The Fire Emblem series has a long and storied history dating back to the original Famicom or NES. It was created by Shouzou Kaga of Intelligent Systems and it was one of the first strategic games in the Eastern gaming scene and was until the last decade, strictly a Japan only release.
There probably wouldn’t have been a release internationally if it wasn’t in fact for the introduction of the series through another game entirely. Marth of the original Fire Emblem and Roy of the Fuuin no Tsurugi (Binding Sword/Sword of Seals) were introduced to gamers through Super Smash Bros. Melee and were popular enough characters that Nintendo decided to release the prequel to The Binding Sword, Rekka no Ken (Blazing Sword/Sword of Flames) as Fire Emblem for the GBA in 2003.
It went on to having enough success that each successive game in the Fire Emblem series was released internationally. The latest in the line of Fire Emblem was released on April 19th, 2013 for the 3DS. It is known in Japan as Fire Emblem: Kakusei, which literally translates into its English title – Fire Emblem: Awakening.
A brief history lesson for those who don’t know the series and how if it wasn’t for Super Smash Bros, we would’ve never seen the release of Awakening. Which I would describe as the best in the series that I’ve had the pleasure of playing.
Before reaching the title screen, you’ll be treated to a lovely opening with gorgeous music and beautiful graphics that I recommend that you at least watch it once. It unfortunately will also set the bar a little too high on graphical for some players. That has more to do with the different styles utilized than the graphics as a whole.
Like the opening, cutscenes use 3D models that are colorful and give the game a wonderful sense of personality to them. The soft color choices used make it feel like a moving painting and evoke a sense of majestic and mirth to the models. There are times when I see one of these cutscenes and highly wish the game was out for a system like the WiiU simply to enjoy this for nearly all of the game.
The character portraits used during conversations allow for a full range of emotion, but just fall just shy of conveying them properly. There are some points in the story that you have the character give off a shocked look, but it is the same shocked look that they gave for something else less mundane than what has them currently shocked. That’s the biggest issue with using only one character portrait to convey a single emotion, is that it can and most often does lessen the value of the emotion itself.
This does not necessarily mean though that using 3D models all the time is better. 3D models can be even worse as you need to utilize the entire body of the model to convey the emotion and if even one thing is off, you throw the scene entirely out.
Battle models are miniature versions of the cutscenes and are not as graphically demanding on the system and still remain quite true to the 3D models and portraits. Though downscaled, they making fighting in combat fun to watch as you’ll see that particular character slice, dice and use magic. The problem though is like the character portraits, there is not much variation in how this is gone about and can lessen how much you want to watch these models.
With the capabilities of the 3DS the map sprites could look better and are going to be what drags down someone’s visual enjoyment of the game. I know that Fire Emblem uses these in all of their games not on a console due to nostalgia. You’ll spend a lot of time looking at these visuals though and they simply are not up to the quality of the 3D models, battle models or portraits. It also doesn’t help when the maps look lush and full of life, yet the sprites do not seem to be up to that standard.
After the title screen, you’ll be prompted to do two things. One of which is to choose your difficulty and the style of play. It is important to choose these wisely, as you will not be able change them during your course of play. An increase in difficulty does not necessarily change your course of action in the game. It does make things harder by increasing the stats of the opponents you face, but you will only need to make minor adjustments for this and be prepared for reinforcements. There are two more difficulties that you can obtain, Lunatic and Lunatic+. You must beat the game on Hard to obtain Lunatic and then beat the game on Lunatic to obtain Lunatic+.
It is instead the choice of mode that will affect how you play. Classic mode is the standard Fire Emblem way to play which means that if your character reaches 0 HP, they die. You will not get them back at the end of the battle and all the time and effort you put into them will be lost. Though, if you play in this mode, you’ll probably have more of an attachment to the characters since you could lose them at any time. Should you become invested in a character and have them die in this mode, you may do what a lot of Fire Emblem veterans do, reset and redo an entire battle which may last thirty minutes. It isn’t exactly the most inviting to newcomers to the series.
Casual mode grants you leniency in this regard and is recommended for those newcomers. Instead of losing that unit permanently, the character is just lost for that round of combat. This allows even players who aren’t used to the Fire Emblem series a way to enjoy this game and it also allows a veteran a way to just enjoy the story if they simply want to do that.
