RPG Club Plays Fire Emblem: Awakening—Week 1
With a new month comes a new title for the RPG Club. For May, the team has decided to take a stroll through one of 2013′s most acclaimed games for the 3DS—Fire Emblem: Awakening. As the newest entry in the long running strategy RPG series, Fire Emblem; Awakening earned high praise for its thoughtful combat, lovable characters, and newbie-friendly Casual Mode. But now that the hype has passed, does it really stand out among the best of the best for the 3DS?
I’ve been trying to pinpoint exactly what it is that’s making Fire Emblem: Awakening one of my favourite RPG Club entries to date. I know it’s not the story. So far, roughly four hours in, the plot hasn’t progressed too far beyond my amnesiac avatar acting as audience surrogate for a pretty by-the-numbers confrontation between neighbouring states. I don’t think it’s the cast of character’s either. Mostly, Chrom and crew are written as archetypes rather than actual personalities. That pretty much just leaves the combat sections, then. And, I guess I like thinking up the best ways to take out enemies and trying out new battle tactics, but it isn’t the fights that are drawing me into the game.
I think—and this is going to sound kind of stupid—that it’s Awakening’s presentation that stands out the most so far. This isn’t the kind of thing that I usually come to games for. Most of the time I’m attracted to a game because it has a well-told, interesting story or really great mechanical design. But here, at least so far, Awakening is keeping my invested because of things like the sound effect that plays when progressing through dialogue (a weirdly satisfying little “plock”) and the fluidity of its colourful animated cut-scenes.
It’s not that I have anything really against Awakening’s plot, characters, and combat—I like all of these elements well enough without being blown away by any one of them. It’s just that the game’s presentation is of such a high quality that it elevates the entire experience to the point that I actually look forward to navigating menus. This seems pretty weird (even though good sound effects got me all the way through the slog of Diablo III’s campaign), but I think it’s making all the difference right now. I’m sure I’ll find reasons to appreciate the core of Awakening’s narrative and tactical combat systems as it goes on. For now, I’m impressed enough with its superficial trappings to keep paying attention.
Fire Emblem: Awakening brings out the obsessive matchmaker in me. I didn’t even know that part of me existed.
The central idea of Fire Emblem, besides fighting sort of nonsense fantasy wars, is to make everyone on your team marry someone else. You do this by making them fight alongside each other. So they have to be adjacent to one another, but two characters can also share the same space. This has the added benefit of giving both of them stat boosts.
This has the effect of making the game-in my mind—more like a puzzle game than a strategy one. The question isn’t how can I demolish the enemies in front of me, but how can I do it while everyone frolics together in pattern? If three or four little hearts aren’t popping up every attack, something’s wrong. I’ve done something wrong.
Of course, I’m playing without permanent character death, so there’s perhaps more of an emphasis on the relationships. If characters could die I doubt I’d throw my healer into harm’s way to reap the sweet reward of flashing hearts. But I like it better this way—and necessitating save scumming never made Fire Emblem’s prior any more fun. Instead of frustrating battles, Awakening focuses on having as many time-traveling children as possible.
What is Fire Emblem: Awakening about? It’s got isometric, turn-based, grid-style combat, a match-making, romance sim-lite built into this framework, and a story about warring monarchies that’s supposed to give it all some sort of greater meaning. A lot of people really dig the soundtrack, Reid clearly enjoys the sound editing, and the UI is certainly easy to use and nice to look at.
But for me at least, there’s nothing at the center of this game that’s holding it all together. I feel like I’m riding a bike that lost its nuts and bolts a while ago and is just waiting for the slightest bump in the road before it all falls apart.
Things feel good at the moment though. The conversations are vanilla but don’t have any terribly written lines and never last too long. Battles also move quickly, especially if you breeze through the battle animations or turn them off altogether. And unlike some tactical RPGs, the game doesn’t bog players down with a number of opaque systems to tinker with in-between battles, or too much equipment that constantly needs to be re-stocked or upgraded.
Similarly it’s surprisingly delightful to get used to having fighters work together in particular pairs. The buddy system forces players to navigate battles somewhat differently from other games in the genre, and is an excellent way to foster imagined aspects of character relationships, in addition to the ones that are acted out through optional cutscenes.
Though it’s important to mention, especially with the recent news that Nintendo’s Tomodachi Life won’t allow same-sex relationships/marriage, that it was disappointing at the time, and remains so, that Awakening only acknowledges straight relationships, and thereby implies that none of its characters are gay. Where are my Achilles and Patroclus?
I have something to admit. Even though I pushed strongly for Fire Emblem: Awakening to be this month’s RPG Club game and am taking over posting duties, I’m kind of loathing playing it again. I honestly think FE: Awakening was the best game of 2013 but getting into the shoes of Chrom, Sully, and the rest again is just…hard.
The self-aware hipster New Games Journalist in me knows that I shouldn’t want to play a game about war (despite the fact that I do play them daily). War is gross, plain and simple. And even though we may philosophically argue it’s necessity to the ends of the Earth, shouldn’t we all understand how weird it is to pretend war is fun? I mean, people die, including those we care about.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that Fire Emblem as a series, but especially Awakening with it’s copious dialogue and character building, succeeds for me in a way no other war game does. Yes, Chrom and his army are cute anime characters with a plethora of amusing tropes sprinkled about them, but they’re also soldiers. Soldiers in war zones have a tendency to die, even when serving under the best and brightest commanders.
Well, believe it or not, I am neither the best nor the brightest commander. My emotions tend to run high during a battle. I’ve played and completed a handful of Fire Emblem games prior to Awakening, so I’m well aware of the best ways to pull a team through a fight. But mistakes, miscalculations, and critical hits happen, and when they happen to a unit you’ve poured hours of time into, it hurts. Yes, I’m well aware of the Casual Mode which prevents permanent character death. But what’s the point? A failure is a failure, and I’d feel awful either way. Do I really want to put myself through that again?