There's a first time for everything - and a fourth. Fire Emblem: Awakening is - of the four out or five Fire Emblems I've ever touched - the first game in the series I've played to completion. I have a spotty history with strategy RPGs and in my 30ish years of gaming this would be the fourth SPRG I've ever bothered to complete. The others were Disgaea: Hour of Darkness, Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor and Onimusha Tactics (shut up). I may have also finished La Pucelle Tactics, but my memory is fuzzy on that one, so I'm not counting it.
I've owned lots of other strategy RPGs, but usually lost interest before making it halfway through. Each SRPG I completed, though, seemed to have a more compelling hook. What Fire Emblem; Awakening has in a fairly basic story and similar gameplay to its predecessors, it differs in having deeper character charm, more engaging combat, more freedom on the world map and the whole marriage/parent/chiid aspect in its favor. Add to this the difficulty settings and ability to have permadeath turned on or off for the experience and this is an game open to anyone interested in the genre and especially those looking to find a place to start.
Making the world map more open to exploration and being able to have additional encounters that either randomly spawn or are force-spawned via items (in addition to the available DLC) ensures there plenty of opportunities to level up your characters. Additionally, this Fire Emblem entry doesn't leave the usual (and tempting) trap of using a paladin as bait and then having him or her inadvertently soak up too much EXP at the expense of more fragile units. In Awakening, there's always a chance for the little guys to get a fair chance at leveling up so they, too, can become more potent and awesome. Even units like Donnel or Olivia, who start out as weaklings, can grow into something amazing with time and effort.
Pairing up characters or setting them adjacent to other characters on the map, however, can help protect the weaker characters by either putting them in a backline position or stat buffs for being near someone else. Having characters work in close proximity also helps develop their social bonds, which can be ranked up as the story progresses in the Support menu. Each relationship has its own story arch and if male and female characters reach rank S, they'll marry and have children.
Adding the marriage and child mechanic does add another layer of having these characters endear to the player, as it gives each parent character a secondary story arch beyond building strong friendships or romances. This relationship system as a while is what makes the permadeath of the series sting so hard and it helps encourage you not to send your pegasus knight out in front of an army of archers.
In my last blog I detailed the characters I lost and ended the game with only those three character losses, which was a little sad. Sumia looked to be slated as Chrom's canon love interest and her clumsy nature made her a bit of an underdog. She always managed to fall flat on her face whenever Chrom was near and I think anyone knows the agony of feeling when it happens around someone they're infatuated with. Intelligent Systems found a way to make you want to root for each of these characters and with a cast as large as Fire Emblem: Awakening's is, that's something to be applauded.
The ability to repeat maps and pair-up units more closely does bring the average difficulty of Normal mode down a bit just based off my prior Fire Emblem experiences, but then, sending your axe-weilders up against a group of swordsmen remains a bad idea due to the weapons triangle still being so effective - at least for characters that use melee weapons. I found mage classes can really be abused. Let's just say Tharja isn't just sexy, scantly clad woman full of dark, sadistic humor - she's a damage dealing monster. Her magic is not to be trifled with.
From her starter class, dark mage, to taking her through Sorcerer and later Dark Knight, Tharja became my #2 ranked damage dealer when the credits rolled and my surviving characters got rated. My tactician, Nia, got the gold, Thajra a silver and Miriel just barely edged out Lon'qu to pick up the Bronze ranking. Morgan and Lucina were hot on Lon'qu's heels, too. This isn't to say melee characters aren't powerful, though, if using melee character is your preference its still an extremely valid option. Myrmidons still kill the hell out of everything imaginable.
A feature I really enjoyed with this entry were the Streetpass battles. A lot of 3DS games have struggled to make Streetpass feel worthwhile, even offering "battles" with other players with figurines taking on RPG-like stats and automate thwacking each other until you see who wins. Fire Emblem manages to bring this concept to life on its own terms rather than the gimmickry of other games - by letting you challenge the actual Tactician of another player's creation and his or her own parallel version of Chrom's Shepards. Just streetpass someone and they'll later appear on your world map to be challenged like any othe enemy army in the game. Additionally, if victorious, the streetpassed Tactician can be recruited and leveled up to your liking as part of your army (though they do get exempted from some of the other gameplay features, such as relationships).
That's just a simple, fun and great way to generate more content on top of the free Spotpass DLC and paid DLC. More games should think beyond the gimmickry and apply Streetpass to actual gameplay as this game has. If Pokemon X/Y doesn't generate additional trainer battles like this, I'll be amazed. That could be really cool.
Upon completing the game, additional features were unlocked, Theater Mode obviously lets you see the games rather impressive anime cutscenes again, you can relive support conversations in the unlocked Support log and a host of great soundtrack clips, including some really awesome arranged versions (tagged "Ablaze") are unlocked with the Unit Gallery.
Another great addition was that all your street pass encounters and your Tactician for your playthrough are added to a compendium to be hired in future playthroughs of the game. You never have to lose that Tactician, other Streetpass tacticians or the Einherjar you worked so hard to collect and that's just a great way to encourage replay value.
I guess my only nitpicks, then, are the lack of online multiplayer and that this is the first Fire Emblem I played with no Fog of War maps to speak of. Not that that's too much of a complaint (I hate Fog of War maps), but the game does lose a little bit of an edge for not having them. Fog of War maps do have a way of testing your mettle in ways other maps just don't.
That said, with Fire Emblem Awakening complete, I'm hoping to make a run through The Sacred Stones and Shadow Dragon as my quest toward Shin Megami Tensei X Fire Emblem continues. Awakening was a great place to start this journey and I look forward to seeing Chrom and his friends when they meet up with those SMT folks.view gallery