Review by DarkHeroRaven

"The best game in this series thus far, and perhaps even of all time for me."

Hello, all! Welcome to my very first review ever, a review of Fire Emblem: Awakening.

I am a long-time fan of the Strategy RPG Fire Emblem series, and as such have come to expect a high degree of quality in the titles. I was let down by the Wii title Radiant Dawn as it had terrible pacing and a nonsensical plot, and the DS title Shadow Dragon for its overly faithful recreation of a now archaic game, as well as game design choices that are questionable at best. Killing your own army to access the bonus chapters is beyond ludicrous. Fortunately, the game succeeding Shadow Dragon, Shin Monshou no Nazo ~Hikari to Kage no Eiyuu~ (translated as New Mystery of the Emblem ~Heroes of Shadow and Light~) was a huge step up and a pleasure to play, though was sadly never released in the west. However, the game succeeding that is a game of epic proportions. Fire Emblem: Awakening. This thirteenth instalment in the Fire Emblem franchise follows the story of Chrom (JP: Krom), the Prince of a country called Ylisse (JP: Iris) as he defends his nation against the assault of the cultist neighbouring nation of Plegia (JP: Perezia). He commands his team, the Shepherds, to combat the Plegian forces and protect his kingdom from destruction with the aid of not only his close comrades, but also the combat-focused nation of Ferox (JP: Felia). I imported the Japanese version of this game mainly for lack of patience waiting for the English release. And boy do I not regret it.

The game itself features by far the most meaty combat system on any of the Fire Emblem titles to date, as well as an enormous and diverse cast, a gripping tale of friendship, love and trust, as well as a phenomenal, fully orchestrated score. As a result of all this, it has the most content of any game in the series, as well as bonus paid DLC maps to challenge in addition to the already meaty main game. Now that's all said and done, let's move on to the review itself.

Anyone who's played a Fire Emblem game before will recognise the core mechanics of Awakening. You move your individual units (blue units) across a grid-based map, engaging the enemy (red units) in combat in an attempt to whittle down the enemy's numbers, gain experience for your units and power them up, and eventually engage a boss to clear a map. Combat features four main weapons types: Swords, Axes, Lances and Bows, as well as Magic tomes and supportive staves. Each map constitutes one "chapter", and features cutscenes both at the beginning and end of each one. This is all standard fare for the Fire Emblem series, and has been since the very first game. However, Awakening features a massive new mechanic that really changes the way the whole game can be played: the Pair Up mechanic. Two units can be "paired up" on the battlefield, with one functioning as the "main" primary unit, and the other functioning as a "secondary" supporting unit. The main unit is the one to engage in battle and move around; the second unit will follow them and support them in battle, providing them with a statistical bonus as well as a chance to chip in during battle and either launch an attack of their own or shield the primary unit from attack. As the two units fight like this, their relationship will improve, and will eventually unlock "support conversations", in which they will converse, often sharing tidbits about their past or desires. With a huge number of conversations between all kinds of characters, this can lead to some very entertaining dialogue, as well as deep and complex characterisation. Furthermore, many opposite sex units can marry after a certain amount of support conversations, and will bear a child who will one day fight beside your army.

The game also features the ability to create your own custom unit known as your Avatar, with a customisable appearance, voice, name, birthday, stats and later on, even class! Your unit will play a major role in the story, and can marry virtually any unit in the game of the opposite sex, leading to a great amount of replayability. Due to the inclusion of the Second Seal item, you can change the class of any unit in the game once they've hit Level 10, with a specific selection of classes except for your Avatar, who can reclass to any class, except for Pegasus Knights and
Troubadours for males, and Barbarians and Fighters for females.

There are also various nods to other games in the series in the form of gameplay mechanics, including the split promotions from Sacred Stones, the world map like in Gaiden and Sacred Stones, as well as free Spotpass characters; units from past Fire Emblem games that will yield to you and join your team should you best them in combat... or pay a fee! ;) It is also possible to engage in optional skirmishes on the world map, in which you may fight extra battles unrelated to the story on previous maps you've already fought on in order to gain experience and items, making the journey ahead a little easier. It can also be a good resource for building your units' relationships and support levels.

