
  • Large number of sidequests and other content
  • Occasionally grating attempts at humor
  • Dying a lot in the later levels
  • Somewhat brief compared to other Fire Emblems

At some point in Fire Emblem, you will have to make a difficult decision--life or death? Will you reset a mission to save a character, or will you count them a casualty of war? It's a more pressing dilemma than you might think, especially after resetting a mission for the umpteenth time.

Permanent death has been Fire Emblem's calling card since its inception, and that's no less true in Awakening. It's for that reason that Fire Emblem has a reputation among gamers for being brutal, which is not entirely un-deserved. However, the 3DS version does its share to mitigate the frustration for newcomers, and it would be a shame to miss one of the franchise's best entries in a while.

At its core, Fire Emblem is a traditional turn-based strategy RPG that puts more emphasis on battlefield tactics than raw customization. Maps are elaborate affairs with lots of obstacles and barriers, such as volcanos in which the floor dissolves into fire and burns player characters. At times, they can feel almost like full-on dungeons, complete with traps, keys, and treasure.

"...Fire Emblem is a traditional turn-based strategy RPG that puts more emphasis on battlefield tactics than raw customization." 

Awakening doesn't deviate too much from these strategy tropes, but it does modify a number of fan-favorite features from Fire Emblems past, while introducing a few of its own. Chief among them is that players now assume the role of the Tactician. A more fleshed out version of a class introduced in Fire Emblem on the GBA, the Tactician is now a fully-customizable player character who supports the protagonist Chrom. This proves to be an interesting move, as support relationships feel more personal and character gender becomes more than an aesthetic choice. The Tactician could have been little more than a support role, but Awakening goes out of its way to weave the player character deep into the fabric of the story and the individual relationships, and the game is better for it.

Unfortunately, these relationships are dragged down just a bit by the comedy, which is inconsistent at best, and downright grating at worst. The laughs tend to be rooted in such time-honored anime tropes as: "I accidentally walked in on a female character while she was showering! Hilarity ensues!" Granted, some of the characters can be good fun, like the sarcastic dark mage Tharja, but others are either stiff (Frederick) or flat-out annoying (Vaike and his constant references to himself in the third-person). All told, the cast is decent, but not especially memorable outside of the main characters.

On the field, however, it's a different story. While some characters are more powerful than others, pretty much all of them are useful in their own way. And in the grand tradition of Fire Emblem, relationships matter a great deal on the field. As you might expect, a husband and wife team tends to have better synergy than most, which results in crucial stat boosts when attacking and defending. Typically, these stat boosts are the difference between victory and having to reset the game.

"The impact the relationships have on both the storyline and the actual strategy end up being Awakening's biggest strength."

In a nice touch, it's now possible to pair characters together, which makes it that much easier to get a little magic going (if you catch our drift). At first blush, it's a tad overpowered, since it can often result in characters landing three or four strikes on a single foe. But Awakening compensates by loading up the maps with a lot of high-level enemies in the late going, which can overwhelm even a really strong pairing. As such, while every group has the potential to deal a huge amount of pain, no one is invincible, especially on the harder difficulty levels.

The impact the relationships have on both the storyline and the actual strategy end up being Awakening's biggest strength. They allow otherwise flat characters to grow a bit, and they make for some interesting combinations on the field. Supports have been part of this series for a while now, but they really find full expression in Awakening thanks to the personalization provided by the Tactician and the children.

Awakening manages to impress in other ways as well. Rather than offer a strictly linear progression, the game has a full-fledged world map, which includes multiple sidequests and enemy encounters. These sidequests are important for building relationships and advancing characters, and oftentimes they are nice simply for being a change of pace. They are numerous, and the maps are almost as deep as the campaign missions, which is great to see in this kind of optional content. Best of all, enemies match your party’s level in the main campaign, so there's no need to worry about over-leveling and ruining the balance of the difficulty.

"Awakening ends up being the first entry in a long while to really nail the franchise's formula."

