|Dev: Intelligent Systems|
|Release: February 4, 2013|
|Screen Resolution: N/A||Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes|
by Sean Engemann
An iconic series for gamers across the globe, Fire Emblem has created a legacy with its rich storytelling and engaging strategic gameplay. Staying true to the turn-based formula, Fire Emblem games always maintain a keen focus on tactics. Yet even with their nostalgic feel, the series doesn't shy away from technical advances. Fire Emblem: Awakening is the series’ pinnacle entry, both in substance and in style, and is the perfect way to kick start a new year for Nintendo fans.
In Awakening, an ever-growing roster of playable characters becomes yours to command, though it is your custom-made tactician who plays the principal role. After choosing a gender, name, and a few preset hair and facial features, you are whisked away to an opening cinematic sequence.
From the moment the prologue begins, the story is exciting, and each chapter that follows adds more drama, action, and intrigue. Even your character is a mystery, found unconscious and amnesic by Chrom, prince of the peaceful Halidom of Ylisse and leader of the country's militia known as the Shepherds. There are dozens of characters to enlist, though some require specific objectives to be met, such as having Chrom converse with them on the battlefield or having them prove their might by gaining a level before the battle is won. Every conceivable personality is present, from the brash to the clumsy, the analytical to the brooding.
Engaging the characters in relationships is both interesting and tactically advantageous. In combat, performing an attack while adjacent and/or paired with another character boosts their relationship level. When a certain threshold is met, conversations are unlocked in the Support menu on the world map. The dialogue is usually lighthearted, oftentimes humorous, and can even be flirtatious between characters of opposite genders.
The results of these conversations raise the rank between the two characters, from C to B to A. An S rank can be obtained from a romantic relationship, which usually blossoms into marriage, though only one S rank can be obtained per character. (No, there’s no polygamy here.) The higher the rank, the greater the statistical support between the characters when paired in combat. You may be inclined to match couples based on preference in the Normal difficulty mode, but you'll find the Lunatic difficulty necessitates strategy when pairing. It is but one facet in a complex and challenging "chess-like" combat system.
The grid-based maps depict the location, with castle interiors and forested areas being just a couple of the backdrops. Scenery aside, surveying the map is critical to keeping your team alive. Some terrain types like forests and mountains offer added protection and a greater chance to evade attacks. Abandoned forts will heal your character. There are a couple of highlighted grid squares that award bonuses, whether that be a new item, experience, or relationship points. You can scroll over enemy units to see their attack perimeter and formulate a movement plan accordingly.
Another strategic aspect is the effectiveness of the available weaponry. Swords trump axes, axes trump lances, and lances trump swords. Bows can attack from afar, but they can’t be used in melee. Magic comes in a variety of elements such as fire, wind, healing, and dark. Weapons have a finite number of uses, so perusing the shops and keeping your inventory stocked is a mandatory chore.
Each cleared location on the world map becomes a place for purchasing, selling, and forging equipment. The selection is different at each outpost, and sometimes a peddler will arrive with exclusive items. Forging allows you to take an existing armament and upgrade its attack power, hit percentage, and critical hit rate. For a price, of course.
After a little progression in the campaign, more activities become available on the world map. The Barracks is first revealed as a room with bare walls, empty shelves and weapon racks, and tables with nary a thing atop them. As time passes, team members will enter the Barracks, either alone or in pairs, where you can listen in on the conversations or monologues. Doing so will reward the present character(s) with experience, a new item, or relationship growth. The Barracks updates in real time, so you could come back after hours of not playing and find several new scenes awaiting you. As you keep checking in, you'll notice the room begin to fill with all manner of decorations.
There is also a Wireless menu feature that is more robust than I anticipated. After selecting a team of ten units, you can edit your team name, greetings, and personality traits to upload to StreetPass. Your team will then appear on the maps of other players you pass, where they can be fought, recruited, or have items purchased from them. Of course, you can do the same with other players who have popped into your world. As your team grows publicly, you earn Renown, which can be used to purchase rare items and weapons. You can track other gamers’ guild cards in the Avatar Logbook, as well as duel with local friends. Finally, this is the section where you access downloadable content. At the time of this review no DLC was available, but we've been promised a hefty selection after the game's launch.
Fire Emblem: Awakening has a wide range of visual presentations. The cinematics are absolutely the best I've seen on the 3DS, and even better than a lot of the cutscenes we’ve seen on our home consoles.