i’m more than a month behind, but here’s the first of my catch-up posts. the fire emblem series has long been one of my favorites, and although copies were initially scarce apparently due to delays with shipments i was able to pick up my pre-order of fire emblem: awakening for 3DS from gamestop just a few days later than its actual release date (along with the pre-order bonus art book).
the game has gotten some of the best reception of any game in the series to date, as evidenced by the glowing reviews and the fact it’s had “the best first month sales in the entire history of the franchise, shifting 180,000 units since its launch”. as a long-time fan there was a lot i was looking forward to for this, the 13th entry in the series, especially since the previous game in the series, a sequel to shadow dragon on DS (itself a remake of the very first fire emblem game) didn’t make it outside of japan.
i can see why the game has been popular, as it’s significantly more accessible than other entries in the series. it’s the first (outside of the previous japan-only release) to feature a “casual mode” whereby characters who fall in battle aren’t lost forever, but just for the current map. this mode is entirely optional, though, but the bigger change is that the game has a world map which allows you to fight optional battles for as little or as much as you want to grind for experience and gold. i don’t know why i found this to be such a problem since i loved sacred stones which featured a similar mechanic, but i think one of the big differences is that in that game you couldn’t get really good items like stat boosters and special weapons from the map shops. in awakening not only can you buy special items and weapons whenever you want, but you can also receive them through spotpass and through free and paid DLC.
awakening also allows you to change classes however much you want (resetting your level to level 1 of that class but for the most part without making you lose your increased stats), which means you have unlimited level ups. part of the fun of the fire emblem games thus far has been optimizing your strategy to make your character as powerful as possible by the end of the game and by the time s/he reaches level 20 of her/his final class, but this game is so open-ended that that aspect of the game has been lost. as a result, the game also lacks a ranking system, a feature from earlier games and one that greatly increases replayability.
skills have been an aspect of the game for years, but because of the emphasis on reclassing the game takes on a more final fantasy tactics-like feel but without nearly as much variety in the skills or in the classes themselves (although new skills have been introduced to the fire emblem universe, only a small subset, such as galeforce which allows you to attack twice in one turn, are clearly superior, so much so that they seem overly advantageous). part of the reason the classes have lost some of their uniqueness is that more classes have been added and previous classes adjusted to make reclassing more viable by adding more overlap in the abilities of each class. for example, falcon knights can use staves in this game, which makes it easier for players to reclass a character into or from another class that uses staves since then that character won’t have lost her experience with that weapon type. similarly, the bow knight can use bows and swords, again, making it easier to reclass him/her into a class that uses swords and another weapon, or bows and another weapon. the net result, though, is that the finely tuned balance of classes in previous games is somewhat muddled here.
as i mentioned, the spotpass and paid DLC also make the game more casual since they provide powerful weapons, skills, or characters. a ton of characters from all the previous games in the series are available to recruit via free spotpass DLC, but they’re the characters pretty much in name only since their character models don’t actually look much like them and they only have a minimal amount of unique dialogue (and in some cases feature completely different attributes such as their class). the paid DLC seems pretty useless to me beyond providing advantages to your playthrough even beyond the ones the game and the free DLC provide; they generally include a new map with only a few snippets of dialogue, although i probably will get the ones that include more actual conversations. there is a series of side stories offered as free spotpass DLC that feature unique recruitable characters related to the main game and serve as a sort of epilogue and are much more worthwhile, however.
despite this litany of complaints, i did play play the game obsessively for more than 50 hours and definitely enjoyed some of the brand-new mechanics, namely the dual system whereby two characters can either pair up to create a “superunit”, or fight next to each other and not only give added bonuses like extra avoid as in previous games, but also join in with a follow-up attack or completely guard the other unit from an attack. awakening really emphasizes one of my favorite parts about the series, which is building relationships between characters. i was looking forward to the marriage system, which was previously seen in the japan-only seisen no keifu (aka genealogy of the holy war), and it’s impressive that the developers allowed so many possible pairings. this leads to a huge number of support conversations (although this comes at the expense of exploring more of the same-sex relationships). the children generally tend to be a bit immature and whiny (and outside of unlocking support conversations aren’t really worth using since by the time they arrive they’re much more underlevelled compared to their parents), but it’s fun to see the series explore parent/child and, to a much lesser extent, sibling dynamics and to have different families moving as a group around the battlefield, each member gaining advantages from fighting alongside the rest of his/her family. in order to expedite the marriages, support conversations unlock at a much faster pace than the rest of the series, and it doesn’t seem like certain pairings are harder to get than others. in the previous games it was satisfying to finally earn the highest support rank for the most unlikely pair before the final battle, but, again, that aspect of the series is lost in this game.
in terms of other, more-minor complaints, i got to like the character artwork okay eventually, but i never got into the 3-D models, which look very cutesy and final fantasy crystal chronicles to me since everyone has short bodies. the sound samples for each character helped bring them to life (although got rather repetitive), but the story feels fairly generic even by fire emblem standards and chrom just isn’t a very memorable main character. still, the gameplay is as solid as ever and the characters are still fun to use, and i have a feeling i’ll like it more when i play on a harder mode. as a long-time fan i feel a bit disappointed overall at how much more accessible this entry is, but if the overall net effect is to bring new fans to the series and thus ensure its continuation (and evolution) then i’m happy to enjoy the game for the characters and new dual mechanics and will wait to see if the next entry can surpass some of my favorites in the series.
oh, and in case you’re wondering, here were my main units: chrom/sully, kjelle/lucina, ricken/miriel, sumia/avatar(M), donnel/maribelle, gaius/tharja, and noire/laurent. gaius was completely useless (a thief who can’t dodge? ugh), and ricken, tharja, and avatar were similarly weak. my MVPs were definitely miriel, sully, donnel (he often got every single +1 possible on his level ups), and kjelle, and noire was worth using because she’s pretty hilarious. her S-rank with laurent is really creepy, though. and of course henry was an easy favorite (his A-rank convo with lissa is really cute haha).