You’ll need to choose wisely as these will be set from the beginning episode to the very last chapter.
The other thing you can decide on before the game starts is how you’d like to customize the main character, Robin. Things like his statistical strength/weakness, height, face, hair, gender, voice, birth date and even his name are available for you to change. It adds your own personal touch to the main character if you so choose. If you just want to play the game, you can ignore this and jump in with the defaults for Robin.
I will add that I’ve seen many people say he’s an Avatar for the player. I find this misleading. Besides the initial customization, there are no other choices you get to make as Robin. Besides combat, you do not get to choose how he reacts to any situation he finds himself in. He makes his own choices and interacts with the cast as how he sees fit. I would almost suspect we are given the ability to customize him due to online play. If it wasn’t for the fact that the remake of the second Fire Emblem game (Shadow Dragon) also utilized this function as well.
Upon completing your customization you’ll be shown the game’s first anime, which is shown from the eyes of Robin. You’ll watch as he and a blue haired swordsman fight against an evil looking magician. It is beautifully crafted and a part of me still wishes that this game was not on the 3DS, but instead on the WiiU so that the entire game could have possibly been crafted like that.
The main source of game play is its strategic turn based battles. All battles occur on a grid based map that pits your selected units against the opposing forces on that map. Each side will have a phase during a turn of combat to utilize their units given functions and will only end when the objective for that map is completed. Many cases it is defeat the opposing forces leader, but other objectives such as lasting for so many turns or keeping someone alive exist as well. It’s a good idea to pay attention to these details. Game over occurs if you do not complete the objective or Chrom/Robin die.
There are instances of objectives that can grant you additional items and units, but will still allow you to complete the map if you do not meet them. I suggest trying to be thorough as these extra gear and members are worth the energy spent to get them.
This is because unlike many other fantasy games, many item within the game has a finite number of uses. After so many uses the item will disappear forever. There are a few exceptions like Chrom’s sword, Falchion, but they are so few and far between that you will need to manage your resources accordingly. These items are also restricted to a character’s class and master class, so you’ll need to make sure that you have the appropriate tools to match that person’s current class.
There are many different classes within Awakening. These are divided by what I like to call general classes, followed by master classes. At the start of the game, most characters will start in the general class. Each class has a general strength and weakness associated with them, along with two potential personal skills that the character can retain. For example: Knights can soak up damage but are relatively weak against magical attacks. Though called Knight, they actually are lance users. They will also learn the class skills Defense +2 and Indoor Fighter. These boosts accuracy and avoidance by 10 indoors respectively. Each class skill is earned by reaching a certain level. For the base class, you’ll earn one immediately and the second on level 10.
After about 10 of 20 levels within this general class, you can promote that character into one of two possible master classes with the help of an item called Master Seal. These master classes also have 20 levels for you to level up in and can additionally add unique benefits or absolutely fortify the original strengths of the general class. In both cases, the character will earn two new personal skills that can be retained. The class skills for master classes are earned at level 5 and 15 respectively.
Until you reach, I believe Chapter 12, you will not be able to obtain Master Seals other than through battle. After you reach a certain Chapter, you can purchase them for a hefty (at the time) fee. Quite a few bosses will have them though, so you won’t need to buy as many, but you may need to wait for some time. You could also have a small chance of winning one within a random battle, but those are quite rare and should not be depended on. Master Seals allow you to move from a base class to a master class. The requirement is that you reach level 10 of the base class.
Later in the game, or if you get lucky early in the game, you can obtain an item called Secondary Seal and eventually find a place to purchase it (Chapter 16). A Secondary Seal allows one character to head back to level one of the original class or to switch to another class entirely that the character has qualifications for. This is a powerful item as all class skills and many stats are retained. If you reach level 20 in a master class, they can even select a different master class to choose from. Not every skill is worth getting, so it is a good idea to use Secondary Seals to skip a class you feel you don’t want to start in the base form.
