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Fire Emblem Awakening review

The finest Fire Emblem game yet

The traditional strategy RPG is hamstrung by its own form. A turn-based approach removes the dynamism of an RTS, stat-centric combat reduces player agency and the necessary tactical overview, gridded and static, makes for a stale graphical style. It's no problem for fans, but to anyone looking in from outside, there might not seem to be much in a game that looks and plays like a book of used graph paper.

The skill in making this kind of game accessible isn't in simplifying that imposing sheaf, but in how you make a series of squares and numbers exciting. You could colour in the squares nicely, give the numbers some meaning beyond the equations they complete, or offer a wider reason to keep flicking through the pages. With Fire Emblem: Awakening, Intelligent Systems has done all of this and then drops griffon-riding into the mix, which doesn't suit our metaphorical conceit, but is still brilliant.

Click to view larger image
At its core, Awakening is a game that constantly works to dupe you into enjoying what amounts to an increasingly punishing series of battles. By turn, you're given reasons to marvel at, care about and, when you're truly hooked, manipulate every game of weird-chess you face.

Hey Good-Looking

This is an unusually attractive strategy game and that's undoubtedly down to the developer's approach to creating a variety of visual elements. Every facet of the game - FMVs, combat sequences, static conversations and the battle overview itself - has a separate art style, ranging from classic animé illustrations to sprite and polygon art. The speed at which you're thrown from one look to the next, not to mention carried through the varied scenery of the game's story, means you're rarely subjected to protracted periods of ordnance surveying.

Even when you are simply looking at a battle grid, the game's tidy use of 3D helps out. While little else benefits from stereoscopy, terrain suddenly gains a measure of meaning, with rising forests or castle walls suddenly seeming far more tangible.

Combat animations are surprisingly diverse, too, with each of the game's many classes taking different approaches to attacks, not to mention the entirely separate, often spectacular moves rewarded for critical hits. The fact that these attack sequences, which are essentially those aforementioned equations working themselves out, can be viewed from separate camera angles, slowed down, or even paused for effect, shows a deserved confidence in the visual tricks used to immerse you in the experience.

Click to view larger image
That said, half of the playing time will see you wanting to avoid those animations entirely. Despite a surfeit of characters, Intelligent Systems' work in helping you care about your army makes almost every one seem too important to risk in combat.

The core of that lies in a compelling storyline. Awakening tasks you with creating a character from a limited palette of options (another way of getting you to invest) before a short, seemingly prescient prologue, a swift bout of amnesia and an introduction to the Shepherds, a band of noble knights led by Chrom, prince of Ylisse, a kingdom almost perpetually under attack by some ruthless baddie or other.

Prattle Field

The real stories, however, are the ones you make yourself. Every playable character you earn in the course of the campaign is just that - a character. They all have broadly drawn, likeable personalities, not to mention affinities with other characters that come out in the Barracks, an out-of-battle area that offers you stat bonuses and loot for getting your characters to interact, and in Support conversations, which reward characters working together with bonuses for further co-operation.

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  1. jimbob555 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 11:42




  2. toffeeman30 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 12:12

    and to think, fire emblem was once an obscure title no one had ever heard of...

  3. HughPR Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 14:47

    and to think, fire emblem was once an obscure title no one had ever heard of...

    So true! I mean, I don't know that much but I love what I've played. I'm really excited and looking forward to Friday (here's hoping that I do get the artbook!). I'll have to be strict about not playing too much though as I have A-levels soon :P

    I for one am really glad that enemy is AI is ruthless - that's why you have 3 difficulty modes and the option to switch perma-death off. If you're new to strategy games then you can start easy and then ramp up the challenge, or if you're experienced then you can charge in (both metaphorically and occasionally literally). I'm also looking forward to the pairing side of things - it's an extra level of strategy that will reward you for your hard work.


  4. kerr9000 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 14:49

    Played all of the ones released in this country.. and a few that have not been. I have the gamecube and wii ones as well as the first GBA one released over here... I have this preorderd and have had for a good while, I didn't feel the need to wait for a review, it would take super human effort to screw up fire emblem...