Awakening also does a great job of implementing the Nintendo 3DS' Street Pass functionality. After passing a fellow Fire Emblem owner, their Tactician will appear on your map, along with their party. You can then challenge them to a battle, and if you win, your friend's avatar will join your squad. It's a neat, if not particularly useful, addition.

Outside of the sometimes hammy and overly-confusing story, there's really very little "wrong" with Fire Emblem. Even those who are turned off by the notion of permadeath can simply opt to use the new Casual Mode, which can used for any difficulty and makes it possible to save at any time. The presentation is very nice; the soundtrack makes use of rich choral melodies for tunes that sound appropriately epic; and the anime-style cutscenes are strikingly attractive. While the total run-time of 15-20 hours is shorter than other entries in this franchise, there's a good chance you will want to start again immediately, if only to see what you get when you pair up different party members while playing on a harder difficulty level.

Fire Emblem: Awakening ends up being the first entry in a long while to really nail the franchise's formula. The in-depth strategy, creative use of asynchronous multiplayer, and host of bonus content are all enough to recommend it to fans and non-fans alike. For once, don't let the spectre of permadeath deter you from this classic series. Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best RPG on the Nintendo 3DS to date.

More Info

Release date: Feb 04 2013 - 3DS (US)
Apr 19 2013 - 3DS (UK)
Available Platforms: 3DS
Genre: Role Playing
Published by: Nintendo
Franchise: Fire Emblem
ESRB Rating:
Teen: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Language

Topics

jrpg review

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38 comments

  • universaltofu - August 17, 2013 8:54 p.m.

    I still feel like the battle animations leave a little to be desired in terms of badassitude (I mean the crit animations on the gba still go hard), but otherwise this is my favorite FE hands down, and made for the perfect vacation game just like the gba one did for me almost a decade ago.
  • LOZ4EVAH - March 8, 2013 9:03 p.m.

    This game is gooood. . .23 hours in so far and I'm loving it. Let some characters die cuz I didn't like them haha. That's the beauty of it. . . but Chrom married Sully. Something I didn't like. Lol.
  • Redeater - January 31, 2013 12:12 p.m.

    Great. I wasn't interested in this at all until I played the demo. Now this review comes out telling me I have to get this. I'm still god only knows where in Xenogears! Between work, my social life and other hobbies....I'm going to have to learn to game in my sleep.
  • Redeater - January 31, 2013 12:48 p.m.

    Make that Xenoblade.
  • Squirrel - January 31, 2013 9:16 a.m.

    This game is garnering some stellar reviews. I must say after playing the demo I'm definitely picking up Awakening. I've never been the biggest Fire Emblem fan, but the new option to turn off perma-death is a immediate incentive for me to jump back in. Noe I have to decide, do I want a boxed copy or should I just download from the eShop so i can always have Fire Emblem with me??
  • winner2 - January 30, 2013 8:06 p.m.

    EVERYTHING is an RPG now, face it peeps. We are playing as things that are not ourselves, hence RPG. Literalism! It pained me to type that. I'm not sure if I trust myself on that one.
  • n00b - January 30, 2013 4:31 p.m.

    Oh, well, um... guess we got a problem then. So, lemme introduce myself. Name's Resetti. Mr. Resetti. On behalf of the family, I'd like to show youse... I mean show YOU, uh... Uh, show you... Aw, forget it! How's a mole supposed to remember this garbage? HUH? Let's cut to the chase. Ever hear of Animal Crossing? Yeah? Well that's where I'm from. I'm the guy who stops cheaters from cheatin'. The no-resettin' policy enforcer, ya follow? You break the rules, you gotta deal with the mole in charge here. I'm like the... how you say... conscience of Animal Crossing. And, uh, I ain't one to toot my own horn or nothin', but I'm a big deal. I'm the most popular-- What's that? You ain't got time for this? You wanna know what it is I'm doin' here? You ain't heard a word I said, that it? You got potatoes in your ears, punk? HUH? This is Super Smash somethin' or other, ain't it? Yeah? Then quit complainin'. I'm SUPPOSED to be here. I'm the star of the show, twerp! Huh? What's that? I'm in the way? Ya can't see the screen? KEEP CRYIN', PUNK! I got a little news fer ya! It don't matter if you're resettin' anything, OK? I'm gonna be poppin' up now an' again, an' you better be ready for your daily dose of mole! It ain't like this is all earthworms and mudbaths for me, pal. I'm just followin' orders. We clear? SCRAM!
  • MetroidPrimeRib - January 30, 2013 3 p.m.

