Review - Fire Emblem Awakening
Nintendo is finally bringing its most beloved tactical RPG, Fire Emblem, to the 3DS. The flashy new hardware is promising not only a graphically impressive version of the game, but a new Dual System to change up the combat as well. So get ready for some swords, sorcery, and tactics with Fire Emblem Awakening!
Fire Emblem Awakening’s style suits the platform it was built for. Menus share both the upper and lower screens harmoniously. Despite the touchscreen itself being woefully underutilized, the animations on the top screen are smooth. Cutscenes mostly contain talking head moments, with the exception being major story beats. Those are fully fleshed out in Anime-style cutscenes, which are truly impressive. Otherwise, you're treated to relatively static character models. Their lack of any visual interchange is mitigated by the large character pin-ups, which cover much of the screen. This really hurt the 3D experience in my opinion, because it adds so many layers to each scene. The models, on the other hand, look really great for the most part.
Something that I absolutely loathed about the character models is the lack of feet. It is a strange art direction to say the least and at one point I honestly thought Nintendo was trolling me, but this was apparently a design choice. While it won’t affect anything substantial, I found it to be stylistically jarring. Some classes break away from this visual travesty, especially mounted classes, and there is a wide variety of characters who represent them. With so many to choose from, I feel like the characters and their respective classes provide something for everyone. This diversity carries over into the various attack animations and gear that your characters will acquire throughout their journey.
The musical score is impressive and boasts a full orchestra. It complements the setting and tone of Fire Emblem as a franchise perfectly, raising expectations for what a handheld title’s OST can be. The voice acting on the other hand, leaves a bit to be desired. The Anime cutscenes are fully voiced, but much of the game contains those talking head moments where you are expected to read. Not a big deal, but they've added a bit of sporadic voice acting, with characters exclaiming a single word or gasp at the start of a sentence. It becomes jarring when rolling through text and characters are sighing or gasping back and forth. Again, it isn’t a deal breaker by any means, but I’d prefer to enjoy the fantastic music while I read through the story.
Fire Emblem Awakening is true to its franchise roots as a tactical role-playing game. You create a custom character to accompany main protagonist, Chrom, as he defends his homeland of Ylisse. As the Tactician in the group, you’re not only a mighty warrior on the battlefield, but you control everyone else’s attack patterns. You manage these characters from an overhead view on a grid. As your extensive team grows in size and numbers, your party becomes a “war machine” and it may become powerful enough to steamroll the competition with little direction from you. Making the sum of the whole greater than the individual parts.
This is the unique thing about Fire Emblem Awakening that inspires you the player: the innocence that characters subscribe to over the course of the story, despite all the war. Little hearts pop up in battle to remind you that the experiences you and your companions share help each other grow stronger. NPCs who become fast friends inevitably end up married and as a pair, and they’re much more powerful. Sharing this journey and building relationships along the way is how Fire Emblem differentiates itself from other tactical RPGs.
While this mantra is communicated subtly through the combat mechanics, conversations between NPCs range from dismissive to revelatory. Despite there being entire menus devoted to encouraging relationship management, it never felt like a burden. The Support menu fosters additional dialog between characters for combat bonuses, and the Barracks will play host to a exhibitions which boost stats or reveal additional weapons. Like past Fire Emblem games, weapons play a huge role in how you will build that “war machine”.
Weapons are a significant factor when it comes to how you combine classes and they encourage you to mix it up. Weapons will dictate the number of your attacks, chance of critical attacks, and from what distance you can attack. Depending on your class, you are limited as to which weapons each character can use and to what proficiency of weapon they have access to. Weapons can also be forged to increase stats, which was satisfying when working with Heroic-grade weapons. As you level these character classes, they will also receive passive bonuses -- some of which are various critical attacks using the weapons. The system feels natural, while still having a fair amount of complexity.
The story itself can last over the 20-hour mark, which may only include half the Paralogues (side quests) and none of the DLC. Yes, Fire Emblem Awakening will offer unique maps via DLC and SpotPass, increasing the bang for your buck. Pricing varies, but in addition to new scenarios, certain maps grant additional characters. The Casual Mode also returns, removing perma-death from the equation and making the game approachable to anyone. Hardcore fans are certainly encouraged to engage in Classic Mode and ramp the difficulty up if they’d like.
With so much to do, an extensive cast of characters and an elaborate story; Fire Emblem Awakening is another fantastic entry in the series. Despite a few strange design decisions in both the voiceover work and character models, there is very little to complain about. The new combat system is engaging, while still encouraging character development on and off the battlefield. Both the class and weapon systems are robust, supporting the core turn-based action that absolutely complements the platform. I highly recommend that everyone who owns a 3DS and cares even the slightest about RPGs go pick this up immediately.
|ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?|