Review from a Gaming Expert: Fire Emblem Awakening

Games like Fire Emblem Awakening are both a gift and curse. On one hand, you’re treated to an engaging, polished title that offers visceral gameplay, impeccable presentation, and addicting mechanics. On the other, the game will ruthlessly take over your life, digging its sharp tendrils deep into you and refusing to let go, caring not for your job or your relationship or anything else outside of its parasitic, immutable bond with your soul.

Dramatic? Maybe. But such is the effect of Fire Emblem Awakening. And it’s so good you won’t even care.

Wheee
Wheee

Gameplay

At the core of Awakening, as is the core of any strategy game, is the gameplay. In Awakening, you move units around a battlefield, engaging with enemy units. The game utilizes a “rock-paper-scissors” system between swords, lances, and axes that can change each encounter. On top of that, the game requires you to both consider the match-up between the fighting units, as well as situational awareness of the rest of the battlefield. Enemies know to attack your weakest unit, and will flank and overwhelm you with numbers whenever the chance arises. This creates a very malleable, intense battlefield that requires the player to constantly remain on their toes.

Thankfully, the units you take into battle, with the proper care and strategy, are more than capable of holding their own. Characters can be paired together to provide devastating one-two punches and defensive support. On top of that, units will level up, gaining vital stats and skills to aid them in combat. Players will have advanced classes to promote their units into, as well as secondary classes that can open up new options and features for them.

Although they start out as brittle as a wet paper towel, your units will eventually gain stats and grow into powerhouse nightmares for the opposing forces. Be prepared to ruin the day of many a man and beast. Before long, even I was dominating fools and talking trash, and I eschewed actually good units for my favorite characters. Good battle strategy? Not really. But when Cordelia criticals some douche riding a dragon and he backflips off to his death, it’s hard not to feel like a god.

Sexy juggernaut
Sexy juggernaut

To classic or not to classic

Fire Emblem, the series, is known for its brutal and unforgiving difficulty, as well as its “perma-death feature. Like the name implies, in perma-death, if a character perishes in battle, they stay dead. So more like Aeris, and less like anything Marvel.

Awakening, on the other hand, ups the accessibility – while the gameplay is as tough as ever, players can choose from two options: classic and casual.

In classic, the perma-death feature makes its return, and every move must be considered and calculated, lest you send your beloved unit to their untimely death via arrow to the face (Cherche, NOOOO). Casual, on the other hand, only removes the character from the particular battle in which they fell.

Most people will tell you that for the base experience, you really need to play on Classic, and deal with the perma-death when it arises. I don’t necessarily agree. Even on casual, if your characters are killed, they are gone until the end of the battle, meaning they are cheated out of the experience and support bonuses they could be gaining, which isn’t something you’d want anyways. This way, however, if your character is cheap-shot killed in the last round by a random critical (CHERCHEEEEEE), or you input something terrible accidentally when you almost drop your 3DS in the toilet, it doesn’t force you to either start over or deal with the loss of the character, and all of the neat relationship and story angles that go with it.

Also sexy juggernaut.
Also sexy juggernaut.

Story and characters

Which brings me to the story and characters (as the header would appear to imply), the absolutely most addicting element of Fire Emblem Awakening by a wide margin. While the story is serviceable and certainly has its moments, Awakening’s strength is in its characters. Each character is diverse, dynamic, and extremely well-written, bringing to the table their own unique perspectives and personalities. When paired with other characters on the battlefield, they develop relationships that can then be explored through dialogue in scenes that range from hilarious to heartbreaking to agonizingly adorable. I spent more hours than I’d like to admit fighting in battle with no interest in experience or leveling, but rather, building up these relationships to unlock more brief interactions between the characters. You’ll want to explore all the options you can, and then jump right back in with a new game after completion to try different paths.

More than once, when developing mapping out relationships, I was dissatisfied with the characters’ chemistry, and decided to change routes. Yes, it was like I was playing house with a war strategy game. No, I’m not ashamed.

