As most of you may know, I’m a very big advocate of Nintendo making the Switch its next handheld once the 3DS’ life is over, but mistake that for a dislike of the 3DS or anything. I love my 3DS XL to death and won’t give it up for anything, and it’s games like Fire Emblem Awakening that make it worth owning single-handedly(Pokemon helps to though.).
I’ve owned Fire Emblem Awakening for about... three or so years now. The farthest I got in my original playthrough was Chapter 8 I believe. As with many games I play, I never remember why I dropped them in the first place and that thought crossed my mind as soon as I began my latest playthrough. The game immediately grabs you and never lets go. The story is one hell of a ride and the gameplay is some of the most fun I’ve had in recent memory. It’s strange how something that is seemingly so simple could be so good, but it is.
While many may not realize it considering how popular the series is today in 2017, it was on its death bed after the installment for the Wii: Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn. The developers were given one last shot and so they decided to just throw everything they ever wanted into the game, a last ditch effort to either save the franchise or go out with a bang, kind of like how the Final Fantasy series came into existence. Awakening released in 2012 to Japanese audiences to critical acclaim and the same happened here in the US when it released in 2013 on the 3DS. The Fire Emblem franchise was back on the map, and after having spent a little over 50 hours with the game I can see why.
The story’s main character, oddly enough, is not the player, but Chrom, prince of the country of Ylisse and a distant descendant of Marth, the protagonist of the original Fire Emblem. The player is basically his right-hand man, an amnesiac tactician that the player can customize and name. While may be the main character, your character is still a major player in the story, taking on more a supporting role. I chose to name my avatar Robin, the characters official name because I like to keep things as canon as possible. I know that may seem boring to some, but truthfully I prefer games that have named protagonists, so if the protagonist has a canon name I tend to use it. But I digress, with the story surrounding these two, it takes them on a 26 chapter journey that spans the Fire Emblem world(well, not all of it, as the locations from Fire Emblem Fates do not appear.), including the continent of Valm, the setting of Fire Emblem Gaiden and its upcoming remake Fire Emblem Echoes. To put it simply, Awakening is filled with fanservice for those who have been with the series for a long time. It did nothing for me personally, but I appreciated the nods to older games.
One of the more interesting mechanics of the game, which also enriches the story, is that of the relationship system. Relationships in Awakening typically have four tiers(three for some.) starting with Rank C and working its way up to Rank S. Each time you achieve a new rank, rank C included, you’ll get a scene with the two characters involved. These exchanges can often grant insights into the characters personal lives, their likes and dislikes, their temperament, etc. And if two characters of the opposite sex achieve Rank S, they marry. Each character can only have one S Rank relationship, so all others will only go up to A if the character is already married to someone. You’re not required to marry the characters off of course, though odds are if you continuously pair the same characters up in battle they will naturally reach Rank S if it’s possible between them, and you can’t opt out of the marriage. I will say that I would never want too as the S Rank scenes are often really good and heartwarming. This also leads to another interesting facet of the game, but that’s getting into spoiler territory. The game may be four years old, but I imagine there are still people who plan to play this game at some point.
Now I want to talk about the game graphics. My general opinion has typically been that the 3DS is very weak system, at least when you compare it to the PlayStation Portable and PlayStation Vita. Its screen is less than HD, textures are typically low resolution, and polygon counts not incredibly high. Fire Emblem somehow manages to look fantastic for a 3DS game. Yeah, sometimes the textures look low resolution, but yet at other times they seem oddly high resolution. Weapons and armor actually look like metal and have reflections? What kind of sorcery is this?! And don’t even get me started on the pre-rendered cutscenes. I know the 3DS can play those because they’re pre-rendered, but damn, does that above image not look beautiful to you? I wish the game looked like that all the time, but that is a tall order for the 3DS. Oddly enough I never even noticed any framerate dips which was curious, but then again the game also doesn’t seem as intensive as the more recent Pokemon games.
