The Emblem Returns: Fire Emblem Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening. Developed by Intelligent Systems, produced and distributed by Nintendo.

As I mentioned in my last post, the other new video game I played over the frozen months of Winter was Fire Emblem: Awakening for Nintendo 3Ds. I love the Fire Emblem series more than perhaps any other video game series with the exception of The Legend of Zelda and Metroid series, so I was extremely excited when I heard that this game was coming to the U.S.  However, I was a bit scared as the last few entries in the series that have been released outside of Japan were pretty mediocre. Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon for Nintendo DS had very minimal story being a remake of the original NES Fire Emblem (only released in Japan), and it was appallingly easy for a series known for its difficulty. Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, released for the Wii in 2007, had great maps and cool new classes that we may never see again, but the story was broken into different chapters that disrupted the narrative flow and also caused a huge discrepancy in the amount of experience points units in the different chapters receive thereby crippling a large portion of your army later in the game. So I was a little apprehensive to get too excited about a new Fire Emblem. But as more info, videos, and news began to crop up as the release date grew closer it looked like all the problems I had with Radiant Dawn and Shadow Dragon had been addressed. When I finally had Awakening in hand, I was more than ready to dive into some tactical Fire Emblem goodness.

The story revolves around Chrom, the prince of the halidom (fancy word for a holy place, in this case an entire country) of Ylisse. Early in the game, a wormhole of sorts opens up and releases a plague of undead into Chrom’s world, at the same time, the neighboring country of Plegia begins to flaunt its military might and begins encroaching over the borders into Ylisse. Further complicating things is the supposed appearance of the legendary hero, Marth, who followed the undead monsters through the wormhole. It’s up to Chrom and his friends to unravel the mystery of the undead monsters, and put a stop to Plegia’s warmongering. But as the story progresses, Chrom learns that there is something far more sinister pulling the strings that is on the verge of awakening.

Chrom, the protagonist of sorts of Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Unfortunately, any tension the story creates is undermined by the overwhelming amount of side content. From skirmishes on the map with the Risen (the undead enemies), and the vast amount of downloadable content (DLC), Awakening distracts players from the main story on a regular basis. For some players this will be just fine, as the reason they play Fire Emblem will be to develop their army and the unlimited amount of experience, the ability to switch class types, and the support conversations will allow them to build a powerful repertoire of units. And players wanting more story can easily skip the DLC and side content, though it may be helpful to use these options to bolster your units for some of the more challenging maps. Regardless, the story itself is a bit on the weak side compared to most of the previous entries in the series as the game’s focus seems to be more on developing the units and the army rather than telling a strong, compelling story. I kind of think of it as the difference between Final Fantasy IV and its tight, story-driven narrative and Final Fantasy V and its class system that encourages players to customize and level their characters instead of progressing the story.

Gameplay is right up the ol’ Fire Emblem alley with lots of tactical strategy and unit building. Awakening is more forgiving than most of its predecessors in that it allows the player to choose the difficulty level. Fire Emblem games are known for being pretty flippin’ hard, and oftentimes brutally so. On top of that, in the past, if a unit is defeated in battle they die permanently. There are no Phoenix Downs to revive them, no magic spells, nothing; they are gone for the rest of the game. But Awakening gives players the opportunity to turn permanent death off at the start of a new game, so if a unit is defeated in battle they will retreat and only be unavailable until the end the current map. These two options make this probably the most accessible Fire Emblem game since the series was first released outside of Japan in 2003.

