Game Review: Fire Emblem Awakening

It’s Easter so it seems appropriate to review the game that resurrected a series that was on its last legs. Fun fact: Fire Emblem Awakening was originally supposed to be one of the first reviews for a 3DS game on this blog, the fact that it very much isn’t should tell you something about how long it took me to finish it, for reasons I will discuss below.

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I picked up the first Fire Emblem game to be released in North America (called Fire Emblem when it was actually the 7th in the series) on a whim instead of Golden Sun, a decision I have never regretted since I tried Golden Sun and didn’t like it. Since that day, I’ve replayed Fire Emblem and Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones multiple times. Both these games were great, the remake of the very first game, Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, was not, although my dislike of that game has more to do with the fact that the previous portable games spoiled me with support conversations and actually gave me incentive to keep my characters alive, but that’s a conversation for another day. Suffice it to say that when a new game was announced for a system I actually own, I was very excited.

The key word there is “was”, you’ll see why in a minute.

Previous Fire Emblem games I’ve played have either had the player be a silent Tactician (Fire Emblem) or had the player take direct control of one of the Lords (Sacred Stones). Awakening again has you step into the role of Tactician, but this time they’re more of a character than a blank slate, although they (surprise!) have amnesia. The player character (default name Robin) is found and recruited by Prince Chrom, this game’s generic sword-wielding Lord character who leads a vigilante group known as the Shepherds. As is typical for video game plots, they go from chasing bandit groups around Ylisse to becoming embroiled in war to possibly saving the world from a dark power that wants to destroy everything, possibly. It’s a pretty standard plot, although it does throw in some interesting twists. Personally I prefer Sacred Stones’ plot, but there’s nothing wrong with Awakening in this area even if the plot is pretty standard, although the time travel is….weird….

Battles in Fire Emblem games are often likened to a game of chess. You can move your units around on a grid (how far depends on their MOV stat). Once you’ve finished positioning your units, the enemy units take their turn, and so on and so forth. The strategy is in those little decisions you make each turn: do you send a unit to take out the hostile mage, or do you leave them alone, go after a unit that’s closer, and trust that the RNG is feeling merciful? A new feature in Fire Emblem Awakening is the pair up system, where adjacent allies will attack enemies, prevent characters from taking damage, and boost allies’ stats. It’s a system that will be familiar to anyone who has played a Fire Emblem game in the past. A staple of the franchise is permadeath–once a unit is gone, they’re gone for good unless you’re playing on Casual Mode, like Sacred Stones, you have the option to enter free battles to grind for experience, gold, and support levels. Another staple of the series is the ability to promote characters to stronger classes using seals. Promotion in this game gives players the option to promote units to be almost any other unit, although I only promoted each character once because I am a bit of a purist.

Speaking of which, the other familiar element in Fire Emblem games is support conversations, talking to the characters and getting to know them is what makes permadeath sting. This time around, characters who reach S support level can get married and have children, which you can then add to your army (because time travel). Characters who build relationships benefit more from the pair up system, and using these systems effectively can turn your army into a well oiled unstoppable killing machine. Interestingly, the mother is the more important parent, not only does the mother decide most of the offspring’s stats, but they also get unique support conversations with their children (which leads to a cast with a lot of mommy issues).

Unfortunately, what really killed my interest in this game was not Casual Mode, because I don’t care if people don’t play the game the way I play it, nor the fact that pair ups make the game pretty easy at times, not the fact that Light magic has been removed (previous entries had a magic triangle just like the weapons triangle) but the fact that the characters didn’t interest me that much, and after a certain point I just didn’t bother to view any of their support conversations. I also really didn’t like the awkward marriage proposal supports. Unlike say, Eliwood and Ninian, who took a very long time to get to S rank, Awakening’s characters felt like they barely knew each other before they popped the question. This is somewhat justified given that you can add their children to your army, so endgame marriages like in the first Fire Emblem are out of the question, but for me it became less of a “let’s pair these characters because I ship them” and more of a “let’s pair these characters so I can recruit their spawn and have a full roster”. I felt a strange obligation to pair characters that didn’t exist in past games, and while shippers undoubtedly love this feature, I found it restrictive. I’m also really skeptical that a character like Lon’qu, who is gynophobic, could ever find happiness in a heterosexual marriage. Beyond that, Awakening had some interesting levels (like an indoor map where you’re constantly being harried by mages with horrible aim) but it could have used more variety. I was playing on normal difficulty and overall I found the game to be a bit on the easy side even without using child characters. The player character and Chrom in particular become so ridiculously powerful (especially as a couple) that they could pretty much clear maps on their own, that is not to say that there weren’t challenging fights, but I did manage to defeat the final boss in three turns so either I am pretty good or very lucky.

I want to stress that Fire Emblem Awakening is not a bad game, it’s not even the worst Fire Emblem game I’ve played, but between the incredibly awkward support conversations, only a handful of characters that actually interested me, lack of map objective variety, and the way marriage and children is compulsory if you want the full experience dampened my enthusiasm for this game considerably. However, I’m not ready to give up on this series yet and I’m hoping Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is more my cup of tea. That said, Awakening is a good entry point for those who are new to the series, I’m just an elitist curmudgeon who hates new things.

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