Fire Emblem: Awakening - Review

Back in December of 2001 a Nintendo GameCube game called "Super Smash Bros: Melee" finally hit the shelves. After fans had waited nearly three years for its release, the game was finally in their hands, and they were finally back at home playing it; however unknown to them, by playing Melee they would actually be helping a new series come to the west.

You see, the Smash Bros series is a crossover fighting game featuring most of Nintendo's well known characters! From Mario and Luigi, to Link and Zelda, to Fox and Falco, the games feature just about every major character; however in Melee there were two brand new characters most of us in the west have never even heard about! These characters were named "Marth" and "Roy," and they were apparently from a series called "Fire Emblem." This was the first time most of the world had even heard of this game, and that alone sparked their interest.

Jump ahead two years later and "Fire Emblem" (actually titled "Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken" in Japan) finally came to western shores on the Game Boy Advance. Although it was actually the seventh game in the series, it was the starting point for many fans, and ever since that day quite a large fan base has grown in the west. The game that was already a hit in Japan was finally here, and due to the game's sales, it was sure to stay!
Now jump ahead quite a few more years, and here we are! Since that day in 2003, quite a few other Fire Emblem games have made their way to the US, and each and every single one of them has gained a fan base of their own. Although the series has never been on the "Mario level" or the "Zelda level," there are enough fans out there to keep the series moving forward; however even that may be about to change! On February 4, 2013, the thirteenth game in the series was released in the US, and for the first time the Fire Emblem series has just about gone "mainstream."

Fire Emblem: Awakening is the newest entry in the series, and it is EVERYTHING a Fire Emblem fan could hope for, plus more! To put it simple; if you're a Fire Emblem fan, you MUST get this game. If you're a new comer to the series, then this is the place you should really start! Still, what is this game? What is it like? Is it really that good? How do you know I will like it? These are all questions you may be asking yourself right now, and they are all questions I am about to answer. Without any further adieu; let's get started!

Giving you the heads up:

Before I explain the story and gameplay, I would like to say one thing. I will ONLY be covering the "beginning" section of the game. After about the first fifteen hours or so of the game, some things begin to happen, and that flat out changes the game in general. I will avoid talking about these sections of the game to avoid spoilers, so you don't have to worry about me ruining anything for you. I understand that most of you will want to experience the game on their own, and I will do everything I can to avoid ruining it for you. So anyway, lets get on with the story!

The Story of Awakening:

Fire Emblem: Awakening starts up in a very strange way. You (a player created character) and a character named Chrom are fighting what seems to be the final boss of the game. You, as the player, really have on idea what is going on, and it's really impossible to figure it out at this point. All you know is, you're the good buy, that's the bad guy, and you need to kill him; so you do!

Right after the boss is taken down you will find yourself watching a cutscene from the first person point of view, and you'll watch the guy you just "killed" shoot you with some kind of strange energy ball. At this point you seemingly lose control of your body, stab Chrom in the chest, and your vision fades to black as Chrom tells you to run.

In the very next scene you will find yourself waking up in a field with the very same man you just killed helping you get up. "Thank you Chrom" you'll say to him as he helps you get up; however Chrom doesn't seem to know you, and you don't seem to know Chrom. In short, you, and everyone else, are flat out confused. Who are you? Why are you there? Why do you know Chrom's name? That's the mystery, and before you know it you'll find yourself being wrapped up in some major events that hold the answer.

It turns out that Chrom, as well as the others with him, are what you would call Shepherds. They are knights who protect their land, and the people in it. Although at first they're really not sure if they can trust you, that all soon changes when a nearby village is attacked, and you jump into action with them to help save everyone. Apparently you're an amazing tactician, and this group of Shepherds can do anything with your help! After saving the village, and joining the Shepherds yourself, you decide to head back to the capital with you're new friends. That's when everything changes.