One of the more rewarding aspects of developing these relationships is getting to play as the kids of these characters. Through a silly plot device that plays a really pivotal role in the story, you are able to recruit these kids, who inherit and adopt the stats and skills of their parents, making them veritable powerhouses. But it’s the relationships between each other and their parents that really make them a compelling inclusion, and I already know I’m going to find it hard to play previous entries and sequels that don’t include this mechanic.

You'll love most of these characters. And you'll hate one.
You’ll love most of these characters. And you’ll hate one.

I can’t continue without mentioning Severa – as a spoiled, bratty ice-queen with a soft center, she was by far my favorite character, and a damn juggernaut by the endgame. Severa for President.

Presentation

Graphically, Awakening is one of the best looking things on the DS. Animation is crisp and colorful, and cut-scenes are amazingly choreographed and as fluid as they are gorgeous. Awakening is even one of the rare titles that justifies leaving your 3D setting turned up.

Chris goes more into detail on his Fire Emblem post, but the music is also stellar, painting each scene perfectly and constantly setting the appropriate tone and atmosphere for any given set piece.

If you wake up and see this in front of you, you're about to have a bad day.
If you wake up and see this in front of you, you’re about to have a bad day.

Summary/Score

The game does have faults. For example, the balancing, at times, does seem off. Most of the really great skills are made obsolete, because by the time you grind enough to earn them, your character won’t need them anymore, anyways. Also, while there are harder difficulties available, they aren’t predicated on tougher foes or smarter enemies, but rather cheap, frustrating abilities and high crit percentages, making it more about luck than actual strategy. And finally, I wish the game offered more instruction for players that wanted it. By the time you really get the idea behind promoting and switching classes, it might be too late because of the stat cap. Furthermore, the game offers no information on what skills are earned from what classes, forcing the player to either look them up in a guide, or undertake in hours of trial and error or experimentation.

Severa doesn't care about you. That's why she's the best.
Severa doesn’t care about you. That’s why she’s the best.

While it’s my job to point out criticisms when I see them, it would be silly to allow such small blemishes to tarnish your experience with the game. Fire Emblem Awakening is greatness. It’s one of the best Nintendo titles to come out in years, further demonstrating the company’s versatility and sheer genius. If you own a 3DS, Awakening is a must purchase game, and if you give it a chance, I promise you’ll love it.

I give Fire Emblem Awakening five ice-queen Severas out of five.

6 thoughts on “Review from a Gaming Expert: Fire Emblem Awakening

  1. Ever since I bought this game, I now understand the obsession and what everyone is talking about. I really do like the battle system a lot. It reminded me of moving chess pieces across a board, and you really have to think about what your move against an enemy should be.

    I’m currently playing it on casual mode, mainly because I want to get used to a game before going for the more punishing mode. I already feel my heart sink when I lose a character on casual, even though I know I’ll get them back after a battle is over. I can imagine how I’ll feel when I do try the classic mode.

    I can definitely see myself replaying this for a while because I want to see all the interactions and relationship possibilities between the characters.

    1. I’m already half way through play through number 2. How do I have the time for this? I don’t actually, which is unfortunate…

  2. Totally agree this game is so fun. I’m still on my first playthrough and playing on Classic, but I kind of regret that. I’ve had a handful of characters die, and it’s to the point where I know I’m missing out on a lot of great character story and skills. I’m restarting battles to save the rest of my characters, because I don’t want to lose any more! So I agree that playing on Casual is probably a good option, especially for the first time you play. As in… I’d probably have enjoyed Classic mode more on my second playthrough, when I had already gotten to experience the game without missing out on anything due to perma-deaths.

    Anyway, great review! Already I can’t wait to finish and then replay the game for different pairings, etc. And I totally changed character pairings based on their chemistry too. The characters are awesome.

    1. Thanks for reading it! Yeah, I’m on my second playthrough right now on Hard – Casual, which is great because the challenge is still there, but I feel like I can still experiment with the relationships of weaker characters without having to worry about them dying.

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