The actual battlefields are rendered in a mixture of 2D and 3D with it sometimes being hard to tell what is and isn’t 3D while at other times it’s obvious. Units are represented by 2D sprites which, when you enter battle, turn into full 3D models on a fully 3D battlefield and duke it out. The battles can be quite the spectacle and moving around the battlefield also has its charms.
Speaking of gameplay, I should probably mention Fire Emblems signature triangle system. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. To be completely honest with you there is supposed to be a point to this system, so much so that there are even endgame abilities that can flip it to give you an advantage where you would otherwise be screwed, but I never really noticed. There were times where my units attack power would fall drastically, but I never really pegged the triangle as the culprit because against other units that wielded the same weapon, mine still attacked at full power. It was strange. This ultimately led to me breezing through the endgame using mostly swordsman, mages, and lancers. Not a single axe-wielder to be found in my army. My friend who introduced me to the game would be having a stroke if he saw me disregarding the games systems and just simply playing my own way. The funny thing is that I rarely, if ever, had a unit die in battle. Most of the time they dodged incoming enemy strikes or had them blocked by the unit they were paired with. It was funny to watch 5 or 6 enemies attack the same unit and all miss and then have the unit they attacked retaliate and annihilate them. I will say though that Donnel is probably one of the most ridiculous units you can recruit. His initial class, the Villager, can hit a maximum level of 30, at which point you use a Second Seal to change his class to whatever you desire, level that up to lvl 20, then use a Master Seal to promote him to an advanced class for another 20 levels. Needless to say he can be pretty OP for a simple farmboy. I ultimately went with the Mercenary class for him and upgraded him to Hero at the endgame. He was unstoppable.
I guess I should also mention Awakening’s difficulty curve. You can pretty much play regularly up until Chapter 13 where the difficulty suddenly spikes and you may find yourself with fewer units at the end of the battle for once. This is when you go and buy reeking boxes which will let you summon Risen enemies to the map and challenge them. This is how you can grind for levels as well as relationship ranks to your hearts content. simply buy four reeking boxes, then sell the boullions you get from one defeated enemy per challenge and you make back double what you paid for the boxes. Rinse and repeat and you’ll be both overleveled and rich before you know it. The difficulty won’t really spike again until the endgame so if you promote most of your main units to advanced classes, preferably after they hit lvl 20 for maximum stats, then you should be good. That’s what I did and it worked out great. Might have been a tad overkill though.
The last thing I wanted to talk about for this review is the soundtrack and voiceover work. First things first, the soundtrack is one of the best I’ve ever heard. Like, there just isn’t really a comparison to anything else on the 3DS and it certainly stands with many soundtracks from big name console games. It’s one of those soundtracks where almost every single song can be listened to on its own and played on repeat endlessly and you will never get tired of it. When the team at Intelligent Systems said they were going to put everything they had into this game, they did not exaggerate. Everything about this game exudes time, money, and above all else heart. There is soul to this game and this soundtrack.
And then of course there’s the voiceover. I want to say that no two voices are the same, but that would be a lie as Stahl shares the same voice actor as Donnel. Granted, there are very few voiced cutscenes. Most of the time it’s just grunts, short sentences, and the like. To call it extensive would be an overstatement, but it gets the job done when necessary and Matthew Mercer nails it as Chrom. I sincerely hope he continues to reprise the role wherever Chrom shows up in the future, such as Fire Emblem Warriors.
At the end of it all, I came away completely satisfied with the 50 hours I devoted to the game. The story was one of the best that I’ve had the pleasure to experience, almost all the characters were likable and well-written, and the ending almost had me in tears. The gameplay too was a real highlight of the game, being complex, yet somehow simple and fun. There just really isn’t any way to understate how great this game is and how important it has made the Fire Emblem franchise to Nintendo, as evidenced by Fire Emblem Fates which followed three years later, and will be followed Fire Emblem Echoes, a remake of Fire Emblem II/Fire Emblem Gaiden, Fire Emblem Warriors, the recently released Fire Emblem Heroes mobile game that is actually pretty good, and the next main installment coming exclusively to the Nintendo Switch in 2018. To say that Awakening changed everything is very accurate.
