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Fire Emblem Awakening Review: 2013′s “Shipping” Game of the Year

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Hello world! My name’s Onery and I’ll be your guide for today. A short description of shipping for those who’ve not heard it used in this context before: in fandom shipping is derived from the word relationship and is used in romantically pairing two characters whether canonically or otherwise. With that sorted, let’s move on shall we…

It’s been almost a month since the release (US version) of Fire Emblem Awakening for the 3DS, and I have to say what a month it has been. This one little game has derailed my gaming life magnificently! Apart from small, quick iPhone games I barely have enough time to play anything else as I switch on my 3DS and lay back listening to the glorious title music whilst navigating through my saved files. Having spent a good 49+ hours each on two separate playthroughs, you’d think I’ve seen almost all there is there to do in the game. You couldn’t be more wrong if you thought so…

The look one gets if one says he/she's completed Fire Emblem 100%

The look one gets if one says he/she’s completed Fire Emblem 100%

Before I continue any further, allow me to gather my thoughts to prevent me from rambling on and on as I did above. I shall examine this game from 3 fronts: story and gameplay (this is a no-brainer I’m sure), audio-visuals (graphics, animation, OSTs, that sort of thing) and replayability (will be relatively short compared to the other two). At the end rather than give a score as I’m not good at objectively rating a game on any sort of scale, I’d just tell you whether the game was fun and whether you should pick it up (will depend on a number of factors which I’ll try to point out). Without further ado…

Story and Gameplay

Well, the writing’s decent. While it won’t win any prizes, it does what it set out to do quite well. That’s for the main storyline anyway. There is something else regarding story, but I’ll get to that in a bit. Gameplay-wise, this is your standard Tactical Strategy RPG with a weapons triangle that serves to add depth and complexity to the game… well, it definitely matters more on higher difficulties. Yes you heard right, from the get go you can choose how badly you want to raise your stress levels. Most won’t work a sweat on Normal, though Hard may make some wince and at Lunatic…*sigh,” I’m sorry to say, I never got past Chapter 3. There is also a another choice regarding your playthrough; playing on Casual allows your troops to pick themselves up  if felled in battle to move out of danger. Classic is permadeath. I don’t think I need say more.

Both my (successful) playthroughs were on Hard/Classic. More or less, this meant I played through the Fire Emblems on the GBA and am familiar with the game’s system and all — a ‘veteren’ of sorts. I use that term loosely, seeing as I got my ass handed back to me on Lunatic mode. Moving on, the game itself is like playing chess except with each individual piece having their own distinct personality and traits. The controls were good and the strategy deep and compelling. One aspect that makes or breaks a team is the skills each unit owns depending on the classes they have been. Another concept, new to the series, is the ability to pair up units with the secondary character donating some stats to the active unit in the pair. This allows for some really powerful combinations that’ll enable you to sweep through a map with a minimum of 2 units!

The playing field, a chessboard of sorts

The playing field, a chessboard of sorts

The key to that ‘pair up’ system is the franchise’s staple mechanic: the relationship between two units will influence how powerful a particular pair will be. This is also where story comes in as improving the relationship between two units involves triggering conversations between the two individuals once a certain ‘closeness’ level is reached (easily done by having said units fight as a paired unit). These conversations are usually hilarious and a blast to read. In fact, it is this Support System (as it is named in the game) that is a major contributor in sucking my soul into my 3DS. With a large cast, both male and female, the matchmaking possibilities are huge. Add to that the fact that a male-female pair can only have one ‘marriage’ support level means that you’ll be playing through the game multiple times to see those of the pairs you’re interested in. This also includes marriages with your unit with potential candidates. Yes, YOUR unit. The game at the very start asks you to create an avatar which effectively represents you in the game. It’s not a silent avatar, but as the writing is solid this is not much of a drawback. As I was saying, you can pair up YOUR unit with almost any other in the game (depending on gender). Sometimes I spend so much time pairing characters I feel like I’m playing a Visual Novel with a tactical strategy attached to it (hmmm sounds familiar… ah! Uwatarerumono!).