After setting up camp in the woods, Chrom and his sister Lissa soon find themselves looking up at the sky where a massive portal of some sorts has appeared. From this portal ghostly monsters begin to fall to the land below, and before he knows it Chrom is locked into battle with them. Despite cutting through their flesh with his sword, the things refuse to die, and soon Lissa is stuck between a rock and a hard place just moments away from death. Just then a strange figure dressed as the legendary hero Marth falls from the portal as well, and saves her just in time.

Unknown to Chrom, Lissa, you, and the others, this event in the woods is simply a prelude to the major events that are yet to come. Soon the strange monsters begin showing up around the world, Chrom's kingdom goes to war, and the mysterious "Marth" begins working from the shadows to accomplish their own unknown goals. Soon the entire continent falls into chaos, and you will find yourself at the center of it all. Welcome to the world of Fire Emblem: Awakening!

The Fire Emblem Gameplay:

When a lot of people hear about Fire Emblem, a lot get the impression that it is a JRPG. One where you go from town to town, level grinding on monsters, and building a party; however that is not completely true! Fire Emblem is a tactical role playing game, meaning it is a game that mixes role playing elements with a turn based strategy game! Still, it really isn't quite as simple as that. Fire Emblem: Awakening is actually a VERY deep game, and one you can spend hundreds to even thousands of hours on if you're willing to take the time. It has a lot of systems in place, and the game itself is just packed full of content! So anyway, lets talk about the gameplay, shall we?

Avatar Creation -

When you first start up the game you'll actually be asked to create an Avatar. This Avatar character is "you" in game, and the second main character of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Here on this creation screen you can pick between a few different body builds, you can change your hair style, you can change your hair color, pick a face type, pick what your strongest stat and weakest stat will be, and you can also pick between a few different voices you want them to use in game. Now right off the bat you will notice that this system is actually a lot more developed than most character creators in other games, and it really is a system I'd like to see used more.
Although you really don't have a lot of options to pick from, it really is nice to see both the 3D model of the character change AND you're characters 2D face which shows up during talking, and it's also nice to see that there is recorded voice acting in the game for all of the voice options as well. Sure there's really not that many spoken sections, but it is nice to hear the voice you picked instead of a default one.

Casual and Classic Mode -

Along with you're character creation, there is another set of options you can actually pick from before you start the game, and one of which is actually a first for a Fire Emblem game. This is the Casual and Classic Mode option! You see past Fire Emblem games are actually VERY challenging, and they also have a system in place where your units can actually DIE and NEVER come back! Now although that is still the case for Fire Emblem: Awakening, this time you actually have the option to turn it on or off!

Casual mode is the newly added option in Awakening, and all it does is make it so your units cannot die, and gives you the option to save during battles. It doesn't change the difficulty setting of the game, but instead when one of your units are killed on the battlefield, they will simply retreat and be back for you to use on the next mission. This is a VERY good option to pick for you new comers to the series, and it's really a good way to get into the Fire Emblem games; however Classic Mode isn't as forgiving.

As I explained above, in the classic Fire Emblem games your units can die forever, and that's what Classic Mode does. In this mode if you mess up on the battlefield, and your unit is killed, you will never see them again in the game. They will stop appearing in the story, and you will be limited on who you'll be able to use. Just like in real life, there is no bringing back the dead, and classic mode forces you to play as if all of your units are real people, and their lives are in your hands. It really makes you plan out your strategies, and it makes you question your every move. If you are a long time fan of the series, or if you want a challenge, you should really pick this mode!

The Difficulty Settings -

Besides having the Casual and Classic Modes, you can also pick your difficulty setting! Although when you first start out the game you are limited to a few options, by beating the game you'll unlock an even harder setting which will really test your skills in every way! While the normal mode is pretty challenging on its own (especially if your new to the series), the other modes are EXTREMELY difficult, and are modes that you will not want to try for the first time if you are new. One mode is actually so hard, every battle is such a risk, you WONT even be able to level grind on the random battles that show up on the map! Really it's pretty hard to explain just how challenging the harder modes are, but take my word for it, they are hard! (I even know some die hard TBS players who struggle with it. It's THAT hard core!)
Still if you're not a fan of challenging games, or if you just want to play this game casually, you can! The difficulty of this game was designed so just about anyone can play the game, and just about anyone can enjoy it; no matter what their skill level is!

