Perhaps like many of you lovely gamers out there, when Super Smash Brothers Melee (and later Brawl) came out I sat there looking at the excellent character roster and thinking ‘who the hell are Marth and Roy, and where have they come from?’
Needless to say, my knowledge of the Fire Emblem franchise was frighteningly absent. Happily, last month this was rectified when a friend loaned me a copy of Fire Emblem Awakening on the 3DS. I realised that I have been missing out on a rather excellent franchise for quite some time.
For those of you who don’t know, Fire Emblem Awakening is a turn based RPG based on levels made up of grids with characters that can move certain amount of spaces and can perform certain attacks and actions. Think Advance Wars with ancient style weapons and you’re pretty much there. The combat mechanics are based on a rock-paper-scissors sytem: lance beats sword, sword beats axe, and axe beats lance. Things become more complicated when archers and magic users are thrown into the mix, but essentially the game is highly tactical, involving the manoeuvring of units into favourable match ups while keeping vulnerable units out of harm’s way.
I feel like I need to make one thing clear. People who do not like turn based combat games or RPG’s are not going to be won over by this game, but for everyone else this game is well worth a go.
The positives? Well, first of all the character design and cut scenes in this game can only be described as beautiful. The character avatars are full of life and personality, and some of the movie style cut scenes are simply breathtaking. The game also has a pleasing level of complexity after the initial concepts are introduced. To make the most out of the game and to keep units alive, your heroes need to be paired up to lend different strengths and stat boosts to the primary character of the pair and to protect more vulnerable characters. This offers a lot in the way of flexibility for tactical play as you explore which characters work well together and complement each other to for truly powerful units.
The additional benefit of pairing units up is that if they pair up for long enough their relationship improves, increasing the damage and frequency of multiple strikes/critical hits in combat. Different character combinations evolve to different levels of friendship which again offers a lot of choice in the way you want to play. In certain situations characters can get married if their relationship reaches a certain level. It’s a little disappointing that only heteronormative couples can do this but I suppose it is a Nintendo game after all.
The combat feels smooth and satisfying and the level design always feels fresh and varied. Needless to say, some of the enemy commanders that you will be faced are comedically evil/annoying which makes them a pleasure to defeat. The story is a little cheesy in places but perhaps that is only to be expected of an RPG of this kind.
In fact the only negative comment that I could make is that there is little scope for replayability. Once you have completed this game there really is no reason to be back and do so again. Once you have the knack of the combat system there really is little left to master. This leads me non to my next issue; the game does not reward you for trying to be innovative or for fully utilising all available options.
Mostly this is most apparent in the archer and magic classes. Using them is just more trouble than it’s worth and really just isn’t necessary at all, nor will the game offer any incentive for trying. I always found that pairing up strong physical attackers was always enough to win the day without exploring other options.
That being said, this is a very minor complaint and is hardly unique to this game. I found myself enjoying the game hugely and was continually playing to see how the cheesy plot would unfold. It is also very rewarding to see characters relationships develop. You really begin to care about them. If you play it on classic like I did, where if they die you lose them from your team permanently, each loss is keenly felt.
In short this game is well worth a look, and may well open up a potentially overlooked franchise. If you have already played this game, let me know what your thoughts on it in the comment section below.