So I decided to do one of these after all because I really wanted to talk about this. The games story was just phenomenal and it amazes me how they were able to pull it off. Maybe it was because it was their last ditch effort, the big bang, but it put the series on the road to primary franchise status and it isn’t hard to see why.
Incorporating the future children was a neat little device. Only Lucina is honestly crucial to the story since she is recruited automatically through the main quest, but all of the others are obtained through the optional Paralogues. Each time you marry two characters, if one of them has a future child, then a new Paralogue will appear and you can recruit that child. Nine times out of ten it’s the mother that can speak to the child, not the father, though most of the time Chrom can speak with them as well to recruit them. The Avatar is really the only father that can recruit his own child. A neat feature that they really didn’t have to include was the childs hair potentially changing color depending on their parents. For example, Owain, the son of Lissa, was typically portrayed as sharing his mothers blonde hair. In my game, I married her to Lon’qu(Most of my marriages were planned, not because I knew anything ahead of time, heck I didn’t even think of skills that could be passed down, I just though they made good matches.), and Owain ended up with black hair which I think was more fitting with his attire. Noire, the daughter of Tharja, had the white hair of her father Henry, and the Avatars daughter, Morgan, had her mother Tiki’s light green hair. It was a nice little thing to have.
Of course, recruiting the child characters opens up extra supports with their parents which sheds more light on the future they come from and how they became who they are and why they traveled back to the past with Lucina. Morgan is really the odd one out as she’s a lot happier than most of the others and all things point to her not even being from the same timeline. In other words, she might actually be the only child from the timeline that the story of Awakening creates, rather than the apocalyptic future of the others.
I’m not sure how all the romances go because obviously I’ve only played through the game fully once, but each pair that I had felt natural, which was strange. Chrom and Sumia were obviously meant to be paired because they were featured together in the opening cutscene holding baby Lucina, so that pair was the first that I started. Then I had Stahl and Cherche who basically had the equivalent of the perfect relationship, ya know, the kind you hear about in fairy tales where they love everything about each other and can do no wrong. Cornelia, being a peacekeeper, kept Gaius in line. Owain loves Noire’s cooking and she loves his poetic way of naming things like her pastries, it was so cute. I also paired Frederick and Miriel, and when they tried to confess to each other it was like the final episode of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood where they try to confess using scientific terms rather than, you know, just plain confessing their love. Everything flowed so well that I was convinced I had magically stumbled upon all the canon couples. Even the Avatar and Tiki seemed like a perfect match for one another. The Avatar has the blood of Grima flowing through his veins while Tiki channels the power of Naga. She see’s the spirit of Marth within him, cutely mistaking him for her “Mar-Mar” from time to time. But of course, one of the best scenes had to be when Gregor and Nowi’s daughter Nah spoke to Gregor for their C-rank support. Nah didn’t believe he could fall in love with her carefree mother and tried to get him to confess to knocking her up and have that be the reason they got married. It was too hilarious.
Ah, but I guess I have to mention the ending of the game. I expected the endgame level to be far more difficult than it was. The map was smaller than most others, and by moving most of my army to the sides I was able to hold off the infinitely respawning enemies without losing anyone, barely even took a hit. Robin and Chrom moved straight up the center and attacked Grima, two strikes and he was out. I then opted to have Robin sacrifice himself and destroy Grima permanently rather than put him into a slumber by having Chrom land the final blow. It was a sad ending, and seeing everyone express their belief that Robin yet lived was heartwarming(Though I wish it was more difficult to obtain. I mean seriously I barely had any support ranks with most of these people. It should have been a requirement that in order for Robin to survive you need to have S-ranks with everyone.). Of course, they make you wait until the end of the credits to find out if he lived or not, which he did and then they give you his and his wife’s “where are they now” entries. That was another thing I loved. As the credits roll, you get to read historians accounts about what happened to each character or couple after the events of the game. This made it feel like a complete story with no sequel material, leaving only a few characters to actually show up in future games. That sense of closure was possibly the best way to end this game.