Remember those Reese’s commercials? You know the ones about “You got your chocolate in my peanut butter!” That’s Fire Emblem: Awakening.
“You got your dating sim in my strategy RPG!” Okay, that’s a little disingenuous, but either way, Fire Emblem: Awakening is an excellent game. “Prepare yourself!”
For those of you who are only familiar with the Fire Emblem series due to the inclusion of Marth, Roy, and Ike in the various Super Smash Bros. games, let me fill you in. It’s a long-running series of SRPGs similar to the Final Fantasy Tactics games, but with some key differences. The most notable is the permanent death feature when one of your soldiers dies on the field of battle (more on this later). Another is the Rock-Paper-Scissors mechanic to the fights where swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. These staples of the series force the player to pay more attention to battlefield tactics than other games in the genre.
Fire Emblem: Awakening has all of the trappings you’d expect from the series. A medieval setting with warring factions, political infighting, chosen heroes, magic, and the like. Tense battles against overwhelming odds and tough choices where you have to decide whether or not one of your favorite units is going to live or die. These things make Awakening a very good game, but it’s the extra things Intelligent Systems added (like the Casual option and the expanded Support system) that make it one of the best in its class.
While Fire Emblem: Awakening has three standard difficult modes (Normal, Hard, and Lunatic) plus an unlockable fourth one, it also adds the option to play in the Classic or the new Casual style. If you’re a gamer that’s avoided a Fire Emblem game in the past because you heard about how difficult they are, then you’re in luck.
Casual mode removes the series’ permanent death feature and adds the ability to save anywhere. Purists have no reason to complain because this mode is entirely optional, but newcomers will find it a welcome way to ease into the series. When a character dies in battle in Casual mode, they are simply out for the rest of the battle but are available for the next one. And the best part about the mode is this: once the player has played their fill or beaten the game on Casual, there’s nothing stopping them from starting a new game on Classic.
Casual is not without its problems. Because units never permanently die, by the end of the game you’ll have assembled quite the diverse roster (especially if you’ve done the optional side missions). You might find yourself neglecting units and focusing only on your favorites simply because it’s too time consuming to keep all of them properly leveled. And that’s a shame because the characters and the Support system are another area where Fire Emblem: Awakening truly shines.
Teamwork wins battles, right? Fire Emblem: Awakening sure thinks so. Not only can you pair up units so that they occupy a single space, paired up units also fight together and receive extra bonuses. But it’s not just paired up units that work this way. Adjacent units will fight together, and the more they do the stronger the bond between them becomes.
And it’s not just on the battlefield. There’s a conversation system, almost like something you’d find in a BioWare game, that can be accessed on the world map between fights. Here’s where Awakening’s great characterization and localization get their chance to show off. As your characters grow closer together they’ll have conversations with one another that change over time. There’s the occasional anime cliche but nothing that will totally ruin your time with the game.
I was moved as Tactician avatar fall in love with Prince Chrom. I watched Lon’qu’s surly exterior crack as his relationship with my Pegasus Knight Cordelia grew. When a heterosexual couple reaches a high enough Support rank, they can even get married and have children. As far as I know, same-sex relationships don’t work the same way in-game, which is a shame.
With such a large cast of characters, you’ll want to replay the game again just so you can experience the different pairings. The Support system and relationships drove so much of enjoyment with the game, that I ended up grinding challenge encounters not for the experience or gold, but just so I could play with the “dating sim” options.
Even if the game looked and sounded terrible, it’d still be a hell of a lot of fun. That said, the hand-drawn artwork looks particularly good. The character models using during the fights and non-animated cutscenes look a little strange due to their apparent lack of feet. It’s a minor quibble really. The soundtrack is fitting for the battles as well as the less raucous scenes.
That’s not to say the game is perfect. There’s the fact that you might end up neglecting some characters–potentially mitigated by permanent deaths–and the inventory system is a little clunky. It’s a nuisance to wander around the world map looking for the right store to restock your weapons. Like I said before, these things are small flaws that don’t damage the overall product.
Intelligent Systems did a great job adding accessibility to the Fire Emblem series without sacrificing its core philosophy. Whether you’re a series newcomer or an old Fire Emblem veteran, Fire Emblem: Awakening has something for you. You might fall in love with the class customization options and battlefield tactics, or you might fall in love with simply making your characters fall in love. With the promise of DLC characters and challenge maps plus the myriad options in the relationship arena, Fire Emblem: Awakening will blissfully take over hours of your time and leave you eager for the next installment.
This review is based on a digital copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS