I “grew up” playing games like Warhammer, its sci-fi equivalent 40K, Piquet and more recently Flames of War. Those games are all essentially turn-based-strategy games where you and an opponent face off on opposite sides of a tabletop battlefield with hordes of painted soldiers at your command. Much like chess, those games require strategy, the ability to react quickly to opponents and a little bit of luck.
Intelligent Systems are the developers behind the Fire Emblem series that has been around for more than 20 years now, mostly in Japan. The game is basically the video game version of a tabletop strategy game. It’s known for its punishing difficulty, relationship building and most importantly the dreaded “permadeath.” Until now the series has been mostly unknown in the United States, but could Awakening truly live up to its name?
What You Need to Know
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a strategy-role-playing game where you take groups of fighters on a quest to save the world. You, as the Avatar, awaken to find you have no memory of yourself, but you do know the people who find you. It’ll be you and your party’s job to rid the world of Risen, save the kingdom and maybe get married along the way. Battles take place on a grid and turns bounce back and forth between your party and the enemy. Actions are chosen from menus, multiple weapons will be available to many characters and the battles play out in real time on the 3DS top screen.
At its heart, Fire Emblem is a turn based strategy game. You and an opposing army take turns moving units around a grid-based battlefield fighting any enemy characters you come in contact with.
Placement of your troops will be of utmost importance. Any troops that are placed adjacent to each other on the battlefield will be able to confer stat bonuses during fights. These bonuses will start out relatively small, but as two fighters spend more time fighting alongside each other their relationship can grow and the bonuses will increase. If two characters of the opposite sex spend enough time fighting together that relationship can grow so much that the two characters eventually get married and offer significant stat bonuses to each other. Those relationships can also produce children who can join the fight.
The series utilizes a paper, rock, scissors style of combat where different weapons will be better against other types of weapons. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances and lances best swords. There are other weapons, like bows or magic, that are not part of this triangle, but generally knowing which weapons your fighters have can be used to good advantage against enemy fighters.
The game starts out with your character waking up in a field surrounded by unfamiliar faces. After a brief conversation you recognize one of the people that has found you, but you cannot remember your own name. The party is immediately attacked, you help out and the leader (in this case Prince Chrom) states that he trusts you because of those actions.
From there the story follows a similar path as many other fantasy strategy games. One kingdom is attacking another. One country’s leader takes it upon themself, and at times blames themself, for everything that has happened and all the lives that have been lost. A mysterious figure who identifies themselves as Marth appears and reappears at various times throughout the early parts of the game.
About halfway through, however, things take a rather interesting twist that I can’t discuss too much without spoiling. Needless to say, the relationships you’ve built up throughout the course of the game come into play in a meaningful way and Marth reveals that he may not be who he says he is.
The characters are brought to life through gorgeous, hand-drawn, animated cutscenes and the voice actors make them feel that much more real. If nothing else, it makes me yearn for the possibility of a Fire Emblem animated series.
A few missions into the game you gain access to the game’s store where you can purchase additional content. This content comes in the form of new maps and characters. These new characters are actually the spirits of older Fire Emblem characters that can be recruited to join you in the battle. Many series favorites like Ike, Marth, Roy or Eirika are available for a small price. These DLC maps can also be played multiple times, giving you the opportunity to grind some experience for your lower level characters.
In addition to paid DLC there are characters and items that can be delivered to you via Spotpass. These items can be very powerful and could help turn the tide of battle.
Choose Your Own Destiny
Fire Emblem is best known for the permadeath feature of the gameplay. What this means is that any of your characters that fall in battle are lost to you for the remainder of the game, with no way to get them back. That makes every decision even more important as one small mistake could result in the death of a character that you’ve spent hours building up, customizing and planning a family for. It’s truly disheartening to see one of those characters you’ve actually grown fond of fall in battle. There are no throw away characters here, no nameless faces that you can discard on a whim. Every character has a name, a face and a story. Those stories are told both on the battlefield and off; after a dozen or more hours you feel almost like you know those characters.
For people that might find this overwhelming the developers have included a new casual mode that will allow you to bring those characters back after a battle is over. Essentially they faint when they’re killed and recover after the fight. This makes the choices you face a little easier to handle as it might be best for a character to “sacrifice” themselves for the good of the battle as you know they’ll be back to fight again.
I won’t say which version is right as every player will have their own thoughts on the matter.
Fire Emblem has been much more prevalent in the Japanese market and is a relative newcomer here in the States. While strategy fans know just how good this franchise has been there may be a lot of people who haven’t yet gotten into the series. Awakening would be the perfect opportunity for people interested in a strategy game. It can be made as friendly or as difficult as you like. There is a huge amount of depth to the gameplay and the story. It looks beautiful and the DLC means you’ll have plenty of missions to either supplement the story or continue it beyond the conclusion. I would highly recommend everyone head to the store (whether physical or digital) and pick up a copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening today.
Review copy of the game provided by Nintendo.
Played through the entire campaign and all DLC levels available at the time of review.
Total Play Time: 40 hours