Sunday, January 20, 2013

Crescent's Thoughts On: The Fire Emblem Awakening Demo

I interrupted my regular reviewing schedule to bring you this important message: Fire Emblem Awakening is coming to the US on February 4th... Okay, I'm sure all of you who actually care about the Fire Emblem series already know this, and those who do not care would likely regard this information as "meh." However, to feverish frantic fundamental Fire Emblem fans such as myself, this is important news with dire consequences. See, since Fire Emblem's formal introduction in the West thanks to Super Smash Bros. Melee, the series has had it's ups and downs, the most recent down being the average to poor reception of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, a remake of the original NES game that started it all Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryƫ to Hikari no Tsurugi (Shadow Dragon and the Sword of Light). This was likely the reason why the next game in the series Fire Emblem: Shin Monsho no Nazo ~Hikari to Kage no Eiyu (New Mystery of the Emblem ~Heroes of Light and Dark), another remake, was never released outside of Japan, leaving the series' future in the West unsure. However, with the confirmation that Fire Emblem: Awakening will hit the US next month, the time to secure that future is now with the release of the Fire Emblem: Awakening Demo that was available for free download in the Nintendo eShop on the 3DS. But what are my thoughts about this first glimpse at the newest FE game? Click below to find out!

Our first look at our new Lord: Chrom.
When you start the Demo you will be given a choice between the different difficulty sets of the game: Normal (Which is labeled as being for Beginners), Hard, and Lunatic. However, don't get use to having "Choices" in this demo. After determining how much of a Masochist you are, you are introduced to the first major change in the US Fire Emblem games: Casual Mode VS Classic Mode. Classic Mode is good old ball busting Fire Emblem fun, while Casual Mode changes two things: One) Suspend Saves are Hard Saves, in other words they don't destroy themselves after loading, and more importantly all fallen characters are revived at the end of a battle (Unlike Classic Mode where all deaths are Permanent). While I personally feel that removing Permanent death takes away from the identity that Fire Emblem has, I have no problem with adding this feature as an option since Permanent death is one of the things that makes Fire Emblem so difficult to get into. Also, since it is optional hardcore fans such as myself can still have their "Classic" Fire Emblem experience; however, in the Demo you can only play Casual mode, not that it really matters. After that you are introduced to another new feature of Awakening, your "Avatar". Those who have played Fire Emblem (The one for the GBA not the original Fire Emblem), this is very similar to the "Tactician" which served as the player proxy (In fact his/her class is "Tactician" and he/she is the game's explanation for the omniscient view you have in these SRPGs); however, there are three major differences between the old Tactician and the new Tactician. One, you can customize your appearance selecting various body, face, hair, and even gender (not that you have any of these choices in the Demo). Two, unlike the previous Tactician, this version actually has a major role in the story and seems to be connected to the mystery behind the story. And finally, this Tactician participates in battle wielding both a Sword and Tome and the ability to customize their stats to a small degree by selecting a Asset and a Flaw (One stat they are good at, and one stat they are poor at).

Those who can read Fire Emblem Combat Forecasts know that this pretty much says "Enemy will DIE!"
After being introduced to your starting party of Chrom the Lord, Lissa the Cleric, and Frederick the Great Knight, you are thrown into the first battle of the game against Brigands (Because you always start off fighting Brigands) at this point anyone who has played a Fire Emblem game will instantly feel right at home since the core mechanics have not changed at all, but the game has been designed to streamline as much of combat as possible. Many of the menus can be skipped all together by just selecting an Ally character and then selecting the enemy character you would like to attack and you are brought instantly to the Combat Forecast screen. It's hard to describe it here, but when you play it you can tell that a lot of effort went into the game trying to make it as silky smooth as possible. Quickly you will notice a few new features added to the game, one of them is squares that gleam with light. If an ally character ends their turn on one of these squares, they will collect one of a few things ranging an item (with all of the items I found in my run throughs of the demo had names of characters of previous Fire Emblem games) or gaining EXP or Weapon EXP. The next one really changes how Fire Emblem is to be played and that is the new Support System. Though missing in Shadow Dragon, previous FE games had Support systems that required players to play matchmaker for a while in order to see any benefits and then only when characters are within a certain distance away. Here, the characters must be adjacent to each other BUT the benefits are immediately apparent. In the Demo, if characters are standing side-by-side to each other, then the attacking character will gain a bonus (usually a Plus 10 to their Hit) and there is a chance of the supporting character to do a follow up attack (Splitting the EXP between them) or to block and completely nullify an incoming attack. It also doesn't appear that enemies can do the same, but that may differ in the full game. While not apparent in the Demo, from details from Nintendo as well as conversations from other fans, apparently, these supports can be developed over the course of the game by having units fight side-by-side, which will unlock Support Conversations (Special dialog between characters), more powerful support benefits, as well as characters falling in love and even get married.

If the demo is anything to go by, these CGI cutscenes are plentiful and GORGEOUS!
The demo only goes through the first two battles and the story events surrounding the events, but as a demo I'd say it did it's job in getting me more excited about this game, even though I find it's lack of choice disturbing. The game looks great, with some of the best 3D I've seen in my admittedly limit experience with the 3DS. It's the kind of 3D where you almost don't notice it, because it is that well integrated and throughout the demo it never gave me a headache. In all honesty, this demo caused Fire Emblem Awakening to go from a "It will be mine, eventually." to a rare "I don't care if it's $40 at launch, take my money now dammit." And finally, let me get back to what I said at the beginning of this post, that "Now is the time to secure Fire Emblem's future in the West." If the poor sales of Shadow Dragon made Nintendo decide to lock away Shin Monsho no Nazo, then surely fantastic sales of Awakening can ensure that the next game will get a US release. To all those who are on the fence about Fire Emblem, on whether to get it or not, download the Demo. It's free, and hopefully if it does convince you to get the game, then by the number of units sold we can continue to get these excellent games. After all, money speaks louder than any internet petition.

Until next time.

-Crescent, you know telling us who you are really defeats the purpose of the mask.

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