Fire Emblem - Awakening: JRPG Fans Rejoice!
Can you hear that? Swords, Axes, Spears clashing? Bows and spells shooting across your screen in full 3D? The iconic theme blasting in full forte; the melody chiming at the beauty and misery of the battlefield? This is Fire Emblem – Awakening. The newest edition to this massive JRPG series, Awakening brings a fresh new look and ease of play to the 3DS library. 2013 marks a great year for the 3DS, and Awakening’s release begins that year to the applaud of fans and critics.
Awakening opens up with stunning CGI cutscenes, really showing off the power of the 3DS. These are used sparingly throughout the story, unfortunately. The character design was done by Yusuke Kozaki, the designer for No More Heroes. Naturally her style really shines through here, and if you’re a fan of the series in general you’ll notice right away that the 2D and 3D designs are much different from the typical Fire Emblem titles. The character design was a fitting change for a game that is trying to capture more of an audience than it has in the past.
The addition of the new Casual Mode will definitely attract players that are, well, more casual. A common trait of the Fire Emblem series, or attraction depending on who you talk to, has been that when your characters die in battle, they die for good. Naturally, this establishes a sense of real fear when in battle, almost akin to how someone might feel on a real battlefield. Casual Mode removes that fear. Characters will return to your roster at the end of the battle even if they fall in combat. While Awakening is my first game in the series, I still found it appropriate to play on Normal Mode to give myself a bit of a challenge. I found while playing that Normal Mode is well suited for this game, as there are other ways that succeed in rewarding the player for their choices. If you are an experienced player of any kind, you should steer away from Casual Mode as it will make the game too easy. Most likely it was added so that your five year old brother can also enjoy it.
Awakening plays similarly to other SRPG titles: you pick your team members, their places on the battlefield, and accomplish mission goals. You trade damage with enemies using swords, axes, and spears in a sort of rock-paper-scissor format. Damage is calculated based on the stats of your units. There is one major feature here that really set Awakening apart from not only other Fire Emblem games, but the entirety of the genre itself: the ~*~Relationships~*~! Relationships in Fire Emblem start like you would expect them to in real life: companions on the battlefield grow closer through supporting each other and learn how to compliment each other better, providing better support over time. In technical terms, each time you attack with a unit, and another unit is within range, the two will do a combination attack with added bonuses that increase each time the two support each other. Units can also ‘Pair Up’ to not only provide permanent support by acting as one unit instead of two, but also to provide a meat shield for damaged units or transport a slower unit across the map via winged unicorn mounts.
The technical side of the ~*~Relationships~*~! in Awakening mesh well with the story and character’s personalities. After a number of support attacks and defenses, a “pair” can level up their relationship. This is done outside of battle during a unique conversation that range between quirky to typical, depending on whom you’ve matched up. I have to say, based on the number of playable characters and possible matchups, I would consider a second playthrough just to see what another character couple would be like. Every character in the game has a distinct, memorable personality, and who you pair them up with directly effects their dialogue as well as the bonuses granted in combat (ex: a thief will grant more speed bonuses while a mage would grant magic bonuses). I felt like some sort of all-powerful overlord, making these characters interact for my amusement to see what their dialogue trees would be like as they progressed in their relationship.
This being said, I thought that I was being forced to use this feature. It’s great that its there, don’t get me wrong, but I don’t feel like I should have to force characters to wife up just to get a bonus. There is something to be said for an army riding out into battle, playing grab ass with one another and blowing each other kisses from across the battlefield.
When relationships are such a huge mechanic in a game, I am a little uncomfortable with the fact that nothing other than heterosexual couples can be found. I understand that unique dialogue trees need to be written for each couple but it’s unfair to focus your gameplay around the support found in deep relationships without giving credit to gay, lesbian, or transgender people or couples.
How about the burley, 2-handed swordsman Gregor growing to love Prince Chrom for his regal splendor and prowess in combat? That sounds pretty realistic, much more realistic than a man falling in love with the immortal child character Nami. Even if the game were to be marketed towards children, as a culture we should be encouraging love in all its forms. Personally, I think the concept of permanent death in this game can be more frightening for a child than the idea of two men or two women deciding to tie the knot.
The Voice Over Problems
Another painful fault of Awakening is the voice over. While every cutscene is fully voiced, the back and forth dialogue of the characters is not. What you’re left with is this sort of one word voice substitute for a sentence or two of speech. This one word blurb happens for every. single. screen. of text. This is especially frustrating if you’re a fast reader. In some cases I turned the volume off just to dull the voices, one instance I’m thinking of is when you encounter a group of bandits attacking a town and the leaders of the brigade keep yelling “DAHHRLING!” at each other. Although the game did succeed in creeping me out whenever they spoke, this was really going above and beyond for enemies that I would slay in one mission and never hear from again.
These few shortcomings should not hold you back from picking up a copy of Fire Emblem: Awakening. In my eyes the SRPG market has had only a few shining gems in it’s long history, such as FF Tactics, Disgaea and Valkyria Chronicles. Awakening has joined their ranks.
For bonus points, and to find out why no character models have feet, read the developer interview with 8-4 studios here.