Review by _pigzigaccount5
"The greatest SRPG ever made? It might well be."
At the time of writing, Fire Emblem Kakusei (Fire Emblem: Awakening in English countries) is only available in Japan, so this will be a review of the Japanese version. This review should be spoiler free. Although this game is the latest in a long line of SRPGs going back to the NES, it is the first entry on the 3ds console. The series has been well liked for it's characters and story, although the strategy gameplay is also quite deep in itself.
Somehow Nintendo and Intelligent Systems have managed to one up even the console Fire Emblems in the graphics department. While the character models are not done in a realistic style and this likely helps with the rendering, you could easily be fooled into thinking this was a Wii title. In many cases it does surpass what you see on the Wii today. And the graphics are not just impressive from a technical perspective either, there are some gorgeous settings and backdrops. If you've played Fire Emblem before and expect to see more of the same castles and plains, well, think again. Many tilesets are used only for a single mission and then never again, so the game rarely feels jaded. The 3d effect is also used very well, when you turn the 3d on you will sometimes see birds flying above the confinements of the screen, and clouds passing overhead. It feels like the world is right there in front of you and at some points I could swear I could smell it even. Yes, it is really that good. Out of all the games I have played on the 3ds so far, this is the overall winner in the graphics department because it combines great use of 3d with technical power and has solid art direction to boot.
Music and Sounds: 10
Fire Emblem Kakusei is the first game in the series to include voice acting to such a large degree. And the voice work is well done. While the game is not voiced completely there is a large amount of spoken dialogue throughout the game. This adds more personality to the characters than what we have previously seen in Fire Emblem. The voice acting shines the most in battle scenes, characters will yell short sayings to support each other and before they attack the enemy, making for more emotionally charged fight scenes. However, this review was done with the Japanese game so it is unknown how well the voices will translate to English. At any rate, the biggest triumph is the musical score, which rivals Nintendo's best works and may even put Zelda to shame, though that depends on your opinion. Only after checking online did I find out the music is not orchestrated, you would be fooled into thinking otherwise; it is nothing short of fantastic. The music switches to a more heated version of the same song when you enter a battle scene, which adds a dynamic aspect to the soundtrack also.
Characters and Story: 10
The last major Fire Emblem game, Radiant Dawn, had a story that felt slightly disconnected and some events did not relate very much to the main storyline. Fortunately Fire Emblem Kakusei has none of these problems at all. I wonder if Nintendo/Intelligent Systems listened closely to fan feedback of Radiant Dawn, as this game is almost the exact opposite, everything in the story ties together and a major theme throughout the game is in fact the 'ties' between the characters. The story is very well done, it is perhaps a bit more fantastical than other Fire Emblems, which usually have a 'realistic' feel to them, though the story manages to stay believable throughout. What makes the story truly memorable though is the characters. Fire Emblem is known for having a large cast of developed characters and this game is no exception. But in this Fire Emblem game, there is more dialogue than ever before. As well as main story events, characters can have discussions with other characters in 'support conversations'. You can view these from the menu when they become available. In previous games these conversations were more limited, requiring multiple play throughs to see them all. And in Radiant Dawn they were watered down and made much shorter. But in Fire Emblem Kakusei they are back in all their glory and you can see the majority of them in one play through. When characters have these support conversations they build relationships with each other and this helps during battle. The relationships you build between the characters have a major effect on the story as well and can open up side chapters to play.
Fire Emblem is a traditional turn based strategy game, where you control your units in an overhead view on a grid style map. You move your units around and when you choose to attack an enemy the game switches a battle view and you will watch an animation of the units doing combat. Units gain experience from battle and level up like in other RPGs. New in Fire Emblem Kakusei is the 'casual mode' where your units will not die permanently when they are defeated, but you still have the option of playing 'classic' which incorporates the series signature permanent death. This game includes a number of new mechanics as well. Units are able to team up in pairs in a feature called 'double'. This system adds a new level of depth to the strategic element of the game, you can take a weak unit and team them up with a strong unit to help them defeat enemies and level up easier. Units that are next to each other on the map will sometimes help each other automatically as well. Unlike many other entries in the series there is also an overworld you can move about on. There you can shop, engage in side chapters, battle random enemies that appear or play downloadable content. Old time fans may worry the extras on the overworld will make the game too easy, fortunately the amount of 'random battles' you can engage in are limited and the game is very well balanced. The downloadable content can be replayed infinitely however. The only notable issue with the gameplay is in the class change system. In most Fire Emblem games the characters have only one class, and when they are strong enough you can promote them into a similar class that is more powerful. In Fire Emblem Kakusei you can change the characters into completely different classes at the cost of a special item. Most units have around 2 extra class options. The issue is that in order for the characters to be their absolute strongest you have to level them in other classes. By leveling them in other classes they will gain new skills from those classes that they would otherwise miss out on if kept in the same class. In this way the game may feel like it is trying to force you to class change, which can be annoying if you like the way your army functions already. This is still optional however and not really a 'flaw', rather it is just the direction they chose for this game. In total Fire Emblem Kakusei took me approximately 68 hours to beat the first time, including having to restart when I died. However, I am slow at reading Japanese so your time will likely be shorter.
Not only is the game just that good enough to play through multiple times, but depending on the characters you use and how their relationships develop, each playthrough can be different. If that is not enough, there is multiple difficulty settings, downloadable content and spotpass content. I would actually say Nintendo/Intelligent Systems have gone overboard with extra content, they could have made another game with these assets! But who's going to complain about extra content?
Nintendo/Intelligent Systems have really outdone themselves with this game. After having so many entries in the series and the lackluster 'Shadow Dragon' remake recently, you might have thought Fire Emblem had reached it's peak. This game proves otherwise. Fire Emblem Kakusei gives glory to one of the longest standing quality series in gaming. It's not only stands among the best in the series, it stands among the best strategy roleplaying games ever and is a truly memorable experience and killer app for the 3DS. Fans of the series or any interested 3ds owner that likes strategy can look forward to a treat when the game releases in English.
The original review ended above. Although still undoubtedly one of the top games on the system, looking back on it after a number of years, some of the flaws are more apparent. This review was written when my impression was still quite fresh, and looking back I feel the good aspects of the game, like the music and graphics, were keeping me from seeing some of the flaws. I originally played on hard, and after the original review I gave Lunatic(the hardest mode) a shot. I found the difficulty poorly tuned there. The game has a number of options that change the difficulty and it's fair to say they couldn't balance .
There has also been a large amount of downloadable content added to the game. As previously mentioned, they probably went overboard. Some of the DLC is in arguably poor taste. For example, one map has the characters in bathing suits, and another is entirely about the characters having conversations with homosexual undertones. The DLC did not concern me upon writing this review initially, but having played it now, my impression is almost entirely negative. New side-story missions were also added and I feel these cheapened important events in the main story. The exact details are spoilers but it's fair to say that some major story events aren't as meaningful if these missions are canon.
Although I originally tried to avoid dropping any plot details, it's no secret by now that time travel is involved in the main story and DLC. In retrospect, some of it is a bit silly. I am no longer willing to overlook all the time travel silliness, especially when so much of it is in the name of fanservice.
Overall still a great game, but for these reasons, I've decided to lower the score to a 9. My recommendation is also that you avoid the DLC.
Reviewer's Score: 9/10 | Originally Posted: 07/30/12, Updated 07/02/14
Game Release: Fire Emblem: Kakusei (JP, 04/19/12)
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