I generally consider three basic needs in life : sleeping, drinking and playing Fire Emblem. Needless to say that when a new entry comes out, my whole body goes wild for it.
In some occasions in the series, the player was actually a character in game (the strategist), but never deeply involved in the story. In Fire Emblem Awakening (FEA), Intelligent Systems proposes much more. Not only do you create your own character (hype+10), but he will also take part in battles (hype+100). Much to my delight, the devs inserted a not-so-discreet skin of Lightning to please FF fans (hype+500’000’000).
A first, the game left me dubious : the graphics are clearly poor and remind me of Nintendo 64. Games like Senran Kagura have proved that 3DS is capable of much better, and I’m angry at Nintendo for holding it off again (after the Radiant Dawn dismal graphics). Worse : the characters don’t have feet! In a story that calls itself serious, this gives to most terrible impression. The animation of the characters and the CG sequences, both very good, helped me get over it, sort of. The story didn’t fully convince me, despite some really outstanding chapters. We’re far from the epic narrative and the coherence you find in Path of Radiance.
But Awakening has a few advantages of its own. Character design is one of them, and it’s where FEA really makes the difference. Intelligent Systems ditched the good old 80’s to offer us something much modern and mature, close to what can be seen in modern anime/manga. It also affect the little chat between your characters, which becomes less childish but still remains extremely funny. I could also lament the fact that dialogs aren’t fully dubbed, as only the first word of a sentence is voiced. But the result is actually extra-cute and I can’t get enough of it.
The game system evolves and innovates. For starters, you now have the choice to have fallen characters «survive» their death and be back in party after the battles. This mode called «casual» (I didn’t invent that) is distinct from the difficulty level that goes from Normal to Hard, and then Lunatic. I do understand that some people might be reluctant to press reset after 1 hour of heated conflict, but once you’ve ticked this «casual» box, you’re not playing Fire Emblem anymore. Anyway, letting the player choose is always a good thing and the hardcore fans will keep to the classical mode. I cleared in Normal, and the difficulty was uneven. Some missions are hard as hell, like the last one in which enemy reinforcements keep coming from every direction, but the rest is child’s play, partly because you have plenty of occasions to grind. The game is never boring though, because the new mechanics keep you entertained. Your current character can now be supported by a adjacent one (you can also «combine» them for the same effect), and the higher the friend level between your characters, the more efficient the support will be. Evasion, precision and critical rate will improve temporarily and the support character may even cover the fighting character or deal an additional blow before your foe can react. This has a HUGE impact on the gameplay because you will permanently try to build united micro-groups that can withstand countless attackers.
FEA has an insane number of characters. The base characters were already more than enough, but the game goes further. Two characters of the opposite sex who get along particularity well will one day marry and have a child. By a convenient time travel sort of thing, you will be able to recruit the above mentioned child in your party. This is where the game becomes particularity nasty, because the difficulty of those extra missions is punitively high. But gamers always want more and Intelligent Systems therefore came up with brilliant StreetPass & SpotPass features.
The Nintendo Network sends you free extra scenarios including extra characters that you couldn’t get in the main story. More, every person you Streetpass sends a team in your game, team whose leader you can recruit provided you defeat him/her. As a consequence, you also send your team to other 3DSs, and you can customize it to make a classy entrance in other FEA cartridges. If you still don’t have enough but have enough money, you can purchase some DLCs. Those ones are unfortunately terrible. Expensive (3-4$/€), you don’t even get a real character but a kind of Magic card of that character. The additional stories are quite ridiculous for most part, and some difficulty spikes make it near impossible to succeed if you play in classic.
Fire Emblem Awakening nevertheless becomes my favorite 3DS game so far and by far, and for a long time I think. Long (I’ve spent 80h on it), addicting, rich and funny, it totally lives up to the series.