Fire Emblem is one of those classic RPG franchises that I have somehow just never gotten around to playing. I don’t really know why. My ex-boyfriend once owned Fire Emblem: Radiant Dawn for the Wii, a game I remember picking up and attempting to play, but quickly becoming lost in the particulars of the plot and getting rather bored (which is hardly surprising in hindsight, given that the game is a direct sequel to the GameCube’s Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance). I played the 3DS demo of Fire Emblem: Awakening soon after acquiring a 3DS, and while I remember being quite impressed with both the gameplay and the graphics, I did not immediately go out and purchase the full game.
This is a decision that I now regret, because this game is fucking awesome.
While I don’t feel like I’ve played enough of the game to write a full review as of yet, here are just a few reasons that this game is amazeballs:
1. The gameplay is simple to learn but tricky to master.
There are no menus to navigate. You move your party members where you want them to go, and you attack. The strategy comes from party placement and judicious use of items. Sometimes less is more.
2. The story so far is engaging, political, and full of interesting characters who say interesting things.
Localization company 8-4 did a superlatively excellent job with the translation of this game. The character interactions are frequently amusing and sprinkled with puns. Also, the vocabulary used in the dialogue is impressively extensive. I’m no slouch when it comes to obscure words (I am a Shakespearean scholar, after all), but Awakening has thrown some wonderful locutions my way.
The game does a great job of making you feel inordinately attached to each and every one of your party members, both through the excellence of the writing and through adorable little touches like including amusing factoids about each character in your barracks roster. For instance, stoic and competent Great Knight Frederick is “the fondest of starting fires.” Virion, the vain and flirtatious Archer, is listed as “the most prolonged primper.”
I suspect that the game expends so much effort to get you to really care about your soldiers so that it absolutely destroys you when one of them dies, because one of the franchise’s staple mechanics is true permadeath. If one of your party members falls in battle, they are gone forever. I expect that there are appropriately dramatic death scenes when a character dies, but I wouldn’t know, because every time one of my party members falls, I immediately reset the game, stricken by guilt because I know that Miriel is “the most superfluous packer,” and I let her die.
I mean, yeah, I could play the game on Casual mode, thereby avoiding the threat of party-member permadeath, but where’s the fun in that? It’s hard to beat the feeling of satisfaction when a character with 3 hit points remaining successfully dodges a killing blow and instead dishes out a deadly counter-attack. It’s clearly how the developers designed the game to be played, and it raises the stakes of each battle considerably.
3. There are as many female characters as male ones, and nary a one of them is running around in her underwear.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much this pleases me. I’m about four hours into the game, and I already have five women in my party, six if you count my custom avatar.
BECAUSE, OH, BY THE WAY, YOU CAN PLAY AS A WOMAN IN THIS GAME.
I’m always pleased when I get to customize a character in an RPG, because the game then feels just that much more immersive, and Awakening has handled that customization beautifully. Check this out:
The character on the left is the default male, and the character on the right is the default female, and they are wearing the same thing! It’s almost as if clothes don’t have to be gendered! WHAT A CRAZY IDEA.
In fact, I have only seen a single instance of cheesecake armor in the whole game so far, on a clearly evil character named Aversa, and while, yes, her tits are totally hanging out and nothing she is wearing looks terribly practical or necessarily conforming to the laws of physics, at least it sort of works for her character.
I have nothing against cheesecake armor per se, but I have quite a lot against designing almost every female character in a game to look like she escaped from a soft-core porn. (Magna Carta, I’m looking at you.) Some women do dress like that, and that’s awesome, but not all women dress like that all the time (especially, you know, ON A BATTLEFIELD), and many women have literally zero interest in ever dressing like that. It’s nice to see a video game that explores the many ways in which women might like to dress themselves…
Over and over, the game goes out of its way to point out that women can be just as badass as men and to highlight the fact that men who think otherwise are a little bit doofy. As a person who loves JPRGs as a genre but who is often disappointed at how sexist the genre can be, that is more than enough to cement Fire Emblem: Awakening as one of the most enjoyable games I’ve played all year.
(And the gameplay is pretty rad, too.)
So what are you waiting for? Go pick up this game! Seriously. Before it becomes as unobtainable as the previous two installments: