The Fire Emblem series isn’t as popular in the West as it is in Japan, but it definitely deserves to be, and you’ll agree after playing the latest game in developer Intelligent System’s long-running series. The thirteenth installment in the series, Fire Emblem Awakening, is an epic tactical role-playing game that features stunning visuals, interesting characters, enjoyable gameplay, difficulty levels suited for different kinds of players, entertaining dialogue and an engrossing story.
When starting the game, players select a difficulty level. Series beginners are recommended to select the ‘Normal’ level, the ‘Hard’ level is for experienced players, and players who deem themselves experts are encouraged to select the ‘Lunatic’ level. After selecting a difficulty level, players must choose a game mode. Players must choose between ‘Casual,’ where fallen units return and where you can save anywhere, and ‘Classic,’ where defeated units are lost forever and each decision is important.
After selecting a difficulty level and game mode, you create and name your character. Toward the beginning, your character is found lying in a field with no memory, and he or she is welcomed to be the tactician of a militia known as the Shepherds.
The story focuses on the trials of Chrom, the prince of Ylisse and leader of the Shepherds. King Gangrel of Plegia, a neighboring nation of Ylisse, eventually acts ruthlessly and tries to, at all costs, get a hold of the Fire Emblem, a priceless item vital to the world’s future. For safekeeping, the Fire Emblem is kept with Emmeryn, the exalt of Ylisse and Chrom’s older, more peaceful sister. Chrom’s tasks are to maintain the safety of the people of Ylisse, and to attempt to stop chaos from spreading across the world.
The game features a robust list of deeply developed characters. Each character in your expanding party is distinctive and has his or her own personality. For example, Chrom is compassionate toward his warriors and family; Lissa, Chrom’s younger sister, is a tomboy and, despite her vulnerability, she always wants to accompany her brother on the battlefield; Chrom’s lieutenant, Frederick, is tough, obedient and always willing to accomplish any task to please and protect Chrom and Lissa. There are multiple characters you’ll encounter on your journey; some of them are lovable, and some are annoying and forgettable, but each one of them is unique and provides a welcome addition to the roster.
Nice to meet you, Marth… What’s with the mask?
The characters’ appearances are diverse, and the game’s visuals are bright, colorful and detailed. The game stands out as being one of the most visually appealing games on the Nintendo 3DS, because it features multiple art styles – all of which are charming; however, the 3D models of the characters display themselves as having the tiniest feet, which is quite noticeable and makes it seem like the bodies of all the characters are deformed.
To advance the story, there is an extensive use of scripted cutscenes throughout the game. The dialogue among the characters is usually between two characters at one time. The chat is well-written, and simply by reading the words of each character, you get a sense of his or her persona. Although not as common as the text-based dialogue, the game features beautifully-crafted animated cutscenes, which give the game a whole new life and allows you to see certain characters in a different, intuitive point of view.
I feel so helpless, but at least I have a pretty good seat…
Like previous installments in the series, the game plays as a turn-based tactical role-playing game. There are over 20 chapters, and each of which includes a battle and cutscenes. Battles in the game take place inside a grid, where the player must control Chrom and the Shepherds, known as units on the grid, to protect one another – all while routing the enemies. In each battle, you must try to protect the Shepherds by placing each unit on a square inside the grid that you think will be most beneficial for your team.
If you play the game in ‘Classic’ mode, you want to make sure all your units survive on the battlefield, because if they lose their entire HP, they die and won’t return to help you in the next battles you encounter – despite how many enemies you face at one time. In both game modes, because Chrom is the leader of the Shepherds, if he or your character dies, the game ends, and you’ll have to restart the game from the last place you saved. To survive and become victorious, players must take the time to think strategically to outwit enemies. A silly, careless move can result in the game being over, so it’s the players’ responsibility to continuously keep units on their toes.
Regardless of the difficulty level and game mode you select, nonetheless, the game provides an enjoyable experience to all, including returning veterans as well as series beginners. Fire Emblem Awakening is an exceptional game, and it’s the best title in the series yet, so make sure you pick it up when it arrives in North America tomorrow, February 4th, at retailers and in the Nintendo eShop for Nintendo 3DS.