Review

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Pawn Stars

Fire Emblem: Awakening is like chess with emotional stakes.

By Samantha Nelson • February 11, 2013

Chess is a game that requires players to think ahead, contemplating not just the efficacy of their current move but how their opponent will respond. Every victory must be weighed against whether it leaves your piece vulnerable. Now imagine if every time one of your pieces got captured, the other player really kept it, and the next time you played, you wouldn’t have as many options unless you find a few extra pawns somewhere. If that doesn’t raise the stakes enough, consider what it would be like if each of your pieces had a name, a history, and maybe a spouse. Then you’ll have an idea of what playing Fire Emblem: Awakening is like.

Things get ugly for Fire Emblem: Awakening’s good guys fast. After an ominous prelude, your hero meets up with Prince Chrom and his band, who find themselves protecting Ylisse’s citizens not only from bandits but also from living-dead monsters who drop out of the sky. And then there’s the forces of the aggressive and more than a little crazy neighboring king.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

The latest outing in Intelligent Systems’ long-running Fire Emblem series puts players in control of a huge number of military units that they must tactically move across grid-like maps to fight enemies using a variety of weapons and magic spells. Each move requires careful consideration because, like a real-world general, your mistakes can lead to the permanent death of your soldiers. Fortunately, Fire Emblem: Awakening gives you ways to use your characters that you won’t find in chess. You can pair units together—you might pile your dawdling cleric on the saddle so that a mounted knight can quickly ferry her around, but there are limits here. Your cleric won’t be doing any healing until she separates from her well-armored escort, which leaves her vulnerable again.

The computer-controlled opponent will do its damnedest to kill those soldiers. Pegasus-riding knights are the most mobile unit in the game, but they’re vulnerable to archers. If you forget that, you can be assured of quick, feathery death. Enemies will take advantage of any opening to kill your squishy healers, finish off an ally you forgot to heal, or murder any innocent bystanders you’re trying to protect.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Even the side quests in Awakening ramp up the pressure. In one, you persuade a farmer to join you to fight bandits that have been preying on his village. If you can get him to level up during the fight, he’ll take up a life of adventuring. Otherwise he heads back to the farm. It’s not an easy task to both protect him and put him in the fray enough, but pushing him to take that leap and become a hero feels way more satisfying than any experience point gain.

Call me a wuss, but I found myself using the option to have your units just get knocked out instead of killed, coming back after the fight. It’s hard to say a final goodbye to any of the game’s lovable characters. They’re not all created equal, but it’s easy to get attached to Frederick, a knight who takes his charge of protecting Chrom and his sister so seriously that he spends his downtime picking out their clothes and cleaning up after them, or Vaike, a cocky fighting trainer who insists on referring to himself in the third person. I acknowledge that playing with permanent death makes battles feel more meaningful and realistic, but as someone who had a hard time playing Frogger as a kid because I felt like I had let down the frog when it inevitably got pancaked by a truck, I find the classic model too stressful.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Like any game of strategy, the key to playing well is often to play more. While there’s definitely luck involved in every skirmish, you can learn from your mistakes if you choose to repeat a battle because a character died. It can take a lot of time, some frustration, and a bit of grinding to boost your fighters’ levels, but you can get perfect victories that leave your entire army intact. Only the death of Chrom or your hero will end a fight, so it’s up to you to determine your own threshold for acceptable loss.

Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Price: $39.99
Rating: T

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  • PaganPoet

    Hmm, it’s a shame I don’t have a 3DS, since a strategy RPG sounds like a laugh these days.

    I DO have Disgaea 3 for my Vita sitting at home. I think I know what my bus rides will look like this week.

  • http://pseudonymjones.com/ Pseudonym Jones

    This is my first Fire Emblem game and I thought I’d give it a go on Normal/Classic. Everything was cool for the first few battles, but then Sumia (pegasus knight) got OHKO’d by an archer that popped out of nowhere. With her last breath she apologized for letting me down.
     
    I couldn’t reload the game fast enough.
     
    From that point on, I’ve been playing VERY conservatively. Especially because reloading feels like cheating. It got me to thinking — who among my ranks would I reload for?

  • WaxTom

    The last Fire Emblem game I played was Path of Radiance. Is Titania in this game? Because I may buy a 3DS and this game just to rock out as Titania again. She was a BEAST

  • http://twitter.com/HWGVictor Victor Prime

    YES
    YES

    We’ve been playing this nonstop since we lucked out and grabbed two copies before every copy in the city disappeared.

    My roommate, a Man Of Very Little Brain who normally wouldn’t touch a strategy game even if you superglued it to his hands, just finished it last night because he was unable to stop himself.

    There’s no reason not to play this. None. Go play it. If you can’t find a copy, download it from the eShop. If you don’t have a 3DS, get the bundle.

    Why are you sitting here reading this? GO PLAY THIS GAME

  • Jackbert322

    So I’ve been considering buying one of this new generation’s portable systems. It’s pretty cool to have a job and no necessary expenses! I was only considering the Vita, because of the pure incredible hardware and crop of exclusives. However, there is barely ANYthing being released on Vita in the upcoming months. Like, there’s some action-JRPG that looks like a Monster Hunter rip-off, maybe an actual entry in Monster Hunter, and that’s it. Given how much better the PSP was doing library-wise in its first year, and how the PSP ended up, I’m not confident.

