Fire Emblem: Awakening - A Review
This hub is a review of the new turn based strategy offering by Intelligent Systems, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Fire Emblem 12 (the sequel to Shadow Dragon) was only released in Japan for unknown reasons. However, I believe we got the better end of the deal, as this is Fire Emblem 13, and it is awesome!
So, please read on as I discuss the many facets of this awesome game.
Chronologically, this game is the distant sequel to both Fire Emblem 11 (the one we got called Shadow Dragon), and Fire Emblem 12 (the one we didn't get on this side of the world; its name roughly translated to Heroes of Light and Shadow).
Fire Emblem: Awakening takes place on the continent of Archanea, a full one thousand years after the events of the aforementioned games, so you shouldn't be worried if you haven't played either of them. The backstory is that the great hero and king Marth of Altea (ancestor of the current protagonist Chrom) defeated the Shadow Dragon Medeus using the power of the Falchion (a sword blessed with the power of the Divine Dragon Naga). He then went on to wed Caeda, the princess of Talys (Shiida as localized in Europe if I'm not mistaken) after the events of Fire Emblem 12 and a long time down the line, that's where Chrom comes in for this game.
Prince Chrom is the leader of a group of militia from the kingdom of Ylisse called the Sheperds. He finds you (yes, you, the player; I'll explain this cool concept in the next section) lying on the ground suffering from amnesia. As bits and pieces return to you in the prologue mission, you realize that you are a tactician of at least fair renown, as you have a good head for strategy and you are adept with both swords and magic tomes. After the prologue, your party discovers that the dead are coming back to life for unknown reasons and meet someone that calls themselves Marth, after the hero-king of old.
Note: Also, it's fair to note that there's a prologue-prologue mission before the above-described events, if you will, that features My Unit and Chrom facing off against a villain. If you haven't gotten the game, I'm not spoiling the conclusion of this event, since it'll probably be as jarring to you as to me.
Afterwards, the party makes their way to the capital of Ylisse and meet up with Chrom's older sister, the exalt Emmeryn (basically the queen of the country), who urges the party to seek aid in a nearby country. One mission after this event, the game allows you to take a side mission that isn't required to complete the game, which makes this game slightly non-linear, at least compared to earlier iterations. This is thanks to the explorable world map, which I will reference again in the next section.
Need Help with your My Unit?
Well, I wrote up a helpful article for those of you in the crowd who would like to read more about the My Unit creation process and how to determine what asset and flaw to pick. Click on any part of the sentence below for more details.
For this iteration of Fire Emblem, the development team decided to take the best features of past titles and add just a dash of new to the mix. The result is quite extraordinary, in my opinion. Let's see:
- For the first time in the series, you can pair up two units to fight as one. In practice, what this means is that one unit acts as support, giving bonus stats to the main unit that fights in battles (usually some + to Hit chance and some other stats). A certain percentage of the time, the support unit can combine their own attack with that of the main unit. This is called a Dual Strike.
- There's an explorable world map, which hasn't been around since The Sacred Stones (a Game boy Advance title!). After completing the third chapter, you can visit each cleared world map area and see what is being sold in that area. One area might have a variety of spell tomes, and another may sell staves. Yet another area may sell iron weapons.
- Besides that, you will occasionally unlock side missions (called Paralogues) that you can undertake for extra rewards and/or units.
- As mentioned in the previous section, you are a unit in Fire Emblem: Awakening! The avatar creation system is called My Unit and allows you to create your very own unit to support Chrom, choosing from various types of face and body build, and by choosing a stat that will get a bonus (your asset) and a stat that will get a penalty (your flaw).
- There is a Casual mode for those of you in the crowd that do not like the concept of permadeath in your video games. Just pick Casual Mode at the start of your new game and if one of your units dies, they will return safe and sound on the next mission. Do keep in mind that losing your lord or your My Unit will still result in a Game Over.
- On the other hand, if you want to play with permadeath, then you can choose Classic Mode instead.
- Another feature returning from The Sacred Stones are branching promotions. Essentially, in most Fire Emblem games, a Knight will promote into a General, with no exceptions. In Awakening, to take the same example: a Knight can promote into a General or a Great Knight. In the former case, he becomes even tankier. In the latter case, he gains a mount but is less durable than his General counterpart.
