The Fire Emblem series has always been an odd one for gamers. On one side of the spectrum, devote RPG fanatics, and those who favor tactics in gameplay have always heralded Fire Emblem for being mercilessly hard and well designed. Meanwhile, the less stoic, and less masochistic players like me have tended to steer clear of the Fire Emblem series due to the high difficulty curve and unforgiving gameplay. Needless to say, it's been a series that has many diehard fans, but doesn't always bring in new gamers with the new installments.
Enter Fire Emblem: Awakening. The newest installment in the series, Awakening is a game that has received a lot of speculation from many people. Releasied as “a reason to buy a 3DS if you haven't already,” Awakening has set the stage as a game that may change the Fire Emblem series forever. With promises of new gameplay mechanics, and a larger targeted audience than previous installments, Awakening has a lot riding on it. The question now is whether it can live up to its expectations, or come crashing down like a Pegasus Knight surrounded by archers.
Still Fire Emblem - The first point that should be addressed is whether Awakening can live up to the Fire Emblem legacy. With so much being changed, I can understand many gamers’ speculation about whether or not it's still Fire Emblem. I am happy to say that Awakening is still the Fire Emblem everyone loves. I'll go into why in a bit, but for now know that the merciless turn-based combat that everyone has come to love is still present. It’s just now more accessible.
Casual Mode - The reason I've never found my way past the halfway point in most Fire Emblem games comes from the fact that I can't stand to see one of my characters die. With the Fire Emblem games, death has always been permanent, and reloading battles over and over again has never been something I've enjoyed. This is where Awakening's Casual Mode comes into play. Upon selecting Casual Mode, gamers will no longer curse in frustration as their characters fall in battle. If the aforementioned event does occur during Casual Mode, the character will simply retreat and be available at the next battle. Death is no longer permanent. This is a great change in the series, and something that will increase the player pool exponentially. Not to mention, it's my favorite change.
A Good Sequel - Prior to Awakening, Fire Emblem had begun to stagnate. It was as if every game in the series was still based off of the original Japanese NES game, with newer visual upgrades. Sure there was a story change there, and some new classes here, but Fire Emblem has always remained safe with the same gameplay from game to game. This monotonous grind is comforting, but it can get a bit repetitive. Tactful tweaks and minor changes in sequels is what keep Call of Duty popular while keeping it very much the same. Awakening, has broken away from this grind and become a true sequel.
A true sequel takes everything that makes a game good, and expands upon it while fixing the problems. An example of this is Pokémon Silver and Gold from Blue and Red. The games had more of what players loved with improvements in the gameplay and fixes to balance issues. This is also true with Awakening. Not only has the above mentioned Casual Mode been added, the game controls are better, and has had new features added in that would be great to see in even more sequels. The genealogical aspect of the game is especially amazing, as well as the ability for units to double up in fights at the cost of less actions per player turn. Like I said, Awakening is a true sequel because it’s fixed many previous player complaints, created a new game, and added a plethora of new features.
Shipshipship - There's a ghastly, awful term in the world of entertainment known as shipping (short for relationshipping). For those of you who have never heard this term before (those lucky few), it's in reference to taking a relationship that isn't canon to the story, and making it happen. An example of this would be if someone were to hook Toph up with Sokka in Avatar. Why do I bring this up? Because not only is shipping in Fire Emblem: Awakening, it's practically required.
Almost all the characters in your party are marriage material for every other character in your party. This means you can hook the innocent, 16 year old mage up with the 1,000 year old dragon girl, or the naïve dancer with the blood thirsty dark mage. These sorts of connections and many more are available, and encouraged for gamers to enjoy. It also leads to some pretty entertaining conversations. Which reminds me...
Hilarity Ensues - Fire Emblem: Awakening is witty. Almost every conversation I watched my party have made me chuckle, if not laugh hysterically. There's some really good writing to be found in the game, and I can see the writing alone bringing in a lot of new players. It's just one of those games that has you waiting until the next battle is over so you can listen to a guy with a pan on his head talk about how to trap giant rabbit demons.
SO CLOSE TO PERFECT
Same 4 Characters - Here's the issue with trying to incorporate interesting main game cutscenes in a game where characters can die. Aside from those few characters who you can't afford to lose due to their deaths causing an imminent game over, everyone else is basically expendable. Because of this, Intelligent Systems didn't take the time to make cut-scenes that would involve more expendable characters. This is fine, but it's also lazy. Aside from the side conversations, the more awesome side characters never see the light of day, and that's frustrating. The game has a lot in it, but this one short-cut is pretty much the only reason it's not a perfect game.
No Load Function? - This has been an issue that has plagued the Fire Emblem series for as long as I've played it. Even in Casual Mode, there are times when you don't want to see perfectly good characters fall out too quickly in a battle. Up to Awakening, the only way to go back to when the character wasn't lying in a pool of their own blood was to reload the ENTIRE battle. To fix that, the game has taken a step forward and allowed you to save at any time during the battle. Unfortunately, they failed to add a mid-battle load function, and you still have to restart the whole game if you want to load a previous turn. One step forward and one step back.
Fire Emblem: Awakening was all the right moves for a sequel. It's a great jump for a great series that took risks and reaped some great rewards because of it. Everything that was changed has made the game accessible to new players, while still providing veterans to the series what they love. I will admit that I'm a little disappointed that some of the better characters are never seen past conversations and their introductions, but it's still a great game. A true sequel in every way that just needed a pinch more love to be perfect.
*This review was based on the 3DS retail version of the game.*