Review – Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

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Fire Emblem Awakening is another well-made game in the Fire Emblem franchise that lives up to the grand history of this series. After all, it was a little over 20 years ago this series laid out the blue print for the Strategy RPG genre. The rock-paper-scissors gameplay that Fire Emblem has become known for is as strong and timeless as ever and the relationship building mechanic can still yield some wonderful rewards. Awakening is a game that is willing to mess with the formula enough to add a bell here or a whistle there but what it doesn’t do is give the series a much needed facelift. Thus, what we have here is a very safe entry to the series but an easily tolerated one given how well all these gameplay elements hold up.

Fire Emblem’s brand of grid based movement and Sword-Lance-Axe gameplay stays mostly intact in Awakening. Swords still are superior to Axes, mages can still attack from 2 spaces back or at angles, and you still move around on grids. The same rule sets over what has priority over something else are all there if you’ve ever played a fire emblem game before. The depth that the franchise is known for remains the game’s greatest quality, with only a few noteworthy additions to add more spice to the formula.

In Awakening if you move a party member next to another party member you can gain stat boosts, protection or multiple attacks. This ties into a support system where your party members can become close friends or even lovers. Not all members are necessarily compatible so it is in your best interest to find out what pairs have the best upside with working together. If you want to be more direct you can even pair members together. This allows you to give your slower members more mobility with faster units, increases your chances to land multiple and/or critical hits and helps foster relationships between units.
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Relationships are an important factor in later stages as the increased difficulty will require your units to tackle some difficult match-ups and the added stat boosts will be a necessity. The other benefit of these relationships is that these characters also mate, and because of the plot you will actually have a chance to recruit the children of these characters. You’ll want to do that because the children actually end up being the strongest characters in the game, and can greatly increase your chances of survival in later stages.

Another noteworthy change is to the structure of the game’s mission progression. Initially, you start on the world map where you go from chapter to chapter, but before long, new mission types will open up. These are mostly optional but can yield great rewards. They can also help in grinding up your party for leveling or to improve relationships. Paralogues are optional side quests that usually lead to you picking up new additional characters, and skirmishes are just retreads of older environments with slightly weaker enemies. The map is also constantly changing with merchants moving from space to space with sales on rarer items. All of this adds to alleviate any frustration when it comes to getting the proper gear or for growing your characters as a whole.

The last new interesting addition is that of an item called the second seal. Just like previous Fire Emblem games, you need an item to class up characters after they reach a specific level and the addition of the second seal lets you change classes. This allows you to create a character with skills from multiple classes and create even more powerful units. While it requires some heavy investments on the player’s part, the results can be game-changing for your army. Or more to the point game-breaking.

The shortcomings in Awakening come from the missions themselves. As stated, this is a very familiar Fire Emblem experience that also happens to be rather routine as well in terms of its mission designs. The vast majority of the main story missions are to clear the field of enemies or beat a commander character. There aren’t any other objectives in the main story beyond that and that’s disappointing considering older Fire Emblem games have been more varied in their mission designs.

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The most interesting mission ends up being a side quest where an enemy character can recruit neutral characters to his side, increasing his army as the match progresses. Yet, in the 20+ hours the main story can take, this might be the only unique mission you play in the entire campaign and even then, it’s optional. The final boss sequence is surprisingly weak and anti-climactic and is neither satisfying from a narrative nor a gameplay standpoint, because it’s weaker than other missions in the campaign, much less something that matches up favorably against the finales of previous Fire Emblem games.

The game’s plot leaves a lot to be desired as well. You open up the game with your player-created avatar recently woken up in the middle of a field by The Shepherds. The Shepherds protect the interests of the kingdom of Ylisse, and even has members of its royal family. A war is brewing between Ylisse and the kingdom of Plegia but quickly escalates into some grander fantasy territory. You start having the discovery of these creatures known as the Risen who start attacking towns and a story line that throws in the concept of a bleak future. There are some interesting beats along the way, but it all comes off silly.

Characters are almost too black and white in some cases as villains are usually unwaveringly evil, venturing into Saturday morning cartoon territory instead of being truly compelling villains. It doesn’t help that some of the dialogue is awkward and the presentation isn’t much better. You’ll have moments where you’ll read large texts of dialogue from a character but all you’ll get is the sound of said character making a grunting noise.

The presentation isn’t only really lacking in voice acting either. The art work and music are fine, but 3D itself doesn’t really add much to the experience. There are odd graphical lapses that take you out of the experience like how some characters feet either vanish or clip into the ground. Combat animations tend to repeat far too frequently to the point that I personally ended up turning them off.

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While 3D might not add much to the game; the street pass function of the 3DS is used in some clever ways. One such way is how you can pick up other player-created avatars into your game further bolstering your roster. Also multiplayer benefits in the most obvious of ways with traditional fights with other players. Winning such battles gets you “Renown Points” which you can use to purchase rare items for your squad.

Taken as a whole, Fire Emblem Awakening is in a weird position. It’s a big franchise in a niche genre it created and has, for the most part, added some new features but in terms of progressing the genre forward or keeping up with some of the best recent additions in the genre, it leaves something to be desired. The game is formulaic to a fault, it gets routine and the presentation is lackluster. Fire Emblem Awakening still provides the most satisfying strategy gameplay one can have on the 3DS however, it’s just time the series did something more interesting instead of maintaining the status quo.

The Good

  • Clever use of Street Pass
  • Satisfying and addictive turn-based strategy gameplay
  • New position based addition yields great results
  • Difficulty can be customized to provide a stiff challenge or something more forgiving

The Bad

  • Plays it safe
  • Somewhat awkward presentation
  • Routine mission designs
  • Anti-climactic end game
  • Silly storyline and characters

Final Score – 7/10

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