Fire Emblem is widely known in North America to be one of Nintendo’s marquee franchises for it’s handheld systems. Originally it wasn’t even a portable game, having only home console versions from the franchise’s creation in 1990 all the way up to 2002 when the first Gameboy Advance entry, Fire Emblem: Seisen no Keifu arrived in Japan. The 2003 sequel to this game served as the introduction of the franchise to the western world with the game simply titled Fire Emblem. This game firmly established it as mainstay in Nintendo portable library up to this day with versions for each handheld since. The 3DS has been out for almost two years now so it shouldn’t be a surprise that a Fire Emblem has finally appeared for the system. The question now begs does Fire Emblem: Awakening follow in the footsteps of it’s GBA and DS predecessors or does this game fail to deliver the same amount of fun.
If you’ve never played a Fire Emblem, it’s a turn based strategy game with a ton of depth to it. You must keep track of the different weaknesses and strengths of different characters, decide what characters should be teamed up for even more damage and whose combined forced will enhance your overall chance of winning the battle. Mechanics such as these are what make Fire Emblem such an intriguing game to play and what I mentioned really only scratches the surface of the game engine’s depth. In an attempt to make the game more accessible than ever it now includes a casual mode option where your characters won’t die permanently if they lose all their HP in a battle unlike previous games as well as a variety of difficulty settings which means you can make this game as easy or hard as you want thus making it a great jumping in point for new fans while keeping things difficult for series regulars. You also get a variety of tutorials during the early chapters of the game, which while useful I found they sometimes get a little too naggy for my liking. The game intertwines a narrative for you to follow including the hidden past of the custom character you design from scratch, this character has lost their memory and gets mixed up in what turns into a mass war between nations and a story of intrigue. I like the story but I don’t love it, the direction is interesting but I find myself not invested with any given character, even my own. The game includes a limited multiplayer mode where you can team up with a friend to take on the CPU, an interesting idea though one without a lot of teeth. There is also paid DLC maps with a single free map available as of the time of publication. I was personally disappointed by the UI for the DLC store which can only be navigated with the touchscreen, this quite abrupt when most of the rest of the game is controlled with the physical buttons. I found the extra maps to cost too much money for the content you get. Overall it’s the Fire Emblem fans have come to expect from the series though the DLC and multiplayer don’t impress.
Awakenings is easily one of the most ambitious looking Fire Emblem games to be released for a handheld. The presentation has taken a significant leap from both the Gameboy Advance games and the DS game. A sore point with the DS game was there was no effort to upgrade the presentation from the Gameboy games where it only stood on the quality of it’s story and gameplay which was used to carry the game (handily though). This is problem doesn’t exist anymore on the 3DS as many strides have been taken to improve the situation. Some of the story is told by cutscenes instead of just reading dialog (though there are still plenty of reading to do), there are voice overs for the cutscenes and at least some limited sound effects for the text dialog boxes this timearound. The actual battlefields don’t look leagues better than the previous games but the game has transformed the actual battles between characters with a full 3D cutscene from the old 2D ones. While the games have not advanced to the quality of the Gamecube and Wii games they are getting close to the same level of presentation and are quite impressive if you’ve played past handheld games.
Fire Emblem does a lot to move the series forward from continuing to include engaging gameplay to a more modern looking game, there is a level of polish that you can’t help but admire. While series fans have no doubt already picked up the game already however if you’re a casual RPG fan this may the game to get.