The Fire Emblem series originated on the Famicom in 1990, although gamers outside of Japan didn’t get a localized taste of the series until it hit the Gameboy Advance in 2003. Since then, western gamers have been treated to two titles on the GBA, one on the Gamecube, one Nintendo DS, and one Nintendo Wii. Fire Emblem Awakening will be the eleventh game in the series, however the sixth to release outside of Japan. In preparation for the game’s release, Nintendo has put out a demo version on the eShop, which I have previewed below:
The demo offers three difficulties right off the bat, and for the sake of getting anywhere without having to restart, I opted for the mid-range difficulty level. What I also noticed is that in this iteration of Fire Emblem, you are offered a choice in game modes: Casual mode allows your fallen troops to return if they are killed on the battlefield. This is actually a very notable change in the Fire Emblem series, where the concept of permanent death has become a signature trait. In past Fire Emblem games, if your characters died in battle they were gone for good, and the game saved in a way that you would have to restart the entire chapter from the beginning if you wanted to get them back. In a game where characters could be very quickly surrounded and killed, players had to exercise the utmost caution and strategy when determining movement and attack, otherwise have to constantly restart chapters or cut their losses and continue with the story.
Awakening does have “classic” mode for those who choose to opt into it, however only casual mode is available in the demo. The next section allowed me to create an avatar, but while I was able to choose from a basic male and female version of the same generic silver haired human, any other customization was locked to the full version. Then I had to name my avatar, give him a birthday, and choose an asset and a flaw from a list of traits including strength, HP, luck, and more.
Finally, into the game. Fire Emblem Awakening starts out with a fully animated, fully voiced cutscene where your avatar is woken (I get it) by a group of shepherds on their way back to town. Your avatar has amnesia, and the group decides not to kill you long enough to take you back to town and figure out if you’re an enemy of state or not. At this point the game reverts back to the classic dialogue of text glued to character cutouts. Your group heads back to town to find that, surprise, a group of bandits are attacking.
And now to the crux of Fire Emblem: Battles. The top screen displays the battlefield and grid, showing an odd combination of a 3D battlefield filled with two dimensional sprite characters. The aesthetics work out well, for what it’s worth, and the style works nicely with the 3D slider turned up. The bottom screen acts as a combat adviser, displaying stats, inventories, and other details about the fighters. When engaged in combat, the screen shifts to a three dimensional battlefield where the player simply watches as two fighters trade blows, someone dies, and experience is calculated. If you’re tired of sitting through some of the lengthier attack animations, you can opt to fast forward or completely skip through the battle scene, a nice addition over previous games even if the cutscenes rarely last longer than a few seconds.
Characters gain experience and level up through battle, raising not only physical levels but also their skills in various weapons. Characters positioned adjacent to one another aid each other on the battlefield, offering buffs and occasionally jumping in to block a hit or add an additional attack. By having characters fight alongside one another, they gain relationship levels which (in the full game) can result in certain characters having children.
Where Fire Emblem lives and dies is on the tactical strategy, and Intelligent Systems does not disappoint based on what has been presented so far. The game looks great from the 3D aspects in the overworld grid as well as the characters actively fighting in battle, and the between-level cutscenes make excellent use of the 3DS’s depth of field capabilities. The inclusion of casual mode alongside the continuation of the game’s hardcore version should do well to bring players into the game who may have been intimidated by its difficulty, while still retaining the same crowd who buy Fire Emblem for its difficult strategy, and “lunatic” level difficulty modes.
Awakening has already proven itself to be a strong title for the 3DS in Japan, and will hopefully do the same here in the west. Fire Emblem Awakening hits store shelves on February 4th in North America and April 2013 in Europe. If you own a 3DS, this definitely qualifies as a must buy.