• Fire Emblem: Awakening
  • Release: April 19th 2013
  • Platform: 3DS

My initiation into the Fire Emblem series started in 2003 with the Game Boy Advance. At the time I hadn’t played many strategy games save the some on the PC such as the Command & Conquer / Red Alert / Tiberium Sun series, Dune and Age of Empires.

Playing a strategy game on a mobile device at the time felt revolutionary, as it was like a complex game of military chess on the go, something completely different amongst the plethora 2D sprite based platform games I had in my library.

Two years later saw the release of Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones, yet again on the Game Boy Advance. It a solid title that provided countless hours of fun. However, after its release, the Fire Emblem series kind of fell off the radar. There were two more releases on the GameCube and Wii, but nothing that I remember everyone really talking about. I couldn’t figure out why until this latest release in the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening.

 photo fire-emblem-01_zpsebd98695.jpgFire Emblem: Awakening has all the trademark gameplay systems, story-style elements and menu systems as the previous portable games in the series. This may not necessarily seem like an evolution at first, however a swathe of augmented features have been added breathing new life into the series.

First off, the story is very much “Fire Emblem” in style in the sense that there are warring kingdoms that divide the land. An individual avatar that you can create, either male or female, represents the player. You’re character has lost their memory and is found by a prince of the Halidom of Ylisse called Chrom.

A rival kingdom called Plegia regularly allows bandits to attack the largely peaceful nation of Ylisse in an attempt to goad Ylisse into war. However, along side these events there have been tares in space that allow zombie like beings dubbed “Risen” to appear. A mysterious swordsman also appears from this tare called Marth who’s fighting style and trademark sword are almost identical to Chrom’s.

That’s the bare bones of the story without spoilers. The general story style has been kept similar and hasn’t deviated too much away from previous games in the series and it’s a style that really fits and flows nicely within the game’s progression.

However, the mainstay of Fire Emblem: Awakening is the game’s strategic combat.

 photo fire-emblem-04_zps35fa54c2.jpgYou are presented with a beautifully animated chessboard-like environment that your 2D sprite units sit on. You path your units direction in turns in over a grid, giving any order you wish until your turn is finished (either you have no other units to move / play or you decide to manually end your turn). The enemy team then decides their moves and ends their turns – that’s basically the combat system summed up.

Nothing much has been changed here in terms of combat compared to the previous two Fire Emblem titles released on the Game Boy Advance. However there are two new additions that make this already successful combat system superior, and that is the inclusion of updated combat animations and the “Pair-Up” system.

Combat animations in previous Fire Emblem games usually consisted of 2D sprite animations of your soldier attacking the enemy combatant in a slightly stiff manner. In Fire Emblem: Awakening, the game swoops its camera down into the action and you are presented with lovely 3D animated models of your characters slugging it out with the enemy – In this mode, you can playback and fast forward the combat or skip it altogether.

The Pair-Up system is by far the most fun aspect of the game. It is vitally important in allowing your characters to form great double teams against enemies, but also to form alliances and friendships outside of combat, thus evolving teamwork in combat within your squad and improving their performance altogether.

 photo fire-emblem-03_zps1580e7e5.jpgTo do this, you pair characters up. Once in battle, if they successfully defeat an opponent, their friendship will level up a bit. Certain relationships can blossom into full-on marriages, and this benefits you by making your team become a cohesive fighting force where friendship and a strong bond is your army’s greatest strength in battle.

Before any battles are commenced, the player can browse an overworld map that displays key objective areas where you can commence battle to continue the main story. However, there has been a new inclusion of side quest battles and street pass battles that will fill your map, thereby giving you extra missions to level up your characters even further. The inclusion of a DLC “realm” will also allow players to purchase extra maps and extend the life of their game. I was, initially, saddened to see there was no New Game+, but when you realize the DLC area basically extends the overall game length, the need for a New Game+ suddenly becomes insignificant.

An example of how classic elements of the series have been kept in this game is the infamous permanent death system. That is, if your unit falls in battle, they die forever. An easier “Normal” mode that doesn’t use this element can be selected at the start and I would advise anyone new to the series choose this, as no matter what difficulty you choose, it spikes quite early and becomes very easy to lose characters.

The local multiplayer feature is fantastically implemented, allowing you to team-up with another player and collect “renown” points at the end of a successfully completed map. These “renown” points allow you to unlock awards that aid you in battle, such as secret weapons.

Weapons can even be improved by forging them further, bestowing upgraded stats on each item – this level of freedom made me fall in love with this game, effectively allowing me to bolster ANY weapon I had and even go as far as to rename it.

I also really loved the flow of user interfaces in both the over world map and in-combat gameplay. It’s incredibly fast with absolutely no lag. Every option, list and data area is so well represented that it's hard to get lost. Most of the time you will find yourself clicking away through the menu system at sub-light speed with ease.

Characterization is implemented with “Support” conversations that your paired-up units can initiate. This system also allows them to strengthen their bond of friendship. The barracks is nice distraction to show off the 3D character models of your units conversing with some light banter. It can be a bit trivial and boring now and then, but it's really nice to see the attention to detail used to ensure every individual unit is unique, even down to character design.

 photo fire-emblem-02_zps2ef59405.jpgMusically the game is well orchestrated and suits the game perfectly. The score has touches of Dragon Quest / Valkyria Chronicles to it now and them, which for me is always much appreciated as it balances nicely with the manga art direction on screen. However, there is one track I heard during the game that sounded like a love child between Michael Jackson’s “Stranger In Moscow” and Radiohead’s “Pyramid Song” – Jarring in its distinctive uniqueness, however oh-so refreshing to hear.

There is voice acting lightly placed throughout the game and for the most part it's done well. However, if the person beside you doesn't know what type of game you're playing, the character’s occassional grunts and moans during conversation cam, accidentally make you look like a pervert.

In summary, Fire Emblem: Awakening is really a love letter to the fans of the old portable versions of the series. Developer Intelligent Systems basically took everything that worked with the Game Boy Advance games and improved on them. There is so much to do in this game in terms of customization, and it's all laid out in an easy and accessible fashion. The inclusion of DLC maps also extends the game’s life far beyond that of other Fire Emblem games and that factor alone makes the game a worthy investment to your library of 3DS games. This is a fantastic marriage of old and new, and it works perfectly. It will delight old fans of the series and new players will find the experience easily accessible and enjoyable.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is released on 19th April on the Nintendo 3DS.