Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first game in the series for many, including myself. This is mostly because the series is almost notorious for its difficulty, and the previous games in the series are quite rare and, because of that, expensive these days. It’s a wonder, then, that the developers managed to produce this product. It’s both welcoming to newcomers and, I’d imagine, exactly what veterans of the series want in the current generation of FE titles.
The game starts with a simple but robust character creator. You can choose your avatar’s gender, height, hair color and style, and face. More importantly, though, you get to choose a stat that they’ll be good in and a stat that they’ll be weak in. From there, you are introduced to the story; your newly made character and a prince named Chrom must kill an evil sorcerer. But, when you do, it turns out to be a vision, and your character wakes up in a field, devoid of memories. It isn’t long before the story kicks off into full gear, concerning warring nations, an ancient evil, and the hero destined to stop them.
The plot really is not that great; it’s nothing that hasn’t been done in numerous other JRPGs, and better, at that. Something the game does do a good job of, though, is getting you attached to the characters. Through the various support conversations, you get a feel for their numerous personalities. Each character has some kind of quirk; whether it’s Frederick’s constant wariness, or Kellam’s inability to be noticed by anyone, the unique personality of every character helps to give the story a slight amount of weight. The fact that the conversations are so well written also helps. They may be funny, awkward beyond belief, or really touching, but the constant is that they are always highly entertaining. The characters reach an even higher level of care since this game features permadeath (although it can be turned off when you start the game, which allows newcomers to enjoy the series).
The basic gameplay, though, unfolds like this: you select what units you want to use in a grid based battle, managing everything like their inventories and where they’re positioned. From there, you take turns with the enemy moving all of your units, doing your best to achieve victory.
When you’re in battle, and you move your units about the grid, you can place two units adjacent to one another. Doing this will gain stat boosts if one of the characters fights or gets attacked. Alternatively, you can pair two units up, so one attacks while the other offers constant support. After a certain amount of Supporting, the characters’ relationship will go up in rank. Each rank gives more bonuses to the supports, so there’s definitely a long term pay off to taking the time to build relationships. On top of that, when two unmarried characters achieve maximum , they get hitched, and can have kids, who will inherit certain skills and stat growths. Done correctly, you can produce some truly amazing units.
There is, however, much more to the battling. There are always tons of considerations when deciding what troops to send into battle. For instance, there’s the weapon triangle (spears are better than swords, swords better than axes, axes than spears), or certain units weaknesses (all flying units, like the Wyvern Riders, are extremely susceptible to attacks from bows) among many other things. It makes battles where your units are evenly matched with the enemy’s much more strategic than if you are more powerful.
Deciding what units you want to use in the main story is, in a way, another layer of strategy. Since this game has RPG like aspects such as leveling up, you’re likely to find a certain set of characters that you’re going to stick with. You could, theoretically, go through the game without grinding at all, as long as you play smart and use the same general sets of characters.
The missions and gameplay are very fun, too. The simple nature of moving your units around a grid is deceptive. Since there are more systems at play, each victory, each critical hit, each support feels incredibly significant. And, because the gameplay requires you to remain on your toes and play smart due to permadeath, grinding feels like anything but. By purchasing a certain in game item, you can summon enemies to different spots on the world map and fight them. Typically, I would pair one unit up with another, then focus on building the level of one character. An upside is that, rather than needing to gain an ever increasing amount of experience, you always need 100 experience points to level up, so the task of building a weaker character never ever feels daunting. Additionally, the quick process makes it so it always feels like you’re making progress; it’s gratifying because you can visibly see the progress and because you know that the character made another step in becoming strong.
When a character reaches level twenty, you can do one of two things with them. You can keep them in the class they have, but that’s pretty counterproductive. You can, instead, reclass them. Using yet another in game item, you can change a character’s class, which opens up the door to learning new abilities and gaining even better stats. When you change a class, you don’t necessarily lose all your progress. Granted, you may lose a few points in a few stats, but, ultimately, changing classes is always a good thing. It makes characters stronger in the long run and more versatile.
Changing classes also changes how your units function in battle. For instance, Myrmidons can wield only swords, but changing them to a Bow Knight allows them to use both swords and bows. Change them to a Great Knight, and they’ll be able to use swords, spears, and axes. The catch is that they will only be able to use really weak versions of weapons; only by using different types can you raise your weapon rank, which, in turn, allows you to use better types of that class. It adds yet another thing to consider when changing your classes and deciding who does what.
On top of the already long campaign, there are numerous bonus chapters available via spotpass that enhances its length. Add this onto building more units, experimenting with characters that you don’t normally use, and getting more children to use, and you have a very complete package. Beating it took me around forty hours, and that’s doing none of the aforementioned bonus maps or building every character up to their full potential. On top of that, there are four difficulty modes: Normal, Hard, Lunatic, and Lunatic +. This is coupled with the other available setting, which is Classic or Casual. Basically, classic enables permadeath and casual turns it off and also allows you to save anywhere. The various difficulties, trying out a different set of characters, marrying different units and more gives the game a healthy amount of replayability.
The game’s not perfect, though. The aforementioned marriage mechanic, while really neat, is also creepy in a few cases. This is in part due to the high amount of fan service in the game; one character, who is supposed to be 1000 years old, looks like she’s no more than ten. While she is adorable and quite funny, it’s more than a little creepy and weird that she is a candidate for marriage. There’s also the fact that almost none of the characters have any development outside of support conversations. It makes the characters you didn’t use feel like filler. Finally, there is not enough variation in objectives. Every map always consists of one of two things: either defeat the opposing general, or defeat every last enemy. While the gameplay ensures that battle is always fun, it would have been cool to see more variation in objectives.
The way the game is structured is perfect for handheld gaming. The longer story missions give longer play sessions purpose, but the game is great for quick play, since you can easily find a quick fight with the in game item. It has great value and replayability, on top of the already satisfying strategic play. Despite the lack in variation, relatively weak plot and the sometimes creepy fan service, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a superb handheld SRPG. It’s highly accessible, thanks to its multiple difficulty settings and the ability to turn off permadeath, but it doesn’t sacrifice the challenge of the series. Any way you slice it, the game is a must play for any person who loves a good strategy game or anyone who has a passing interest in the series.