By Brittany Vincent, GamerHub.TV (MCT)
“Fire Emblem” is a long-running, respected member of the strategy genre, with plenty for players to love. The painful waltz of having to say goodbye to a team member forever and ensuring the objectives of each mission are met is simultaneously heartbreaking and intriguing, as permadeath can radically change the game you’ve been enjoying thus far. The series has unfortunately been dormant for quite some time in the West, with the last major “Fire Emblem” adventure having been released in 2008. “Fire Emblem: Awakening” is a brilliant return to form with a gorgeous new coat of paint and more of what defined strategy RPGs in the first place. “Awakening” builds upon an already stalwart foundation to create another exciting, edge-of-your-seat adventure that deserves your time and attention.
“Awakening” begins with an “awakening” of sorts, where you’re treated to a striking cut scene in which you’re seen helplessly slaughtering the companion you’re with as the malevolent Validar mocks you, taunting you for the actions you supposedly just can’t change. It’s tough to watch, thinking you’re going down a path as the series villain, but when the scene draws to a close something intriguing happens. You’re in the middle of a field, with some others, including a man named Chrom. If that name sounds familiar, it’s because Chrom was the companion who suffered a painful death in the game’s first scene.
Suddenly your character’s an amnesiac, and you’re getting on well with your accompanying party. Things would be great, if it weren’t for the unsolved mystery of the beginning and the chaos that seems to have befallen the world. Creatures known as Risen are terrorizing the landscape. From there, you’re in for a wild ride. Awakening begins as a search for answers that’s gripping every step of the way.
Not much has changed in the core gameplay department, and thankfully so. The unique blend of rock-paper-scissors combat expertise is back, and it’s an interesting model to follow and memorize. For instance, lances will always crush swords, but axes will always best lances. It’s a fantastic check-and-balance system. In conjunction with a system that requires units to be placed aside each other for better strength bonuses and other perks, it works extremely well. This allows for large pushes against boss characters and ensures that party members with low HP or low chance at survival get the augments they need to survive the battle with stat increases.
Powering up your combatants becomes an addictive experience, especially in the midst of some particularly tense battles — so even though it leans on some of the most reliable tropes of the strategy genre, it still feels fresh. In addition, there are differently colored grid squares dotting the battlefield, behind which wait new item drops, experience points, and other goodies, adding a new layer of strategy to a streamlined combat system.
Where you’ll want to focus most of your time and energy lies in the game’s rich relationship system. You’ll quickly fall in love with these characters, and through each battle develop deeper connections. After being in the heat of battle you can interact with your allies for some one-on-one time. Pairing together characters for support conversations ends up being a boon to your allies’ perks and stats.
You’ll also unlock more information about the characters you choose, making it all the more painful if one of your favorites does happen to fall in battle, since the traditional “Fire Emblem” way is permadeath — though you can choose to play without this option. It’s a neat addition for newbies, but somewhat neuters the experience as that sense of overwhelming sadness that can very well engulf you should a beloved member of your party fall is just no longer there.
Even after you complete the main quest, the game doesn’t stop. Side missions, additional battles, Street Pass features and heaps of other goodies round out the content sphere for an avalanche of “Fire Emblem” goodness that should keep you coming back for more long after you’ve finished what you set out to do. This is an absolutely gorgeous game as well. Rich, detailed environments, units, and even the characters themselves have had a massive makeover from the old days of handheld “Fire Emblem” and now sport an attractive, 3D-rendered style like that of later “Final Fantasy Tactics” games. It’s also rocking some glossy backing tunes as well that fit the tone of this departure to a T. It’s a fantastic, well-put-together package whose elements combine seamlessly.
“Fire Emblem: Awakening” is undoubtedly one of the best strategy RPG titles to hit the 3DS, and owners looking to augment their collections further should certainly pick it up. It acts as a great start for those looking to get into the genre and “Fire Emblem” in general. If you buy one 3DS game right now, it should certainly be this one.
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Strategy RPG
ESRB Rating: T for Teen