Fire Emblem: Awakening Review – Still Asleep or Eyes Wide Open?

After some shipping issues I finally got my hands on Fire Emblem: Awakening. There is a lot at play here and I’m honestly a bit torn in how I feel about it. Overall, the game is absolutely everything I expect from a Fire Emblem game, and in the end, Fire Emblem: Awakening delivers everything that I would want from a game in this generation. Yes, there are a couple of moments where you might say that Fire Emblem: Awakening needs a cup of coffee but overall it’s perky and alert!

Graphics

First impression is obviously that the graphics are gorgeous and easily on par with those found in Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn for GameCube and Wii. As with most games these days, you get a preview of what to expect from the story and cutscenes as soon as you launch the software, and it dazzles. What’s more is that this is one of the first games where I actually enjoyed turning on my 3D effect, at least during the cinematics…but that’s a diatribe for another time. Specifically, there were several instances where the scene was deliberately established in layers to maximize the effect. It all moved smoothly, but I still prefer to play my games in 2D.

While the videos are amazing, the gameplay is pretty much as expected. There are beautifully drawn portraits for every character, which are used in most of the story progression, but having to click through screens of dialogue every time gets drawn out, especially with such a sprawling story, though it’s understandably preferred to actual video and voice over. This is also a genre and series tradition, so it’s to be expected. Moving on, the actual game sprites are nice, but the feet were weird peg-legs, a choice I just didn’t understand or enjoy. The battle animations were also nice, but there was nothing “over the top” like there had been in previous installments. The flyers were the worst offenders. Wyverns looked less like dragons and more like lizards with wings, and the wyverns, pegasi, and griffons all just floated and poked at their opponents. There was no flying offscreen and coming around for a big hit. The heroes didn’t do somersaults in the air. The only thing that I found satisfying was the Lethality skill for assassins where the screen goes red and you see a blood splatter from your foe.

The in-game graphics are nearly this epic.

The cutscene graphics are nearly this epic.

That said, there were some great details. After killing an enemy, Chrom is crouched down as the foe soars through the air and Chrom’s head and eyes actually follow the enemy through the air. Little things like that made me constantly stop to say “nice.” There’s also a clear aesthetic to the whole game. Every installment updates armor across the classes for a sense of cohesion, and this is no exception. There’s a newly stylized feel to the armor, especially for the cavaliers and knights which gives the feeling of a new era and new story. Speaking of which…

Story

There’s really not that many surprises here once you get going, but the first 5 minutes was enough to get me hooked for the duration. It’s aided by the fact that you get a meagerly-customized in-game avatar to represent your impact on the narrative, which is even more ingrained than your “avatar” from the original US Fire Emblem in that you are actually able to use the avatar in battle. It would’ve been great to have a deeper customization engine, but it was a nice first run. From there, you get the standard fare of a player’s character with amnesia, a nation at war, a single group of mercenaries led by royalty who are meant to unite the world against a great evil, and a whole lot of twists and new allies to encounter along the way.

Of course, this is the part that I enjoy the most. Having those “Holy sh*t!” moments crop up and seeing how they play out over the next couple of hours. I’m not entirely through the game, but I already have a handful of characters who have skyrocketed to my all-time favorites (Henry is, in my opinion, perfectly balanced between hilarious, disturbing, and badass), and have gotten enough twists and turns to be truly invested. Moreover, my recent playthrough of Shadow Dragon has unveiled a bevy of connections between the two. There are numerous hints at the rise of the dark dragon, even a character who goes by the name of Marth, and Tiki, a Manakete from the original Fire Emblem, makes a cameo.

Best Henry line: During a critical, laughing maniacally "I'm gonna kill you!"

Best Henry line: During a critical, laughing maniacally “I’m gonna kill you!” – he’s a good guy.

The major story issue for me is that the game features time travel, and that ALWAYS comes with loopholes and problems. Why are you just now bringing up that event when you knew it would happen on day 1? Why didn’t you go to more specific times? Why are you all here together instead of spreading out to manage little problems you know will arise? It goes on and on because no time travel story is ever perfect, and this is no exception. It’s something I can get past. My only other concern is that this will be yet another abrupt ending in the series. After the last several installments, there’s a bit of a stigma that the final battle will end and there’s just nothing after that. At the very least, I have high expectations that this will be a final boss more similar to the one in Radiant Dawn that required weeks of attempts, careful planning, and my whole team working as a unit, as opposed to Shadow Dragon where it took one face-off with Marth, so at least I expect to feel a satisfying sense of victory.

Sound

Not a whole lot to report here, I’m not an expert, but the music added to the experience and the sound effects are impactful during battles. The voice acting during the cutscenes was appropriate, but there was one hugely annoying drawback. During all of the dialogue (that was printed on the screen that you have to read), there were snippets of “OH!” and “Yeah” “No” “Milord” “Not quite” and so forth at the beginning of each line that were incredibly bothersome. It added no value to the story progression and actually made me want to keep my volume off, missing out on the music and the rest of the sound.

Gameplay

This is where the game really impressed me. “It’s Fire Emblem,” I said, “I love the formula, but what could they really bring to the table to impress me?” The answer? SO MUCH!

Yes, the core mechanics are the same. Your party of units is spread out across a game map at the beginning of each chapter. They have a variety of classes, each with strengths and weaknesses, and are ordered across the map to wipe out the enemy forces and level up to change classes based on individual battles and equipment. The controls are simple and tight with easy-to-navigate menus, grid movements, and even new in-battle controls which let you change your view and pause, speed up, or slow down the action. These core mechanics are just as satisfying and entertaining as ever, but if they’re not your cup of tea, they will become a bit repetitive. There is still plenty of variety among the units and opportunity for growth to keep most people interested.

What’s incredible is what they’re able to add. The support system has been advanced beyond anything before. First, it has story implications, so be very deliberate with how you develop the relationships. Second, there are benefits beyond those you create actual relationships with. There’s now a system for adjacent units to support each other based on simple probabilities and the chance for additional hits within this system. At the same time, the bonus and downfall of this is that it can split experience between multiple units. It can also save your unit from an incoming attack, or help to finish off an enemy before they have a chance to counterstrike on their next turn.

In addition to that, there’s the return of the world map which adds value to the inventory management and shop system. The world map also gives the opportunity for additional experience through skirmishes with dark forces. The experience is minimal, but it’s a good way to build up your army if you need or want it. It does reduce the challenge a bit, but given how difficult the games typically are, I don’t have a problem with that.

Finally, they’ve also added DLC in the form of maps (both free and for a price) and incredible amounts of SpotPass and StreetPass data. This alone in the form of Legacy Characters is just incredible. Being able to recruit characters from previous games is the most appealing thing I’ve ever seen in a Fire Emblem game. 20,000 gold to recruit Eliwood to my team? Sure! Just incredible options that they’ve opened up here. Fighting the teams gives you a chance to recruit new forces, gain some experience, and discover valuable or rare weapons. What’s even better is that it all makes sense and fits into the story because of its inclusion of the ability to warp through space and time and the resurrection of fallen forces.

Multiplayer, DLC, and a myriad of other features have made this one of the biggest and most innovative games yet on the N3DS, and by far I consider it to be the best game in the Fire Emblem franchise. What’s my final rating?

Fire Emblem: Awakening – 4.5/5