Review by azn_boy150

"A more "critical" look at Fire Emblem: Awakening."

Introduction

This is actually the final version of this review, excluding any revisions due to spelling or grammatical errors. Originally, I had planned on doing this final revision after all the DLC had been released so I could dedicate a section to them. But by this point, I'm no longer interested in this and I don't even want to play the DLC. Why all the revisions? Because I thought I was too hasty with the first, being only a week after the game's release and too heavily influenced by all the excitement. I was satisfied with the second as far as what my attitude towards the game was at that point, but I felt that it was missing a lot of things, hence the third version. This final revision is being written because it was politely brought to my attention that the last revision was in dire need of some trimming. As with the previous renditions, I feel it is necessary to put up a disclaimer in the beginning.

This “review” is going to be more of a criticism; as if the bloody title wasn't enough of a hint. So if you think I'm being too harsh on the game, that's why. But more importantly, I feel it's necessary that I point out that what I will be saying in this are my opinions, so if I say something you don't agree with, don't get your knickers in a twist.

With the disclaimer out of the way, let's get on with talking about the actual game; starting off with a bit of back story about this game and the series. Fire Emblem: Awakening is the thirteenth edition in the Fire Emblem series; an SRPG series revolving around moving your characters on a grid map, recruiting new characters into your army, and permanently losing any that die in battle. Well, sort of. Since the twelfth edition in the series, a new, more casual mode has been added to the series where defeated allies come back, called “Casual.” Yeah, brilliant name right? Well that's probably enough for an intro, so on to the next section!

Story

As far as the plot goes, you are the companion of a prince, and it's divided into three arcs. It's like the developers had ideas for three stories, but instead of picking one to focus on, they tried to shove all three into the game. Without any spoilers, the first part of the game, deals with you, the main character and this game's “Lord” character, Chrom, fighting in a war against the neighboring land called Plegia. Out of the three, this arc probably had the most potential. There's actually some pretty good motivation going on, with the antagonistic Plegia basically bullying Ylisse to war. By the way, since I hadn't said it before, you're fighting for Ylisse. The king of Plegia, Gangrel, has a grudge against Ylisse due to some things that happened in the past. Now he's an evil vindictive scumbag who pretty much just has a big sign on his face that says “hate me!” The problem is, that that's pretty much all he is. He really lacked depth and complexity. I get that some villains' appeal to players is that they're so evil and irredeemable that you want to kill them, but that's not what Gangrel is. Or at the very least, he could've been more. He's the ruler of a nation that was wronged by the previous ruler of Ylisse. He had a reason for hating Ylisse. But he just comes off as a jerk and ends up as a caricature of hatred, instead of being a villain who the player can sympathize with, and ends up as unrealized potential.

Eventually all that gets sorted out, and then you're thrown into the next story arc. This time it's against the empire Valm. In this, your ally Regna Ferox requests for help when Valm starts to attack them. Valm's emperor, Walhart, is set on conquering the world. Basically, he's a Saturday morning cartoon villain. He has a reason, but I can't talk about it due to spoilers, but I can say that it comes off as insincere. He could've easily accomplished the same thing had he joined up with you and Chrom, but his desire to conquer is apparently more important to him. Well due to his own stupidity, he gets defeated by Chrom and his army.

Then, with a transition as smooth as sandpaper, we're thrown into the final arc. This is it; the climax of this story. Everything is at stake and it's all or nothing against the mastermind of this whole story. So clearly he must be a very well written character right? Wrong! Again, due to spoilers, I can't say his name, but I will say that he is completely boring! He's the leader of a cult that's trying to resurrect a monster. That's it. That's all there is to his character. Okay, there's another aspect about him that involves you, the main character, but it's so random and cliche that it seems more like a parody than anything. In the end, the monster gets resurrected, and the heroes heroically defeat it. Oh yeah, like that's a spoiler. The good guys won! What a twist!