    Didn't bother with the art book, just went for the cheapest price I could get Ł29.. with Ł5 guaranteed back if its not with me on the day of release or before

  5. KirbyDude999 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 15:35

    here's hoping that I do get the artbook!

    I asked if I'd get the artbook by pre-ordering instore and they said yes, here's hoping they're telling the truth as they said the exact same thing with the Monster Hunter t-shirt but I didn't get that!

  6. Skywardwolf23 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 15:50


  7. HughPR Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 16:41

    here's hoping that I do get the artbook!

    I asked if I'd get the artbook by pre-ordering instore and they said yes, here's hoping they're telling the truth as they said the exact same thing with the Monster Hunter t-shirt but I didn't get that!

    Ah well that was me not toffeeman, but I hope you get it too! :) I might not as I only put my order in a week ago :(

  8. Riverlution Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 18:56

    This title is going to be the best game on a handheld this year. Pokemon X and Y are the only real competition it has. Luigi's Mansion was good, but I still think it was praised too highly, I wouldn't have given it above 85%

  9. adamatsu Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 19:11

    So excited for this, what a great month for 3DS fans, didn't know about the Game artbook either, just pre-ordered and cancelled my zavvi order! thanks to whoever mentioned it in the comments.

  10. kespino20 Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 19:14

    Anyone know the name of the song that plays in the CG + Gameplay trailer on the third page?

  11. Greene-Stuff Monday 15th Apr 2013 at 23:14

    This is incredibly reassurring! Fire Emblem is one of my favourite franchises of all time and I was slowly feeling as if it was going to be a franchise that may die and never get the recognition that it deserved, but it's great to hear that it's a good'en! Cannot wait to play! :D

  12. kerr9000 Tuesday 16th Apr 2013 at 03:40

    This is how excited I am.... I sat and did this computer painting

    That is me and the girlfriend in Fire Emblem style ...ooops just noticed the way it shows you cant see us both ... here is the

  13. fatherofthenoo Tuesday 16th Apr 2013 at 10:05

    I've had it on pre-order for ages now. The demo was amazing (even better than my all time fav Shining Force 3) and I can see the game being even better. Exciting!

  14. KirbyDude999 Tuesday 16th Apr 2013 at 18:35

    Ah well that was me not toffeeman, but I hope you get it too! :) I might not as I only put my order in a week ago :(

    Just recieved an email from GAME confirming that you do get the artbook by pre-ordering instore! :D

    I placed my pre-order on the 13th, but the artbook was still being advertised so I'm assuming that we'll get it :)

  15. Nintimdo Wednesday 17th Apr 2013 at 09:48

    Got my copy 2day....just sayin XD

  16. kerr9000 Wednesday 17th Apr 2013 at 10:19

    Got My copy first thing this morning as well .... Love shopto right now

  17. electrum Wednesday 17th Apr 2013 at 13:04

    I played it's demo and only thing i can say is SHUT UP AND TAKE MY MONEY NINDTENDO :!:

  18. lui_gui Wednesday 17th Apr 2013 at 21:42

    This sounds incredible, and I've preordered it to hopefully arrive soon, but aren't basically all of the positive points on this still viable on pretty much every Fire Emblem game? I absolutely adored Radiant Dawn, have ONM finally realised how good the whole series is?

  19. kerr9000 Wednesday 17th Apr 2013 at 22:21

    If you like Radient youll like it... its very much a regular fire emblem ... there is some sort of double team hits ...a none perma death mode for newbies and a few tweaks but its basically just the regular amazing fire emblem

  20. idolgaming Thursday 18th Apr 2013 at 09:50

    This looks amazing! I can't wait to play this :3

  21. kerr9000 Thursday 18th Apr 2013 at 16:29

    It is Amazing... 10 out of 10 for me, It simply could not be any better. I own a 3DS,Wii U,xbox 360,ps3, wii, psp etc so everything modern apart from the ps vita and I own a lot of games (300 xbox 360 for a start all real) and this is one of perhaps 10 of the games I own for all of those systems Id give a perfect 10 to.

