After seeing many, many recommendations for this title from journalists I respect a great deal for… I had to dig out my 3DS and give it a try. Now, I’ve never played a Fire Emblem game, so after sinking several hours into it… I’m ready to give you my initial impressions here.
Fire Emblem is a strategy RPG – the same genre as Final Fantasy Tactics, Tactics Ogre, Vandal Hearts, etc. Essentially what that means is that combat takes place on a grid-based map in a turn-based format. Fire Emblem mixes that up by offering a ‘classic’ game mode where character deaths are permanent. The unfortunate part is that you cannot change game mode or difficulty once you’ve started, which always bothers me, but even more so in a game like this. Why? Because while the impact of this game mode seems instantly apparent, it isn’t. I thought I would enjoy classic, but I really don’t. I would gladly lower down to the ‘casual’ game mode if it didn’t mean restarting. But it wasn’t until about 6-7 hours in that it started to become apparent how this actually alters the game.
There is one huge flaw I find with the Fire Emblem combat, and it is extremely annoying. Rather than using individual turns that go in order based off of some stat or another… Fire Emblem Awakening’s combat uses team turns. You move all of your characters, then they move all of theirs. Now, in a normal SRPG, this wouldn’t be a big deal… but in a game like Fire Emblem where death is permanent, this is excessively frustrating. Why? Because you’ll get the entire enemy team group up on one person in your party, and speaking from experience… this can mean that sometimes you must have one person survive 9-10 attacks in a row. Anecdotally, I had one game where I had a party member survive 10 attacks, killing every one of the enemies in the counterattack… but then the 11th targeted him and he died. This type of situation becomes excessively frustrating and forces you to rely on your strongest party members over and over again, since if you bring anyone who isn’t insanely strong they’ll just be focused into the dirt.
Aside from that, though, the combat is exciting and engaging, featuring a number of really cool twists such as character pairing and support. Characters can group up together, allowing for the two characters to move as one and have whichever character is at the front be directly controllable while the support character just enhances the main character’s stats and performs backup actions like guarding or followup attacks. These types of mechanics make things very strategic… do you split up to get the maximum number of possible attacks, but leaving people more vulnerable, do you group up to make people as strong as you can and to protect your weaker characters, etc? Additionally, by pairing units up, you allow those units to develop a stronger relationship.
Fire Emblem, indeed, also features a relationship system. By enhancing the relationships between your units you increase the likelihood they’ll perform support actions when near each other, and if you get the relationships to the highest level, the characters will become married. This leads into another very interesting element this game has…. certain characters, when they become married, have children. These children come back from the future and you get to recruit them to your party. This sounds nonsensical, but it is integrated a bit better than it sounds and it allows for some very interesting customization, since they inherit some skills from their parents. Unfortunately, there is no indication of which pairs of parents can have children which will force you to either miss out on a lot of characters or look up a walk-through.
The characters are really interesting, and losing any characters is a major hit because you miss out on all of the intricacies of the side stories, the dialog they bring to the game, and possibly even their children. While there is an abundance of available characters, the personality and depth each character brings is something that makes any character’s loss a disaster. The story has a fairly interesting opening, and it definitely leaves you eager for what is to come.