In addition, I like the fact that the interface has been greatly refined as well. It's really easy to get information on enemy strength, positioning, items, etc., all with the touch of your stylus or by using your directional pad.
The support system makes its return from Radiant Dawn. Basically, for those of you who haven't played a Fire Emblem game, it works like this:
- As a pair of units fights together (whether by being in adjacent squares or by being Paired Up) they gain support points.
- Once the pair of units reaches a certain threshold, then their Support Level is increased via a Support Conversation. Supports go from None, and climb up through the letters in reverse alphabetical order, starting from D, and ending in A in some cases, and in S in others.
- Getting a high support rank allows certain couples to get married and have children (which in turns affects some side missions down the road).
- As a pair's support level is increased, they get better bonuses when paired up and while adjacent to each other. For example, if Frederick decides to Pair Up with My Unit at a nil Support Level, he grants +4 Defense (he grants a few other things, but let's talk only about Defense for the sake of explanation). However, if Frederick does the pairing with a Support Level of C, he grants +5 Defense instead. Obviously, the bonus stats increase as the support level of the pair in question increases.
Some other things I've noticed during my playthrough include:
- Healing staves give more experience. In Shadow Dragon at least, a Heal Staff was good for 17 experience for a level 1 healer (such as a Cleric). In Awakening, Heal staves go all the way to 25 experience if you're playing on Normal. I believe they can drop to 17 base experience, but that's on Lunatic, and I don't recommend you play Lunatic for your first experience unless you're a seasoned veteran of the series.
- The AI seems to have been much improved. While enemies are still addicted to the one-hit KO, they now seem to calculate if a series of attacks will kill one of your characters. If that is the case, then they'll probably go for it.
- There is a greater emphasis on the interactions between characters. I have not yet encountered a character that could be considered one-dimensional, and the support conversations do a lot to flesh out the relationships between characters.
- Note: If you're perceptive, you can figure out possible couples based on some more obvious conversations.
Battles in Fire Emblem are quite involved affairs. I mean, while one could argue that Casual Mode took some of the bite out of making mistakes in positioning or having weaker units, it is hard to make a case for Casual Mode trivializing the game. I lost three units in Chapter 3 because of one positioning mistake. Even knowing that they'll come back for the next mission, that can't help but hurt. Besides, if one of your victims happens to be under-leveled, they're just going to fall farther behind (being unable to get kills and attacks as they are).
For those of you in the crowd who have never played a Fire Emblem game before, it goes like this. Battles are played out on a grid made up of squares. There are many different types of squares that give various benefits to avoid (or dodge if you prefer) rates and defense. Some squares, such as forts, even give regeneration (that is, health healing every turn the unit stays on the square). You may see certain squares sparkling on occasion. Standing on one of those squares and staying there at the end of the turn (even if you attack; you don't have to take an idle action) may grant your unit some experience, an increase in weapon proficiency, or even a special item (I've seen glass weapons and special weapons modeled after past Fire Emblem protagonists).
Of course, there isn't much of a fight if you have nothing to fight with. Hence, your units. You start the game with four units (mainly Chrom, Lissa, your My Unit and Frederick) and each unit belongs to one of many classes. Chrom is the game's requisite Lord, which means that, if he dies, it's instantly Game Over. Lissa is a Cleric, which makes her the resident healer (by way of using charges on staves; there's no such thing as mana/magic points in Fire Emblem). My Unit starts as a Tactician, which can use both Swords and Tomes and appears to have very even growths, and Frederick is the resident Titania.
Titania was a character present in both Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, that served as the crutch character for Ike's party in PoR, and a staunch ally in RD. She started pre-promoted as well, and had above-average base stats compared to the rest of the party (but somewhat less stats than a home-grown character who promoted to her class through normal gameplay). However, being as overleveled as she was, she ended up being an experience sink until harder enemies started coming into play. Unlike Jagen from Shadow Dragon, her stat growths meant that she could still hold her own if your other class candidates didn't quite perform up to par (which, according to who you ask, is either impossible or likely).
See, let's talk a bit about stat growths, as they're a core of Fire Emblem. Rather than have players using the same "best teams" because of unit stat viability, Fire Emblem has random growths as defined by percentages. What this means is that, on level-up, each stat has a chance of going up by 1 as defined by that unit's stat growths.
