System: Nintendo 3DS
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Hard-core strategy RPGs are a niche market. To anyone looking in from the outside, they can be extremely daunting. The Fire Emblem series is one of the toughest, most brutal that you can find. Its dedicated fans make up a small number of the world’s gaming population and with this instalment Nintendo have truly opened the front door so that everybody else can come inside and take a look. Taking what the Fire Emblem faithful love, making this accessible to the rest of us and at the same time not losing any of the depth and nuance that those who have been there from the start crave, Intelligent Systems have created one of the best portable strategy games of all time.
The gameplay is what you would expect of a turn based strategy, you choose your units to take into battle, equip their gear and set them up ready for battle. Move your units around the board, and like a game of chess, use your tactical prowess to overcome the enemy and minimize your own casualties. Sounds complicated to those not familiar with the genre, however the genius behind this little gem lies in the fact that it’s accessible by everyone. Each unit has the ability to equip items,
magic and weapons to improve their powers. The simple menu systems help you decide what will improve your soldiers and decide on who takes what into which battle.
Now although I keep mentioning words like ‘simple’ and ‘accessible’, there is a remarkable amount of depth to this game. As with classic Fire Emblem, once one of your many recruits you’ll pick up on your journey dies, they are permanently out of the game. Dead, gone, never to be seen again. In Fire Emblem Awakening, this is known as classic mode. For beginners, you can switch to normal mode, where you get to effectively revive fallen allies. This can affect the story greatly, which by the way is fantastic.
You create your avatar at the beginning; decide on your class, voice, looks and personality. Then follows your usual wake up with amnesia story. Your then introduced to Chrom, Prince of the kingdom of Ylisse, who asks you help him fight off some Risen, demonic undead hordes that have begun to appear over the land. Mixed with a war between two kingdoms and ever twisting plot full of betrayal and murder that almost rivals Game of Thrones, the story is one hell of a rollercoaster.
But what also makes this intriguing is the relationship system within the game. Characters in your army will fall in love, get married, fall out and give each other a helping hand throughout. You can influence this or let it ride as much as you want. I found this highly entertaining and this added hugely to how I felt about the characters in-game, so much that I genuinely felt sad when a character who was in a relationship.
The last thing I’ll touch on is the sheer depth and customisation that appears around every corner. Cosmetic changes from to do with the menus, Japanese or English voices (and text if you want it!), first or third person view for the battle animations, how quickly those animations play, levels of zoom, battle outcomes, stats the list goes on. Some of the gameplay systems I’ve barely even go into such as the special power system and even the weapon creation tools. For a company like Nintendo that doesn’t normally give you a huge amount of choice, Fire Emblem Awakening is fantastic.
I can’t recommend this game enough, the story and character progression is fantastic, you really feel for your troops when tragedy strikes. Gameplay is tight and has you planning ten steps ahead in order to avoid losing anyone. Customisation is packed in tightly and for a game that is so beginner friendly, there is a ridiculous amount of depth beneath the surface. I’ve completed my normal play through in almost 30 hours, and still have hard and lunatic difficulties to go. If you have a 3DS you need to pick this up.