Fire Emblem: Awakening Nintendo 3DS Review
Fire Emblem: Awakening - What is it?
Having just bought a Nintendo 3DS, after a lot of deliberating, and hearing so many good things about Fire Emblem: Awakening from all sources, I thought I’d throw my hat into the ring and review it for myself now I’ve built up a lot of hours playing it. Essentially, if you like turn based strategy games, this really is a system seller.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first (and hopefully not the last) game to be released on the Nintendo 3DS from the long established Fire Emblem franchise. Whether you’re a die-hard fan of the series or coming in completely new to the series, this game has you covered.
For those new to the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a turn based strategy RPG game set in a fantastical world with a big focus on the characters, their development (both on and off the battlefield) and their relationships. After waking up alone in a field from what seems like a nightmare, you’re found by The Shepherds, led by Chrom and slowly become integrated into their small team. Political struggles, bandits, mysterious prophecies and the unholy Risen all play their part in making the story intriguing, but not anything that those with even the smallest amount of RPG/Strategy experience will be too surprised by. It acts as a decent enough piece to keep the game moving, but the gameplay and characters are really the stars of the show.
What separates Fire Emblem: Awakening from many of its competitors is the sheer level of detail that goes into the characters. Each one of them feels unique and as a result you really begin to feel an attachment to them. Some may appear fairly clichéd on the surface, but as you spend more time using them and understanding more about them through conversations or relationships, they really are interesting – arguably more so than the story. It’s this attachment and diversity in the characters that not only makes them feel realistic, but absorbs you into their world.
You have the shy female warrior who lacks confidence in her ability, an axe wielding, overly confident frat boy type, a ‘by-the-book’ knight and literally dozens of other usable characters all with their own quirks and personalities who you’ll meet (or not meet) as the game progresses. Throughout your travels you may come across characters who want to join your team either through main missions or side stories. These are usually recognisable as they can be green coloured or have a unique name. It’s up to you whether you speak to them and recruit them. They may be helping to defend a village, trapped or simply in the wrong place and the wrong time. Strategically it is a good idea though to recruit as many characters as you can because, although optional in this Fire Emblem release, your characters can die permanently. That’s right, forever. Beginner’s can toggle this option, but I would strongly suggest to play in ‘Classic’ mode. It makes your decisions hold more weight knowing that the character you’ve spent 10 hours progressing could then die at the drop of a hat if you aren’t careful. This means you would also miss out on any side story links or character dialogue but after all, you’re the tactician, and it adds some realism to the whole process.
After choosing your main strength and weakness, ‘Olly’ was created and it was good to see my character being integrated well into the game as tactician. Then it all begins!
In Fire Emblem: Awakening, characters are placed on a grid – your team in blue vs. the opposing team in red. The aim of the game for most of the stages is to either rout the enemies or defeat the commander. You select the characters and sort out your inventory before the battle so you know which characters you want to be using as well as being able to look at the enemies you’ll be facing via the map. Different unit types move and act in different ways as well as being more resistant to certain enemies – there really is some strategy to consider to put your best foot forward. Dependent on the size of the opposing army and the level itself, you may have more or fewer units to select.
Each team takes it in turn to move/use all their characters and only then is the opposing team allowed to act. Each character is allowed to move/act once initially and then becomes ‘frozen’ until your next turn. You and enemies can counterattack depending on the spacing and units but not actively move/attack in the same round as the attacker. It can play out in an almost chess like way once you learn the weaknesses and strengths of certain units (which you will naturally).
The main basis for combat is the weapon circle which is not dissimilar to a Rock-Paper-Scissors concept. Swords are stronger against axes, axes are stronger against lances and lances are stronger against swords. It’s a simple way for you to plan your battles and before you attack an enemy there is always a stat box pop up showing you the damage of your attack, % chance it will hit and how much the counter attack will take off your own life (if a counter is possible). It does a great job of easing new players in to the system and you never feel as if the game is being unfair. There is an in depth glossary/tutorial explaining the various mechanics and tips in the game also in case you want to look at certain messages again. There are multiple difficulty settings and would say that Normal is a good level for either newcomers or veterans. I intend to play through again on Hard.
Fights themselves are beautifully displayed and the 3D effect really makes you feel ‘part’ of the fight more than ever. Often you’ll hear small comments from the characters too as you fight which is a nice touch.
Objectives and Experience
Despite the other main objectives mentioned, there may be smaller objectives you may want to consider. In some levels there may be valuable locked chests which you’ll want to open, towns to visit or locked doors enabling you quicker access to a key target. Often when there are chests on the map, there will be enemy thieves who aim to open, the chests, steal the contents and then leave the battlefield completely. Chests always contain something valuable so they are a worthwhile objective. Visiting towns opens up some conversational text with the local people and often they will give you some information, or more likely an item to help you on your way.
Each character has 100 experience points and by using your skills (attacks, unique abilities) you work your way to the 100 and then once you cross the threshold your points reset and you gain a character level enhancing a selection of stats at random from, strength, speed, luck, defence, resistance, HP, MP and others. Each character is unique so even though you may start with a low defence because of your character class, you can still find items scattered around the world which could turn your lowly farmer into an absolute beast. The way experience is given is a good measure to see if your character is underpowered, overpowered and when a stat goes green, it has reached its maximum for that class. There are items which help you either upgrade your current class once you reach level 10+ or change class completely which makes for some interesting customisation options and suitabilities.
If each character just had one type of sword or one type of axe you may have a fairly flat and uninspired battle. Luckily, in Fire Emblem: Awakening, once you have got used to battles after the first 5 or 6, you’ll start to see slightly new types of weapons. They may be swords with special properties attached, lances which can be thrown enabling you to attack further away or even swords which can shoot lightening – there is an absolutely huge amount of weapons to choose from as you play with their own characteristics.
Each weapon also has a fixed number of uses and when it hits 0, the weapon breaks. You can restock your weapons at shops however or even buy new ones. Shops in different areas sell different classes of weapons but it is still quite random. You can also buy some other healing items or temporary stat boosting potions. There are even special pop up shops which open up if you help a certain character. I’ll let you discover that one for yourself!
I touched on the importance of relationships in the beginning and wanted to develop this more. As you fight with characters side by side on the battlefield, small hearts may appear after each mini battle. This shows the relationship is growing between two specific characters (male or female). As you reach certain milestones, the support menu outside of battle will be highlighted and a unique conversation will occur between the two characters. This not only allows you to learn more about their personalities, but gives you tangible benefits when the characters fight beside or with each other such as increased avoidance of enemy attacks, increased strike rate or even increase the likelihood of them coming to your aid to survive an attack. Many characters can be paired with a variety of others which means the relationships you make in your first playthrough may be completely different in your second. It really gives the game some soul, and makes you even more invested in keeping your characters safe.
Overall, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a triumph. The game strikes a perfect balance between enjoyable and challenging (on Normal), is full of likeable (and not so likeable) characters and the relationship building is addicting. It’s a game you’ll play on the move, at home, waiting for a train... pretty much anywhere you have some down time. I’m 25 hours through my first playthrough, still tons to do and already looking forward to playing through again on Hard. Highly recommended for all ages.