Lissa and Sumia, two of the female units available to play

Lissa and Sumia, two of the female units available to play

Audio-Visuals

The art is clean and beautiful. Each of the units have their unique looks and their personalities are reflected in the brief soundbites attached to their dialogue. That’s right, instead of the classic midi beeps and boops, you get voice-acted soundbites for each character. It helps that the english voice-acting don’t suck and are actually quite good once you get used to them. Alternatively (this is my favourite bit), you could opt to change the voices from English to Japanese (squeal!). Yes, you get to hear the Japanese voice actors and they are awesome. It is an aural delight to have this option. But of course, no offense to the English casts and their hard work. I’ve listened to both after all!

The music of Fire Emblem envokes a bit of nostalgia to those who’ve played any of the previous games, in particular Fire Emblem 7 for the GBA to those outside Japan (the one with Eliwood, Lyn and Hector). It is a solid soundtrack and such a joy to listen to that I’ll heartily recommend the OST.

Now one of the crux of 3D gaming (and no I’m not talking about the 3D effect and all, although it is implemented very nicely into the game as a visual aesthetic enhancer) and that of gaming in general: Animation. With the previous Fire Emblem game on the DS (Shadow Dragon) I was sad that they opted to replace the character’s portraits with polgonal-ish models instead of lovely cel-art. More importantly I was absolutely gutted when I saw the battle animation! There was no weight in any of the attacks making the polygonal models feel very artificial and stiff. A marked difference when compared to the sprite-based animation used in the GBA Fire Emblem Games which were lively and powerful (who can forget seeing for the first time Jaffar’s execution move?). So when it was announced that Fire Emblem Awakening was to use 3D models, I set my expectations low as not to be disappointed as I was with Shadow Dragon.

It turned out that I needn’t have worried. The battle animations now are full of vigor and energy that they rival that of the sprite-animated battles (just falling short of surpassing). It is once again a joy to see your characters psyche him/herself up during a critical building up for that immensely powerful blow you know will help turn the tide of the battle. Even more impressive is the animation during certain key cut-scenes dotted throughout the main storyline. It is here that I will insist you turn your 3D slider up to a point you find comfortable (but switched on of course) and enjoy the absolutely, jaw-dropping animation they provide. The fluidity, the rich expressions, everything about these cut-scenes are literally works of art.

This still does the cutscene no justice... you've got to watch it in motion!

This still does the cutscene no justice… you’ve got to watch it in motion!

Replayability

Here I can personally say that there won’t be much of a problem in this department. With free DLC planned in form of Spotpass data from the internet (currently 2 additional chapters have been added plus a large amount of legacy teams from the Fire Emblem games of yore) and Streetpass data exchange for those of you lucky enough to live in places where people understand this concept, the game’s already expansive lifespan balloons on and on. If that’s not enough, there is also the option to purchase extra DLC expanding the game’s life to infinity and beyond! Ok, not that long, but way way WAY beyond what one expects upon picking up the game. Western gamers have it lucky as there is the option to purchase content packs at slightly cheaper prices per DLC episode. So yeah, not a problem at all!

This is the place in the map to access the paid DLC content you buy

This is the place in the overworld map to purchase and access paid DLC content, accessible after a certain point in the game

Summary

Right, ignoring the fact I bombed Lunatic mode (I’ll get you one day… *scowl*) this game has brought much enjoyment and in the process I’ve lost over one hundred hours following the Adventures of the Shepards of Ylisstol (game lore, not a big spoiler though). If you are an RPG fan, strategy or tactics gamer, someone who likes shipping (still can’t stop laughing at some of the combos), or just someone who wants new game to sink time into; this… THIS game! You just have to experience this gem.

Someone who won’t enjoy the game? Probably someone who doesn’t or can’t read. That or someone who’d rather wield a carbine and gun down others online while expelling out profanities and commenting on the general lack of skill of your comrades. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

Edit: a quick foray into ratings here. So without further ado, my ratings for Fire Emblem Awakening!

