Sunday, March 10, 2013

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Fire Emblem: Awakening: Review, Thoughts, Etc.

My intense, obsessive affair with Fire Emblem began when I was a junior in high school, more or less by accident. My friend had received two copies of Fire Emblem (in Japan Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken, which was Fire Emblem 7) for his birthday, and so gave the second to me. This would prove to be a very generous gift indeed, and I can remember staying up way too late when I had school the next day, telling myself "just a few more turns..." I am not entirely sure how many times I've cleared Rekka no Ken, but I am sure its probably around the high 20s. I have played to death every American released Fire Emblem since then (and actually a fan translated version of the game before it) and more or less purchased a 3DS JUST so I could play Awakening (I won't even get into how mad I was when they announced the limited edition 3DS ONE WEEK AFTER I BOUGHT MINE) I was pleased to see once I started playing, that I had not made a grievous mistake (Of course I had to digitally download the damn thing because every physical copy in the US was mysteriously lost in the aether, and I wasn't about to wait for an extra week or two oh no siree)

Taking Gary-Stu/Mary-Sue to a new dazzling height.
The game starts right off with its neat features. While some purists like to get offended at even the possibility of easier difficulty settings, I think it is both smart and right that this game includes a reasonable spread of difficulty levels (normal, hard and lunatic) which offer a fair challenge to beginners, experienced players, and people who hate themselves respectively (more on Lunatic later) The feature that I feel must have enraged someone is the option to choose between "classic" and "casual" modes. Casual mode turns off character perma-death, whereas classic is your Fire Emblem standard your-character-died-so-restart-the-level setting. More on permadeath issues later too. Once you've chosen difficulty, you make an Avatar, who in this game is actually an honest to god character who is part of your team (and is a very good unit, hence and important part of your team) I have heard people complain about how limited the customization options are for the avatar, but considering you can customize them at ALL, and that the avatar character EXISTS to begin with, I find those complaints to be superficial and frivolous. You can choose gender, have a choice of three builds per gender, 3 voices, 5 or 6 faces for each build, different hairstyles and color choices that encompass all the colors of the rainbow. If you want to make your perfect self as a game player, go play The Sims or something.

Yes it can. It can hurt a whole fucking lot Donnyboy.
Once you're done making your character, it's off to the races. I played through the game on hard for my first play-through, and that seemed about the right difficulty choice for me. It wasn't super easy, but wasn't lunatic mode. One of the coolest things that Awakening does in my book, is make supports not just a thing you do so that you can read funny stuff and become obsessed with minor characters (obviously all those things still happen, but there are other benefits too!). In Awakening, rather than always battling 1-on-1, your units can fight enemy units together 2-on-1, which is as great as it is not fair (except in lunatic mode where it barely matters). One character is the primary in the pair, the other is the back-up, and who is in the lead can be swapped. the back-up character has a chance to attack whenever the lead character does (and this chance is improved by a better support level) and they have a chance to block every time the lead character is attacked. The back-up also improves the stats of the lead character, based on their own stats. In addition to making supports a very relevant part of the game, this mechanic opens up a wealth of tactical possibilities, and allows for some neat maneuvers (it also replaces the otherwise sort of useless/desperate rescue mechanic from previous games) 

Sweaty, muscly men unite!
Now rather than just having units stand next to each other to gain support, they actually do it by FIGHTING TOGETHER IMAGINE. Better yet, the limit on supports has also been removed, so while you can still only have one S support (that's the person you marry to create the second-generation characters more on that in a second) you can have as many other supports as you want, saving me the trouble of having to beat the game 300 times just to see them all (I still probably will though). An S support between a guy character and girl character (sorry all you same gender shippers, but this is for the purpose of procreation! literally!) allows you to recruit children characters of those two later in the game, who have skills and stats/growth rates based on their parents. All in all very cool. The support system in this game felt to me like it had Persona's fingerprints all over it, what with everyone constantly talking about how strong their bonds were, and how they were going to overcome fate with the strength of their bonds... I'm not saying Persona invented that idea, but it was pretty suggestive to me. That being said, I couldn't imagine something I want more than a Fire Emblem game with heavier character aspects.

In Ylisse no one has feet apparently.
The interface is to me the best of both worlds. the mission maps are top down with sprites for your units, like in the older/GBA Fire Emblems, whereas the battle animations are the 3D models of the Gamecube/Wii Fire Emblems (but you can speed them up which circumvents one of my big problems with battles in Radiant Dawn). While I still miss the flashier animations of the GBA games, I admit that Awakening looks good, and the CG cutscenes in particular are very alluring. My one beef with the graphical presentation is that it seems like most characters HAVE NO FEET. They all appear to be standing on little pointy leg stumps, which is pretty weird.

Isn't that just fine looking?
Character design in Awakening is varied, detailed, and generally at the quality I've come to expect from FE games. As in some other games (Shadow Dragon springs to mind, but ugh that was one butt-ugly game) in Awakening, your characters have options to change to other classes, in addition to the regular classing up (and indeed your avatar character can reclass to every class that isn't specific to the opposite gender). This gives added depth and options for character customization, though if you are a more casual player you don't really need to delve into it, which is nice too. With all the characters, class options, skill selections, child characters and weapons available, there is ample room to have a squad that is just what you want, and that is something I dearly desire in any strategy RPG I play. 

If I don't make it, tell Lucina I love her.
In addition to the lengthy single player campaign, and its numerous side chapters, there is a glut of DLC, both free and pay, available for the game, and more is released every Friday. While I'm not a big fan of pay DLC, I think that having such a huge amount of content available is just a really neat option. Some of the features (like the streetpass team swap) are going to be basically never used except at conventions (I ended up swapping teams with about 7 or 8 people just sitting at my vendor's table at Ucon last month) there's just a lot of great game to be had here.

Now that I've mooned over the game, let's talk about the only thing that really bugged me about it. In a normal Fire Emblem game of the past, when enemy reinforcements arrive, they do so at the end of the enemy turn. That means that you have a turn to react to their arrival, so they don't just pop up behind you and then ream you. In Awakening, for some reason they decided to have reinforcements come in at the BEGINNING of the enemy turn. This means that a safe spot to your formations rear where you were keeping your weaker units can suddenly become full of guys with axes waiting to cram some steel through your back-door. Being totally honest I have to say... not a huge fan of that game feature.

Dark mages wear much less
clothing than other mages
and hence have higher defense.
Speaking of being violated, lunatic mode is... clearly a mode for lunatics. I've started playing through the game on this mode and clawed my way to ch. 5 on it, but I have to say that it has been absolutely unfairly punishing. If you are not seriously masochistic... probably just skip this mode altogether, because you will find no solace here, just an eternity of carnage and game restarting. I've read some reviewers talk about not restarting the game when a character dies, and while I've played games where that makes sense, that just is not our way in the Fire Emblems. Anyone I've spoken to who claims to be a fan of this series seems to feel the same way. If someone dies then I guess it's time to restart the level and do it right. Not that the option of not restarting really exists in Lunatic. If someone is dying, chances are that soon everyone else will be joining them, because you have made an error.

I think I've said all the important things I have to say about this title, except that there have been two figures announced from this game, and I dearly want both of them (find images here for "Marth" figma, and Tharja statue sculpt). They can go ahead and release those as soon as possible.

That's it for now! I will post another update in the week if the chance strikes, otherwise I'll see you here again next Sunday to ramble about some other things I think are cool! -J

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