This reviewer will admit that he’s not a big fan of the tactical subgenre of roleplaying games, although there are certainly entries in the subfamily that he definitely has enjoyed, even if they do have their flaws. He was certainly hesitant at first to attempt the Nintendo DS remake of the very first installment of Nintendo’s long-running Fire Emblem franchise, Shadow Dragon, and was right to take trepidation in the experience, as he didn’t actually beat the game during his first playthrough, only doing so when starting from scratch years later with the aid of a player’s guide. However, upon hearing that the pantheon’s first Nintendo 3DS entry, Fire Emblem Awakening, was making optional a certain characteristic he didn’t like in the series, he decided to give the franchise another shot, one well-deserved.
Combat naturally bears many similarities to that in prior Fire Emblem titles, with the player able to select from several difficulty settings upon commencing a new game, although a new feature is casual mode, in which characters that the player loses in battle revive after victory and are usable in other battles, contrary to the series standard of permanent character death that’s definitely a burden to compulsive gamers. This adjustable feature actually originated in the DS remake of Mystery of the Emblem, which remained in Japan. Of course, more masochistic players that especially prefer games prior to Awakening can keep the standard character demise system intact, accounting for an experience on par with series entries prior to this one released in North America.
The game is divided into a little over two dozen chapters, each with a battle necessary to advance the primary storyline. Before a battle, the player can select units to participate, with the number of allowed characters usually dependent upon map size. As in other games, the player and the enemy have alternate turn sessions in which they can move their units around and attack, the weapon triangle from prior entries playing a strategic part, and the player’s allies obtaining experience from successful actions aside from using consumable items on themselves. Leveling naturally results in increased stats for a character, units promotable upon reaching level ten, although it’s advisable only to promote a character when they reach the maximum level in their initial class of twenty, since they can only advance twenty levels in their upper class.
Another addition to the casual mode in Awakening is the ability to save in up to two files in the middle of battle, a feature bequeathed from more contemporary entries being the ability to bring up a “danger zone” that indicates spaces where the player’s characters will be vulnerable to enemy commands. The death of protagonist Chrom or the player’s avatar character results in a Game Over, the player consequentially needing to reload a previous save made in and out of battle. If characters need levels, the player can luckily fight enemies that appear on the overworld with or without the help of consumable Reeking Boxes, with the levels of enemies dependent upon the place the player uses said item. Overall, the battle system works excellently, appealing to both series enthusiasts and less experienced players, with the only real shortcoming being the potential to waste playtime on a losing battle.
Control is generally well above average, with a linear direction that always keeps the player moving in the right direction, story battles accessible from a line-and-dot-connected overworld, although one-stop shopping would have definitely been nice since places across the game’s world have different inventories with items buyable from money that the player acquires from selling various sizes of gold bullion acquired from defeated enemies in combat. Helping in particular to speed up battles is the ability to turn off animated sequences that play whenever a player’s character and an enemy engage in combat, not to mention the always-welcome skippable cutscenes. Overall, interaction is very much top-notch.
The same goes for the narrative, focusing on characters such as Chrom and a player-named avatar who join with several others to battle an ancient evil named Grima. There are some derivative elements such as amnesia and time-travel, although the game tells its tale well, with variations depending upon which characters survive (in classic mode), with Suikoden-esque epilogues for all characters after the main storyline. The translation is largely spotless, although there seems no reason why anyone would think it natural, for instance, for a character to say “defeat” right before they die. Even so, story has largely been a strong suit of the series, and Awakening definitely doesn’t disappoint in this area.
Another area that doesn’t let down is the game’s audio presentation, with plenty of epic tracks that always fit the mood, regardless of the situation, although there are rare silent periods. It also follows the Skies of Arcadia school of voice acting, with occasional voice clips accompanying the dialogue that are well above average and always fit the character, and ultimately, the title sounds superb.
The visuals look nice as well, with nice character designs, three-dimensional graphics during the appearance of said portraits, good battle animations, excellent cel-shaded cutscenes, and so forth. The only real blemish is that the character models during story scenes always seem to be standing on their toes, but otherwise, Awakening is hardly an eyesore.
Finally, the main storyline is fairly short, taking less than twenty hours to complete especially if the player speeds up battles thanks to reduced battle animations, with plenty lasting appeal, as mentioned, in the different difficulty settings.
Overall, even as somewhat who freely admits that he’s not a fan of the franchise, given his limited experience with its more classical titles, this reviewer found Fire Emblem: Awakening to be an excellent reintroduction to the series, given its countless positive elements such as the permadeath feature native to the franchise being optional for a change that ultimately makes the title more playable, superb control, an enjoyable narrative and translation, great music and voice acting, polished visuals, and plentiful replay value. There is very little going against the game aside from maybe the need to grind characters a few times, although it ultimately receives this critic’s seal of approval.
+Adjustable difficulty appeals to players of all skills.
+Great story and translation.
+Superb music and voicework.
+Adjustable difficulty creates plenty lasting appeal.
-Some grinding necessary.
The Bottom Line:
An excellent entry point into the series for newcomers.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Game Mechanics: 9/10
Lasting Appeal: 10/10
Playing Time: Less than 20 Hours