Pros

  • Challenging tactical gameplay
  • A solid main story and a diverse and likable cast
  • Shipping and its hilarious results!
  • Gorgeous art, beautiful music, jaw-dropping cutscenes and great animation
  • Tons and tons of stuff to do, plus you can’t go wrong with free DLC

Cons

  • Lunatic is only for the masochistic, let alone the poorly hidden Lunatic+ mode. Technically not really a con, but I lost at least 5-6 hours before I realised that I just can’t progress at all.
  • Wordy: if you’re the sort to want to get to the action quickly you’ll miss quite a bit if you’re the sort to skip conversations. Again not really a con unless you make it to be one (personally this is a ‘Pro’ for me)

Score (out of 10): 10, this is as close as it gets to a perfect game! Too easy? Ramp up the difficulty! Too hard? Tone it down a notch! Finished the game? You haven’t, not by a long shot! Note, some slight bias as I don’t mind long narratives, anime-style art (love it) and punishing gameplay. For each of those traits you don’t like, subtract a point to get your ‘personalised’ score.

Have you played Fire Emblem Awakening or think it’s great? This is my FIRST post, so nice to meet ya and thanks for reading!

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Comments

  1. Shuujin008

    March 12, 2013

    Gee this is a big review. I was not sure if I should get it or rent it if people still do that. But I guess maybe I will get it. Oh and you didn’t have a final score or summary of criteria all together in the end. Nice review, but I wondered about that

    • Onery

      March 13, 2013

      Hiya Shuujin008, thank you for the reply! Reason why I didn’t have a quantized scoring system is that I opted just to tell if I thought a game was fun or not and to whom the game will be suited to. It’s much more vague I know, so if you (and any others) would prefer a rating/scoring system I can do that too. Just pop a reply and I’ll do my best to find a suitable rating system that’ll reflect what I’m trying to say and feel about the game.

      ~mya

      • shuujin008

        March 13, 2013

        Well I guess I just like numbers to measure, but tell me if I should buy it like MUST BUY or buy on sale. Is it in a top 5 3ds list?

        • Onery

          March 13, 2013

          Ah, I get what you mean. Well, what my summary condenses to is:

          “This game is the best Fire Emblem game and the best 3DS game I’ve played in awhile and I must insist everyone try it (i.e. buy the game) regardless of whether you like Tactical RPGs or not. Who knows, you may come to like it then… :D”

          As for whether it’s on a top 5 list… it had better damn well be (pardon my Klatchian)! In fact this may very well be the game of the year for 2013! It’s definitely got that potential.

          Edit: here’s a metacritic link showing the spread of reviews the game recieved. Rather impressive, don’t you think? http://goo.gl/8V4RZ

          ~mya

  2. Moonlitasteria

    March 20, 2013

    Finished it twice and still playing it, lol.

    I was able to finish Lunatic mode without too many problems, expect for a couple reset deaths (if I counted right, I did 12, lol). Lunatic+ on the other hand, not doing it, lol.

    • Onery

      March 20, 2013

      Wow, you’re lucky enough to get past through the first 5 chapters on Lunatic. I keep getting critical hits against me and not enough lucky ‘item gets’ through the shiny tiles. Kudos to you for completing Lunatic though (I understand completely if you’re not going to complete Lunatic+… I hear it’s absolute masochistic to even wade through the game even with grinding)!

      I may do so at a later stage but for now I’m just having fun finishing support conversations. Should really ask people what their favourite couple to matchmake is lol…

      ~mya

      • Moonlitasteria

        March 20, 2013

        That is all what it boils down to: luck. It is so easy to die, even when your units are paired up (Lissa almost died on me during the 1st stage, but dodged). After you get past seven, it gets sort of easier…well, to me anyway. And yeah, I seen Lunatic+ gameplay and it looks hellish XD

        I paired up MUnit with Anna twice, since Morgan came out to be a powerhouse (and so cute). Never bothered trying other combos, expect for the other characters. (Lon’qu x Cordelia = awesome child stats)

        • Onery

          March 20, 2013

          There is of course the cheat code that is Donnel and his child… ;)

          ~mya

  3. Nuu

    March 22, 2013

    If only i liked the 3DS….

    • Onery

      March 22, 2013

      There are quite a few reasons to like the 3DS. Just asking, why don’t you?

