Fire Emblem is a series that’s been around for over twenty years…just not in the United States. While the first game in the series, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryu to Hikari no Tsurugi
(wow, that’s a mouthful), was released on the Famicom in April of 1990 in Japan, the United States didn’t see a Fire Emblem game until Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken
came to the US in 2003, simply titled Fire Emblem here in the state. Not counting remakes, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the fifth game in the series to be released stateside. Admittedly, I don’t have much experience with Fire Emblem…or tactical RPGs in general, only playing Final Fantasy Tactics and Eternal Eyes on the original PlayStation. Even though I do own Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones on my 3DS as part of the Ambassador Program, I couldn’t really get into it. However, whether you don’t have a 3DS yet or just couldn’t get into the series for one reason or another, Fire Emblem: Awakening could be the game to change both of those issues.
The story begins with your character (who you can customize from the beginning, right down to their birthdate, name, and appearance) and a character named Chrom in a battle. However, after the battle, your character is found unconscious in a field by Chrom. Having a bit of amnesia (you can’t even recall your name at first, though that changes quickly), you join up with Chrom and the Shepherds, a group of soldiers who defend Ylisse from an oncoming threat by the Plegians. You become the Shepherds tactician an aid them in their missions to protect the continent of Ylisse, it’s exalt Emmeryn (Chrom’s sister), and the sacred treasure known as the Fire Emblem.
If you’ve never played a tactical RPG before, they work a bit differently than a traditional turn-based RPG. With turn-based RPGs such as Chrono Trigger and other Final Fantasy games outside of Tactics, you either run into an enemy to engage them or randomly encounter them in the field, then you and the enemies take turns issuing commands to defeat one another. With tactical RPGs such as Fire Emblem, you also have to move your units around the battlefield to attack your enemies, but at the same time making sure you’re not leaving yourself completely exposed and defenseless to multiple enemy attacks. A lot of surviving in tactical RPGs is knowing where to move your units and when to stay back a bit. Just going on an all out rampage might not get you very far. Sure you might win the battle, but there might also be plenty of consequences in the process. Do you move in with a powerful character that can defeat an opponent outright, or do you hold back because he’s low on health and your cleric is on the other side of the map? Do you move you archer or mage in range to do a ranged attack if there’s no one else nearby to back him up in case the enemy surrounds him on his next turn? Every decision you make is important in battle.
As stated above, I don’t have a lot of familiarity with the Fire Emblem series. However, I do know that some of what I talk about has been introduced in past games. A lot of traditional RPGs in the past may just have you wander on the overworld map, go into an area, wander around that, get loot, equip or use said loot, defeat a boss, lather, rinse, repeat. Fire Emblem: Awakening has you doing a lot more than just that, both on the overowrld map and on the battlefield. While on the battlefield, you can have units give each other stat boosts and build relationships in two ways: either stand next to another unit when attacking or actually join with them on the battlefield by moving into the same square as them (keep in mind that a lot of what I’ll talk about here isn’t available right from the start, but after a few chapters you pretty much have access to everything that I know of). Doing this will have the attacking or defending unit (depending on if you’re attacking or on the defensive) gain a stat boost for that attack. Granted if you’re defending it might not help much unless it ups a stat that helps you evade attacks, but while on the offensive it can increase your accuracy or even your critical rate. Imagine having a character that has a critical rate of thirty percent. Pair him up with a character that can increase that by about fifteen and you have someone that’s pretty powerful, especially when that character can attack from a distance with a ranged weapon or magic so he can’t always be counter-attacked.
Between battles while on the world map, you might have the Support or Barracks options active. In these cases you can see characters talk to each other and increase their support and/or relationship with each other. If a male and female get their support/relationship level all the way up to S (rankings go from C to A, and then S), they can get married, have a kid, and then you can eventually recruit the kid into the Shepherds. It’s an interesting concept and since hearing about it I’ve been trying to pair up a few soldiers constantly to see how it turns out.
While playing through I was starting to wonder how one would go about leveling up soldiers outside of just the story driven battles, especially since there are no random battles. Well, that’s not exactly true. There are three different ways I’ve noticed that you can use to help level characters up. First, every now and then a group of enemies will show up on the world map in a spot that you’ve already cleared (normally these are just shops once they’re cleared). Second, you’ll occasionally have optional missions appear on the map, known as paralogues. These occasionally appear after completing a chapter and are typically leveled properly for your team, meaning you won’t be seriously overwhelmed unless you decided to favor one or two soldiers the entire time. Finally, there’s DLC. As the game’s been out for a while over in Japan, they have a lot of DLC. As of the time of this writing, there’s one free DLC map that you can download, completing the map will give you the chance to recruit a classic Fire Emblem character (the map even occasionally uses 8-bit music). However, while you can’t recruit the same character over and over (sorry, you can’t have a team of multiple Marths), you CAN play the map over and over, which is very useful for helping to power-up your lower level soldiers.
Even with all of that, there’s still quite a bit you can do while on the battlefield. I mentioned earlier about having soldiers team up to improve their support and relationships with one another, but there’s more you can do. By moving next to a soldier, you can also swap items and weapons between them. This is a useful function, especially if you’re like me and occasionally forget to equip weapons to soldiers you’re bringing in that you haven’t used in a while. You will occasionally find items and weapons on the battlefield while fighting, and having the ability to trade them to soldiers who can use them can help turn the tide in a battle. Keep in mind however that each weapon can only be used so many times before it needs to be repaired or replaced. Thankfully for most weapons you can use them for a long time before that happens. If you find that a particular weapon isn’t helping much, you can also forge a lot of weapons in the shops for some gold to increase its damage output, its accuracy, and its critical rate.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is without a doubt one of the best games on the 3DS and it’s easy for anyone to get into regardless of their experience with the franchise. Like past games (at least a couple from what I’ve seen), you do have multiple difficulties, but you also have two play style options: Casual and Classic. Under casual, soldiers will return to you after battle if they run out of HP (basically, they withdraw from battle), plus you can actually save in the middle of a battle (this is considered a “bookmark” and separate from your main save). However, if you decide to go with classic, soldiers are gone for good if they die out on the battlefield and you can’t save in battle, so every decision counts. I can’t imagine trying to play the game under classic settings on the highest difficulty (called “Lunatic”). While playing under casual settings might seem like taking the easy way out, it’s perfect for someone who’s never played a Fire Emblem game before.
If I had to criticize anything, it’s the voices. The voice actors themselves aren’t the issue, but the fact that most of the voices you hear are sighs, grunts, and other little nuances that get old fast. However, that’s a really minor nitpick considering everything else in the game. When it comes to wi-fi, you can meet up with different teams via Street Pass and challenge their teams, or even recruit their avatar for a price, though that’s pretty expensive (in my case, around 7000 gold…I passed). You can also challenge the team, though the teams I encountered were quite above my level, so I’m not sure what happens when you win a Street Pass battle, if anything. However, if you’re waiting for that one great game to come out to get a 3DS, Fire Emblem: Awakening could be that game. Whether you’re a long-time fan of the series or have never touched a tactical RPG in your life, with its casual style of gameplay, tips for how various functions work that you can access at any time, incredible writing and dialogue, and everything you can do in the game, I highly recommend Fire Emblem: Awakening.