[Fire Emblem Awakening logo]

[Chrom and Lisa...meet Robin!]

System: Nintendo 3DS
Publisher: Nintendo
Designer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: February 2013
Genre: RPG
Players: 1 or 2 (Streetpass/Wi-Fi connection)
Save Feature? Does Kellam want others to acknowledge his existance? (That would be a "Yes!")

Wow! The only thing I can say is "Why in the heck did it take me until the summer of 2015 to play a Fire Emblem game?" Fire Emblem: Awakening is a polished, fine work of art that is every bit as great as Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea in the strategy RPG realm. This game is a visual feast with powerful music and meaty gameplay to spare. If you love a good strategy RPG, then you owe it to yourself to play Fire Emblem: Awakening!

Overview: Being a lifelong video game fan who hails from the good ole 1980's, I have always taken great pride in playing as many of the "classics" as humanly possible. For example, as a kid, I was able to play virtually every classic game for the NES. Everything from the Super Mario Bros. trilogy and all six Mega Man games to hidden gems like Little Nemo: The Dream Master and Dusty Diamond's All-Star Softball were on my radar. Pretty much any Nintendo-published game was a sure thing back in those days as well.

However, times change, we all grow up, and the responsibilities of life start to take over (often in rapid succession too). While I still love playing a good video game just as much as I did way back in 1988, I have become much more selective when it comes to investing serious time in a video game. I hunger for greatness and, unfortunately (or not so unfortunately), stinkers like Hydlide and Castlequest have no place in my schedule anymore.

Believe it or not, I am going somewhere with this. The main point is that, despite my video game fanaticism, I could never get around to playing the Fire Emblem series. I was well-aware of its popularity for the better part of fifteen years thanks to the internet and the ultra-popular Super Smash Bros. series (as Marth, Roy, and Ike from FE lore make an appearance). Heck, I even owned a couple of Fire Emblem games at one time (before stupidly selling them on eBay...I know...it was stupid...). Thankfully, my insanity was only temporary as my brother Nate and his/our close friend Josh pushed me just enough to give the newest game in the series (at the time anyway) a shot.

All I can say is "Thank you Nate and Josh!" because, within mere minutes, I was hooked on this game! While Fire Emblem: Awakening appears to be a simple grid-based, strategy RPG on the surface, it has to be experienced firsthand to be fully appreciated. Simply put, FE:A takes the best elements from Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea and adds a little spice of its own to keep things fresh and exciting!

The core gameplay involves you manuevering around a myriad of grid-based areas fighting all sorts of enemies, coming across all types of terrain, and having to overcome various challenges. Each character's strengths and weaknesses come into play and learning how to swing any given battle in your favor is the key to succeeding in FE:A. I do like how the terrain means something in this game too. You can easily move around when the terrain consists of simple grasslands but forests, deserts, and rivers will really test your ability to make adjustments on the fly.

So what really gives this game its strategic mojo you ask? Well, for one thing, FE:A employs a very deep job system. This affects everything from the weapons/magic you can use to your character's base stats such as attack, defense, and movement. You have knights who are slow but thrive in the defense attribute, archers who are deadly from a distance but cannot defend in close combat, and mages who possess the ability to cast powerful magic spells on their poor, defenseless foes. There are also healers, swordmasters, dancers, and a wealth of additional jobs at your fingertips. Each character starts out with a base job of sorts (e.g. Chrom is a "Lord" who fights with royal swords while Robin is a "Tactician" who can use either swords or magic) but there are opportunities to enhance jobs (or simply change them) as you gain experience and obtain the necessary item(s). This gives you a great deal of flexibility which is paramount for any strategy RPG.

