While the Tactical Role Playing Game genre has existed for almost 30 years, “Fire Emblem” set the kindling for the genre ablaze upon its release in 1990 for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The game has made vast improvements and innovations to the genre, such as the additions of class-based units and simple-to-learn mechanics. The Fire Emblem series has continued to be a staple for Tactical Role Playing Games and has paved the road for others such as “Final Fantasy Tactics” and “Tactics Ogre.” The most recent entry to the series, “Fire Emblem: Awakening,” continues to innovate with new gameplay aspects while maintaining its successful formula.
“Fire Emblem: Awakening” follows the “Shepherds,” a group of mercenary-like protectors of the Halidom of Ylisse, and their leader and prince, Chrom. With agitated kingdoms on all sides of Ylisse, and strange corpse soldiers called “Risen” appearing from inside the country, the Shepherds must defend their country from myriad threats both inside and outside their country. The player must deal with diplomatic conflicts, enemy combatants and strange forces to protect their kingdom and its people.
“Fire Emblem: Awakening” knows when to be like its previous counterparts and when to innovate and define itself. The same golden formula the series featured more than 20 years ago still holds today: class-based characters fighting on a square grid with turn-based combat. The strategic elements make the game difficult and, at times, seemingly unfair if the player is unprepared. What defines “Fire Emblem: Awakening” are the new concepts and ideas it brings to the Tactical Role Playing Game genre.
The two core additions to the game, unit cooperation and character relations, refine the series even further. Adjacent units now add bonuses to each other’s skill and can occupy the same location, providing greater bonuses. Units who fight alongside each other grow closer, granting them with bonuses when in proximity to each other. Players must now take additional tactical measures emphasizing unit positions and relations. Developing units’ relationships both aid the player in combat and create incentives by depicting the units’ interactions outside of battle. This rewards players for making certain units fight together, and the player eventually begins to play the role of matchmaker for the units.
When in a battlefield, the game sports classic pixelated sprites, which are reminiscent of earlier games in the series. When combat occurs, the game changes to visually stunning 3D segments, breaking up the strategic elements. Character profiles are drawn beautifully in a Japanese anime style, and gorgeous animated 3D cut scenes effectively mimic the style through cel-shaded animation. Dialogue is sparse, used usually only for exclamations or cut scenes, and is provided in either English or Japanese, depending on player preference. The game has an orchestrated soundtrack that excels in creating a given mood for each situation.
Lastly, the game features a “Classic” mode, in which character death is permanent, as in previous games. An easier and more forgiving mode also exists, which causes units to flee from battle and escape death. Because of this and additional difficulty features, the game can cater to new players and veterans alike. The user interface is cumbersome, especially to new players, but the dual screens of the 3DS help relieve the cluster of it all.
“Fire Emblem: Awakening” is the best Fire Emblem to date, taking the 20-plus years of work the series has made into a masterpiece and further refines it into a near-flawless game.