One thing that has historically kept me on the outside of the strategy RPG fandom has been the genre’s notorious inaccessibility. Game’s are often punishingly difficult and will not allow any playstyle that isn’t meticulously tedious in it’s micromanagement. The Fire Emblem series is no stranger to this. I’ve never been able to play a game in the series past the first few hours due to frustration. It’s a wonder then that I fell so much in love with the most recent entry in the series, Awakening.
Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Developed by Intelligent Systems – Published by Nintendo
Let’s just get this out of the way: Casual mode is the best addition to Fire Emblem. purists will decry me for heresy, but the perma-death aspect of the series runs counter to it’s gameplay. In place of constantly restarting missions for fear of losing a key member, Casual mode actually promotes more risky, unconventional, but ultimately more rewarding strategies that no one would have attempted had their been the fear of losing your favorite character.
But really, it just comes down to making the game just slightly less punishingly difficult to sink your teeth in if you haven’t played obscure Japanese SRPGs for your entire lifespan. Still, for the people who want that intense difficulty, it’s still there. The game still has a fairly high difficulty level, even on Normal, and it only goes up from there one you hit the middle of the game. Classic mode is always there, as well as 3 different difficulty modes, so if you want to play it just like the countless other Fire Emblem games never released in the West, you still can.
As for the actual gameplay, it’s Fire Emblem. If you’ve played a single Intelligent Systems strategy game before, you know what you’re getting into. Combat revolves around a system of rock-paper-scissors-esque advantages and disadvantages and require bringing the right people to the right fight. You can micromanage your followers as much or as little as you please, right down to who they marry. That’s right, Awakening is the ultimate shipping game, where any one character can be paired up with pretty much anyone else on the other side of the gender line. Sadly, gay options are lacking, but I don’t think anyone was expecting Nintendo to pull the trigger on that.
Story-wise, it’s pretty bog-standard. The game starts with you creating your character and then joining a band of fighters led by one Prince Chrom. Throughout it’s narrative, your only motivation at any one time is that someone is attacking my country and that’s not good. Beyond some interesting stuff involving time-travel, the story can be mostly ignored, as you won’t be missing much.
However, making up for the sub-par narrative is the superb music and art. The soundtrack is pretty standard as far as RPG scores go, but that doesn’t dispute it’s beauty. SImilarly, the new art style is fantastic. Moving away from the more European character design of previous games, Awakening adopts a psuedo-Japanimation art style. Most notably, the 3D CGI cutscenes still manage to preserve that art style and make it seem as if it was hand animated. Just like Ni No Kuni, Fire Emblem: Awakening is just another example of the growing perfection of cel-shading.
At the end of the day, people may decry the changes Intelligent Systems made to the series formula. However, I’m inclined to think that the game changed for the better. Unlike recent revamps of classic game series (I’m looking at you, Resident Evil 6), Intelligent Systems knew what specifically to change and update whilst still preserving what made the series so popular in the first place. As someone who the game most heavily targeted, a dumb American with almost no experience with SRPGs, I can say with certainty that they succeeded where others have failed.