Back to the actual battle system, it is very important to understand weapon advantages/disadvantages in FE:A. For example, swords work splendidly against axe-users while lances are advantageous against swords. The main advantage to choosing the right weapon in a fight is that it can literally cut through an enemy's defenses with relative ease. With all else being equal, this advantage can swing a battle! And on a related note, some weapons can literally devastate specific enemies. The perfect example would be Virion the Archer attacking Wyvern and/or Griffon riders since arrows are the bane of said creatures. You can easily discover this advantage by paying attention to any symbols attached to a given weapon too. Certain weapons can lay waste to particular enemies if used correctly so bear that in mind. Just remember that your enemies can turn the tables and use all of the tactics I have mentioned on you as well!

Also worth noting is the intuitive ability to pair-up in battle. Now granted, the ability to support fellow party members by standing in adjacent squares is in most strategy RPGs. However, there is an added layer of depth to be found in FE:A. When you pair-up, both characters essentially share the same square on the grid and when one character attacks an enemy (or is on the receiving end of said blows) the supporting character will increase various stats and, if you are lucky, will even execute a follow-up attack! This support can really come in handy from a defensive standpoint too. Have Kellam support anyone and you will see what I mean! In addition, you can switch the main/support characters once per round so, if one character happens to be wounded, your fresh support character can take the lead and essentially protect your injured comrade.

Now as cool and amazing as this ability is, there is yet another juicy bonus to teaming up. You might notice the occasional heart symbol that appears after executing a team attack of some sort. Well, by teaming up and fighting together, you can improve the relationships between your characters! This is important to know as the stat boosts/follow-up attacks grow stronger and more likely as relationships grow. This goes a step further too because, by having specific male and female characters pair-up, they might eventually decide to tie the knot! And once that happens, optional areas will appear on the overworld map and you just might wind up with some new battle companions in the process. I really don't want to spoil anything so let me just say that this feature is a real novelty and it really adds another layer of depth to FE:A. As characters grow closer, you will view story/dialogue scenes (you can access these in one of your overworld menus) and some of them are simply hilarious too! Like with the Persona series, these scenes do a nice job of fleshing out the many characters in FE:A all while giving us new areas/characters in the process!

In addition to cultivating relationships, the overworld map in FE:A allows you to manage your inventory, shop for weapons/items, and replay previous battles. If your levels seem a bit low and you feel the need to power up a bit, you can fight to your heart's content. This is noteworthy since some of the earliest Fire Emblem games contained no overworld and the only experience you could obtain was limited (I have done my homework.) Honestly, I feel that every strategy RPG should contain some sort of overworld. Watching the overworld expand gives you a real sense of accomplishment and I like how optional areas magically appear when certain events (marriages) transpire.

The last aspect of FE:A I want to touch on before moving on is the generous amount of wireless content available. Whether you are playing this game alone or with a friend, there is a wealth of wireless content to be found here. You can fight battles alongside your local friends and, whenever you connect wirelessly with someone, you can either buy items from them or fight their entire squad if you so desire. In addition, you can download a ton of new maps, characters from previous Fire Emblem hits, and special bonus items as your Renown (a rating that represents your ability to successfully defeat other players' teams) increases. Despite the main story being average in length (30-40 hours is the norm although I have played 100+ hours myself), the additional content definitely helps to prolong this great game.

[Princess Emmeryn]
[A typical battle]

Graphics: Visually, Fire Emblem: Awakening is truly a work of art. While the main battle/action grid graphics are quite impressive, the story scenes, particularly the brief movie clips, are simply gorgeous! These scenes are beautifully animated with some dazzling 3-D effects (if you choose to play the game in 3-D mode) to boot. Some of the more subtle story scenes also look quite nice with their close-up character screenshots (ala Chrono Cross) and impressive background graphics. One particular scene between Robin and Lucina just feels like an iconic moment with its riveting drama and gorgeous sunset backdrop.

Some of the battle graphics, particularly the fight scenes, look superb as well. I really like how the graphics seemingly spring to life whenever a character/enemy engages in a duel. The screen shifts from the more old-school action grid to a rich environment with detailed character graphics and seamless animation. This allows the battle scenes to feel that much more epic and it honestly gives FE:A a huge advantage over some of the older strategy RPGs in terms of atmosphere and intensity.

