*Authors Note* Fire Emblem: Awakening is an exclusive title for Nintendo’s 3DS handheld system, and the first game released for the system.
The Fire Emblem franchise is sadly unknown by far too many gamers, but the developers at Intelligent Systems and publishers at Nintendo have delivered an experience that should draw the attention of the masses as it provides the best SRPG experience seen in a long time.
Fire Emblem tells the story of the trials of Chrom, the Prince of the Halidom of Ylisse. The world is on the brink of war as the Risen begin to plague the land. The story begins as an avatar (your customised character) awakening in a field with no knowledge of his/her past life. Without wishing to spoil much of the narrative, the Fire Emblem and the five magical gems need to be reunited in order to bring down the Fell Dragon Grima. The overarching plot is conventional however the character narratives are extremely engaging, especially non-essential characters you may meet along your journey as well as the mystery surrounding Marth, the origin of your character and the intricate plot surrounding Chrom and the rest of his royal family.
As with any Strategy RPG though, the key to the game is the gameplay, and this is where decades of refinements in the franchise and the genre as a whole really shine through. There are layers of depth here, despite the game following a pretty clear, established routine. The game plays just like a game of chess with both sides taking turns in moving their characters around the battlefield, and this is where most of the joy comes into it… from the planning and strategy, with you often being forced to think up to ten moves ahead considering not only which enemies to take out, but how, without leaving your own forces exposed. It can be slow progression at times, but is massively satisfying as you come through a battle, hopefully without losing any characters along the way, the combat only intensifies and becomes more enjoyable as more features and mechanics are slowly introduced into the fray.
This is not to say the game doesn’t feature any new, unique elements because features such as pairing (which enables you to move two allies together, and separate at a time of your choosing), the seal system which allows you to change a characters class, and even relationship building between characters which can result in children who can eventually join your party. There is a lot going on at once, and a lot to consider, but thinking gamers will love it, and even for those not so well versed in the genre the game is incredibly customisable to set the entry point lower if you need it (I myself do not fancy myself particularly tactical, and would make the transition much easier at first). As mentioned early, you can lose units throughout the course of battle and the option is given to you at the beginning to play in Classic Style,where permadeath is active and dead characters stay dead, or in Casual Style, where you can save anytime and characters who pass away in the battlefield return upon the conclusion of the battle. Little touches like this make the game far more accessible to your average gamer and make it nearly impossible to justify not making the purchase. Introductions and tutorials are incredibly effective in providing a slow, steady stream of new information to the player, without ever overwhelming you, whilst also managing not to clutter the screen.
To support an already exceptional experience is an incredibly executed visual design and artstyle. Combining some of the best CG seen on a handheld and a beautiful anime inspired design that is most evident during character interaction the game reminds you a lot of a pop-up book through its effective use of the 3DS’ unique 3D capabilities. The soundtrack too is equally exceptional, never dominating the atmosphere but providing a nice backing to the action. What is unfortunate however is that the games voicework is seriously lacking, with each statement made being supported by what is usually a single word of voiced dialogue, everything else must be read via traditional text boxes.
The 3DS is currently experiencing a golden patch of games with exceptional titles such as Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon, and Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate having recently hit shelves but Fire Emblem: Awakening may yet be the best of the lot. SRPG fans can rejoice for the depth and nuance they’ve grown to love in their franchise is once again here and has been expanded upon to the point of borderline perfection, whilst for gamers not as well versed in the franchise or the genre Awakening is the ideal starting point. Supported by some of the greatest production values I have ever seen in a handheld game, Fire Emblem: Awakening commands your attention, and is a must have addition to your handheld library.