Game Info:

Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developed By: Intelligent Systems, Red Entertainment
Published By: Nintendo
Released: February 4, 2013
Available On: Nintendo 3DS
Genre: Strategy RPG
ESRB Rating: T for Teen: Alcohol Reference, Fantasy Violence, Mild Language, Mild Suggestive Themes
Number of Players: 1 offline, 2 local wireless
Price: $39.99 new, $37.99 used

For better or for worse, Nintendo has always been known for its franchises. Mario, Zelda, Pokemon, and Metroid always seem to crack everyone’s top 10, and consoles could probably sell because of these titles alone. Nintendo’s other series, like Pikmin, Fire Emblem, and Star Fox, have been relegated more to a niche status, with cult followings and Super Smash Bros. appearances. With Awakening, however, Fire Emblem takes an important step towards becoming a household name.

Since its inception in 1990, the Fire Emblem franchise has followed a very strict design: each game follows an army with a righteous mission involving the sacred Fire Emblem, which is depicted in [i]Fire Emblem: Awakening[/i] as a shield, as they participate in several strategy-heavy turn-based battles. This Fire Emblem generally contains some holy power that can wipe out the forces of evil; at least, until the next game rolls around.

Fire Emblem: Awakening does not veer far from this typical pattern, but somehow, it manages to do everything better than its predecessors. Each unit in your army has an individual personality, and even though they differ drastically, they all come together to form a brilliantly-scripted coherent group that actually makes you truly contemplate who to train and who to leave behind. Awakening spins a tale using these characters that starts off slow and simplistic, but over time it evolves into a grand and complicated epic, possibly the best in the franchise’s long history. Even the franchise’s most well-known (and intimidating) permanent death (permadeath) mechanic, which causes characters that fall in battle to die forever, transitions and evolves in ways that set itself apart from the games of the past.

Though Fire Emblem is a notoriously difficult series, Awakening addresses this difficulty in ways that balance gameplay for both novices and veterans. In addition to an easy mode, Awakening offers the players a “Normal” option, which turns off the notorious permadeath mechanic, so units will survive to fight another day, even if they fall in combat. I would discourage choosing it, however: you may not become as attached to or invested in your soldiers without the constant threat of death hanging over their heads. Even moderate difficulties keep the game from going too crazy by allowing you to challenge random armies elsewhere on the world map to help beef up your weaker units. The intensity rises, however, in Lunatic mode, where one slight misstep spells doom  for your entire party. Every enemy is massively powerful, and only careful unit placement and a good deal of luck can keep your team from an early grave.


Strong Points: Challenging, focused gameplay; dozens of characters that actually matter; relationships between units in and out of battle
Weak Points: Minimal multiplayer
Moral Warnings: Minor swear words are used; some characters reference the occult and use “dark magic”; revealing clothing; RPG violence; a few sexual jokes

Speaking of placement, Awakening puts more emphasis on your army’s arrangement than ever before. Each unit can have “support relationships” with many of the other units. By fighting side-by-side or using the game's unique "pair up" ability to fight as a single unit, characters increase their bond, and this relationship grows. Eventually, it grants them both stat bonuses when they fight together, and unique conversations outside of combat. Two units of the opposite gender can even reach a point where they will become engaged and, later on, you have the opportunity to recruit their future children into your army. Each child is a combination of stats and skills from his or her parents, and careful parental pairings can produce some of the mightiest warriors in the game.

While the previous Nintendo DS Fire Emblem game, Shadow Dragon, used the touch screen and stylus to navigate across the battlefield, Awakening returns to a more classic setup, using the 3DS’s top screen to show the battlefield and relying on the direction pads and face buttons to control the action. The bottom screen now shows information about selected units, and surprisingly, it’s a much more comfortable and aesthetically-pleasing design.

Japanese anime-style graphics have been the bread-and-butter of the Fire Emblem saga, and Awakening is no exception. Each character model is individually drawn to reflect the unit’s specific role and personality, and they all look pretty fantastic. The backgrounds and battlefields are also exceptionally designed, even rivaling the beauty of its console counterparts. The between-battle cut-scenes, however, are the true gems of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Each one is absolutely gorgeous, showcasing both the graphic potential of the 3DS and how to properly utilize the 3D. In fact, the 3D effects work well throughout the entire game, giving the battlefields a more realistic feel, almost like an actual board game.

Awakening’s musical score compliments its graphical style perfectly. The soundtrack blends both old favorites and new melodies, providing always-relevant tunes to slay your enemies to. The sound effects also fit beautifully, driving home the strength of each slash and the sheer power of each magical explosion.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 96%
Gameplay - 19/20
Graphics - 10/10
Sound - 9/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score - 65%
Violence - 7/10
Language - 5.5/10
Sexual Content - 6.5/10
Occult/Supernatural - 3.5/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

The biggest letdown in Fire Emblem: Awakening involves its mixed wireless capabilities. It expertly implements the 3DS's Streetpass functionality to allow players to battle AI-controlled versions of other players' armies while collecting data about their units and stats. Local wireless play lets players team up and fight enemies to earn gold, experience, and "renown" to trade for rare weapons. Unfortunately, the online multiplayer is virtually nonexistent, and there is no way to directly compete against other players. This lackluster element is not a huge let down, since it was never a staple of the series, but with modern gaming’s focus on online multiplayer, it is a little disappointing to see it overlooked.

Unfortunately, while making several excellent advances in the series, Awakening took several steps backwards from a moral perspective. Characters now use scattered profanity like d**n and h*ll: not as often as a game like Borderlands, but just enough for it to be noticeable. Several female characters, most notably the dark mages, wear very revealing clothes. Speaking of the dark mages, Awakening probably comes closer to occult magic than any other in the franchise, as one character, Tharja, constantly casts curses and hexes on her comrades. Some fairytale magic also exists in the form of wind, thunder, and fire magic. In addition, the expected RPG violence abounds, and a few characters unexpectedly make sexual jokes in their support conversations.

Despite its lack of multiplayer and moral failings, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the best, if not the best, games in a long-standing series known for its strategy, difficulty, and personality.  Awakening modernizes the franchise in a way that makes it accessible to gamers of all ability without shying away from the difficult mechanics that the series' hardcore followers hold dear. Any 3DS library that lacks this game is missing out on possibly the best title since the system’s inception.


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