You will also need that classes require weapons to utilize it, meaning you must make sure to have the proper equipment on hand before you change classes. This means you need to watch your resources and you’ll also need to make sure you stock your army accordingly. After all, if you run out of supplies to use, you aren’t going to make it far in this game. A good idea is to always have 2 weapons on a character at any given time, this way if one breaks, he has a spare.
As you may have noticed, I did say that certain class require characters to qualify for them. Some are unique due to story reasons like Tactician/Grandmaster (Robin) and Lord/Great Lord (Chrom). Some qualifications are due to the class being the person’s race, Rabbitkin (Tanguel) and Dragon (Manakete). Some are due to gender like the female only Pegasus/Falcon/Dark Flyer Knights and the male only Fighter/Barbarian. While some character’s personalities and personal training, which do not allow them to utilize certain classes.
There are quite a few flaws to the game play of Awakening though. The leveling system utilizes a chance system that grants a percentage to each stat. Depending on the percentage, you could end up with a few stats going up, no stats going up, or score every single stat going up. It does help that some percentages are better than others, but there are some characters that are totally hampered due to this.
While you will not need to worry about this so much on Normal difficulty since Master Seal and Secondary Seal can be bought without much hassle, it is if you choose the other difficulties. With other difficulties, you also need to plan your use of those seals to maximize the results of your army. On higher difficulties, certain class skills become critical to your success or defeat.
A bad level up can result in a character not being strong enough for you to fend off the enemy forces as successfully as you could if they have a good level up.
At a certain point in the game, you will also be able to have two players be able to join forces into a single unit in combat. This is useful in that you can pair up a stronger character with a weaker one, or put two opposite classes together to balance out each other class weakness. The problem comes in that one character functions as the primary who takes actual action while gaining all the experience. The secondary only gains a sliver of experience depending on if they take action or not. This makes it not very ideal for leveling or early in the game when it is shown. It is more suited for later in the game: experience matters less and the bonus stats become higher.
The game starts with “Premonition: Invisible Ties”, as mentioned previously serves as a tutorial on normal mode. It will also set the stage for future plot and story revelations so always keep it in the back of your mind. Once the game’s plot gets further along, this will be tied back to the story very nicely.
Robin’s story truly begins with “Prologue: The Verge of History“. Robin is found in a field with no memory of who he is by Chrom, Lissa and Frederick. Though Robin thanks Chrom by name, he insists that he is an amnesiac who does not recall any other information. Chrom, Lissa and Frederick decide to take him to Southtown, as there are many bandits coming over from the neighbouring kingdom of Plegia.
Just as they arrive, some of those same bandits are doing exactly bandits do. Pillage and plunder the city. Actually, they also murder and do various things to those of the opposite gender if I wanted to be totally correct on what they do.
Anyway, Chrom, Lissa and Frederick head into Southtown preparing to deal with these bandits. While Robin has only remembered his name, he soon follows the others. It is here that he begins to utilize what his body remembers, his tactical knowledge, swordsmanship and magic. After the battle comes to a close, Frederick finds it hard to believe that Robin knows nothing else. Chrom believes that Robin has no evil intentions and asks Robin to accompany his band (the Shepherds) to Ylisstol, the capital of the Halidom of Ylisse. Having no better alternative, Robin agrees. His agreement sets into motion the entire story of Awakening.
The stage soon sets for much of what I’m about to reveal:
Humanoid beings that appear to be undead soon rise in the land, but no one knows exactly from whence they came. The Mad King who wishes nothing more than to watch Ylisse burn and possibly the world. A mysterious stranger claiming his name to be that of the legendary hero of yore and foretelling that unless the present is changed, the future will be for naught.
The game does an excellent job of managing these storylines and making sure that whatever storyline is at the foremost, it does not totally overwhelm any of the others that have started. This allows the story to flow at a very natural pace and never does it let the plot stumble itself. You will never be at a loss when playing Awakening and you will always know what is next to be done.
Some may say that is too linear, but I think the story having a sense of direction is always a good thing. I like being able to know what I’m doing next for the main storyline and to know where I should be heading to. It gives me a qualified sense of progression within the game and the story overall.
