Fire Emblem: Awakening has been available in the Land of the Rising Sun since April of 2012, but it’s just now arriving on Nintendo 3DS systems outside Japan. A tragically overlooked franchise in the Western hemisphere, Fire Emblem has never truly found as large an international audience as it enjoys at home. As a result, the majority of gamers may not be familiar with the ins and outs of the series.
Fire Emblem is a tactical RPG, and one of the finest on the market, at that. Traditionally, the franchise has called many of Nintendo’s portable gaming devices home, but it’s not shy about appearing on some of the Big N’s home consoles, as well. Anyone who’s ever played similar games (i.e. Final Fantasy Tactics) will be well acquainted with Fire Emblem: Awakening’s overhead camera layout and classic strategy-driven gameplay, but the execution of the game on the 3DS is an exceptional feat.
In past installments, once a unit under the player’s command is vanquished, that person is gone forever. The same method of play is present in the 3DS iteration: once a comrade has fallen in battle, the only way to change their fate is to restart the battle. Trying to keep characters among the living — while also doing your best to actually win — creates some of the most challenging scenarios imaginable, and will test even the most experienced tacticians. Of course, players who never want to lose an ally can select a mode in which none of their party members can be perma-killed, but that takes away a bit of what makes Awakening so fun.
Players will want to keep their units alive and well, too, because there are unique dialogue options that can be unlocked between characters. Aligning soldiers on the battlefield not only increases the potency of a defensive or offensive engagement with hostile forces, but can also lead to a relationship between heroes that has an affect on battles and, to some extent, the game’s storyline. Characters of the opposite sex who team up frequently enough can even get married, so players need to choose the partners they think will be best suited for their warriors.
These fictional relationships would not be warranted is there wasn’t a great story, though, and the story of this Fire Emblem is absolutely terrific. Awakening starts off with a vision of what is to come, and then reverts back in time to a point where players are introduced to the main characters. The central protagonists are brought to the user’s attention after finding a character — one that users create, no less — laying unconscious in a field. After establishing that the player-created hero has amnesia, the outfit (known as Shepherds) finds itself drawn into battle, and the story branches out from there.
Throughout the game, players will quickly become attached to a number of the characters (both good and bad) that reside in the fictitious world of Fire Emblem. There are plenty of references to past games, specifically to the original FE and its protagonist, Marth, giving newcomers and veterans alike the opportunity to learn a bit about the series’ backstory. That said, Awakening doesn’t exclude anyone from the events happening within the game’s campaign, and any player can jump in and easily fall in love with the story that unfolds.
The most beautiful parts of the entire game however, are the cinematics that play during some of the bigger events. These snippets of anime provide some of the most insightful and gorgeous visuals that can be found within Awakening. Best of all, the videos are all fully voiced, allowing players to fall even deeper into the game itself. The only quarrel that can be had with these cutscenes is that there just aren’t enough of them; granted, the effort put into these sequences is astounding, but a few more cinematics for some of Awakening‘s bigger events would have given gamers more to ogle over.
While the story and characters are exceptional, it’s Fire Emblem’s strategy-driven gameplay that will suck players into the experience. At the beginning of each phase the user will be instructed to move their units across the battlefield however they may please, but selecting which units attack which enemy types, keeping fighters together, and training new additions to a player’s army are all absolutely necessary when it comes to winning battles and keeping soldiers alive. It’s the grand scheme of war, and gamers will have to be diligent when deciding which units will live to see another day.
Battle animations provide fans with a nail-biting spectacle that may contain the victory or defeat of an ally. It doesn’t hurt that the animations look great, and that the flow of the on-screen fighting is fluid and very rarely unappealing. If players want to make it through the game in a timely manner they can skip the battle cinematics, or pause them to resume later, leaving users with no reason to get hung up over watching a battle play out. Nintendo held nothing back in making this game accessible, yet rewarding, on multiple fronts.
There is so much content in Fire Emblem: Awakening that gamers will be entertained for countless hours. There’s also the promise of downloadable content, some of which is free and already available. Awakening is one of the best games on the Nintendo 3DS, and anyone who owns the system needs to know that this is an essential experience on the platform. Portable aficionados, strategy enthusiasts, and fans of great games alike don’t want to miss this one.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is available now, exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS.
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