Oh, I’m sorry. Were you surprised? No. Of course you weren’t. As the second most obsessive Fire Emblem fan on these forums, you knew that this would come up sooner or later. And, after only a mere 25 or so hours I can tell you with absolute certainty that… Fire Emblem Awakening is a Fire Emblem game and is definitively a better time sink than Dead Space 3. Oh, other games? What other games? Studying for midterms isn’t games, silly. Ok. A bit of Endless Space, but I haven’t played enough other than to tell you that it seems really cool and I will possibly be writing about it in the future. Much like how I’ll be writing about Far Cry 3/World of Xeen in the future. Yeahhhhh…. Really. Maybe I’ll do something with those 50 Genesis Games I bought off amazon downloads for $7.50 while I’m at it, unaware that they didn’t come with steam keys. (I also bought Binary Domain. You should really check out their sale).
Anywhoo, if you didn’t already know, Fire Emblem is probably one of my single favorite series of video games, sitting alongside Might and Magic, Resident Evil, and “Anything that was made using the Infinity Engine” in franchises with an inordinate number of installments, most of which I have probably played. Admittedly, I haven’t played every Fire Emblem game to completion, four of the 13 still elude my grasp (five if you count Tear Ring Saga, which is Fire Emblem in all but name and also it’s on drugs). I’ve written about them a few times on this website, both as new, japan type, experiences as well as ranting about how Sacred Stones is too easy or how Radiant Dawn’s erratic difficulty curve and constantly shifting roster of units really bums be out. There’s something to be said for its particular brand of Turn Based Strategy, with a mechanical lightness that belies how devious things can get. I’d compare it to the most recent XCOM in that regard, except I’ve kind of soured on XCOM as of late and am secretly in my heart of hearts considering a retroactive demotion to second place with Dishonored as my GOTY of 2012. Ironman Classic isn’t fun, and some of the mechanical inadequacies of that game have reared their ugly heads a bit too often in my case. Oh well. What was I talking about? Oh right. Fire Emblem is cool, you should play it if you are into self-loathing or perhaps a deeply tactical experience that doesn’t involve endless grinding for JP just so you can be strong enough to fight Wiegraf.
“But what of this specific Fire Emblem”, you ask? Well, I’m glad you clicked on this blog, because that is what it happens to be about. Awakening can be best described as a grab bag of all of the best features of Fire Emblems past, which sadly does not include the ability to capture enemies and steal their items. No, what it does have is a world map (Fire Emblem Gaiden/The Sacred Stones), Alternate Promotions (Sacred Stones), Hella character skills (SNES and Gamecube/Wii titles), Reclassing (Shadow Dragon), a Player-created unit (Shin Monshou no Nazo), and Waifu obtaining (Geneology of the Holy War, though instead of a second generation the game uses time travel to explain why everyone’s overpowered kids are fighting alongside their parents. Also there is no incest, sadly). Also there is DLC, which I will get to in a moment. All of this together makes for perhaps the most mechanically interesting Fire Emblem and a nice return to form after the rather… underwhelming DS installments. It also clearly has the largest budget of them all, with voice acting, 3D graphics that don’t look terrible and those crazy prerendered cutscenes that are also quite good-looking. The soundtrack is also pretty awesome, if you’re willing to youtube it.
With all that said, I’ll just say flat-out that the gameplay is fantastic, but of course you already knew that because it was a Fire Emblem game and I’m the one writing this blog. You can’t fall into the trap of raising a crummy unit because everyone in your army is useable and effective, if not an absurdly powerful whirlwind of death and destruction the way your created tactician character is. While the ability to use both tomes and swords is good enough, the real power of your tactician comes in the form of the veteran skill, which they start with and boosts their experience gain by 1.5x as long as they’re paired up, a new mechanic that replaces rescuing and involves having two of your units fighting together, one giving stat bonuses to the other with chances of an extra attack of a full damage block (which is increased by the units’ support with each other, which is where the Waifu element comes into play). Since there is usually little reason not to have your units paired up, this led to my tactician easily becoming overleveled even without grinding, which this game has. That’s not to say that Hard difficulty isn’t respectably difficult, it certainly was until I gave into the temptation of easy, unlimited grinding, further emphasized by the DLC.
