Tuesday, 2 September 2014

Fire Emblem Awakening Review



Before playing Fire Emblem Awakening, I had only played one Fire Emblem game, the Fire Emblem Awakening demo. Played on insane mode, that game so nearly had it all: challenge, the ecstasy of success, the agony of defeat, a sense of accomplishment and heart in mouth moments of pure tension. All it lacked was more than two levels and a save function and so eventually I had to buy the real deal. Let me tell you, if you liked the Fire Emblem Awakening demo, you'll love Fire Emblem Awakening!

After a confusing vision of a possible future the game begins in the Halidom (?) of Ylisse. A mysterious person called Al Pacino (or whatever you chose to call them) awakens in a field with no memories (by which I mean Al Pacino has no memories, as a rule you can assume a field has no memories) and is greeted by Prince Chrom, who almost immediately welcomes him into his army, the Shepherds, as their tactician, as Al Pacino shows quite the aptitude for strategy. They soon encounter enemies from the neighbouring country of Plegia as well as the Risen, a mysterious, zombie-like foe. Throughout the story they encounter a masked gentleman (no not that one) called Marth, who if the mask wasn't a giveaway, has some secrets.
Throughout the story, more members join your ranks, and these distinct characters provide the key difference between the Fire Emblem series and its sister series Advance Wars. These characters are the actual units you'll lead into battle, no forgettable mooks under your command here (except Kellam!1)! Each character belongs to a different class (eg healer type roles, axe guy, mounted archer) and has a wide host of stats that are improved with experience. Once they reach a certain level, they can be upgraded to a different class with different weapons available, which keeps things varied. As you may be aware, on classic mode, if a character is defeated in battle, they can never be used in battle again, unless you restart (with the exceptions of Chrom and Al Pacino who when they die pack up their toys and leave you at the game over screen). However, some characters are necessary for plot reasons later on, so they simply retire forever rather than die, which kind of robs it of the impact, but then again, it may be asking too much of the game to have scenarios and cutscenes prepared for every combination of dead allies.
It's been four hundred words, so I should probably mention the game is a turn based strategy one in which you're presented with a grid on which your units can move and must defeat all the enemies or in some cases just their commanders. Weapons obtained from fallen enemies, special spots on the map, or purchased from merchants on the world map can be equipped to applicable units. The weapons follow a simple rock paper scissors formula: lances beat swords which beat axes which beat lances. A similar triangle exists for spells but in practice I found this one harder to make use of. In addition, certain weapons are effective against certain types of units for example the Beast Killer lance makes short work of enemies on horseback (as well as Kelsey Grammer and Nicholas Hoult) and wind spells are lethal against flying enemies. Units also have particular skills that are unlocked as they level up for example increased likelihood of double attacks. This level of complexity makes picking the right team to cut through the combination of enemies you face all the more satisfying, however this leads into one of my major complaints about the game. While it's easy to remember details about your allies, identifying what type of weapons your enemies wield gets trickier to do by sight as the game goes on. This means you must hover over every enemy in turn to find out who's got what.
The other major difference between this game and Advance Wars and as far as I know all previous Fire Emblem games is the ability of units to partner up during battles for stat boosts and the occasional double attack. Units that are paired up frequently develop stronger relationships and make a more effective team; this can be done either by partnering up units so that they occupy a single square or by placing units on adjoining squares. This second rule can sometimes allow the most well liked units to provide to support to multiple allies if you’re canny/desperate. The stronger relationships are also represented by support conversations, dialogues between units. Without wishing to spoil the surprise, the relationships between some units can become quite complex. The writing in this game is generally quite good and sometimes very entertaining. That said some of the support conversations can be dull and predictable, and most characters, most notably Chrom with his damn friendships speeches, are prone to grand monologues on what are intended to be serious topics that come across as unrealistic.

"I'm the Prince of the Halidom of Ylisse"

Another frustrating thing about the dialogue, that is most noticeable in the support conversations (which the game has no control over at what time you’ll get to see them, which means they have to be general enough to fit in anywhere) is the characters odd inability to focus on what are obviously the big issues of the plot. Al Pacino’s amnesia is barely mentioned and more gallingly, a new character introduced in chapter thirteen whose very existence poses questions to which even the most conservative answers are bombshells is hardly discussed. One of the reasons I liked the character of Marth in this game so much is that they seem to be the only one with their eyes on their big picture.

Staying with problems, another one is the lack of restart button. Playing on classic mode, most players will be eager to keep everyone alive, which means they have to restart anytime a character dies. To do this, you must start the game up again. This is frustrating and I suspect the lack of a quick restart is supposed to encourage you to play well or live with your mistakes, but damn it, that’s just not how I play games. Another issue is that in practice, the most effective strategy in most cases is to not attack on your turns, but wait for the enemy to come to you which doesn’t feel all that adventurous.
But in spite of these issues, Fire Emblem Awakening is still a fantastic addictive game for those who like turn based combat. I would definitely recommend that anyone who enjoyed the demo buy the real thing.

9/10


1: Good luck getting that joke people who are reading this review to see if they should buy the game.

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