Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Post-Launch Review
Fire Emblem: Awakening
Developers: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
Released: April 2012 (Japan), February/April 2013 (everywhere else)
Played: story and most paralogues complete in 43h:48min


A tactician with no memory of their past finds themselves bound to Chrom, prince of Ylisse, just as a rival nation threatens war and monstrous Risen attack border villages. As Chrom and the tactician fight to defend the peace, a mysterious traveler with knowledge of the future warns that a catastrophic awakening approaches, of which the war and the Risen are but a prelude...

At Launch

Awakening was very well received, earning average review scores of 92%. Reviewers praised the music, visuals, depth, accessibility, and character relationships, while criticizing the multiplayer portion.

Post Launch

DLC is available in the form of additional optional combat scenarios. There are quite a lot of these, sold as three-part stories taking place in the strange temporal space of the Outrealm, accessed through a mystic gate. The DLC episodes add new battle scenarios and reward the player with items and characters (some as new classes).
There's also a bunch of free content available through SpotPass, so make sure to enable the wireless options. These include a few paralogue maps with story relevance and new units; powerful weapons; extra co-op scenarios; and quite a lot of battles with characters from previous Fire Emblem games, who become recruitable units.


The first thing that struck me was the absolutely gorgeous opening cutscene. The character models in fancy cutscenes look like high-quality anime, but since it's a rendered CG scene it's incredibly fluid, without the jerkiness common to a lot of anime due to low frame count. These cutscenes are beautiful whenever they come up, but unfortunately there weren't enough of them - some very important moments happen in much lower quality game engine footage, including the ending, which is a bit of a disappointment.

In those in-engine cutscenes, and in battle scenes, none of the characters have feet. I assumed it was a bug at first, but I did some looking around on the internet, and apparently this was a conscious decision to conserve resources for character animation and to create a memorable art quirk. Though the devs have apparently had enough people asking about it that they've stated that the next Fire Emblem will feature feet. 

Anyway, gameplay. This is the first Fire Emblem I've actually played, but gameplay is very similar to the previous games. It's a tactical game where you move your characters around a grid, and it's turn-based, so it's very important to consider your positioning - you want to block access to your squishies, and ideally force enemies into disadvantageous matchups with the rock-paper-scissors interaction of swords, lances, and axes.

I don't play a lot of tactical games, so despite Fire Emblem's relative simplicity and accessibility, I still tended to rush in without adequately considering the enemy's movement and attack ranges. I relied more on having stronger units, which for the most part wasn't difficult since I used the same characters all game (though when I occasionally wanted to switch someone out, the replacement tended to be much too weak since I hadn't used them much).

I was really hooked for the first third of the game. I kept thinking "just one more turn" and ending up spending a lot more time playing than I meant to. Part of it is that characters gain experience and level up quite quickly when fighting, and I like all those pluses.

I also really enjoyed the character relationship elements. Having characters fight side-by-side in battle improves their relationship, and once the relationship hits a threshold you can view a conversation and earn cooperation bonuses. Characters with better relationships fight better together, providing greater bonuses. This is a really neat touch that gets you more involved with your characters as you build friendships between them.

Without spoiling too much, when characters get married, you can meet and recruit their kids. That's pretty neat, and provides even more incentive to progress character relationships - you'll gain more units with access to new skills, and see more character growth as parents deal with their children or the children meet your other veterans.

I did start to find the gameplay repetitive, though. After a couple of battles you've essentially seen everything there is to see in terms of game mechanics, and save for gimmicks on a couple of maps, there's little variation to the gameplay. Towards the end of the game I wanted to get more character conversations and try out some new units, but in order to do so I had to go back and grind low-level story-free scenarios over and over (by buying and using Reeking Boxes).

Eventually I got fed up with the grind and decided that the text conversations weren't worth hours of repetition. I figured I'd finish up the last paralogues and complete the story. But at that point, since I'd been grinding new units and neglecting my veterans, the paralogues were quite difficult and I gave up on those too.

The final battle was actually quite good. Depending on the map, your objective is either to defeat all enemies, or to defeat their commander and the battle ends. The finale tasked me only with defeating the enemy commander, but I was set upon by infinite spawns on all sides. So I had to rush a spearhead through enemy forces in a desperate bid to strike at the commander before I was overwhelmed by sheer numbers, and that was pretty neat. But, as I mentioned above, I didn't get a nice quality anime cutscene to end the story, and that was a bit of a disappointment despite an otherwise satisfying conclusion.

Recommendation: yes / maybe.

I'm not so sure about this one. I totally loved the first half before getting bored of the gameplay, and afterwards it felt like a grind - so you could say that I wasn't as impressed as most of the reviewers were. Though to be fair, I'm not sure how much of this is my preference for other genres. If you like tactical games, Fire Emblem: Awakening is great: very accessible, highly replayable, and with tons of bonus content, free or paid (and with great StreetPass functionality if you run into other people with the game). And regardless of what type of game you usually enjoy, it's got some great music and strong visuals, especially the animated cutscenes.
As for the DLC, I tried out a bunch of the free content, and that was awesome because there's so much stuff given to you just for connecting to the internet. I didn't play any of the paid episodes, since it adds up to another $50 for all of them - more than the launch price of the game.

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