All throughout the story, there are plot holes, unanswered questions, and deus ex machina just strewn about. There is some hope though; a light at the end of the tunnel. Unfortunately, once you reach the end, you realize the light was just moonlight reflecting off a puddle of mud; a puddle of mud that I will refer to as this game's character creation. This is the first Fire Emblem game released outside of Japan that gave the player the option to create their own character. Now, this is really cool in my opinion, but I think they could've done a better job. In this game, your created character plays a significant role in this game, but you, the actual player, don't really get to make many decisions. The story just drags the player from set piece to set piece, undermining the purpose of letting us create our own character. That if we're supposed to project ourselves into the game through a character, we should be able to make choices that actually matter. I say “actually,” because throughout the game, you are occasionally given a yes-or-no choice, and without spoiling anything, these are huge decisions. You would think that they would cause big differences, and depending on what you choose, it could end in disaster. Unfortunately, they have absolutely no effect on the gameplay! What were they thinking?! You would think that as a tactician, that maybe occasionally you might need to make some tactical decisions. Like choosing what route to take or maybe something like choosing between fighting and fleeing; something that affects both the story and gameplay more significantly. But nope; just a few yes-or-no options that do nothing more than give different bits of dialogue. On topic, of created characters, I really wish there would've been more creation options. The amount of options is really disappointing. If you're going to making character creation a prominent feature, put more effort into it.

But who cares about a story, good or bad, if the characters driving it aren't good? Well at least here, Fire Emblem: Awakening can flex its muscles. Well…sort of. This series as a whole has focused on characterization, which is natural since a large focus is on recruiting many characters into your army. Unfortunately they've always gone in the route of quantity over quality and this game is no exception. Something that has been in the Fire Emblem games for a while is the Support System. To give a general idea, the Support System is a mechanic that allows your characters that interact with each other in chapters to form a bond with each other. Not only that, their Support “levels” could rise resulting in various bonuses. But enough about the Support System; I'll talk about it more in depth later on. As I said, the characterization in this game focuses more on quantity over quality. Because of this most of the characters are limited to a quirk or two. If they're lucky, they may even have a bit of depth. Sadly, no one really develops all that much which is disappointing. That said, focusing on quantity over quality isn't necessarily a bad thing. I still ended up liking some of the characters, albeit very few.

Gameplay

Here's what you've probably been waiting for; the actual gameplay part of the game. Well at first glance, it seems like an SRPG, aka, Strategy-Role-Playing-Game, aka, Silly-Red-Pirate-Goop. But once you start actually playing it, it really veers off from that direction, and for multiple reasons. The first being the map design. The maps in this game are so incredibly boring. It's like they just copy pasted an empty rectangular map over and over again for a large portion of the game while adding a few trees here and there. There's also a lack of mission objectives. In previous Fire Emblem games, there were different objectives, ranging from seizing a point, or defending one. So there's no real opportunity to take advantage of the maps and incorporate it into your strategy. The second reason is with how the difficulty progression was handled. Instead of making the A.I better as the difficulty setting rises, the developers thought it would be fine to just inflate the enemy stats. Not only that, it seems that was done very haphazardly, which would explain the huge gap between the “Hard” and “Lunatic” modes. Because of this, the most logical way of handling the difficulty is to just make your own characters absurdly powerful, and have them charge head first into the enemy legion. Or just sit them down on a fort and shout, “come at me bro,” if you're lazy like I am. Sure, this could be said about some other Fire Emblem games, since they have their fair share of powerful characters, but something they lack and this game has is infinite level ups. In previous Fire Emblem games, characters had a level cap, meaning unless you get absurdly lucky or cheat, their game breaking potential was mitigated. That's not the case in this game. Now you can make any of your characters into a powerhouse capable of mowing down entire armies with a sneeze, removing the strategy part of SRPG, and that's the point I'm trying to make. This SRPG feels like a “regular JRPG,” where the key to winning is just becoming more powerful instead of becoming cleverer. It isn't all bad though. There are some good bits, like the customization in this game. The level of customization in this game far surpasses that of any other Fire Emblem game, and really like that. I particularly like RPGs that lets the player customize their fighters. A notable example of this would be the Pokemon series. I'll cover the customization aspects as I talk about the mechanics. Speaking of which, let's move onto this game's mechanics.

