Wow, has it really been more than two decades since the first Fire Emblem game came out? I’m kinda-sorta starting to feel, well, old. The latest entry in the beloved RPG franchise, Fire Emblem: Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS brings its familiar tactical chops into the third dimension while also adding some new wrinkles to help freshen things up. How well does this new flavor of Fire Emblem work out? Well, let’s give it the old taste test, shall we?
In Awakening, you start out as either a male or female tactician who ends up joining Prince Chrom and his merry band of Shepherds. No they don’t actually herd sheep but then again, you don’t see people complaining about Band of Horses not actually having any horses so I guess that’s OK. Instead these warriors are shepherds of the metaphorical kind who protect the citizens of Ylisse against all the typical threats that rear their threatening head in RPGs — you know, brigands, thieves, creepy undead-looking humanoids — that kind of stuff. And building up your stable of fighters is where a great part of the fun in Fire Emblem lies.
Unlike Tales of the Abyss, this JRPG is a game of the more tactical kind, having more in common with titles such as Disgaea 3: Absence of Detention or even XCOM: Enemy Unknown. The game serves up a wide range of classes to choose from, each with their own set of specialties. Clerics can’t attack but keep your characters in fighting shape while Knights boast a high defense and are excellent at soaking physical damage. Then you have special classes that include shape shifters and dancers. You can also switch your warriors from compatible Base classes to Advanced classes for improved abilities and an extra dose of cool.
The game also maintains a rock-paper-scissors mechanic that gives each weapon and unit both advantages and disadvantages against other weapons and units. Lances work well against swords but not as well against axes, which in turn have a disadvantage against swords. Pegasus Knights meanwhile do well against magic but struggle against arrows. Using a certain weapon a lot also allows you to increase a character’s expertise for it.
Strategy-wise, fighting alongside your allies can boost your fighting prowess and improves their relationships with each other. Better relationships means better boosts when having those characters side by side in battle. They also impact your success in playing cupid with them later on so you’ll want to keep that in mind if you want to become the Barry White of nerd-vana later on.
More casual players will appreciate the addition of a less hardcore mode that gives you more generous save opportunities and prevents your characters from suffering permadeath. For traditionalists, the permadeath option is still available as well as harder difficulties if you want to humor your inner King Leonidas. Enemies also aren’t dumb as a brick and mercilessly go after your more vulnerable units — at least in Hard mode, which is what I started at.
Graphically, the game is one of the best-looking 3DS games I’ve seen to date. The battle scenes look good, especially in 3D and the production values are top notch. Although some hardcore fans of the series may decry the changes made to make Awakening more accessible to casual fans, I think the game pushes all the right buttons for tactical RPG lovers overall. The fighting system is addictingly deep while the emphasis on relationships — and even permadeath if you opt to keep it on — will make you care about the characters. If you like tactical RPGs, Fire Emblem: Awakening is a worthy addition to your collection.
FINAL RATING: 4.5 stars out of 5
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