    Fire Emblem isn't an RPG how could you get this wrong And why would you mark difficulty as a negative in Fire Emblem, that's one of the best things about it
  • Squirrel - January 31, 2013 9:20 a.m.

    Fire Emblem is categorized as a strategy RPG. Unlike other turn-based strategy games, you actually play as the characters that are taking part in the storyline and can level them up at your discretion. The added ability to foster relationships between your chracters makes this entry even more RPGish.
  • MetroidPrimeRib - January 31, 2013 1:08 p.m.

    Just because it has minor RPG elements doesn't make it an RPG
  • Redeater - January 31, 2013 2:44 p.m.

    People who argue over labels should be shot in the face. What is GTA? Third person shooter? Racer? FPS? Action adventure? RPG? Bowling simulator?
  • MetroidPrimeRib - January 31, 2013 6:03 p.m.

    Sandbox.
  • Redeater - February 1, 2013 12:29 a.m.

    Yeah...you do realize how often that particular term is thrown around right?
  • MetroidPrimeRib - February 1, 2013 12:45 p.m.

    To sandbox games?
  • slimjim441 - January 30, 2013 1:27 p.m.

    Intense difficulty? Not a problem. Cheesy, forced humor? Too be expected; it's still a JRPG at heart. Somewhat on the shorter side? A little disappointing, but at the same time, quite welcome. I love how long Radant Dawn's story is (around 50+ hours), but it makes replaying the game to try out different characters and build different relationships kind of a pain. And yes, I did only read the 'You'll love...' and 'You'll hate...' sections along with the big words. I'm too excited to dig into this article right now and I know I'll love it anyway. There hasn't been a FE title that I didn't love. Well, Sacred Stones was notably less than the rest, but I still beat it like 4 times.
  • BladedFalcon - January 30, 2013 3:51 p.m.

    The reviewer didn't seem to take into account the absurd amount of upcoming SpotPass and DLC support coming for the game, both in the form of extra characters and extra chapters and sidequests when it comes to the overall length of the game. Of course, I realize that being additional content, free or otherwise, probably shouldn't qualify in the review of the overall game, but I still feel it should be pointed out. At least in Japan, there seems to be a whooping total of 120 extra characters you could potentially recruit from other games, and all of them free, same with some sidequests. So that probably will extend the lifetime for a wee bit more?
  • shawksta - January 30, 2013 5:06 p.m.

    Huh, I forgot the game had DLC. Its good news when an already satisfying game is getting even more satisfying DLC, even better that its free, instead of feeling stripped.
  • BladedFalcon - January 30, 2013 6:30 p.m.

    Not ALL of it is free though, only the spot pass stuff, there's also gonna be paid DLC for extra chapters and characters.
  • shawksta - January 30, 2013 9:53 p.m.

    I heard something like "The first two weeks" or something is Free, either way, as long as it doesnt feel stripped or worse, On-Disk
  • slimjim441 - January 30, 2013 10:53 p.m.

    120 extra characters on top of the original cast? FML, dude. There'll be a lot of commingling to do. I also forgot about all that DLC, too. As long as they fit in the story fine or don't have stupid specifications like Shadow Dragon's gaiden chapters. It took me like two years to accept that it was okay for people to die for the greater good of opening more levels.

Showing 1-20 of 38 comments

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