First party knockouts like Fire Emblem are something that Nintendo really needs to concentrate on. While we’re drowning in near weekly Nintendo Direct conferences - which promise big and apologise for letdowns - the real answer to Nintendo’s now self-admitted problem is sitting in the 3DS of gamers everywhere. Awakening, like its franchise predecessors, is an example of a game that moves platforms. Not everything is right in the chivalrous world of Paladins and Falco Knights, but every genre fan and 3DS owner would be well served by playing Fire Emblem. Nintendo would also do well to release more games of the quality found here, and paying close attention to the success Fire Emblem: Awakening will surely bring them.
After over 20 years of titles where the core concept of turn-based strategy has remained almost untouched, Awakening shows an iterative design philosophy honed to a near razor’s edge. Having seen a Japanese release in early 2012, the wait and localization time has been very kind to Awakening.
Taking my avatar through the very long, very convoluted story was simple fun. A lot of the enjoyment of this game will come from the long dialogue sequences between key battles and while the voice work within these games is fine, it’s often limited to repeated character specific catch-phrases and never expanded upon. It is however, through these scenes that the story is given the breadth it needs to really stand out and be a mentionable addition to the experience. While starting off as a power fantasy, the difficulty ramps up very quickly. Before you know it your characters will be dropping left and right, for good - which leads to the biggest, and most controversial game changer.
Your hand is held for the first hour or so of the game - but from there you’re on your own, and (in typical Fire Emblem style) thing falls apart very quickly. The game made no hesitation in going straight for the jugular, and started cutting down any party members it could. This has always been the style of Fire Emblem, but for the sake of my sanity and the need to actually finish this game - I had to restart Awakening after continually failing on the fourth stage. This time (shamefully) using the newly introduced ‘casual mode’. Casual mode brings with it (aside from easier enemies) the removal of the franchise staple of permanent death. Sacrilege to the diehard; its removal could be seen as changing a 20 year old proven mechanic - but when a game is as potentially impermeable as Fire Emblem is - it is an excellent way to get more people to play this game.
When it comes down to it Awakening shines the most in its turn-to-turn gameplay. While the pace can be muddied by slow turns of preparing battles and moving units - it’s all a calm build up to the great chess-like battle sequences the series pivots around.
For The Record
Strong, confident, and self-assured - Fire Emblem: Awakening is the best reason to own a 3DS right now. It is games like this that Nintendo fans want. While Nintendo treads water with teasers of new games and what’s to come - the solution to their issue is assuredly found in the competency of their first party games. The only problem is that it took five years for this game to be released since the Wii release of Radiant Dawn in 2007.
I have always thought that the Fire Emblem gameplay loop is best served by the hand-held platform - and Awakening only goes to solidify this point in my mind even more. I was on the edge of my seat the entire time, and even though only one or two turns would pass by in half an hour of gameplay - it satisfied both my primal fantasies of medieval violence and that more cerebral itch that has been recently sated by games like XCOM: Enemy Unknown . Play this if you can - you’ll love it.