Last month, I would have said there are many great reasons to own a 3DS. Now, however, I would like to say there are very few reasons not to own one. There are several must-own games on Nintendo’s handheld, and Fire Emblem Awakening stands alongside Super Mario 3D Land as the cream of the crop. It is pretty, it plays well, it is addictive in every respect, the story is good, and it is being supported with tons of downloadable content. It is what handheld gaming should be.
The Fire Emblem series is one of Nintendo’s biggest, with more than fifteen titles spanning 30 years. It is unfortunate then that we Americans have only experienced a handful of them. Fire Emblem usually keeps to Japan, but it has recently seen plenty of popularity stateside, especially with the DS games. Fire Emblem Awakening is the newest of the bunch, and it is also one of the best. This is a turn-based strategy RPG, complete with grid-based maps, sprite-based character models, and several character classes to choose from. What has traditionally set it apart from other games of the same genre is its permanency regarding character death. When a character in the Fire Emblem series dies, he/she is gone forever. There is no restarting the battle, magical reviving, or other such crutch. This has, in hand, turned it into a very hardcore franchise, off-putting many of the casual players Nintendo has otherwise attracted in recent years.
As a remedy, Intelligent Systems has decided to offer several different difficulty options ranging from Easy to Lunatic, to Lunatic +, as well as a casual mode which removes the permanent death mechanic. Traditional fans need not fret, as playing on Lunatic or Lunatic + with Casual Mode turned off is harder-core than most people, myself included, can even handle. This game has not been dumbed down inherently; rather it can be fine-tuned to provide exactly the experience players are looking for, which is a fantastic addition.
Another great advancement Awakening brings with it is the graphics. Maps and environments are rendered with polygons now, and they look gorgeous. Characters and enemies are still the beautiful sprites Intelligent Systems is so masterful at doing, though there is now an option to show cinematic fight scenes during battle. When engaging an enemy (or the other way around) the screen will fade, and detailed 3D character models will be shown duking it out, very akin to the battling on the GameCube and Wii games. This though, is optional.
That’s another thing that’s so great about this game: the options. Everything about your experience is customisable from the battle animations to the difficulty, the voice-acting to the sound effects. Even cutscenes are immediately skippable for those who aren’t so interested in the Game of Thrones-style narrative. This is what Nintendo meant all these years by providing something for literally every kind of gamer, it works wonderfully.
Speaking of the story, this is something that might turn some players off in the beginning, but if I can suggest anything, it is that you pay attention later on. Initially it can be very intimidating to plunge into this world and try to get a feel for every one of the [admittedly numerous] characters, locales, politics, alliances, and etc. But the developers have done a marvelous job of making the characters deep, rather than shallow. If you just give it a try, you’ll find yourself falling in love with some, hating others, and surprisingly involved.
What makes the game of course is the gameplay, and that is certainly not lacking. Some characters are good with swords, some with axes, some ride horses, some are long-distance archers, some can heal, etc., ect. New to this game is the option to pair up two characters on the same tile. For example, I immediately began pairing my weak and weaponless healer with my most powerful warrior. This meant that she avoided taking damage and could heal him so he could lead the offence. What is not immediately noticeable about pairing your characters is that they begin to develop a relationship the more often they are together.
By going into your menus you can see that certain characters have chemistry, and when forced to battle together, they can even get married and have children, who grow up and can be used on the field of battle. This dynamic adds a lot of depth to an already-deep experience without forcing any unwanted mechanics on the player.
Also, as a part of Nintendo’s ongoing attempt to penetrate and rule the online space, there is new downloadable content being added almost weekly. Much of it is free too, and it gives some very cool stuff. The first DLC will please anyone familiar with the Super Smash Bros. series, as it adds Prince Marth as a playable character. Another bit of DLC adds Roy too. Otherwise it mostly adds new maps and battles, as well as self-contained stories that don’t necessarily tie in with the main campaign.
All in all Fire Emblem Awakening proves the relevancy of this genre by making it more approachable by the casual player, but also keeping it plenty deep enough for fans of the franchise. This is a game that does nearly everything right, and is an experience which must be had by any existing 3DS owner. Pick it up asap.