Games are such a joy to our world, and they grace us in huge magnitudes. For so many of them out there, the opinion a gamer has towards answering the largest question in the industry is dizzying: which one is the best? It's such a loaded question, isn't it? The interpretation can be taken as from a technical aspect, an artistic view, perhaps even strictly based on the themes and beliefs displayed. Any way you slice it, if you asked a million gamers what their favorite games were (and further, why) you would receive a million different responses in their own forms. Picking an individual game requires you to feel strong enough about it to place it on a pedestal higher than all others, if not only for a short time.
There's a slippery slope with selecting favorites though. Saying things like “This game will always be my all time favorite” feels a bit ignorant, doesn't it? In one way, you're saying all of the games in existence now and forever will never surpass the one work. This includes ones you might not have discovered yet, from genres you might not have taken a taste to yet. For all of those reasons, it's beautiful to see someone stick up for games like that. As a rather indecisive individual, I could never solo out one game, so I find myself laughing at all my memories with games and smiling at the gems I've discovered. I won't ever get to call one game ultimate out of curiosity for the field, but that doesn't mean there shouldn't be that level of passion written about every single game worthy of praise.
I wanted my first go at this to be a game that really moved me in such a beautiful way. It's the kind of game that when you start to explain it to someone, you just stop and babble and smile from all the wonderful things you want to say about it. I'm a firm believer that this work changed me in ways I wasn't expecting, at least from a creative standpoint. If I have a bad day, more times than not I go read about or pick up and play this game. Without further adieu ladies and gentlemen, I give you Fire Emblem: Awakening.
It's interesting enough to know that my love for this game actually laid dormant for nearly an entire decade, or I suppose it would be more accurate to say that my love for the actual franchise as a whole did. Back in 2005, my mother was doing some last minute shopping for a trip to see some family and decided it would be a wonderful little surprise to treat me to a game to play for the car ride and down time on the visit. She went to our local game rental shop and recognized a title that I had mentioned to her before that I had not gotten my tiny, game hungry hands on yet. With game in tote, she triumphantly embarked back to our home to surprised me. One tiny oversight she made would help shape how I viewed video games for my entire life.
“Honey, what do you have to play for our trip?” My mother asked me, pretending not to notice my book bag being stuffed full of my entire handheld library I assembled the previous few years.
“Oh....nothing really.” I lied like the child I was at the time.
“Well, I have something you might like!” My mom smiled.
“You shouldn't have mom, thanks so much!” I grasped the generic DVD case from the store like a hunter catching the daily meal.
Knowing how much of a spoiled youngest child I was back then, I would pay to go back and see the face I made when I opened up that case to see a game that wasn't Pokemon FireRed edition. Oh, my mother got me Fire something alright. What she had thoughtfully got her spoiled little brat was Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. If you have ever heard of the franchise, it would be common knowledge these games are brutally unforgiving. Like a wild mare, these would knock you straight on your rear end if you did even the slightest thing wrong. I was the cocky kind of kid who thought that because I was playing Jackie Chan Adventures that it meant I was really good at video games and I was never truly challenged on the matter, either.
You can already see where this is going, can't you? Keep smiling, it gets better.
That evening after the long car ride and getting settled in to our relative's place, my mother came to check on me before we went out to dinner. I can only imagine when she entered my room she saw the equivalent of the scene in 300 where Xerxes, the “invincible” king of Persia, bled from a spear thrown by Gerald Butl- I mean King Leonidas. That little Gameboy Advance cartridge was the defiant king destroying everything I knew.
My brother came into the room and took the game from me and sat down with it for about an hour without saying a word to anyone else. When we all went out to eat for dinner, I was still sulking and staring at my full plate of food sickeningly. I can never know if the game did the same thing to him, or if he really did enjoy his time with it, but what my brother told me would be forgotten until the last year or so.
“Hey, that game was awesome. It's just a little too grown up for you right now.” He laughed at me.
I don't have the best memory of my childhood, but I remember a fight breaking out over that and the eventual pouting from me that would ensue as a result.
As for Awakening, I had forgotten almost everything about that summer until I started up the game this previous summer (funny how the title would create just that in me). I saw it online and suddenly remembered my brother's facetious comments. Being a much more mature individual almost a whole decade later, I was fascinated with the title. Enough backstory though, let's get into the real important thing: what's best about this game.
Right off the bat, you can see just how extremely well written this game is. You're engrossed in a beautifully crafted world just overflowing with it's own level of prestige. The narrative is just stunning; it takes the most cliché thing anyone could dream up (amnesia) and runs with it like it wasn't even an old trope. Tension is well described between neighboring peoples, war shifts location over the period of time(s) the game covers. The more you play Awakening, the more you get out of it. It's like a piece of art; everyone who were to interpret it from their experience would give you a different answer. The game supplements this brilliantly, as the many factors you contribute to the ever-changing world take affect and produce an end product that (more than likely) will not be the same to any two people. It isn't just aesthetics either, as everything from developed motives in characters to endings for each and every character you come across changes based on your decisions.