      ~mya

      • Nuu

        March 23, 2013

        idk…my response would be WAYYY too long, so I’m gonna (try) to shorten it.

        I loathe Nintendo. I actually am thinking of writing a post about them later. Anyways, i hate nintendo because they just ride the hell out of the IPs they have. Fire emblem (though sounds super fun), Mario omfg, metroid, zelda…the usual suspects.

        I want them to do something new. And getting other games from other systems like Ninja Gaiden or Bayonetta 2 doesn’t count. I mean making a TRUE triple-A game that they’re proud of.

        Sometimes they make new games, but they’re small and ones that (seem like) no risk was taken in the big scheme of things.

        The systems are annoying to me as the graphics are annoying and I feel ever since gamecube, things have been stagnet game-wise. I mean they have had good sales in the past, but if I’m not mistaken, they’ve dropped (but then again the other consoles have too i believe).

        The entire reason I got the gamecube was Phantasy Star Online ep 1 & 2 because gamecube got most of the deceased Dreamcast games including Sonic, PSO, & others. But when I saw games like Final Fantasy X (crystal Chronicles i hated), ODIN SPHERE!?!?!?!?? and other cool fighting games, I was like…I’m missing out!

        The PS2 is undoubtedly one of the most eclectic gaming systems in existence. It broke ground when it came out and was amazing.

        Nintendo I feel like is stuck…and i dont like it.

        • Onery

          March 23, 2013

          It is true at the time the Gamecube did have significantly less third party support leading to quite a large difference in quality titles the PS2 had exclusivity to compared to the Gamecube (Rogue Galaxy, Final Fantasy IX, God Hand, Okami, Odin Sphere, Dragon Quest VIII, Silent Hill 2 and Katamari Damacy are just an inkling of the list of games I’ve missed during that period). However this didn’t mean that the Gamecube lacked anything stellar in terms of new IP generation; Baten Kaitos was an amazing RPG, Pikmin was an amazing foray into the strategy genre for consoles, Geist had an interesting possession mechanic for a FPS and Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem is undoubtedly among this generation’s best horror games. The Gamecube also helped usher several new IPs that went on to eventually be ported to the PS2, Viewtiful Joe, Killer7, XIII and Ikaruga being the most notable of the few.

          Ultimately what caused the Gamecube’s dismal lack of good games (let alone new IPs) was Nintendo’s rather hostile nature to third party developers, something that the company has taken great pains to change as can be seen today. Back then, along with several choices made that resulted in unpopularity in developing for the system itself, Nintendo didn’t have a great rep with the rest of the gaming world and thus the games that appeared on the Gamecube that did deserve recognition and exposure didn’t, and a lot were thus ported after release or changed mid-development to be multi-platform or not have a Gamecube counterpart at all.

          However to say that Nintendo hasn’t come up with any good new IPs lately and are instead sitting on their laurels milking their old franchises to death is a fallacy. Now I know with the Wii there is an advent of the motion games IP and that a lot of them are primarily aimed towards the casual market; but with new IPs like Red Steel (number 2 in particular), Madworld, No More Heroes, Fragile Dreams, Disaster: Day of Crisis and Xenoblade Chronicles, beneath all that casual shovelware lies quite a formidable list of quality games. I’ve not even looked into the DS and its plethora of interesting IPs, in particular its RPGs.

          I’ll stop here with an apology for perhaps taking too much space for this reply, but also with a word of caution. Don’t let your hate for a company blind you to the games themselves. To see if a game if fun at all one has to experience the game itself. Perfect example: Gearbox, able to come out with games of both Borderlands quality and Duke Nukem Forever/Aliens Colonial Marines quality. If I had stuck to my childish fanboyism (I wish I could go back in time and smack myself silly, though if I were brought up right this wouldn’t be necessary… parenting tip for gamers, yay) I wouldn’t be able to experience the large variety of games as I do now.

          One other thing, yes Nintendo was stuck during that era. With the introduction of the DS though it struggled and eventually with the Wii it freed itself and now I believe they’ve been running free since. [Edit: shoot, this really was longer than I'd expected...]

          ~mya

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