Oh man. The DLC. While I can attest that fighting and obtaining old Fire Emblem characters is cool, especially with all of the overpowered bonus characters you get as a result, one of the DLC maps I purchased also allowed for painless, quick grinding of the likes that could only be found in a Disgaea game, and there’s a different one that is part of that same pack that allows for quick, painless gold grinding. Needless to say, if you give me a way to ruin the game for myself, I’ll probably do it. If you are in your right mind and want to be around $2 richer, for the love of all that is strategic and such, don’t download that map. I can see it being useful for some of the absurdly difficult postgame content (which, again, is all DLC and none of which is currently out in the United States), but it kinda burned out a lot of the difficulty. That’s not to say that I didn’t have units die and was forced to restart (in this game, bows are actually hazardous to flying units), but generally most of my units could one-shot just about everything by the end. I’m tempted to start a playthrough on Lunatic and try not to grind, because everything I’ve heard and seen about that difficulty suggests I will hate myself for doing it, and as we all know, Self-loathing builds character. That’s why I’m a productive member of society here, sitting up at 1AM writing a blog about crazy strategy games.
Certain classes are better than others as well, though that’s to be expected. Pegasus Knights and Dark Mages are hilariously broken, thanks to the Dark Flier’s ability to move again after killing an enemy and the Dark Mages in this game actually being super dangerous tanky mages (with buyable Nosferatu, no less) instead of the useful but also somewhat crummy novelty characters they were in previous installments. Below that, your main unit’s tactician class is unsurprisingly deadly in its versatility and unique skills, and of course the main lord Chrom is good at killing everything as long as he isn’t targeted by like 4 mages in a row. My personal favorites though, are probably the hilarious War Cleric (using axes as well as staves, made even more hilarious if you make Lissa one instead of a Sage like you’re clearly meant to) and the assassin (having an instakill skill with a pitiful activation rate but otherwise being the glass cannons I want out of such a class). I would’ve made an army of War Clerics if I could, but not enough of the units I used had it as a class, so I was forced to settle for having no less than 3 assassins by the end and another unit with the insta-kill skill inherited. Also the weapon triangle still ostensibly exists, so I guess variety is… good? Bah. If I wanted weapon triangle control, I would’ve made a bunch of great knights. Also, you should use Henry, if only because he’s a dark mage (and thus crazy powerful) as well as being the most delightfully sociopathic character I have encountered in a while.
Oh right. The characters. I feel like the plot needs to be mentioned as mostly being a way to justify the presence of children characters, and the entire middle of the plot feels like it’s barely connected to how the ending shakes out, and it’s pretty easy to tell who is the bad guy and who isn’t. I wouldn’t call it bad, most Fire Emblem games aren’t especially masterful with their storytelling, unless you really identified with the overt “YO GUYS, RACISM IS HELLA BAD” subtext of Path of Radiance. Instead, it’s probably the characters that are worth mentioning. Since supporting is a pretty important mechanic in this game, and since almost every female character can support (and thus marry) almost every male character, there’s A LOT to be found in that support archive once you’ve finished the game, and I give mad props to 8-4 for the localization, which is top-notch and successful at making characters that otherwise fit pretty squarely into certain anime archetypes interesting and occasionally hilarious. Just… just watch this. Not a support (though those are probably all up on the youtubes), but easily an example of why having professionals at work can be a definite boon on the script. (Minor Spoilers, I guess)
With all of this said, I’m pretty sure this still isn’t my favorite Fire Emblem game. Most of the later maps don’t have any victory conditions other than Kill Everyone/Kill the Boss, and with the last game I played being Thracia 776, with its definitive trait probably being its utterly devious and clever level design, this one didn’t quite do it for me in the same way. But seriously. If you have a 3DS, you should probably purchase this game for a sum of money, though if you want a physical copy they’re apparently a total bitch to find. I only had to go to two gamestops to get mine, but I’d give caution to those seeking for such. Fire Emblem is still Fire Emblem guys, and I don’t think I’d have it any other way. Dinosarus?
*It's not impossible, but for all I know Bioshock Infinite will really blow my socks off.