Warning: this review contains spoilers from Fire Emblem: Awakening (and a reference to a Japanese computer game (Dragon Knight 4) that did one of its tropes years earlier)!
I’m going to start this review with a confession: I’m not a huge Fire Emblem fan. Put away your Swords/Axes/Lances – I don’t dislike it! But I could never get into it like I could with Camelot/Masaya/etc SRPGs. Fire Emblem always seemed really hard by comparison, with permadeath and no battle saves. But there is one Fire Emblem game I have enjoyed enough to finish and it’s Waifu Wars XIII… I mean – Fire Emblem: Awakening!
The story goes as follows: the previous few FE games didn’t do well financially, and Nintendo at the time told Intelligent Systems (I’m paraphrasing here), “This game had better sell, or we’re cancelling the series.” So IS went all out to change things up. Many references were made to older games, in an attempt to bring the whole series together as one canon. For the first time in any FE that was officially localized in English, permadeath was now optional, and battle saves make their return from previous titles like 4, 11, and 12. I had a record two battle saves instead of none at my disposal! Honestly, the battle saves were the deal breaker, since it means I can just redo a move if someone dies.
So how is the story of Fire Emblem: Awakening? Not spectacular, I’m afraid. The good guys fight one evil kingdom, then an Evil Warlord, then a dark God. There is one big twist, namely, one of the two main characters (MyUnit/Robin, AKA the one the player customizes) killed the other main character (Chrom) in the past, prompting Chrom’s daughter Lucina to go back to the past, pretend to be a mysterious masked swordsman named “Marth,” and change history for better so no one has to go to a hellish future world. Anyone who’s played Dragon Knight 4 on the NEC PC-98 should be familiar with this trope used in 1994, but aside from me, very few English speakers have. But that aside, the story is generic, but mostly coherent, and sometimes emotional (case in point, Emmeryn’s death).
Where Fire Emblem Awakening shines moreso than plot, is with its characters. One of my big pet peeves in an in any game is when all player characters are very generic. Fire Emblem Awakening avoids this trope. Back in my Shining Force III review, I talked about how it was important to have characters who have personalities, interests, etc. Rather than SF3’s headquarters dialogue, Fire Emblem: Awakening does this with support conversations. Some earlier Fire Emblem games had limited conversations per unit, but Awakening removes this (IMO pointless) limitation. Characters reveal their pasts, hobbies, pet peeves, and etc. via talking to other units they have paired up with. There is a lot of dialogue to be read if you take the time to make all your different units fight alongside all of each other. There is one drawback, in that every character has certain endearing traits, but due to amount of dialogue showing them, lack of further traits show. As a result, the characters seem one-dimensional. Stahl likes food, Cordelia has unrequited love for Chrom (with no reason given why it’s unrequited), no one notices Kellam, Tharja loves darkness and stalking Robin, Chrom has no idea how to talk to women, etc. The amount of character dialogue is mostly a blessing, but also a bit of a curse, as I suspect if it had less overall dialogue to hammer in personality tropes, (or if they gave the units varied personalities) characters would feel more three-dimensional. Regardless, the game has an overall somewhat silly tone, and the conversations help with this. Also, characters can marry and have child units in this game, hence the “Waifu Wars” joke. A S-rank support results in a marriage, and unlocks a special chapter where their kid from the ruined future arrives to help.
Now for the big ol’ bowl of pasta (I’m not a big meat eater, so “meat and potatoes” is not really my thing): the SRPG gameplay! Fire Emblem: Awakening is the second game in the FE series to be officially localized in English and allow battle saves (FE11 was the first, although it was more limited in that game). IF you want to that is, you can still play on Classic Mode, which restores both handicaps. I see nothing wrong with options, so for me this is a good thing. Your units can also pair up in the same tile, which makes unlocking supports easier. Many core Fire Emblem features, like the weapon triangle and weapon durability return, though the magic triangle mysteriously does not. I really do wish the battles had more varied objectives: in every single battle, you either had to kill the boss, or kill all enemies; it’s rather repetitive. A new feature is the addition of paid DLC. I mostly avoided this feature, seeing as the main game seemed complete enough as is (and I wasn’t very keen on a beach episode with certain bikinis censored 😠.)
I would personally give Fire Emblem: Awakening a 7 out of 10 rating. Subtract stars if you’re a long time fan who feels alienated by changes, or add a few if you’re a hardcore waifu hunter, and/or traditional JRPG gamer who isn’t that into strategy (I’m not mocking either camp.) Overall, I find it a good game, but not the best SRPG.
Console: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Intelligent Systems