Music: Although the strategy-based gameplay certainly intrigued me, I was simply chomping at the bit to listen to a Fire Emblem soundtrack as well. I was already somewhat familiar with Fire Emblem's music thanks to my Super Smash Bros. experience and what I had heard in those games certainly raised the bar in my mind. And let me tell you...FE:A would not disappoint!

Overall, this game's score comes across as a majestic one with feelings of grandeur, hope, sadness, and plenty of powerful battle/boss music to keep the juices flowing. I immediately recognized the catchy title theme (thanks to Super Smash Bros.) and I felt that some of the more minor/simple tunes such as the overworld theme, the battle preparation track, and a few pieces that play during casual conversations between characters (I love the one with the violin!) set the mood nicely. One tune that stands out has to be "Tiki's theme." Soft and melodic with a heavy Japanese influence, this song will whisk you away to another world with its beauty. There are a plethora of other tunes that create this pleasant, relaxing feel as well.

At the end of the day, however, it is the battle music that truly sets this game apart. Full of passion and emotion, this diverse selection of music helps to mold the game's warlike atmosphere and, while it is quite the original score, it does remind me of Final Fantasy Tactics. "Conquest" is probably the track you will listen to the most as it plays during most of the random/optional battles. This piece is the very definition of ethereal with its quiet undertones and pleasant pacing. Another memorable piece is "Don't Speak Her Name!" This track plays immediately following a tragic event and it captures the sadness (with a hint of determination) perfectly. And the final battle in FE:A is as epic as they come because "Id (Return)" and "Id (Purpose)" combine to create one of the most epic and heroic themes I have ever heard in a video game! I couldn't help but smile as I fought the final boss because, as a lifelong gamer, I live for moments like these!

In addition to the wonderful music, the voice acting in FE:A was very good...at least for what it was. Unlike some of the more cinematic games out there that contain movie-like cut scenes complete with full dialogue (e.g. Xenosaga), FE:A instead contains simple phrases/one-liners during the game's cut/battle scenes. There is a wealth of dialogue in the form of dialogue boxes but few words are actually spoken. This is quite the unique approach and yet I felt that it still got the message across. In other words, it didn't cheapen the game despite its simplicity. Some of the voice acting gives this game its surprising humor element too! Having Frederick (a real powerhouse fighter early in the game) annihilate an enemy without getting touched and hearing him say "A Challenge!" or Kellam (a knight who lacks presence) yell "They should notice this!" moments before unleashing a critical attack helps to give FE:A its unique charm. There are also some epic moments like when Robin says "Checkmate!" or Chrom stating that "Even the future can change!" Despite the voice acting being a bit unorthodox, FE:A wouldn't have been nearly as enjoyable without it.

[Chrom unleashing an attack!]
[Level Up!]

Play Control: For a game featuring more options and menus than a swiss army knife, I thought that the controls were exceptional in FE:A. It is shockingly easy to move/fight/switch/transfer characters in battle and changing equipment, buying/selling items, and understanding your weapon/character stats is very user-friendly. As much as I love Final Fantasy Tactics, the strategy RPG genre has come a long way in terms of being less cumbersome and more accessible to a novice gamer which is a welcome change.

Of course, FE:A being a 3DS game has its benefits too. You can use either the Circle pad or D-pad but the stylus controls in particular are like a godsend to this particular type of game. You can use your stylus to do pretty much anything and its ability to convey detailed weapon/armor/accessory/character stats and even analyze terrain is immensely helpful.

Challenge: Depending on which difficulty option you choose, FE:A can be relatively standard or surprisingly intense. What makes FE:A one of the more unique strategy RPGs is the normal difficulty setting where losing a comrade in battle literally eliminates them for the remainder of the game! There are no Phoenix Downs or Revive magic that can save someone once their HP has fallen to zero. As you can imagine, this really ramps up the intensity since you have so much to lose if you make a poor tactical decision. However, I highly recommended choosing this difficulty setting as it offers a true, hardcore challenge and it makes for one memorable video game experience. Admittedly, there will be some frustrating moments when you lose a comrade and have to reset the game but hey, it's worth it, right? Uh...right? Anyone?

