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…
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 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!).
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.
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!
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!
- 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
- 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.