The turn-based strategy RPG – Fire Emblem has come a long way since its debut in North America and Europe in the mid ’00s. From the Game Boy Advance to the Wii, now the longstanding Japanese franchise is ready to hit the 3DS with Fire Emblem: Awakening. Having much of the same premise as before – and using the full capabilities of the 3DS – could this be a Fire Emblem to remember? Does it bold well for the future of Nintendo’s 3D handheld, or does it have to rethink its strategy?
Following a young prince named Chrom and his many companions he finds along the way – Fire Emblem: Awakening takes place on the eve of a war that’s been looming between nations and an unknown threat called “The Risen.” Chrom and his companions faces various challenges and battles on his journey, all to overcome this evil and protect his kingdom and the legendary Fire Emblem from getting into the wrong hands.
It’s your standard RPG storyline, then. But, as hard as it may be to believe, you’ll be immersed and engaged with its well-told and deep story, with a massive amount of unique and likeable characters. This is a Fire Emblem tale you’ll never forget.
Putting the unforgettable story aside, Fire Emblem: Awakening still offers that same enjoyable gameplay that it’s known for. You take command of multiple units with unique classes and abilities to rout either the opposing army or commander. Thinking before each move is key because, once you’ve made your move, you can’t take it back. Each decision you make could easily be your last. It’s a simple, yet deep, combat system that has you thinking about each move you make.
Upon starting a new game you’ll have to create an avatar, which is why it’s a good thing that Fire Emblem: Awakening offers a deep avatar creator. Containing various ages, heads, hairs, hair colors, and voices to change between, you can create a pretty unique avatar for yourself. While creating you can see your avatar’s 3D model change, along with how their portrait during 2D conversions will appear. You can then take your character into the thick of things, which is always good.
After that, you can select from a variety of difficulties – and brutal and unforgiving difficulty is what the Fire Emblem series has been known for. Even early on in the game. Long-term fans will be pleased to know that Awakening is still as brutal and unforgiving as always, offering up four difficulty settings – easy, normal, hard, and lunatic – as well as two modes of play – classic or casual.
Classic mode means that upon losing a unit in battle, it’s lost forever – think XCOM if you’re unfamiliar with the mechanics of Fire Emblem. Entering into a Casual mode playthrough means your units will be revived automatically after battle, thus alleviating the stress of battle. I recommend that anyone looking to experience the story and become familiar with the intricacies of battles should pick normal difficulty on casual mode. Those looking for some balls-to-the-wall action and high-pressure situations should opt for classic mode and, ideally, hard or lunatic difficulty. You have been warned though, it’s very hard.
Regardless of the difficulty, each battle requires strategic thought in and out of combat. It’s far more than just positioning characters in the right places and reading statistic, while a rock-paper-scissors weakness model lets you know effective moves to use. There are far more things you need to take into account, such as learning every unit type to their absolute fullest ability, and each character too. This is really important because each character is unique within their specific class and with the abilities they can use.
Inventory management is also vital to success as each item and weapon can only be used so many times before they are exhausted or broken. Knowledge really is key when it comes to playing Fire Emblem: Awakening. It can also help to team up, meaning two characters can support one another in battle to help buff stats or provide backup.
However, you can’t just expect someone to team up with you straight from the off. You have to build up these relationships during battles or other means before you can utilise them on the field. All relationships are ranked on a scale of C to A, with a special ‘S’ rank reserved for heterosexual relationships that have blossomed into marriage. The higher the level, the more support your colleague offers you in combat. Its always worth noting the strength of these relationships and building them up before entering particularly tough battles.
Fire Emblem: Awakening also takes full advantage of the 3DS capabilities including, SpotPass, StreetPass and the ingenius use of DLC. StreetPass functions allow you to create a team of characters you have collected to face off against another player’s teams – all without actually facing them. There’s also a bonus box that houses additional content, “renown awards” for winning battles, an ad-hoc function known as Double Duel – allowing two players to duke it out – and the avatar logbook where players can use another player’s avatar for their own use. As for SpotPass functionality, once activated, you get notifications about additional content and game updates, which is handy when you can expect to see DLC in the form of additional stages and characters. Really, the only thing missing here is an online versus mode.
Pleasingly, Fire Emblem: Awakening’s presentation has a unique charm to it. Graphically it looks little more than a high-resolution DS game, utilising sprites on a grid map. However it feels more like a console title during combat cutscenes and conversations. Everything and everyone, from the environments to the 3D character models, feels unique and impressively detailed. Even the nicely animated cutscenes bring this tale of Fire Emblem to life, along with excellent 3D support that rivals Resident Evil: Revelations and other 3DS titles. The soundtrack also holds up well, with highly composed orchestral scores – especially the main Fire Emblem theme.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is an excellent title for anyone’s 3DS. With an immersive and engaging story, deep & unique combat, and top-notch presentation, if you’re looking for an excellent turn-based strategy RPG for your 3DS, make no mistake that Fire Emblem: Awakening is waiting for you. Once you hear the main Fire Emblem theme during the opening scene, you’ll know that you’re going to be hooked.
Audio/Visual – 5/5: Top-notch quality, with beautiful graphics, excellent 3D, and a nicely composed soundtrack.
Gameplay – 5/5: A mix of different Fire Emblem games of yore, this installment is the best by far.
Innovation – 5/5: The series has come a long way to provide a unique turn-based strategy RPG experience unlike any other.
Value – 5/5: Sure to keep you busy for months on end, and bonus DLC keeps the fun coming.
Final Score: 5/5