This is also helped by good characterization of the cast and that has always been a good staple for the Fire Emblem series. Chrom is a leader who is a bit headstrong, but still able to make the qualified judgments of what needs to be done. While a character like Frederick is a dutiful servant to the Halidom of Ylisse, he has a habit of being a bit too overzealous about.
This does not appear mean there aren’t some character with flaws that can distract storyline wise. Gregor doesn’t speak good Ylissean, so we get the stereotypical “foreigner who can’t speak properly”, but that doesn’t exactly work when everyone else in the party does in fact speak Ylissen. You could make the case that everyone in the Shepherds are from noble lineages and would’ve been trained to speak different languages, but you also get people who are not from Ylisse or have spent much time with them who can speak it. It provides a sense of dissonance that can disrupt the flow anytime Gregor speaks.
Another character I have a problem with is Nowi. And not for the fact that her choice in attire is highly unrealistic for a girl who looks like that or in comparison to the rest of the cast. Even if she is older than dirt in comparison to us humans.
As an aside, please don’t tell her I said that. I kind of want to live for another 50 or so human years.
It is for the reason that someone who acts much younger than they are should, most often have something within their past that haunts them and makes them wish to be a child. There are many hints throughout the game that she suffered through and that it is why she is the way she is, but it is never followed through.
I think it would’ve been quite interesting to find out that she can manipulate her human form to look any way she wants and that it was from that trauma that always gets mentioned that she eventually her human form got stuck that way. It could have been used that she dresses the way she does as a way to remind herself that she is in fact older than what she is. It feels like a missed opportunity to make us better understand her.
The characters within the cast are still though all a joy to know though and you can even learn more personalized things about them through the relationship mechanic. The relationship mechanic allows for two units that have spent enough time side by side in combat or using the paired system, they earn each other’s trust. This will unlock discussions between the two that can reveal things about the characters history, their personality and just other things as well.
Though nearly all of the cast has a limited amount of characters that they will speak with. Some have more and some may only speak with Robin and one other. It allows you an insight also into who the character would normally interact with and be friends with. In Robin’s case, he can talk to everyone and be good friends with everyone. The relationships go from C to B to A. With A being the highest friend ranking.
The relationship mechanic is optional in my opinion and is why I don’t include it in game play. It can provide a small bonus to avoidance, accuracy and critical when two characters stand side by side or are in a pairing. You can for the most part skip these and not miss out to heavily.
For those of you who play the game, I can already tell you are going “but what about those characters”. So I’ll continue further, as I was going to bring them up.
What I’m about to say is still completely optional to do. There are some characters who are able to make S rank with one or more characters. An S relationship will make the two characters lovers. If you make them lovers, due to time travel and plot, you will be able to have the child of the two join the current Shepherds. They will obtain all the class skills their parents learned, the classes that both parents are able to be and as well as gain a few other bonuses that both parents have. If you want to have a certain child to have a certain class range, it is ideal to think this through.
This can effect game play by allowing you to recruit the children of your army. Again, entirely optional as you do not need to do this. Doing this more adds to the story though as you’ll find out more about the history that was and how your current Shepherds acted in the future that was. They are completely optional as only one of those needs to be recruited for the story to proceed and will automatically be obtained due to storyline and plot reasons.
Now, I can bet that people who have played the game are going “no, it is not optional”, but I stress that it is and why I won’t include it in game play. The second generation of Shepherds are entirely optional to obtain. I would actually stress that to get the full experience from the game to obtain them. The only second generation character that must be acquired, will automatically be done for you by Chapter 12.
They do not entirely impact the story, but they can enhance the story that is being told with their uniqueness and grant you even more units to use. As I mentioned earlier, and probably caught you off guard, much of the game happens due to time travel. This will be revealed early on in the game, so I won’t actually say what causes the time travel to occur and why things should be changed.
However, due to the relationships, you’ll find out about how the current Shepherds act in the future with the second generation and you’ll also come to realize how much the world has gone to hell from the stories they tell. It enhances your reason to change the past and change it for what is assumed to be for the better. It is not perfect however.
Though this is also the biggest fault I have with the story is the lack actually seeing why time travel needed to occur. You must be able to actually experience what life was like in this bleak and hopeless future. Time travel stories depend upon the player’s desire to change the present away from that future and to obtain as many of those optional Shepherds as you have grown attached to them through being shown what living in that future was like for them.