Battling on the Maps -

As I've already stated, Fire Emblem is a tactical role playing game which is basically an RPG mixed with a TBS. Every single battle in this game takes place on a large map where you must move your units along a grid to attack other units. At the beginning of each battle you get to select which units you want to bring with you into battle, and then you'll be able to command them in a turn based fashion.

At the start of each turn you'll have to look at the map, form a plan, and then figure out the best way to pull off said plan. As you move your units across the grid you'll be able to take advantage of the area around you! For example you can hide your units in a forest and attack the enemy that is passing by from the shadows, or you can even take flying units out over the water out of harms way. Really there's a lot of different "special" spaces on the map you can use for your advantage, but you also have to consider that the enemy can as well.

Really the "basic" gameplay of Fire Emblem is very simple, but at the same time it is VERY complex. Fire Emblem is a lot like chess, and you have to know what you are doing to truly play it. You have to learn how to use your units, you have to plan ahead and consider what the enemy might do, you have to look at the area around you and figure out how to use it to your advantage, and you also have to think about the class system and what your units can actually do. As the game goes on more and more features are brought into the battlefield (such as doors which need to be unlocked), and soon you will find yourself in some massive battles. Mix that in with Classic Mode where your units can actually die forever, and you've got some challenging battles ahead of you!

The combat aspect of Fire Emblem: Awakening, is actually very basic as well. Although you're moving your characters around the map telling them to attack, that's all you are really doing. As soon as you tell your character to attack, a little window pops up showing you the stats of both characters (which helps you decide how the battle might turn out), and from there your units will handle the rest. You'll watch little battle scenes where the units trade blows, but you really have no control over it. Since the game uses a rock-paper-scissors style of combat (swords beat axes, axes beat lances, lances beat swords), you've just got to use your head and decide if you should really attack that enemy with that unit or not. (Also some weapons such as bows can only be used from a distance as well, so character placement plays a bit role in all of this also.)

There is another MAJOR aspect to the whole battle system, which comes in the form of the pairing system, but I'll be covering that later on in this review.

Recruiting Characters -

Another main feature in Fire Emblem which has returned for Awakening is the recruiting system. There are actually MANY different characters in this game, and it is up to you to actually recruit them! Now sure some characters will join you because they are a part of the story, but a lot of characters will show up on the map as either an ally unit or even as an enemy! If this happens it is your job to get to them before you finish the battle (or before they die), and talk to them with either Chrom or another special unit. Doing this will allow you to recruit them into your party, and will allow you to use them for the rest of the game! Although this is the pattern that you will be repeating for most of the game, there are some units that will require special requirements to unlock them. This includes a unit you will meet at the START of the game, and requires you to level them up once before they can join you.

The World Map -

Unlike in most Fire Emblem games, Awakening features a world map. Now the last time Fire Emblem had a world map system (Fire Emblem 8), it actually didn't do that well; however I can safely say that that is NOT an issue this time around!

While on the world map you can pick from different locations you have already visited, or you can pick the location which is considered the next "chapter" of the game. Every time you beat a chapter, that chapter's location is added to the map, a new shop is opened up, and new locations are also opened up for you to visit. Although there are main chapters which progress the story, there are also "paralogues" which open up that are sort of side stories. These side stories normally have new characters for you to recruit, and they also serve as a way to help level up your characters.

As time goes on random enemies will also start popping up on the map, and you will also be able to use items to summon them as well. This is perfect for level grinding, and a good way to help your units class change.

The Unit and Class System -

The biggest aspect of the Fire Emblem series is the Unit and Class System, but even that is taken to a whole new level with Awakening! In Fire Emblem every single one of your units is a character of their own, and they all have their own unique abilities, skills, stat growths, and they all have different classes. Now although this remains basically the same in Awakening, they have completely revamped some of the systems to make it even deeper than it was before!