However, the gameplay is not without its faults. I speak this for the difficulty level. The game features three main difficulties: Normal, Hard and Lunatic. There is also a bonus difficulty after beating Lunatic called Lunatic+, which is just Lunatic mode but enemies randomly get extremely powerful skills. Normal mode is not very difficult; though enemies later on in the game may put up some resistance, the game overall will not provide a tremendous challenge, and as such is best for a first run or a casual run. Hard mode is a modest step up, with a few more enemies here and there, improved enemy stats and reinforcements act as soon as they turn up. It's not immensely difficult, unlike something like Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword's Hector Hard Mode or Shadow Dragon's Merciless mode, but it puts up a good fight and shouldn't be taken too lightly. Lunatic, on the other hand, is GRUESOME. Right off the bat enemies will be slaughtering your units with little effort, and things only get worse. The step up from Hard mode is astounding, and it is here that I find fault. I truly feel there should have been and extra difficulty in between Hard and Lunatic. And considering the twelfth game, New Mystery of the Emblem, actually did feature this,
I can see no excuse why an extra difficulty between these two was omitted. No doubt it would've been very challenging, but still fair, whereas Lunatic simply feels like it's unfair, mainly due to the absurd jump in difficulty from Hard mode. If a difficulty had been included between them, it would feel a lot more fair, since you'd have had less of a difficulty spike to deal with, and therefore more time to adjust.

Overall, however, the gameplay is incredibly solid and enjoyable, and I will still score it a 10/10, as I don't feel the difficulty issue is really a gamebreaking thing. Just hard to adjust to.

Most Fire Emblem games have not featured graphics that particularly pushed their respective systems particularly hard. Awakening breaks this standard, with gorgeous maps, battle scenes and artwork. Every map is fantastically detailed, the character sprites on the map and cute and charming, and the battle models look pretty good, though they're probably the least visually appealing part of the game, with nonexistant feet and only fairly good texturing, though they are in no way bad. The portraits are of absolutely pristine quality, and are a pleasure to look at as well.
However, the true eye candy in the game lies in its CG cutscenes, which look absolutely splendid. You're treated to no less than FOUR of them before even beginning the Prologue map (including the opening title scene)! There are twelve of them in all, and not a single one isn't absolutely gorgeous. They really are a treat for the eye, and not a single one should be missed. Overall, I score the graphics a solid 9/10.

Even before playing the game, I had heard some of the tracks from the game. And even without knowing their context, they still blew me away.
Fire Emblem: Awakening features perhaps the best soundtrack in any game I've played before. Scene music always fits perfectly with the mood, be it happy or sad, and features a wide array of music to play for support conversations. Map themes vary between feeling adventurous and forboding, and rather than combat getting its own music, the map music becomes more intense, with percussion added into the mix while the battle scene plays. Certain chapter have their own special music due to story sequences, and these particular tracks are probably the best in the game, though I'd really rather not spoil that. You'll find out when you play it and get there. :P

It's difficult to talk about the music without linking to it, but I'd rather you find out the music for yourself when you play the game. =P Regardless, I score the score (get it?) a 10/10, without a doubt.

Characters and Story:
Though my Japanese is not quite good enough to understand the story in full depth, I understand enough to give a rough review of it. The story as a whole, while somewhat cliche, is well thought out and executed. I won't spoil anything, but it feels very coherent (which is something some games in the series lack somewhat...) and the overall tone is very serious and actually quite dark. The real strong point of the story is the characters, however. With a diverse cast of lovable characters, everyone will find a favourite. Not a single one of the characters feels dull or redundant, each with their own little quirks and twists, as well as being well designed (though some might disagree with me on that) and interesting. Uncovering their quirks and secrets through support conversations will no doubt be a fantastic treat for many.
Overall, I score the story and characters 9/10.
Awakening has not only provided a good means through which to practice my Japanese (not that that'll apply for the western release ;D ), it has also provided me with hours of entertainment, with its incredible replayability, vast amounts of content and splendid soundtrack. I recommend Awakening to any 3DS owner that enjoys a good story, lovable characters, great music and engaging gameplay. Assuming that is that you like SRPGs! ;D

Overall, I score Fire Emblem: Awakening a definite 10/10. I hope you enjoyed this review, and hope even more that you enjoy the game as much as I do!

Reviewer's Rating:   5.0 - Flawless

Originally Posted: 01/28/13

Game Release: Fire Emblem: Kakusei (JP, 04/19/12)

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