It is a shame that you only see why the future must be changed through DLC “Future of Despair”. You could just tell that this was cut due to time constraints as this DLC reinforces the need to change the future for something better and allows the player to experience just a fraction of what it was like in that future. It also shows special conversations you would not get at any point of the regular game. It also would’ve given a rise into why you should search out these second generation characters and I think would’ve changed much of the flow of the game after certain events.
What the game does really well is showcasing how you will try to change the present and that this does not always succeed. I think it is one of the strongest points in the story. It really stresses the fact that you will not be able to change everything. You will succeed at quite a lot, but you are not able to change everything. A good time travel story must contain elements of success and failure to ensure that the player feels invested in seeing exactly what they have managed to shape.
You will unfortunately never get to see the actual results of the future you create. You do get to hear about what occurs with each person at the end of the game, but being able to see events that will shape what is yet to come is the best part of story’s with time travel involved. It would’ve made the choices of who ends up with whom more memorable, as what you would see would be different than what I would see when the game was completed. Unless we decided on the exact same relationships. Even then, it would’ve allow for after game discussion about what occurs and also ponder on what will happen in the future for these characters.
Finally, the sound in the game is wonderful. It is probably my favorite part of the game and actually adds to the game rather than drag the game down. As each sound effect does its desired job and creates the feeling that when a sword slashes, it really does feel like it is being slashed. A fireball that is casted by a mage feels like it is really being done.
While there are voices within the game, I would classify them more as sound effects rather than actual voice acting. The voice spoken will say mostly just a bit of the full conversation and there are some instances where they do say more. If it wasn’t done correctly, this could backfire and hurt the game, but in this instance I find that they did a successful job in incorporating it into the game.
Would it have been better fully voice though? Quite possibly. Every quip that is recorded gives a sense that Nintendo made sure that every character was portrayed as correctly as possible. You can feel Frederick’s sense of duty and honor whenever he makes a quip. You can feel the Mad King’s loss of sanity and how he just wants Ylisse to burn. If fully voiced, I think this could’ve been a game that we could all point to as an example of why video games can become better with voices. I think that the actors enjoyed being each character and you in turn enjoy the words that they say, which makes it more enjoyable of a performance.
Though the best part of the sound is without a doubt Awakenings soundtrack. Hiroki Morishita did a fabulous job with his first known job as the main composer and music director. Though Rei Kendoh also provided his talents for a few pieces as well. It does not matter who did what though, as each piece of music lives on its own and makes this soundtrack stand out amongst many games I have played. Music has the ability to not only enhance how a game is perceived, but also change or enrich the game as it will increase the emotions that are running through the game. This soundtrack accomplish it and more.
There are so many outstanding pieces of work that it is hard for me to sit here and declare a single favorite in the game. You will just love what comes out of this game musically. From the re-mastered version of Fire Emblem’s “Main Theme”, to “Dry Your Tears Love, This Is Not Good-Bye”, to even the song of your death “Do Not Let Anyone Die Anymore”; each piece will be remembered do to its varying diversity and depth.
I’ve changed my favorite many times over and I’m quite sure you will too. My own original favorite was “Divine Decree (Ablazed)”, then I mulled over “You May Call Me Marth”, to right now “Don’t Say Her Name”. You’ll be changing favorites that often. I will admit that it helps that the game got a fully orchestrated soundtrack, but these pieces of work would not be possible without either composer providing their works.
It is highly unfair that a game can have a wonderful soundtrack like this, when many games can’t even have three tracks that stand shoulders above the rest. I really think that whatever new game announces that either Hiroki Morishita or Rei Kendoh is taking apart of, I will definitely be looking into it simply due to this soundtrack. I would go so far as to proclaim this one of my top five soundtracks in gaming. That’s how good it is and it deserves all the praise for how outstanding it is.
While there are flaws that keep it from being a universally appealing game, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a game that I would tirelessly recommend to those who want a good story with wonderful characters, a flawed but very good strategy focused game system and without a doubt one of the best soundtracks to grace your ears. At least, that’s my opinion on the matter.