    Anyhoo, this game is literally enough to make me want a 3DS. Strategy plus relationships i.e. two of my favorite games, Chess plus Persona? Sign me up. It doesn’t help that there is a bundle with this game pre-downloaded on a fancy 3DS (not XL) which is blue and has dragons and swords on it, so pretty much the coolest thing ever.

    In relation to the 3DS and 3DS XL debate, I know one of the selling points is the bigger screens, but the 3DS XL feels a bit awkwardly large (and the Vita doesn’t, which is strange..) in my hands and I’ll be playing lots of DS games on it, so those two things break even with the bigger screen.Here’s my question: does the 3DS XL have THAT much more battery life to make it better than blue and dragons and swords?

    • PaganPoet

      Hey, buddy, have you ever played any of the Disgaea games? Disgaea 3 and 4 are both available for PS3. If you like strategy RPGs, check them out. I know it seems like I’m just popping in here randomly, but the topic is somewhat related and you seem to have similar taste in games as I do. They’re laugh out loud funny games because all of the characters are insane.

      • Jackbert322

        I haven’t. I’ve looked at them in the service of checking out JRPG options on PS3, but the unappealing art design and the fetish for large numbers turned me off immediately.

        We do seem to have similar tastes in video games though. Caspian likes Disgaea too, so if I try them out I can strengthen the GAMEOLOGICAL ROLE PLAYING GAME HIVE MIND.

    • http://twitter.com/TheBryanJZX90 TheBryanJZX90

      Well, if you’re interested in a game like Fire Emblem, then the PSP library actually ended up in a great place for you. Upgraded classics like Tactics Ogre and Final Fantasy Tactics, Disgaea, Persona, the thing was a Japanese RPG and strategy game powerhouse. And of course Vita can play all of those games, plus Persona 4 Golden.

      On the other hand… every single damn one of those games I just mentioned is a remake. I’m getting old and crotchety enough to where my preferences have calcified and I don’t mind paying more money to play my favorite games from when I was a teenager, only slightly prettier. And one could even argue that most “new” games are just “games from when I was a teenager, only slightly prettier” anyway. But your mileage may vary.

      • hcduvall

        I own a PSP for just the timesinks you mentioned…though I think I have to give up on the older Personas.

        For the Nintendo side, Devil Survivor was fun and in the same vein–I haven’t played the sequel.

  • ThePhantomGuinness

    With that headline, I was hoping this would be like Archon for NES. As this is not, I feel slighted and depressed, as Archon was one of the best games ever.

    • HilariousNPC

      *pours out 40 for Archon*

      I could rock any unit on the board with a banshee.

      • ThePhantomGuinness

        Killing a Phoenix with a banshee never got old.

  • PaganPoet

    FANBOY OVER HERE!!!

    Your enthusiasm over the game actually really makes me want to play it. I don’t got the extra money for it at this time, though, since I would have to actually buy a 3DS. Maybe this summer if I get a bonus check from work?

  • CJ Perretta

    I agree; I HATE the story in these games.  And no, contrary to all the reviews I don’t see any difference from the older versions.  The dialogue is so drawn-out with annoying greetings and pleasantries.  There’s really just nothing interesting at all in it.  

    To make matters worse, between battles you level up the relationships between characters by just clicking through dialogue scenes.  If you don’t give a shit about the story it feels pretty robotic.

    All that said, I still can’t stop playing.  Hey, it’s not like there’s another Advance Wars coming anytime soon right?

  • uselessyss

    I don’t really remember the stories of the Fire Emblem games I’ve played, but I do remember that the player was put in the role of “tactician,” who would be a character in the game world.

    I always thought that was kind of cool. When a character commends you on your tactical expertise right before a battle, and then they die because you’re a strategic incompetent, you feel pretty bad.

  • Cheese

    I’m in the exact same boat. I can’t justify buying a 3DS just for this when I already impulse-bought a Vita, but I love Fire Emblem games so much.

    Also, unrelated but FYI, I’m out of town until Sunday, so don’t practice P4A while I’m not around. Unless it’s for the purposes of scaring up a big crew of Persona and fighting game afficionados.

  • George_Liquor

    @TheOnceAndFutureCheese:disqus If there is a clique of P4A and/or fighting game aficionados on GS, I want in!

  • PaganPoet

    @George_Liquor:disqus If you have the game for PS3, add me: RidiPagliaccio

    We’ll spar some matches!

  • Citric

    @HilariousNPC:disqus Man, what’s with the negativity?
    It’s original IP because it’s not tied to any existing series and was even a relatively new game type for the developer – it was Level 5′s first crack at a SRPG.

    Also, even if it’s based on history, pretty sure that the real crusades didn’t quite go like that, given that the story gets quite snooker loopy.

  • hcduvall

    Jeanne d’Arc is the bee’s knees. What I actually most appreciated was the relative lack of grinding. I may be hopelessly addicted to these sort of games, but that one didn’t feel like an endless loop of hat build ups.