Fire Emblem: Awakening (2012/2013)

[ファイアーエムブレム 覚醒]

Fire Emblem: Awakening (2012/2013)

Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Director: Kouhei Maeda, Genki Yokota
Platform: 3DS

An amnesiac strategist is taken in by an incognito prince and becomes a key figure in a growing conflict that sweeps across the land.

The core gameplay remains fundamentally the same as previous entries in the franchise. I haven't played FE11 or 12, so I can't comment on any incremental developments that were made in those two entries. I am aware, however, that the My Unit (Avatar) concept was pioneered in FE12 and it's a major part of this entry. (In fact, you could strongly argue that the player character is more the protagonist of the overall story than even Chrom.) "Bonds" are as critical to the story as the gameplay. Not only do you have a convenient visual representation of the support level increasing when compatible characters are on adjacent tiles but you also explicitly see the benefits of that bond when combat begins. Besides stat boosts, you can often get dual attacks and occasionally the other character will block hits (which can be a godsend if a character is on the verge of death).

The class system has an interesting new development with the introduction of lateral class changes. This not only allows for characters to pick up a wider range of skills but also raises the level cap. In previous entries, you had 20 levels of the base class and 20 levels of the prestige class, but know you can level characters up to Level 100, which obviously allows for much more powerful units than you'd normally see without using a lot of stat boosting items. Lateral promotion also encourages more experimentation with different classes than you would usually get in a single playthrough.

As with FE4, there is a generational aspect to this game and so pairing off couples opens up the child characters. The way stats and skills inherit can result in a massively overpowered second generation. Like FE8, there are random encounters for grinding/farming purposes, which allows you to bulk up your characters. Even on Hard Mode, the main story missions aren't that bad if you take advantage of this, but the gaiden chapters offer a little more challenge. You can also summon characters from previous games as random encounters, allowing you to either buy their equipment, pay to recruit them, or fight them (and have the option to add them to your ranks upon victory). This is nice for longtime fans who want to play with their favorite characters but because these characters can't bond with others, a major benefit is lost in the exchange.

Some people call the story of FE13 a cliche storm, but Fire Emblem stories have always been fairly archetypal. I don't find that to be a bad thing. I thought the story had some decent twists and turns, even if you could see them coming. A lot of the characterization comes from the support conversations and I really like the crew rolled out for this one. Because of the multiple options for romance, there's a lot of ship teasing going on, enough to make any choice feel satisfying (though some seem to be a better fit than others). Although there's been less exposure to the Akaneia Arc of the franchise on this side of the pond, there's a lot of fanservice for those who have been following the series since its inception. (I've been trying to make up for lost time thanks to the Virtual Console.) All in all, I found myself quite happy with what I got.

As I said, I haven't played FE11 or 12, but from what I've seen, I wasn't a huge fan of the character design in either of those games (and, to be honest, I felt the character art in 10 was inferior to 9), but I'm rather pleased with Yusuke Kozaki's work here. The 3D assets for the combat and such are inferior to what was seen in 9 and 10, but this is understandable being for a handheld and all and it's really not a problem for me (though I know some people complain about the 3D models' nearly nonexistent feet). When it comes to the cutscenes, I absolutely adore the cel-shaded look that to this point is the best take on 3D anime that I've seen. This is a good-looking game and I don't think you'll have much to complain about when it comes to the visuals.

I have no complaints about the soundtrack and while I can't speak for the NA dub, the original Japanese seiyuu are all good fits for their respective characters. However, during dialog segments, there's a limited pool of sound clips to choose from, which can result in some silliness (which may amuse or annoy depending on your temperament).

I can't personally comment on the quality of the DLC because I personally find it overpriced. It'd be nice if they allowed for bundle packs, but you have to acquire maps and characters piecemeal. If you really want to pick and choose, perhaps you won't mind sacrificing a couple dollars here and there, but I'm not satisfied with their offerings.

I've played half of the games in the franchise thus far and this is hands-down the best one yet on all fronts. I didn't realize that this was going to be the final entry in the series until unexpected success breathed new life into the franchise. If this had been the end, it would've been an amazing way to go. Instead, it's now the start of a bright and promising future.

Treasure It