Fire Emblem: Awakening Review

GamerNode Review: Fire Emblem Awakening 1

Death is inevitable and it is that fear which aids progression and deters stagnation. At least that’s what I tell myself as I patter through each battle sequence in Fire Emblem: Awakening, hands braced on L+R+Start, ready to avert grave catastrophe. Awakening jostles delicately between frustration and ecstasy; the satisfaction of victory is made sweeter by the imminence of calamity. The intimate relationship between character development, and gameplay cause these manic situations. The evolving connections between characters, primarily evolved outside the battle, lend identity to otherwise rigid tropes. It’s the attachment I feel to these individuals that creates tension, induces panic for fallen units, and makes Fire Emblem: Awakening worth playing.

Fire Emblem has always been, and will continue to be a series punctuated by its difficulty. That is what originally brought me to the series, but in Awakening, the character rapport changes my perception of what the most important trait of the series is. Permadeath is the most distinct characteristic of the series. Any character that dies in battle is gone from you squad forever (if casual mode is selected, permadeath is disabled). With classic mode engaged, any unit lost is not only a tactical issue for that battle but a deficiency moving forward. In previous games, I perceived my units a finite resources rather than individuals with names and back stories. Intelligent Systems changes my perception and  re-energizes the support system by offering dialogue encounters outside battle that constructs bonds between the player and their forces.

GamerNode Review: Fire Emblem Awakening 5

 The support system is a recurring aspect of Fire Emblem, wherein units receive bonuses for their proximity on the field to each other. So the more a unit attacks or is healed by another, the more mutual bonuses they receive, the more likely a professional relationship fosters, and the cycle continues. Awakening is no different. It has four support levels that add defensive interception (cancelling out a foes attack), consecutive strikes (attacking in tandem with an adjacent unit), and marriage (once the highest support level is obtained with a unit of the opposite sex, they bond) to support benefits.

Conversations are had in the barracks between missions. The localization is excellent. Every mannerism, joke, insult or emotive phrase comes across naturally. I was laughing into my 3DS on numerous occasions. I was intrigued to discover the aspirations of my warriors. And I was surprised to find out how they wanted to better themselves after the war. This barrack feature was employed in the previous console versions but the translations were nowhere near as polished. At one point, I even felt bad about the amount of dialogue I would not see between certain units. It was as if I under-appreciated the amount of work that went into the translations. The personal relations of the units supplemented the predictable plot, and altered my decisions on the battlefield as I cared more about ensuring the survival of my units to increase their bonds over ending a conflict with haste.

Gamernode Review: Fire Emblem Awakening 3

Fire Emblem is known for its conservatism with regards to its battle mechanics. It still primarily utilizes a chess-like battle system, each map (level) tasks me to either eliminate all foes on the field using my selection of specialized units. Regardless of its execution, the rigidity of these systems did wane my interest of series because no significant change has occurred over several decades. To rectify this, Intelligent Systems has tinkered with the formula, fleshing out RPG elements, and simplifying combat mechanics.

The skill system is a revamped addition to the game. Skills give various buffs, ranging from incremental physical stat bonuses to environmental advantages. Each unit learns at least five skills as they progress through levels, and advance into different classes. Skills are not equally effective, some only activate on even or odd turns, offering minimal gains, and can be a tactical liability rather than an advantage. Skills work best when used in combination with the most prominent new system in Awakening, the pair up mechanic. This allows players to consolidate two units on the battlefield, increasing the primary unit’s statistical spread. I found pairing up most useful when I had to shepherd a weaker unit through a difficult stage or protect a mage from physical attacks. In either case, pairing the unit nullified my fears of being overwhelmed by opposition forces. Though the various mechanics behind the game were in-depth, Awakening succeeds in relaying the information incrementally.

I have always hated forced tutorials. They relegate everyone to the role of newcomer. Awakening’s opening sequence dislodged my fears, by letting me proceed forward into the action, while clearly labeling when new mechanics were introduced, and linking me to the appropriate help section tab. It was such a relief to avoid the “this is how you move on a grid” explanations, but more importantly, the game adequately illustrates how to perform any action if prompted.

The tutorials never affect the pacing in battle, and Awakening follows that lead with its overall structure. I always dictated the rate at which the story proceeded, or didn’t. I never felt rushed, and was never forced to jump from level to level. The game is framed by two large maps with points of interest.  These points include sidequests, active story missions, travelling merchants, town shops, and wandering enemies. Players could easily keep going from mission to mission ignoring every other factor on the map, though they wouldn’t get far. Likewise, players could dote on every merchant, baddy or town shop, leveling up, and looking for the best possible equipment, to maximize their  army’s efficiency. My playthrough was more of the later as I mined items, and fought enemies relentlessly to progress through the missions not because I had to but because I wanted to advance my support bonds as widely as possible.

Fire Emblem: Awakening kept my attention because of its excellent localization mixed with the mechanics that promoted character development. Nintendo’s promise of continual DLC means that the publisher views the game as more of a service than a standalone product. Execution will be essential to this mindset, though Nintendo has produced several DLC packages, and if appropriately done, I dont’ see myself putting down Awakening anytime soon.


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Author: Kem Alily View all posts by

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