Nintendo’s strategy should focus on this. And yours.
Minor spoilers follow
Intelligent System’s tactical RPG series Fire Emblem has been around now for a few years (in the west) and each game has been fantastic; Awakening definitely keeps this tradition up and then some.
For those that know the series, Awakening holds true to the tried and true formula of game-play but adds in a few tricks of its own. The most major of these is the new marriage system, which sees you building up budding romances between the male and female characters. These marriages not only bring a new dimension and layer to the incredible depth of the game, they also add genuine bonuses. Married characters get monumental stat boosts and really add to the other major addition to the series: linking two units together into one space.
Unlike previous games in the series, relationship boosts do not stretch beyond one space, but you can now join two units together on the battlefield. When two units are joined, they can join in the battle; defend you against enemy attacks (a godsend), join in the attack, and give big stat boosts. This is just scratching the surface on the intricacies of relationships however.
Later on in the game you are introduced to the children of your married couples, these take on the stats, powers and classes of their parents. There are loads of different variables just for these characters – too many to go into. Indeed, each character can change their class to an entirely different one based on their base class, this changes what weapons they can use, their stats and what class they can upgrade to. There are certain ways to make each character the best they can possibly be, but this is entirely at your discretion – which is great, the game is left open to you and how you want to play it.
If this is all sounding complicated, don’t worry: it isn’t. The game is very good at clearly labeling every change anything makes but the beauty of it is that it can be as complicated or simple as you make it.
Awakening works the same way in the older games in terms of story progression, each mission is a turn-based strategy that sees you slowly encroaching on the enemy with precision. The game controls the same as the rest of the series also (why change something that ain’t broke?) and flows wonderfully with a natural progression in difficulty that feels right at home with the series. However, Awakening is slightly easier than past Fire Emblem games, which is good or bad depending on how you look at it.
The game-play is as addictive as ever and even improved with the changes to relationship building and units partnering. Beyond the regular missions there are a whole range of extra maps, side missions, a decent multiplayer, DLC maps, Streetpass (when you pass someone, their saved Streetpass team goes onto your map, where you can recruit their leader, fight them or buy items from them), a cool system of renown – when it increases you get fancier and fancier items – and the ability to go against many, many teams from past Fire Emblem games which work much the same way as the Streetpass teams.
Notice I said map above, Fire Emblem: Awakening incorporates the over-world idea from the Sacred Stones and improves upon it. Enemies randomly appear on the map (Risen – zombies – and bandits), shops are dotted about, and travelling merchants appear with sales on good items from time to time. The effort Intelligent Systems put into cramming as much into Awakening as they did really paid off, it’s a huge game with a lot of attention paid to all of its details; it’s phenomenal.
Of course, the game might be addictive, great fun to play and genuinely difficult in terms of strategy with all of its awesome intricacies, but a good Strategy RPG needs a compelling narrative to hold it all together. Thankfully, Fire Emblem: Awakening has the best story on the 3DS and one of the best I have ever played through in a video-game. It flows naturally, and holds its interest right until the end-game, for a game I spent around 78 hours on, that’s impressive.
The story is told with a backdrop of the character models involved in the scene, with speech handled the same as in previous games albeit with the occasional line of dialogue. There are also several cut-scenes, all of which look wonderful – really bringing out the fantastic art-style the game employs. Art direction holds the game together like some kind of beautiful glue – this is the nicest looking Fire Emblem game ever released, utilising sprites, 3D models and wonderfully animated cut-scenes. The mix of styles works fantastically well and the 3DS’ stereoscopic screen really brings vibrancy to the world Intelligent Systems and Nintendo created.
There are a few translation hiccups, and the frame-rate can slow down a little but you really won’t care: Fire Emblem Awakening is the culmination of years of Fire Emblem games, taking what is great about the series’ past while creating an exciting look into the future of this woefully under-appreciated franchise.
Fire Emblem: Awakening is a game that gets everything right. There is a huge amount of content, intricacies, sublime strategy and romance to be had in the best game of 2013 and the best game available on the 3DS. Please, Nintendo, bring out another one.
Essential playing for anyone with a 3DS, and for those that don’t have one: buy one for this game. Breath-taking.