Originally Reviewed: 2013
Ah, Intelligent Systems. If you want a great RPG published by Nintendo, then don’t ever go to anyone else. With all the Paper Marios, Advance Wars and Fire Emblems you could shake some kind of anime sword thingy at, they simply don’t make bad RPGs (let’s forget about Sticker Star for now). With Fire Emblem Awakening, though, they’ve topped the lot with a beautiful and engrossing Strategy RPG of the absolute highest quality.
Fire Emblem is easily the most underrated of the main trio of Intelligent Systems’ RPG holy trinity, as most Western gamers probably know the series best thanks to unknown characters showing up in the Smash Bros. series. They were badass characters in those games, by the way, but us Westerners finally started receiving titles in the franchise over our way back in 2003 with Blazing Sword on the GBA. Even with ten years of exposure in this part of the world, the series remains somewhat unknown – as evidenced by my successful, and rather lucrative, attempt to legitimately sell Fire Emblem: Path of Radience on the GameCube as ‘RARE’ on eBay several years after its release. Hey, I was a broke student, okay?
Awakening follows a similar story style to previous titles, with its feet firmly grounded in traditional Western folklore spiced up with some intriguing time-travel mystery and the eponymous Fire Emblem itself playing a big part in a very entertaining tale. We follow the tale of Chrom, the prince of the Halidom of Ylisse as he struggles to maintain the peace the Exalt – his sister Emmeryn – has lobbied to instil in the word. Along the way he encounters ghoul-like enemies in the form of the Risen, as well as several opposing generals who can all induct themselves into the Evil Bastards Hall of Fame.
There’ll be no spoilers here, but it’s safe to say that nothing in the story is what it initially seems. There are twists and mysteries throughout, and the addition of the mechanic of being able to play as your own avatar gives players a real chance to observe the main players from an outsider’s perspective within the game. Your avatar has a huge role to play in the tale and is the most mysterious of all the characters, but is a genuinely smart mechanic in the game as he/she will get to know the rest of the game’s characters just as the player does. Your avatar is the outsider, just like you are, and adds a nice personal touch to the proceedings.
Intelligent Systems have always had a penchant for genuinely funny writing – especially in the Paper Mario games – and this is also evident in Awakening. Hell, the game even features the insult ‘arse-head’ which subsequently forced me to conduct a brief one-man concert of LOL in my room. Not only is the writing amusing, but it’s gripping and involving too. The story is a brilliant companion to the stellar action, and is most certainly at its best during the game’s eye-meltingly gorgeous anime-influenced cut scenes. Honestly, you have to watch these beauties in 3D to really understand how pretty they are.
Of course, all the arse-heads and pretty cut scenes would be worth nothing without a solid gameplay mechanic, and anyone who has ever played a Fire Emblem title before will know there is nothing to worry about here. The gameplay here is undoubtedly the top of its class in the strategy RPG world. A laymen’s terms way of describing it would be Advance Wars with swords and horses, but it’s so much more than that.
Players still move their units across squares a grid before partaking in some turn-based fighting, but the level of strategy is incredibly deep with percentages, adjacent-square ally support and levelling up all heavily playing a part in your chances of survival. And survival is the key word here as Fire Emblem’s traditional permadeaths take a heavy toll on any emotionally involved players (or even players who will just miss that warrior with the sweet killer axe later on). The permadeath mode can, for the first time, be turned off in order to ease newer players in and I’m sure it’ll make the game a lot shorter than mine did, thanks to my frequent hissy fits of ‘No! No! I’m not losing him, I’m starting this battle again.’
The battle system is brilliantly balanced with a very basic premise that has so many levels of depth and strategy that can really separate the casual and the involved gamers without alienating one or the other. Most take about no more than half an hour to complete, again providing a decent platform for pick up and play gaming. Most importantly, though – the battle system is a lot of fun. The animated fight sequences are fluid, with a host of camera directing and slow-motion options, and always give an immense feeling of satisfaction when that chump on the horse tried to attack you shortly before your character and his adjacent companion smashed him right up for his troubles.
There is so little to complain about with Fire Emblem: Awakening. The story can, obviously for a Nintendo game, have a few moments of immature dialogue, but this never detracts from a brilliantly engrossing tale of might and mystery. The characters appear to have been animated without ankles, or even recognisable feet, but this doesn’t really matter when the battle animations are smooth and exciting and the cut scenes are absolutely beautiful. Plus, with Intelligent Systems’ admission that they chose to omit them to make the animations more fluid, and art director Toshiyuki Kusakihara’s comment of ‘Well, if there’s a next time, maybe there’ll be more ankles,’ who’s really bothered?
Fire Emblem: Awakening is hands down the best title on 3DS so far. It’s a beautiful, engrossing, challenging and consistently fun title that every 3DS owner, be they a fan of the series or not, should own. Unfortunately, it’ll probably be overlooked for game of the year in the wake of the BioShocks and GTAs of the big boy console world, which is a real shame as it is a genuine contender for the crown. A strategic masterpiece.