Fire Emblem: Awakening Review
For a game as brilliant as Fire Emblem: Awakening, it seems a shame that the word ‘typical’ should be the most important one in this whole review.
Because Fire Emblem: Awakening is not only typical of a Fire Emblem game, an Intelligent Systems game or even a Nintendo game, it’s also typical of the genre and of Japanese games as a whole.
That’s not to say there isn’t anything new in Fire Emblem: Awakening, or even that its strategic mechanics aren’t worth getting hooked on. It’s just… look at it this way: Fire Emblem: Awakening starts with your character having amnesia.
Amnesia. That overused cliché seems to pop up time and time again, and every time it invokes the same groan of self-hate. The more things change, they more they stay the same and all that.
Though in this case it’s mostly just staying the same.
The story itself won’t surprise anyone, but what will is the variety and depth to the numerous characters you’ll encounter throughout.
You’ll automatically like some, despise others and grow to love the rest. The localisation has done a great job for each individual character, so there is a personality to everyone – even if you’ll likely only pair attention to them when they’re half a centimetre tall on the strategic map.
Fire Emblem: Awakening And Its Permadeath
The biggest problem is the permadeath system of Fire Emblem: Awakening. It’s not the system itself – that’s a Fire Emblem trait, to remove it would be abhorrent. No, instead it’s the dissonance it’s created.
We’re not going to get into ‘ludonarrative dissonance’; we didn’t with Bioshock Infinite and we refuse to now with Fire Emblem: Awakening.
But it’s frustrating for a character to ‘retreat’ from battle after being defeated, only to turn up in cutscenes later on down the line.
If a fairly major character ‘dies’ (i.e. anyone but you or Chrom), that won’t stop them from following your group around and getting involved in conversations.
It’s true of any Fire Emblem, of course, but when their lack of appearance feels falsified it can create a disparaging difference between the combat sections and the story elements.
This is thanks, in part, to the new casual mode for newcomers. Here permadeath has been removed and while that’s to be commended – Fire Emblem as a series deserves to be played by as many as possible – it also affects those playing in the traditional fear-inducing difficulty.
If someone simply ‘retreats’ and appears mystically unharmed in the next cutscene, why can’t they fight in the next battle?
Awakening’s Fantastic Combat System
Frustrations aside, there’s no denying Fire Emblem: Awakening has some of the most finely-honed strategy of the series yet.
The AI is almost unforgiving in its barrage, ensuring that a single false move can be crippling.
Early on it makes Fire Emblem: Awakening feel unfair; your characters aren’t strong enough to really defend themselves and you’ll need to have played a strategy game or 15 in your life to survive the onslaught.
But by the time you’ve got a few levels under your belt Fire Emblem: Awakening is a little more manageable, giving you the breathing room to survive the harsh advantage that the AI has in later chapters.
The trick is to make use of the support system. Fire Emblem has always been about smart unit placement and this is as true as ever, but with the new support mechanic you’re rewarded for sticking certain characters together.
Pairing up will boost stats depending on the class and level of the accompanying character, while adjacent units also provide enhancements to attack accuracy, evasion and the like.
Best of all is the Dual Strike ability, which ties into the game’s underlying support ratings. The more a character fights alongside another (or interacts with them outside of battle) the higher the support rating between the two becomes.
Higher ranks of support increase the chance of Dual Strike occurring, which sees a partnered or adjacent unit hop in to get a cheeky poke at an enemy alongside their ally.
This will become hugely important if you hope to survive later battles, and really emphasises the focus of Fire Emblem: Awakening’s combat system. The reliance on unit placement is as important as ever, but this is the cherry on top of the cake.
Fire Emblem Is A Tough Game
Much of everything else is fairly typical of Fire Emblem and of the genre, such as the ability to upgrade unit classes (or change them entirely).
Fans of the series will be pleased to hear that the difficulty remains intact, too. As already mentioned it can feel a little unforgiving at times, but strategy fans will really appreciate the AI’s ability to destroy any foolish mistakes.
It seems weird that Fire Emblem: Awakening wouldn’t include an exit or restart option, however.
Should you get punished – and you will – you’ll automatically want to restart the game, which means forcing the game to close, skipping the various loading screens and dialogue screens only to restart the mission all over again.
It’s not the mission restart that’s the problem, but the bother that comes with having to endure the process.
For a game so reliant on mistakes – and you’re ability to overcome and adapt to them – Fire Emblem: Awakening’s lack of a quick restart mission function feels like an oversight.
For many it’ll be a slight bit of bother to an otherwise fantastic game, however.
Without a doubt this is the best Fire Emblem combat in the series yet – up there with some of the best strategy RPGs – but it seems a shame that a typically generic JRPG story spoils what could otherwise be a stellar example of the genre.
Strategy fans will already be eagerly anticipating Fire Emblem: Awakening and to those people this entry will not disappoint. At all.
If you’re new to the series and the genre, however, you might want to consider something else to ease you in. Fire Emblem: Awakening is a game that noobs work their way towards, and its exclusive nature could prove something of a barrier to all but the most diehard.
Sure it can be played on Casual Mode with an easier difficulty – and in that sense it is much more accessible – but aside from the fact that this isn’t how Fire Emblem is meant to be played, there’s still a very noticeable difficulty wall that will be off-putting to newcomers.