The maps are a tad disappointing as there aren’t many that offer the unique challenges faced in many of the other Fire Emblem games, but all of them still force you to plan attack and defense strategies. There are also a lot of new classes, especially in the second tier range that allow players more options in choosing how to develop a unit and what kind of abilities they’d like that unit to have. Another new system in combat is the option to pair up with other units while in combat. To do so, you can either move units to adjacent spaces and choose to attack an enemy, or highlight another unit with the cursor while in the movement phase and select the “Pair” option to join up with that unit. If you choose the “Pair” option the two units will move and attack together, but will also become inactive after taking an action. There are great advantages to pairing up. First and most immediately, when you enter combat you’ll have a partner to help you out. The supporting unit may help the main unit by either attacking alongside them or blocking enemy attacks and protecting the main unit’s health. There is a possibility that they will stand there and do nothing, which is a tad unfortunate, but I guess the developers had to provide some balance. This is a great feature for archers, mages, and healers, as these units are usually lacking in defense. However, in most cases the supporting unit will not receive the same amount of experience that the main unit will receive during combat, so it is worthwhile to swap units or “unpair” to give these units more opportunities for experience. Also, assuming the units are able, pairing up will lead to the fan favorite support conversations that develop characters outside of the main story as well as lead to some nice stat bonuses when the two units are in adjacent spaces or paired up with one another.

A number of Legacy units, such as Roy from Fire Emblem: Fuin no Tsurugi, have received some updated character designs and can be recruited by completing DLC maps.

Taking support conversations a bit further, the developers have included the marriage/multi-generational system that has only been seen in one other entry in the series, Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu (often translated as Fire Emblem: Genealogy of the Holy War) released for the Super Nintendo only in Japan during the mid-90s. The marriage system allows two units of the opposite sex to marry should they reach a certain support level. The marriage conversations are generally cheesy, sometimes funny, and usually lead to the male unit offering a ring to the female unit. About mid-way through the game, you’ll have the chance to recruit the children of the married units into your army. I’m not one hundred percent sure how everything works, but the stats and classes of the second generation of units are determined by the stats and classes of his or her parents though players can still fiddle around with the classes of the second gen to customize them to their hearts desire. It is pretty similar to, though far more extensive than the marriage system in Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly BrideGenerally speaking, the second gen units will be far more powerful than their parents (the unit Donnel being the only exception). The second gen units are crucial for some of the later chapters, especially if you’re playing in the Normal difficulty level and/or with permanent death.

Though it may cripple the main story, the DLC is also a serious boon for developing units that pulls double duty as fanservice for players of previous games in the series. Players will have to pay for DLC, though there are some free maps, items, and units that can be acquired simply for purchasing the game or by using the 3DS’s spot pass functionality. The DLC maps offer unique challenges, feature some great cameos of characters from other games in the series, allow players to recruit some of these classic characters into their army, and finally yield unlimited experience and rare treasures. While the DLC is great, and definitely satisfied the fan within me, the sheer amount of it is a tad overwhelming and as I’ve mentioned twice already, it definitely can distract players from the main story for hours upon hours. It isn’t necessary, and though maps are only a couple of dollars, the price can quickly add up. I’d recommend it for fans, or anyone who wants to level grind and make uber-units, but new players to the series or players that prefer story to gameplay may want to skip the DLC.

I definitely enjoyed playing Fire Emblem: Awakening. Over the course of a month I clocked over 80 hours, and a lot of that was spent in playing the DLC. Only a few games have kept me occupied for so long, and I usually begin to lose interest with anything that requires over 40 hours of playtime. I also really enjoyed the new pairing system and the ability to marry units off to create the power house second gen units. That being said, while Fire Emblem: Awakening may be the most accessible game in the series so far, it will mainly only appeal to tactically minded players with patience. You won’t find run-and-gun or hack-and-slash action here, but if you like RPGs, Fire Emblem will be a great addition to your collection.

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3 Comments

  1. I’ve heard many say this is the best game on the 3DS so far. It took a while, but maybe…just maybe, Fire Emblem is finally on the rise!

    I can’t disagree with much on your review, because I agree. Surprised you didn’t touch on the music, which is pretty fantastic for the most part. One more thing:

    But Awakening allows players to turn permanent death off, so if a unit is defeated in battle they will retreat and only be unavailable until the end the current map

    You may want to clarify this slightly, as someone might think this means you can switch between modes when you play a file. You can only choose either Classic or Casual, it can’t be changed after that.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment! I’m not much a music critic, so I tend not to mention it. I do agree that it was great though. Thanks for the suggestion on the perma-death subject. And I really like your blog!

      Reply

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