As far as replay value is concerned, you simply cannot do better than FE:A. With its almost overwhelming amount of bonus content and Streetpass capabilities, you will likely find yourself playing this game well beyond the main story. The best Strategy RPGs tend to lend themselves well to the "replay value/extra content" aspect and FE:A is certainly no exception.

[The mysterious Marth]

Storyline: If you enjoyed the Final Fantasy Tactics setting/story, then it is probably safe to say that you will appreciate Fire Emblem: Awakening in this regard. Like in FFT, the FE:A story has a medieval feel as it involves multiple kingdoms, their endless struggle for power, and an underlying current that might or might not concern a certain legendary dragon. Although FE:A feels completely different, I like how it shares a few elements with Final Fantasy Tactics' in-depth story while at least adding in some humor to keep FE:A from getting too depressing.

The game starts out with the Prince of Ylissdom (Chrom) embarking on a quest in the hope of maintaining peace between his kingdom and the neighboring kingdoms of Plegia and Valm. Along the road, Chrom and company (including Chrom's tomboy-ish sister Lissa and faithful knight Frederick) happen across a mysterious young man (or woman if you choose) named Robin who has amnesia yet possesses great skill in casting magic as well as constructing various strategies and tactics for any given situation. Although Frederick expresses his concerns with accepting an outsider, Chrom asks Robin to join his party on the spot. And so it begins!

Without giving too much away, let me just say that FE:A involves you searching for the legendary Fire Emblem gems, defending Ylissdom from Plegia/Valm, and fighting the mysterious Risen. And like with any great story, a real curve ball is thrown your way when an enigmatic character who seemingly known the future prevents disaster from befalling Chrom and company on several occasions. The identity of this character adds to the game's mystique as does the presence of others from a similar time and place. Some of the later events that occur near the end of the game do not disappoint on the epic scale either!

Funfactor: If you enjoy anything that involves strategy, tactics, and the age-old "Chess Match," then you will absolutely adore Fire Emblem: Awakening. This game feels incredibly balanced with the perfect amount of content and enough originality to keep the gameplay fresh and engrossing. The presentation/controls are very user-friendly too which makes this game much more accessible than your typical S-RPG. And like I said before, the aesthetics are truly a work of art, the challenge level is just right (at least on normal mode), and the story is quite captivating at times. Once you really get a feel for FE:A, you will lose all track of time and, no matter how much you play, the gameplay never truly gets stale or old or boring. That my friend is something special there.

Finally, I would place this game alongside all-time classics like Final Fantasy Tactics and Disgaea without hesitation. It is even possible that Fire Emblem: Awakening is the finest S-RPG that I have ever played which is saying a lot! I might be a stubborn gamer at times, but I will be the first to admit that I waited FAR too long to play a Fire Emblem game. Well, count me in as a true fan of the series. I am here to stay!

Negatives: You know that you have an all-time classic on your hands when you literally draw a blank in this area. But in all seriousness, this game truly has no major flaws whatsoever. Even minor issues are nearly impossible to ascertain. Hmm...I suppose that I would have preferred more extensive voices/voice acting in the story scenes. And, while this game and the 3DS handheld truly were a match made in heaven, could you imagine what this game would have looked like had it been a Wii U release? HD graphics on the big screen and the music coming through high-octane speakers instead of the wimpy 3DS ones? That would be something to see (and hear!)

[Kellam just wants a little attention]

Ratings: Graphics: 4.6 Music: 4.7 Play Control: 4.8 Challenge: 4.7 Storyline: 4.5 Funfactor: 4.8 Overall Score: 28.1 out of 30.0 Overall Rating: Golden Classic!!

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Last Updated: October 2, 2016
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