Review of Fire Emblem: Awakening

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The boxart from “Fire Emblem: Awakening.”

For avid Nintendo fans, the names Mario, Link, Samus and Kirby are easily recognized. But what about Marth, Roy and Ike, or Lyndis, Eirika and Micaiah? These characters, along with hundreds of others, come from a series called Fire Emblem, which recently released a new game, “Fire Emblem: Awakening,” in the United States.

The Fire Emblem series arrived in North America in 2003 with a Game Boy Advance title, the first in the states and the seventh game overall. Since then, titles have appeared on Nintendo’s GameCube, Wii and DS systems, with the latest title released Feb. 18 for the relatively new 3DS.

The basic structure of each Fire Emblem game is the same: the player commands an army of made up of various units, each having a distinct face, personality and skill set. Stories and characters are developed through dialogue exchanges and occasional cut scenes consisting of animated shorts or detailed stills. The chapters consist of fixed maps, and the player must act as the army’s tactician, moving units strategically to keep them safe while taking out as many enemies as possible. Each chapter comes with a different objective, from defeating the enemy to surviving 15 turns to protecting a defenseless ally. As the game’s difficulty increases, units get tougher and gain experience from each skirmish. New units can be recruited in a variety of ways, but a limit on the number of fighters who can come into battle forces players to build armies strategically, as only certain members can become truly powerful.

“Fire Emblem: Awakening” opens with a riveting prologue, and from there the action rarely lets up. Fully animated cutscenes interspersed between chapters add new dimension to the characters and story. As with any Fire Emblem title, the game involves a mix of monsters, brigands and the enemy’s army. You play as a tactician who remembers only their own name and that of the army’s commander, Chrom.

For the first time in the stateside Fire Emblem titles, this tactician is customizable–the player can select different male and female models, choosing between builds, faces, hair styles and colors, and even voices, which play in short sentences or exclamations during dialogue. Together with Chrom’s army, the Shepherds, you as a tactician must defeat various threats facing the kingdom of Ylisse.

The Fire Emblem experience has steadily improved with each new title released in the U.S., and “Awakening” is no exception. The game makes use of long-standing Fire Emblem mechanics, such as a hierarchical circle of weapon strengths and weaknesses, a preparation screen that allows you to ready your units before entering battle and the ability to upgrade your units once they reach level 10. “Awakening” also introduced new methods for upgrading units, allowing them to switch classes (e.g. cavalier to mage and back) with the use of a new item. With a little patience, this system can be used to build an enormously powerful army. Between chapters, the army can move from place to place on an overworld map, last seen “Sacred Stones,” in a Fire Emblem title from 2005. Special skills can be equipped to units, giving them a variety of abilities they would not otherwise have, and a new option to pair up in battle can allow stonger units to protect weaker ones.

Sidequests and packages of downloadable content from Nintendo are also available, potentially extending the story long after the initial 25 chapters have been completed. 3DS owners, Fire Emblem devotees or Japanese role-playing-game fanatics should consider adding “Fire Emblem: Awakening” to their collections.