Just like in the past games, every single unit in this game will start out at a specific class. There are fifty classes in this game (actually just under fifty which can be used by your characters), and every single class has its own strong points and weak points. There are classes that can use swords, classes that can use bows, classes that can use axes, classes that can use lances, classes that can use offensive magic, and classes that can use healing magic; all of which have their own abilities, and stats.

The way stats and classes work in Fire Emblem can be a bit confusing, but here's the basics. You have the following stats in game: health, strength, magic, skill, speed, luck, defense, and resistance. Every single class in the game has a specific stat multiplier for each of these stats, and every single character has a set of multipliers as well. These multipliers actually affect what your characters stats will be and what they will cap out at. Basically what this means is that SOME characters will actually be stronger when they are a specific class than others, and that will also give you a reason to try out different things.

Now as I already said, all characters will start out at a default class; but you don't have to keep them at that default class! New to Fire Emblem: Awakening is an item that actually allows you to demote your characters to level 1, and change to a completely different class. When doing so your characters will keep any skills and stats they earned from their last class, but at the same time some stats will go up and down depending on the new classes stat multipliers. Basically what this means is, you can actually level your characters up to max, derank them, keep their stats, and level them up to max again to make them stronger; however there's more to this system as well which you'll want to think about.

Every single class in the game also has its own skills that you can learn whenever you hit different milestone levels. For example one class might teach you an attack skill which will activate and destroy enemies with ease, while another class may actually give you a skill that increases your stats or range of movement! By learning these skills, and changing classes to learn more skills, you can build your "perfect" units, who will basically become a flat out boss on the battlefield. Still this will actually take quite a lot of time, as well as a lot of planning!

The second part, which is also a major part, of the class system is also advancing your current class into an advance class. Just like in other Fire Emblem games, classes have a max level that they can actually reach (which will be level 20 for most classes), and at that point it is actually recommended that you advance the class. Just like with changing classes, you can use items that will take your current class the next step forward into a stronger class! Doing this also requires a lot of planning as well, since a lot of the classes can actually be promoted into two separate classes each with their own skills and abilities. Sure you can turn your unit into a Falcon Knight and become stronger while gaining the use of healing magic, or you can turn them into a Dark Flier where they'll become a VERY strong offensive magic user. Both sides of the class change have their advantages, and you really have to decide which one you want your units to be.

Actually all of this DOES in fact go a step farther in this game as well. During the second half of the game, which I'm going to avoid talking about, this whole stat and skill system will actually be taken to the next level! At one point characters will actually be passing on skills and skills to OTHER characters who will join you later on, and that allows for some pretty unique combos. For example you can actually learn some female only skills and pass them onto a male character later on down the road.

Support System and Pairing System -

The Support System is back once gain, but this time it is a bit different. Just like in past Fire Emblem games, you can actually make your characters become friends, and that will unlock some extra conversations between them; however Awakening once again takes this to a whole new level!

By having your units next to each other on the map, they will work together in battle, and start to form a relationship! This relationship works in the way of "support conversations," and the bonuses for having a support increase with each level. Although most characters will only have C, B, and A supports, opposite sex supports will also have an S level support where the units will actually get married. Yep, you heard me right, they will get married!

If your units marry other units they will provide each other with the ultimate support stat boosts, and they will also have a big impact on the story later on! Although it isn't required that all of your units are married, some units will get married during the storyline either way, and the bonuses are very well worth it!

To go along with the marriage and support system in general, you can also flat out "pair" your units together! By moving a unit on top of another unit, they will form a "single" unit which can then be moved around the map. Both unit's stats will increase, and they will also gain the bonuses from the supports which would normally happen if they were standing side by side on the map. By mixing and matching different classes together with the pairing system, you can create some AMAZINGLY strong teams, who will simply be able to destroy everything on the battle system. Although you can do this with any unit, its always better to use this system with married couples.