Being a tactical strategy role-playing game, one would expect some crushing odds with limited options available on par with the genre. What you get instead is quite the opposite; the game let's you make the difficulty however you want it to be depending on your strategy. Fire Emblem is so well known for the permanent kill off of fallen units, and it really weighs heavy on new players of the series when factoring whether or not to keep this feature in. Smartly, there is an option to turn this off (although series diehards weren't exactly thrilled with this move) so that newcomers may learn the unique system and what works for them. Unit growth is incredibly flexible for everyone you take on through your journey and you can change various roles for the characters. Someone who might have been on horseback before could be casting spells from their many tomes or shooting a bow and arrow the next decision. Different maps mandate different lineups, and you can tailor a very precise plan.
Character chemistry means everything in this game; you are rewarded for building relationships with not only better statistics for characters together, but also from amazing stories told between their relationships. Personalities are ever further developed to minute details, and it makes things like permanent death absolutely heartbreaking. I spent hours doing entire maps just to restart the level because my beloved members were killed at the very last moment (here's looking at you, Ricken). You'll become so engrossed in the various units that it will become so challenging just to pick between a few that you like. The plot thickens when you have to decide whom to marry. Pair ups all have their benefits over time, with the ultimate deciding factor for some: children's skills.
That's right! Children! A very underrated aspect of this game has to be just how important it places the bonds between parent and child generations. I have written in an old blog that Lucina carried the burden of a doomed world that brutally murdered everything she knew; this is true for each and every one of the fighting children of the doomed future of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Of the thirty parent generation units, there are thirteen children that desperately fight to salvage what's left of their world. Some of them aspire to be like their parents, while some even live in spite of them. The customization in the children trickles down all the way from the abilities and classes of the parents to their very appearance. Some might retain the hair color of their mother or father depending on whom parents them. The children will have different siblings and extended family, and this is really where he uniqueness of your own play-through differs from another's. Take Morgan, the Avatar's (AKA Robin as the generic name/Smash name) child for example. You can change the class of one parent to affect the child's class, but it also leaves the possibility of overall appearance wide open as everyone's Avatar is going to look different than the last. Morgan might have any color hair and class combination in the game. No two Morgans would ever be the same (and if they were it wouldn't be very likely unless identical decisions were made).
A common gripe with this game is how there is over $50 USD worth of DLC content for purchase, but if you really think about how massive the game is, this should a celebratory option (it's not like it's HORSE ARMOR or NEW COLOR SCHEME either). Everything from a glimpse of the doomed future, challenges, or even some oh-so-lovely (albeit guilty pleasure) fan service is available. It's a hard pitch to swallow up all of it, but I recommend it highly if you're looking for a challenge or new content to the already amazing load of content. There's also a blistering amount of free DLC available through the 3DS' Spotpass feature. Challenge maps, items, and only multiplayer battles all feel pretty rudimentary to online features, but there is so much more love found here. There are six (SIX!) free characters whom are fully animated and voiced with their own stories and relationships. It seems odd that they would be free after the plethora of DLC, but who is complaining? What is truly a testament to how passionate the makers of this game is how huge of a love letter they wrote to their fans by adding the ten most iconic characters from every Fire Emblem game. After you add them all, there are one hundred and twenty characters for free added, not including the six Spotpass characters. If you were to add all of the units you could obtain without the paid DLC together, there is a grand total of one hundred and sixty nine characters you can use and battle with in this game, all for free.
When it's all said and done, the credits role on this gripping game full of gut wrenching decisions with your beloved characters and it will leave not only a satisfaction of your story you crafted, but also a hunger to play it again for a whole new journey. This is the kind of game you played make-believe with back when you were out at recess as a kid; you had all of those characters thought up and went on an exciting adventure over and over again. This game never loses its' charm, and it never really loses its' appeal because of this. You can set it down after a play-through and come back a few months later and be on a whole new game with whole new challenges and things to explore and people to meet. It's the kind of experience you have that makes you set down the game and think about your own life and about how one day your children will look to you and what you leave for them. In it's own way it made me excited to raise (an) outstanding individual(s).
Anyways, that's the first installment of my new passion project I'm working on with some creative input from my cousin Rachel (AKA The Nintendette). The two of us are going to combine our efforts to bring some really special gaming videos on a channel sometime soon (I want to get a capture card so I can get some source material to go with my narration). This is my nest egg for my contribution to our ideas. There are so many games I could go on for hours about giving cases for why they could be my all time favorite game and I fully intend on leaving no stone unturned with it now that I have gotten a lot off of my plate that I have had this past year or so.
I don't say this enough, so thank you so much for reading and I hope you have an outstanding day (week, month, year etc)!