Earlier, I said that this game has a “Support System,” and now I'm going to elaborate on it some more. The method by which the bonds are formed has changed over time. In the Game Boy Advance era, the characters in question had to stand next to each other for a certain amount of turns. This meant that building Supports between characters took a while and was a tedious procedure. In Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance the characters just had to be deployed together. With this, the process was much less tedious, but it did mean building Supports could potentially take a long time. Each Support level required different amounts of chapter deployments. In Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn, the method went largely unchanged but they added other minor ways to speed up the process. This game changed the whole thing. Instead of depending on how many chapters characters fight together in, or how many turns they spend standing next to each other, this game focuses on how, and how often characters interact. These interactions vary from fighting with each other using the Pair Up System, healing each other, talking to each other, and several other things. In terms of gameplay, Supports have changed dramatically. Before, a character could Support a limited amount of times, and the range in which the Support bonuses had an effect was three spaces. In this game, any character can have as many A level Supports at a time, but the range has been lowered to adjacent characters, or Pair Up partners. Also, the bonuses that Supports gave in the past were relatively minor; some being almost negligible. In this game, by using the Pair Up System, characters are granted huge bonuses; sometimes gaining ten additional points to a stat. In terms of writing, the Supports range from heartwarming, funny, and amusing, to bland, mediocre, and monotonous.

With the Support System, there's also the Marriage System. In this game, by having two characters of the opposite sex Support each other until their Support level reaches S, the two will marry. What's the point? Well by having the female characters (not all of them) get married, you will get the opportunity to recruit their child. The child will inherit aspects from both parents, including stats, Skills, and classes. Because of this, more often than not, the children will have an end potential significantly greater than that of the first generation characters. Basically, this game lets you breed super soldiers. Unfortunately, from a writing standpoint, the Marriage System really falls short. The marriages are generally really rushed, unconvincing, and come out of nowhere. Not only that, the children who are a quest to stop a disaster that will ruin the future, but all but one of them have absolutely no relevance to the actual story.

Something completely new to the series is the Pair Up System. Let me just say now that “Pair Up” and “Rescue” are two completely different mechanics for two completely different purposes! “Pair Up” is not an overpowered version of “Rescue!” One is to strengthen your characters at the cost of reducing the size of your team, while the other is used to rescue a character by picking them up, at the cost of stat reduction. Anyway, the Pair Up System allows one character to join with another on the map. What does this accomplish? Well let's say character A is standing by himself. Then character B comes over to Pair Up with character A. Now character A has received bonuses to his stats. Also, by using Pair Up, you get access to the Dual System. The Dual System allows the supporting character, character B, to assist character A in battle by either blocking an enemy attack or following up on your attack with their own.

An aspect that has shown up before in Fire Emblem is the Skills. Skills are abilities that can be equipped to grant a character various effects. These effects range from increasing your stats, improving a character's accuracy or dodging ability, augmenting your attacks, and various other things. To unlock Skills, a character must level up in certain classes, and when they meet the level requirement, they unlock the appropriate Skill. A character can have up to five Skills equipped at a time, and any Skills they aren't using are moved to a sort of library that the character can access to swap out their Skills. The big problem with Skills, are that there are some that are relatively useless while some are incredibly powerful.

The class changing in this game is significantly different than it was before. In Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon, the player could change any character's class anytime at they were at a preparation menu. Not only that, but characters shared a list of classes, meaning a lot of the characters shared the same class options. Also, when they changed their class, their levels remained the same. In this game, to change a character's class, they must use a Second Seal. Also, most characters have a selection of three base classes, meaning much fewer options, and their levels always resets to one after changing their class. This is what I meant when I said “infinite level ups.” By using Second Seals, characters can level up without limit. There is an internal level counter, but it only deducts experience gain. Another really big problem with the class changing is that there are too many outclassed and obsolete classes in this game, while there are classes that are absurdly powerful. Also, while having a unique set of classes can give characters individuality, by having access to, or lacking certain classes, certain characters are vastly superior to others. Lastly, your created character has access to every non-exclusive, gender appropriate class making them incredibly powerful.

Did you notice a trend between the last two paragraphs? In case you haven't noticed, I'll just tell you. This game is horribly imbalanced. Among all the Skills, there is one that stands out; Veteran. Veteran is a Skill exclusive to the Tactician class. That means without SpotPass or DLC, the only characters that get it are your created character and their children. This Skill gives the user 1.5x the experience, and your created character starts out with it. Because of that, they'll quickly out level the rest of your army and the enemy army; even on the highest difficulties. As for the classes, many classes have inferior stats to other classes that function similarly, and are often part of the same class tree. Often times, these inferior classes have Skills that in theory may make them as powerful to their superior counterpart, but because of class changing, that theory is just thrown out the window. Also, there is one specific class that just breaks the game's difficulty with a sickening crack. The Sorcerer class gets access to the Nosferatu weapon. With the high defenses of the Sorcerer class and the healing capabilities, a character can solo even the most difficult battles with no effort.

