Sunday, March 24, 2013

Game Review: Fire Emblem: Awakening

Strategy RPG; Nintendo 3DS; Nintendo/Intelligent Systems; 2013
Sorry for having nothing for you last week, but to make it up to you, I have finally accomplished what I sought out to do. After almost an entire month since I acquired it, after several soft resets, and after 117 HOURS, I have finally done it. I have beaten Fire Emblem Awakening, and it is ready for a complete review. What does the latest installment of Nintendo's very own Strategy RPG series, and perhaps the longest running SRPG of all time, have in store for players both old and new? Be prepared for my longest review yet. This is Fire Emblem: Awakening.

And this happens as soon as you start up your game.
After experiencing a dream that felt all to real, you wake up in a field in the company of a man you saw, and killed, in your dream. The man's name is Chrom, Prince of the Halidom of Ylisse and leader of a small volunteer band known as the Shepherds who patrol and protect Ylisse. Having no memory of you're life from before this moment, Chrom, accompanied by his lieutenant, Frederick, and his younger sister, Lissa, takes you under his command as the Shepherds new tactician, having seen your talent in strategy, swordplay, and magic in combat. However, these days of relative peace are shattered by unknown monsters who resemble corpses called Risen slowly spreading across the land, and by the nation of Plegia trying to start a war to claim the national treasure of Ylisse; a sacred shield known as the Fire Emblem. What are these creatures called Risen? What does Plegia want from starting a war? Who is this mysterious man who claims to be Marth? And how do you fit into this puzzle? Find out in Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Like most games in the series, the story to Fire Emblem: Awakening is solid. The plot takes it's twists and turns along the way, and while some of them can be deduce rather easily before they are ultimately revealed, it doesn't take away that much from the experience. While it does boil down to a "Save the world from ultimate destruction" with villains who at first glance seem cartoonishly evil, the entire scenario is handled with enough weight that it gives the story a sense of importance, and the villains, though are hardly sympathetic, are given enough nuance that you can kind of see where they are coming from most of the time. However, like all good Fire Emblem games, the main focus is the characters and Awakening doesn't slouch at all. Each of your over 40 units have their own personality and quirks that make them more than just your knight or your thief or your little girl who turns into a freakin' dragon. Your knight is a guy who is practically invisible because of his lack of personality, your thief's idea of "sweetening the deal" is to be bribed with candy, and your dragon girl is over a thousand years old but is childlike in her behavior. It is so much easier to get invested into a story, when you have a large cast of endearing characters that you want them to be able to see it to the end. Oh, and Supports are back!

Like Shadow Dragon, one of the screens is always displaying information. It's just the touch screen now.
With so much in this game it is hard to know where to even start with a review, but I guess the best place to start is with the core gameplay which, despite the new facelift and features, remains classic Fire Emblem. So classic in fact that anyone who has played a FE game before will instantly be at home with all the mechanics and nuances of this SRPG; however, for those new to the series here is the low down. Like most SRPGs, you control a group of units and move them across a grid based battle field defeating foes until you've wiped out all the enemy or defeat their leader (which ever is the objective for that map). Moving units close enough to enemy units will allow the two sides to fight, whose results are determined by the weapon the two units are using and the unit's Stats. Some units hit harder but are more inaccurate, while others take less damage from physical attacks but can't resist magic attacks. And while each unit's class gives a general idea of what they can do, two units of the same class can have radically different Stats meaning one is more accurate while the other can shrug off magic damage far better. Weapons also factor heavily into a character's success, as Swords, Axes, and Lances have a rock-paper-scissors relationship with each other, using an advantageous weapon will increase you accuracy and damage while decreasing your foe's, while Tomes (for magic) and Bows have their own advantages and disadvantages. The outcome of a battle can be viewed before it starts. Terrain also helps, as standing in forest areas will give bonuses to evasion and fortified areas will give additional bonuses to defense and even heal your units. Thanks to the touch screen having character information displayed at all times, you are never confused about what a unit can or can't do, and any Stat, item, and skill can be identified just by tapping on it.

Are you a boy or are you a girl?
Of course all of this is classic Fire Emblem stuff, what does Awakening do that is different? Well, a lot. At the start of the game you can not only select one of three difficulties ranging from Normal to Hard to Lunatic, but also which game mode, Casual or Classic. The difference between the two is that Casual allow you to make hard saves during battle while Classic only allows you a suspend save, and more importantly Casual mode turns off one of the most interesting, but also most frustrating elements, of any Fire Emblem game: Permanent Death. In Classic mode, any time a unit loses all of their HP, they are considered "Dead" and may never be used in the game again, while in Casual mode a unit losing all of their HP is considered "Retreated" and returns after the map is complete (the only exception is Chrom and "Your Avatar" whose death is game over). This selection can't be changed in midgame; however, such an option allows for new gamers, timid of such a steep consequence, to enjoy Fire Emblem while not taking away the challenge and flavor from those use to this feature. Also present in Fire Emblem Awakening is the ability to create your own character known as "Your Avatar." This is the "You" I talked about in my synopsis of the story, and whose name, gender, appearance, voice, and even Stats to a small degree, is determined by the player. While the customization options are rather limited compared to other games, they are varied enough to produce a character you can be happy with. You can also modify your stats by selecting one stat that you are good at, and selecting another that you are poor at, and while your starting class is always going to be Tactician, you can change classes into any non-special class you'd like with the exception of classes prohibited by gender. While these are not technically new features since both casual mode and "Your Avatar" are present in the previous game Shin Monshou no Nazo, this would be the first time either option is present in a western released FE game.