The Graphics and Music:

This is just something I had to point out in this review, and I'm sure fans will understand why. You see over the years Fire Emblem has had quite a few different graphical styles which have switched back and forth between the 2D games and the 3D games. While some people may like the 2D sprites from the GBA games, there are other people who like the realistic 3D models. Well Fire Emblem: Awakening finds a common ground between the two, and mixes it up!

While the sprites on the map are still 2D sprites, the map itself is a sort of 3D landmass map. It isn't full 3D, but you can see the mountain ranges, the canyons, as well as the villages which stick up, but at the same time it keeps that simple and easy to read style from the 2D games. The mix of the two styles just really look nice, and it all fits together very well! As for the battles however, they are a bit different.

Battles in Awakening are actually completely 3D battles, but they also have two different styles for you to pick from. While the normal battle view shows the characters from a side view duking it out, there is also a first person point of view which allows you to see the battle from your character's point of view! This is a really nice little extra, and it helps change the battle scenes up.

Besides all of that, there are also anime styled cutscenes in Awakening as well! These cutscenes look flat out amazing, and are of very high quality! The first time I saw one of these scenes, I actually couldn't believe I was looking at a 3DS game! Sadly though, these scenes are limited to major events only, and that might be this games only true bad point. Then again that also means they were able to use the classic Fire Emblem cutscenes as well; so maybe it really isn't all that bad.

On top of the nice graphical style, the music in Awakening is in fact top notch! The soundtrack fits perfectly with the battlefields, as well as the cutscenes, and you might just find yourself humming it before too long!

Downloadable Content, Spot Pass and Fan Service:

Bet you didn't expect to see this did you? Well yep, it's true. Fire Emblem: Awakening also has a special section on the map you can visit to download new maps to the game. While the first DLC map is in fact free for a limited time, all of the others are in the $2.50 range, and (at the time of this review) will be released weekly. Each map offers something different to the game, (from maps built around conversations to ones that allow you to unlock new skills), and some even bring out some MASSIVE fan service!

The other thing about Awakening is that almost EVERY major character from the past Fire Emblem games are actually IN this game! By using DLC maps as well as the Spot Pass feature built into this game, you can download extra battles where you fight a past Fire Emblem character to recruit the to your party! Now these characters are simply there for fan service, and are not a part of the actual story (they can't even use supports), but I'm sure long time fans will love being able to use their favorite characters again! I mean what other game is going to allow you to build a party with Lyn, Roy, Marth, Ike, and Chrom?

On top of all of that, the Spot Pass/Street Pass feature also allows for some extra game content. You can build a team to send over street pass, recruit other people's avatars into your team, and even unlock special rewards and challenge other players to fights. There's actually a pretty deep profile customization system here as well, which will allow you to set what your unit will say to others, as well as set his/her personality.

The Good and the Bad of Awakening:

I'm going to flat out say it, there are NO bad points in Awakening! Fire Emblem: Awakening is that Fire Emblem game fans dream of! Its on a handheld so it's easy to pick up and play, it mixes both the 2D and 3D art styles together very well, it has a VERY deep unit and class system, the support system adds a whole new level of strategy to the game, there's a lot of DLC on the way to make the game last even longer, there are characters from past games for you to unlock just about daily, the music is great, the casual mode is a welcome addition, the hard modes are VERY challenging and will push even die hard Fire Emblem fans to their limits, you can create your own character, the marriage system is nice, the cast of characters is pretty great in general, and... Really I could just go on forever.

If you are a fan of Fire Emblem YOU SHOULD GET THIS GAME! If you've never played Fire Emblem before, or if you HATE turn based games like this, I actually recommend checking out the demo on the eShop. There's actually a lot of people out there who said they hated the series, who have fallen in love with it simply because of that demo (I know quite a few of them personally). This Fire Emblem is the biggest Fire Emblem to ever be released, and it didn't become a hit worldwide for nothing.

I give Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS a PERFECT 10/10!

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