- Visual Design
- Audio Design
It was with trepidation that I finally decided that the next game I would review would be a JRPG. If I were to look very closely at my gaming collection and at what I have enjoyed most in recent years, Fire Emblem: Awakening hardly seems to fit the mould. I am very much a gamer perfectly suited to the Call of Duty generation, seeking instant gratification through my actions through the aforementioned record breaking FPS series, as well as counting competitive multiplayer games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Left 4 Dead 2, Forza Motorsport 4 and Gears of War as amongst my favourite games of this generation. That’s not to say that the likes of Tomb Raider, Uncharted 2, BiosShock, DmC: Devil May Cry and other single-player oriented games don’t get a look in, but it can be safely said that most of my time is spent with myself and online combatants lining each other up in crosshairs. On face value, Fire Emblem: Awakening looks to be the polar opposite of what I’m normally comfortable with; instant gratification, shooting, strong narrative, platforming, swords, guns, demons, terrorists and zombies, not to mention the fact that all the above listed titles are western developed. This is not to say I haven’t enjoyed any Japanese games. The likes of Zelda: Twilight Princess, Final Fantasy XIII (which, it should be noted, was seemingly developed with a western audience in mind) Lollipop Chainsaw and Gravity Rush/Daze are some fine games, but failed to penetrate the core circle of games I either return to regularly, or plan to replay at some time. Seemingly then, I am the last person anyone should be listening to about my opinions on a JRPG, as I clearly won’t be able to address what fans of the genre will appreciate. Whilst this is true, I don’t think this is an opinion many will get mad at.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (Nintendo 3DS)
Developer: Intelligent Systems
I’ll cut to the chase after that rather irrelevant monologue above; Fire Emblem: Awakening is the reason that you, sitting there without a 3DS, need to go out and get one. Being a newcomer to the series and a stranger to the genre, I booted up the game with medium expectations, as whilst I thought I’d probably get a decent amount of enjoyment out of the game, it probably wasn’t going to set my world alight. First order of business was to create my avatar; a tallish red-mohawked man called “Hank”. This character, whilst central to the plot of the game, is not necessarily considered the main character. That duty falls upon Chrom, prince of the land of Ylisse and leader of its peacekeeping force, the “Shepherds“. Other major characters include Frederick, a duty bound knight of noble posture and utter dedication to his role in protecting Chrom and his sister, who acts as a healing character and, whilst somewhat falling into the loud yappy stereotype of “young girl written by Japanese game developers”, still manages to carry a lot of charm and not once was what many ignorant western gamers like myself would call “stoopid and annoyin'”. This handful of lead characters is but a tenth of the full roster, as in your journey, you will recruit around forty troops to your cause, all with distinct personalities and interwoven relationships. Possibly one of the most charming features of the game is the ability to have your characters engage in conversation with each other after their interactions on the battlefield (more on this shortly), thus allowing them to build friendships and work together better when dispatching enemies.
The plot is one that, as an outsider, felt very easy to engross myself in. With threats from foreign nations and an artefact known as the Fire Emblem being the main motivation behind these threats, Fire Emblem: Awakening tells an interesting story of war on several fronts against the demonic Risen, and against those who fight against a Ylisse with a dark and warmongering past. The narrative is largely told through small speech boxes (similar to a graphic novel in approach) as characters converse about their next actions and plans. It’s well written, not massively deep, but certainly is engrossing enough to keep the player highly entertained between battles.
The game is split up into around twenty-six chapters, with many side-chapters included which allow opportunities to recruit more troops. All chapters, even the side ones, never give the impression of being filler-sections. This is a game in which every battle feels relevant, important and thrilling, something most games (and for me, RPGS’s) fail to achieve.
As for the gameplay itself, I was pleasantly surprised at the ease of getting going, eventually learning all the intricate stats and configurations which would maximise my Shepherds. Almost everything levels; characters, their relationships, and even their weapons gain levels the more they are used. There is great fun to be had in trying out different match-ups of character teams.
You play from a birds-eye view, clicking characters and instructing them to move or attack desired squares. Their success is determined by how suitably they are armed to attack the target through a simple yet engrossing “rock-paper-scissors” setup, in which lances beat swords, swords beat axes, axes beat lances, archery and use of magic allows ranged attacks etc. Success is further enhanced by having a friendly character next to your attacking player, who will boost your attacking characters stats, offer additional protection and blocking, and might even throw in the odd retaliating strike if a friendly is attacked. Characters can also be tied together to occupy one square, meaning that two characters can attack and move together, and whilst one of the two will be put into more of a supporting role, this is a system which proves invaluable when need dictates.
In terms of difficulty, there are ultimately two sets of options. As well as the obligatory Easy/Hard mode, there is also Classic/Beginner mode, the former leading to permanent death of characters who fall in battle, the latter simply removing that character from that particular battle, ready to respawn for the next chapter. Whilst I did try the Hard and Classic modes and can fully appreciate them, I ended up sticking with an Easy/Beginner configuration (like a coward!) as I wanted to see these characters all the way through. Whilst many may scoff at this option and those who choose to use it, as well as sneer at the quick-saving options available, these proved invaluable in maximising my enjoyment of these characters, as well as meaning I could fit a quick five minutes of gaming in at work and not loose all my progress mid-battle.
In terms of visuals, Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of those rare games for which I frequently turned the 3D on. The frame-rate drop, if it’s there, is not noticeable, and with the games vibrant colours and detailed characters, it felt a shame to not enjoy the game the way the developers probably intended me to. A quick note on the audio; the short exclamations of the characters at the beginning of their written speech are a nice touch, helping to emote their conversations, whilst music choice and sound effects are adequate if not often superb.
In short, Fire Emblem: Awakening is the game which made me relinquish my mouse and keyboard and controllers for a full week whilst I was stuck at home sick, somehow making me go cold turkey on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and finally won me over to the idea that JRPG’s and Japanese games probably deserve more of my attention, if not just to keep an eye out for another gem such as this one.