Awakening gives strong incentive to buy-in to Nintendo's latest handheld.
Although the Nintendo 3DS was in dire straits only a year or so ago, it’s quickly becoming one of the go-to consoles for all sorts of different genres. With hit titles like Super Mario 3D Land and Pushmo, the 3DS’ weak lineup has since become one of its strongest traits. Fire Emblem: Awakening only enforces this with its super-tight mix of role-playing and strategy that feels right at home on Nintendo’s handheld. There was little reason to buy the 3DS before, but Fire Emblem: Awakening makes a strong argument to buy-in now.
The strongest aspect of Awakening is that it doesn’t try to set itself up for disappointment by introducing new or unique gameplay nuances. Instead, it focuses on building upon the series’ roots. And although I personally have never played any of its predecessors prior to Awakening, any gaming regular should be able to jump in and enjoy its depth and strategy right away. It’s not for beginners, sure, but it’s definitely not a giant brick wall that some presume it to be.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a high-stakes game; a game that can punish you for making very small mistakes. Your tactics and where you decide to place every unit can ultimately decide your fate—even one turn later. It’s a stressful game. It’s definitely not a game to relax to after a hard day at work or school. You have to dedicate yourself to clever strategy. But it has many options for people that may not want to be punished for small mistakes, too. It has the right amount of tweaking that can make the campaign as easy or as hard as you’d like. It ultimately depends on how crucial you want every turn to be.
Characters live, characters die—but they all have their importance to the fight. Fire Emblem veterans know that you aren’t playing Fire Emblem unless there is some sort of risk involved. Awakening continues this tradition by permanently killing off characters if they are defeated in battle. If you don’t abide then you might as well not play at all. This is the way that Fire Emblem has always meant to be played. Mistakes should be penalized. The stressful risk after each and every move is what makes you a better player and ultimately makes Awakening a more enjoyable experience. If there wasn’t a severe penalty for poor choices there wouldn’t be an incentive to learn and grow. This is what Awakening does to stand out: it tries to make you better.
Variability is what keeps the game fresh, too. Because so many characters can die throughout the game there’s a strong chance that you will never see certain missions and other significant characters down the road. That’s because Awakening narrative revolves around time travel, and what changing character’s fates can to do to the thread of time itself. Your character—another variable in the overarching thread that is chosen when beginning the game for the first time—is suddenly woken in the middle of a field on a beautiful spring day. Not knowing why or who you are, Chrom—the story’s other main protagonist and the character that drives most of the narrative—offers you to join his group of Shepards to keep the world at peace from the Risen.
As contrived or perhaps even lazy as “character that wakes up with amnesia” may sound, the narrative that supports it is very well done. It’s just not a quest to find your native origins but it’s also a story of battle and defeat. Your character is the driving force of the narrative thread, but Chrom and his Shepards (the characters you meet and recruit throughout the game) also drive the story forward in some really interesting ways.
There are a lot of characters in Awakening, too. Nearly every story mission you’re given the chance to recruit characters that range in all sorts of different, genders, builds, and classes. You’re able to experiment with all of these characters, too, by the new social aspects of game. When characters are grouped together in battle—which I found to be a very good strategy in the long-run—they can gain each other’s support, resulting in better stat bonuses while in battle. Certain combinations of characters can marry each other, as well, resulting in some interesting story threads.
You’re able to experiment with many characters throughout the game. This is further cemented by the way you can alter every character’s class to suit your strategy on the battlefield. Don’t like how this specific character is a mage? Use a second seal and that character can become a knight. This increases the variability of the game, although changing classes doesn’t affect the story in any meaningful ways beyond how strong you are in battle. It’s a great way to experiment, allowing you to completely change any character that you’ve come to dislike because they don’t fit your play-style.
Personally for me, my strategy was to have my main character and her partner, Chrom, take care of most of the heavy-hitting enemies while my archers took care of any flying units (since flying units are weak to bows and arrows). And that’s another way your strategy can affect your game—certain weapons are stronger against specific defenses. Certain classes, too, are more suited for fighting other classes. It almost becomes a game of chess at some point because you don’t want to be the first in battle as you can get surrounded by the wrong classes at the wrong time. I had some of my flying units get one-shotted because of silly unit placement near archers. You have be aware of your enemy throughout an entire battle because one slip-up can mean life or death for some of your characters.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is generally a hefty game, featuring a lengthy story with lots of replayability. It even features downloadable content, ranging from classic Fire Emblem characters to brand new quests to pursue. There are many units to chose from in the vanilla Awakening, but you can further add to your roster with other powerful characters through DLC. The way it’s implemented into the campaign is clever, too, as there’s an option in the menu to summon new characters to your map. When you find them you can either defeat their team or buy them to add to your roster. It’s nice to see a fully-fledged DLC-system integrated into one of Nintendo’s biggest releases of the year.
It was hard to imagine a scenario where the 3DS struggled to offer the same type of diverse gaming library similar to the DS before it, but it’s headed in the right direction with Fire Emblem: Awakening at the forefront. The strong narrative and character development brilliantly ties into an intense tactical experience that is hard to find anywhere else.