This is a hidden value, so you'll have to search the Internet if you want to see a unit's stat growths for yourself.
What this means is that I may have a godly My Unit, but yours may be even better. Then again, maybe my Frederick proceeds to get only extra HP on level-up, and your Frederick gets insane level-ups, rendering my unit worthless as compared to yours. It means that you have to adapt to the units of your particular game, and that's pretty cool, at least in my opinion.
Note: That isn't to say that units with high growths will do badly consistently. Law of averages and all that (as in, any lagging stats SHOULD fix themselves eventually, given enough levels and good luck). Of course, if a unit with naturally bad growths gets unusually good level-ups, don't look a gift horse in the mouth!
Downloadable Content (DLC)
DLC deserves its own section because Fire Emblem: Awakening represents Nintendo's first attempt at using this form of monetization in one of their video games. Once you reach a certain point in the game (beat Chapter 4 to be precise), you get access to the Outrealm Gate. Going to that location in the World Map allows you to purchase downloadable maps and then play them as well.
Until March 5th, there is currently a free map available for download, which unlocks Marth once it is completed.
As of the time of this writing, there is a bundle of three maps (Marth's map is the first map of this bundle) available for 4 USD and/or you can buy Roy's map separately for 2.50 USD. Only time will tell if the rest of the world is willing to pay for extra content in a Fire Emblem and whether said extra income stream is viable for the franchise and, perhaps, for Nintendo games in general.
On a tangential note, this game can also be purchased through Nintendo's e-shop for 40 USD (the same price as it retails). Basically, it comes down to whether you want a physical copy or a digital copy of the game. I dislike digital games that I can purchase retail physically, but your mileage may vary on this topic.
The graphics in Fire Emblem: Awakening are mostly 2D, which is an interesting decision that I applaud. For those of you who have played Radiant Dawn, well I'd just like to say that the 3D graphics in that game annoyed me at times. With that said, the battles in Awakening are 3D, and you can speed them up or slow them down if you're into that sort of thing as well.
Another cool thing to note is that, when a character rolls for a Critical hit, the screen will do a little cutoff for a second, showing the character's face zoomed in the middle of the screen. The unit will make a little quip and then will land the Critical. It's one of those things that doesn't affect the gameplay at all, but is just neat to experience.
In addition, the cutscenes in this game look incredible. The first time I saw the cutscene to introduce Chapter 1, I thought I was watching an anime rather than playing a video game. People seem to not realize that the 3DS has processing power akin to the GameCube, if not the Wii. Well, this game showcases that perfectly.
Lastly, the sounds and music are a bit simplistic and take a lot from previous iterations of the franchise. Of course, if you're a Fire Emblem fan much like I am, that just adds to the ambience of the game.Something curious I'd like to note is how epic cutscenes sound. I mentioned how they look in the previous section, but this beared mentioning as well. Chrom gets into a swordfight against the person who calls themselves Marth inside of an arena (I believe this is also part of the trailer used to pitch the game to the greater population by Nintendo). You can hear the swords clash together and can almost feel the emotion in the scene.
Perhaps I'm a sucker for fantasy, but I love sequences like that.
Of course, to be fair, while in-game battles lack some of that luster in the sound department, they still make some pretty good noises as well. Magic attacks have particularly raw sounds. I can't help but chuckle at some of the sounds that units make when they are slain. Stuff like "Rargh!" and whatnot.
In conclusion, I highly recommend Fire Emblem: Awakening even if you have never played any previous entries from the franchise. Casual Mode allows inexperienced players to just have fun and not worry about being punished (severely at least) by making mistakes.
For those of you reading who are series veterans, well, I don't think you need any more convincing. You're probably playing it right now!
On a final note, this has gotten an insane amount of sales in Japan (in one week, it beat the lifetime sales of several of the weaker entries in the FE series). If it's breaking that sort of record in the country where all of its iterations have been released, then you know it has to be an incredible game!
Until the next time, take care and have fun! ;)
P.S: If you want to know some more details about the game, or feel that this review is lacking in some aspect, don't hesitate to ask in the comments section! Feedback and comments are always much appreciated!
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