  22. rpglord16 Friday 19th Apr 2013 at 15:45

    The more I hear about this the better it seems. I tried the demo and recently started playing the GBA game after finding it behind the sofa.I must have it and I am willing to spend all my money on that limited edition 3DSXL.

  23. kerr9000 Monday 22nd Apr 2013 at 23:12

    24 hours in to Fire Emblem 3ds ... I sat ordering my girlfriend to get her uni work done... while playing it. I am guessing that I must be getting near the end but who knows, been loving it though.

    One thing that has annoyed me though... I pre-orderd it and got it for Ł29, several of my friends and my girlfriend included have either had to pay Ł40 in a shop for it or go without due to the fact nowhere has it..

    Apparently it was like this in the USA when it came out a week ago, there were far less copies than there was demand and as a result lots of people paid like the full price to download it and now Nintendo are all impressed at how many people have downloaded it and are seeing it as a success... Nintendo it is not a success if lots of people are downloading your games because you have not put enough of them on the bloody shop shelves....

    My girlfriend could only find it in shops for Ł40 and then not many copies so didnt buy it... our local game had giant card diaplays, 100 empty pre-order style cases and a woman walking round with a 3ds with it in literally handcuffed to her... and yet they didnt have any copies of it in stock

    I have seen multiple TV adds for it, so some big cash has been spent on pushing it....

    Then knowing Nintendo if it doesn't make the money they want they will say it has not been a success and wont give us the next sequel.

    We only got the first ds fire emblem, Japan got a second one....

  24. PikachuKJ Tuesday 30th Apr 2013 at 00:46

    Loving the game. It has been really good. I tried the demo and it got me hooked. It is a real shame that the downloaded versions of the games are not more affordable. I mean why should I have to pay Ł40 to buy a game without a game card when I can often go to a game shop and pick it up for at least Ł5 less and it is a solid copy. I really think nintendo has to think about providing people with more of an incentive to download from the eshop. I mean stars are nice but it takes a lot of them before you can get anything decent. Great games but the marketing has got to get better.

  25. kerr9000 Tuesday 30th Apr 2013 at 07:33

    I have finished it now.. took around 33hours ..loved every one of them none of it felt like filler

    The pain in the butt thing is that on release in my local area there were no copies of it... Game had a great big display for it but no physical copies only downloads,playtime and all of the super markets and general stores didn't have it either.

    Apparently it was the same in America when it came out , there were places you simply could not get it so people had to result to downloading it.... then Nintendo went on to brag about how many copies of it had been downloaded as if It was a success and a wonderful thing... If people choose to download then its good if people are forced to download because they cant physically get a real copy of it then this is a failure on the part of your company...

    If there going to charge Ł40 for download games when if you shop around you can get some of them for Ł30 (I got both fire emblem and Luigi's Mansion 2 for this) then it will work out far more expensive to download as after a few games you will have to buy a bigger SD card thus costing you even more.

  26. bigterence Tuesday 30th Apr 2013 at 07:41

    Download for me on this one.Allways to hand.Also download for Animal Crossing when it arrives.Most others on card.

  27. ultimatebuffalo Saturday 4th May 2013 at 00:31

    kind of annoying all the text and DLC is heavily censored in europe. when one characters talks about anothers big boobs they change it to hair, all the fan service images are covered up its just sill yin this day and age that its still resort to this, i mean they didnt even release Binding of Issac for 3ds coz of censorship and were too afraid of people kicking up fuss when we are well out of victorian era england. but i guess Germany is the hyperbole of censorship is prob why.

  28. Chuckkle8 Monday 6th May 2013 at 23:45

    I was worried about buying this as I'd never played any other games in the series. But after playing the demo, I couldn't resist! The game's great so far - i love the art style and the fact that once someone dies, they never come back. I can't wait to see how it ends. :)

  29. olrodlegacy Monday 13th May 2013 at 17:46

    I'd enjoy this so much more if there wasn't so much damned text to get through!

  30. kerr9000 Monday 13th May 2013 at 18:52

    The text is kind of the point ... some games work on the basis of a story on relationships between characters, the vast majority are short on story short on relationships so it is nice to have one with a big emphasis on this for once

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