Never tried turn-based strategy? Fire Emblem: Awakening is reason to give it a shot, find out why below. It’s your move…
It’s no secret that most – if not all – Japanese games are a bit off the wall. Over the years Eastern titles have enjoyed their fair share of weird, wacky and wonderful features – at least within the bounds of Western interpretation. No doubt down to cultural differences – and of course not necessarily a bad thing – but it is hard to recall a Japanese export which hasn’t been without its, how shall we put it, less than orthodox idiosyncrasies, even after localisation.
So what‘s weird about strategy RPG Fire Emblem Awakening, then? Well, the characters have no feet, rather, they have little stump feet. Imagine every character wearing what would appear to be UK size two stilettos and you’re on the right track. It took me a while to notice it in Intelligent Systems‘ 13th instalment to the Fire Emblem series, but once I had noticed it, I couldn’t not notice it. “The idea was to add a unique sort of deformation to the characters,” says the game’s art director Toshiyuki Kusakihara in an interview with Nintendo.com. He explains that it was a design decision to omit ankle joints, as they underestimated the 3DS’s CPU capacity, declaring that they’ll know better next time. “I think it’s kind of cute, though!” laughs Kusakihara. “Isn’t it? They look like they’re wearing high heels. Aren’t high heels the big fashion these days?”
Weird. But perhaps stranger still, is that this tiny little podiatric oversight is probably the worst part about Fire Emblem Awakening, for this is one of the best turn-based strategy RPGs of all time, and certainly one of the 3DS’s greatest ever achievements. Here is where I’d normally insert a joke about not admitting ‘defeet’, but I’ve digressed enough.
I couldn’t resist! But avoiding defeet, sorry defeat, is actually one of the Fire Emblem series‘ signature features. ‘Permadeath’ as it’s known, means that losing allies on the battlefield during any given fight marks losing them from every other battle which follows. No second chances, no zero lives. If you’re dead, you’re dead; it’s as simple as that. Awakening is actually the first entry into the series where this feature can be turned off, meaning fallen comrades reappear at the beginning of the next bout, but removing the challenge of keeping your team alive somewhat dilutes the entertainment of the whole ordeal.
Because, ultimately, this game is about tactics and knowing you might lose that favourite character who you’ve spent hours leveling up, hours bonding with – hell, someone you might even have married (more on this later) – makes you really plan each and every stage of each and every fight with painstaking precision. An extensive list of manipulatable classes must be considered before nominating who is best to lead, sit back, heal, loot or execute a range of other abilities. Your go-to feature will be the numerical guide which shows the likely damage each attack will pose, and the amount of damage you’ll receive. From this you are then better positioned to determine which method of attack is best. I can’t remember the last time a game gave me butterflies, but this was the case on several occasions throughout Awakening, as I frantically scrambled across the map to save a favoured character from peril, cursing my poorly executed strategies along the way. It’s as unforgiving as it is brilliant.
What makes Fire Emblem Awakening stand out from the crowd when compared with other strategy RPGs are its personal touches. Too many other turn based games include just a select amount of significant characters, meaning the rest of your army is filled with faceless swords for hire. This results in these somewhat disposable pawns packing the front lines, softening up enemies before the heroes swoop in and save the day. In Awakening, however, each and every playable character (of which there are around 50) has his or her own beautifully hand drawn anime representation, skill set, backstory, special abilities, and crucially – a name. It may seem simple, but you become instantly more drawn to characters who are identifiable by any one of these parameters, even if that’s just an alias. Sprites are easily picked out from the standard birds eye view of each battle’s blueprint, and 3D sequences run during each individual square off. Again, all of this makes you care how each character fares in war, and thus makes planning battles all the more demanding.