"We roam around the forest looking for fights!"
Unlike most games in the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening doesn't take the player from one battle to the next with little room to prepare for each encounter. Instead, like Sacred Stones and Gaiden, Awakening employs a world map with each chapter being a new location on that map. While on the world map you can restock your equipment from your convey or by purchasing it from a store at completed map locations. Also on the world map, Risen and Merchants can appear to fight and buy rare items from respectively. This affords Awakening the ability to grind levels and gold that is rarely used in the series, keeping your army in tip-top shape at all times. Also, if you have Streetpass active you can not only send your own Avatar (along with a team of 9 other units) to other player's games when you pass them, but also have other people's avatars appear in your own game, to recruit, buy items, or even fight. Also returning from Sacred Stones is the branching promotion paths. When going from a base class to an advance class, you not only need a Master Seal item but you also need to choose which of two classes to make them. Some classic classes return like the Great Knight and the Bow Knight (known as a Ranger in Sacred Stones), as well as some all new classes like the Dark Flier and Trickster. Each class not only have their own set of abilities, advantages, and disadvantages, but also have their own skill that the character can learn. These skills include stuff that increase a character's stats, give them advantages when fighting in particular locations or formations, and even be able to do powerful attacks later on. Skill can also be carried over into new classes thanks to Awakening's revamped "Reclassing" system. Now each character can choose a brand new class from a list personalized for that character by using a Second Seal, and even get promoted to the advance classes under those new base classes.

Team Attacks, when has it NOT been cool!?
But the one feature that I love most of all is the new Support system. That's right, after the butchering it suffered in Radiant Dawn, and it's absence in Shadow Dragon, the Support system is back and better than ever. This time Support bonuses can only occur when characters are standing next to each other or when they are "Paired Up." While the standard bonuses to Hit, Avoid, Crit, and Dodge remain, new features make Supporting more advantageous then ever. Dual Strike, allows your supporting character to do a follow-up attack after your lead does his damage, and Support Guard, allows your supporting character to completely nullify any incoming damage. While both the Dual Strike and Support Guard work on trigger rates, meaning you can't rely on them for every battle, both they and the stat bonuses are tied to the two characters' support rank. After battling together for awhile, characters who can Support one another will be able to have a Support Conversation, a dialogue scene between the two characters as they learn more about each other, or just play off of each other's personality quirks. Every time two characters have a talk together, their support rank will increase from none to C, from C to B, from B to A and unlike previous games there is no 5 conversations limit. You can have as many Support conversations as you'd like with only one exception: the new S rank support. Each character can only have one S rank support, and that support must be with a character of the opposite sex, who is not a relative of that character... The S rank support, means that those two characters are Married. Married characters not only enjoy the best bonuses from having the highest support rank possible, but also after a certain point in the game all married couples will have children who will inherit the skills,stats, and classes of their parents. And finally, Yes, your Avatar can not only support any character you'd like, but they can also marry any character you choose so long as you are of the opposite gender. TAKE THAT MASS EFFECT!

These images just do not do this game justice.
And finally, I have to talk about the graphics... OH MY SAGAN THIS GAME IS GORGEOUS! Normally I would not talk about a game's graphics because a game's graphics should not be used to define it. True, good graphics are always better than poor graphics, but if the gameplay is either good or poor what difference does the graphics really make? That being said, this game looks amazing. While the in game character models are slightly deformed (a lot of people talk about the lack of feet on people, but no one seems to notice that every one has gimpy legs), they all are well designed, instantly recognizable, and well animated. But where the game really shines is the beautiful artwork, masterful work with the 3D effect, and just down right amazing CGI cutscenes. Watching videos on Youtube, or even the trailers on the Nintendo eShop do not compare to what the game actually looks like on the system. Fire Emblem Awakening also proves that while 3D is still a gimmick, it is a gimmick that can be used to profound effect. It's hard to describe it as it is usually very subtle when playing the game, but every now and then you will notice a 3D effect that just blows you away, or if you have been playing for a long time, just turn off the 3D for a few seconds and just notice how much of a difference it made. And all of this is matched with solid voice acting across the board, and easily one of the best soundtracks in video game history. I'm not even kidding, Awakening has one of the most extensive and powerful symphonic music I have ever heard.

Fire Emblem: Awakening takes everything that have ever been good about the series, stripe away everything that has held the series back without compromising what has made the series great, add 150% more addiction, puts it all the most gorgeous package, and then places it in the hands of as many people as possible. If you have a 3DS, BUY Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you don't have a 3DS, BUY the Bundle if you can, or buy a 3DS and THEN buy Fire Emblem: Awakening. If you love the series, get it NOW if you haven't already. If you hate the series, still get it, it's THAT good! If you never picked up a SRPG before in your life, still get it (just play on casual mode, I won't judge you). If you have any reason not to get Fire Emblem: Awakening, fix that reason and get Fire Emblem: Awakening. This game is a MUST PLAY!

Until next time.


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