Visuals

I think for the most part, the 2-D portraits are well done, excluding the DLC artwork. Some people complain that the colors are too dull or muted. To that I say a game doesn't need a neon color palate to look good. While I think the 2-D stuff is done well, I'd say it's in the 3-D part is where the artists dropped the ball. First things first; what's with the feet! They're so tiny! The 3-D character models have this “chibi” style to them, while the 2-D stuff doesn't. Instead of nicely juxtaposing with each other, the two very different styles just clash and polarize. Also, have you seen the designs for the Knight and General classes?. Actually, both the 2-D and 3-D suffer from that so they're both at fault here. Many of the classes have absurd 3-D models. While I really dislike the 3-D designs, I like the 3-D battle animations. The attacking, moving, dodging, etc. all transition and move smoothly. While I like the idea of controlling the camera and speed in the battles, I think it could've been done better. The camera's range of motion is pathetic. All you can do is slightly alter the direction the camera faces. Instead, they should've made it so that the camera could rotate 360 degrees around with the center being the axis point. Second, while I like that the battles can be fast forwarded, I really would've liked it if there was a way to make the faster speed the default. Lastly, the cut scenes look amazing. It's too bad that they're so few and far between.

Sound

The voice acting was competently done in Japanese and English. The issue here is that most of the voices you'll hear throughout the game are grunts or recycled lines that happen during lines of dialogue or battles.

About the soundtrack, let me take this moment to make a public apology. On the discussion board of this game, I have said that aside from a few exceptions, most of the songs weren't very memorable and described it as “symphonic white noise.” Well I have increased the amount from “a few exceptions” to “more than a few.” One specific song I'd like to make special mention of is “Don't speak her name!” Aka, “Don't you dare mock my sister's words!” Aka, I'm not making that stupid joke again. Although, that song does have one glaring flaw; it's only played once in the story.

There is a glitch with the dual audio, where if you have the language set to Japanese when you turn the game off, when you turn it on, some but not all the audio be in English. This forces you to go to the “Extras” menu every time you turn the game on if you want to hear the Japanese voices. Also, in the map Skirmishes, you get to choose what song plays in the background. Great in theory, but even with something as simple as that the developers managed to screw up. The song selection is absolutely pathetic. In the Sound Room, there are over fifty songs! So where did they go?! Why can't I listen to Id (Sorrow) while hacking my way through a horde of zombies?

Miscellaneous

Something I'd like to mention is the “Hubba Tester.” Since there's no rhyme or reason to the results, it's just a mildly amusing tacked-on afterthought. If it was affected by decisions made by the player over the course of the game, it could've been pretty interesting. But it's not, so it isn't. Also, navigating in the convoy menu is unintuitive and tedious, and traveling across the continent trying to get to a certain shop is annoying. In this game, there are Skirmishes that appear on the world map. If one pops up on top of a shop in Lunatic, good luck getting access to it. Another thing that involves shops is how we can't buy in bulk. In previous games, this wasn't much of a problem, but it is a minor one in this. Because of infinite convoy space and money, there's more reason to buy items in high quantities to prevent the need to constantly stop to shop. We can already sell in bulk, so there's no reason that we shouldn't be able to buy in bulk. There's another glitch involving the StreetPass feature. If your StreetPass team contains any Legacy characters, it messes up the whole team. Lastly, why are the ending credits so long? Every time I want to update my Renown counter, I need to go through that overly long sequence every bloody time.

Final Verdict

I don't think complex opinions should be represented with a simple numeric value, but I'm forced to give a score so I say a six out of ten. If I could incorporate decimals, it'd be a low six; but still a six none the less. This game could've been so great had it been done competently. Unfortunately, because of how badly designed it was, it'll be at best mediocre to me. Do I recommend it? Sure if you really like these kinds of games.


Reviewer's Score: 6/10 | Originally Posted: 02/11/13, Updated 05/06/13

Game Release: Fire Emblem: Awakening (US, 02/04/13)


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