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Stewart: Fire Emblem is Portable Perfection

BY SAM STEWART | FEBRUARY 21, 2013 5:00 AM

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Ever since Nintendo’s Game Boy earned worldwide success with Tetris, handheld systems have often been considered a place for short, simple games that could waste 15 minutes here and there. Consoles are the powerhouses that give us blockbuster experiences, while handhelds just tide us over until we can get back in front of the TV.

Handhelds are no longer happy being second chair. Devices such as the 3DS, PlayStation Vita, and smart phones allow smart developers to create masterly games despite tech limitation. Fire Emblem is a series that has thrived on handhelds, and Awakening is without a doubt the best entry in the series, the best 3DS game, and one of the best games of all time.

Fire Emblem is a strategy-based game similar to the well-known Final Fantasy Tactics series or even more well-known game, chess.

You and your foe take alternating turns moving your characters across the map and positioning to attack or defend against the enemy. But characters are not all the same. Some move farther, some hit harder, some are tougher. Some just do things differently. An archer must attack from two spaces away, while a mage can attack from one or two spaces away. A dancer is a weak fighter, but she can grant any unit an extra move. A cleric has to get next to a unit to heal them, unless they have a physic staff that can heal from afar. But all items will break after a set number of uses, with the strongest items having the fewest uses.

Fire Emblem is also about management and awareness. Be aware of your unit’s weapons, but also be aware of the enemy’s. Wind Spells are deadly against flying characters, and most weapon types have advantages over another. For example, sword users always have a leg up on ax users.

Don’t forget that positioning is just as important as your weapon. You could attack that Knight right now, but you could also place yourself on that fortress, which will give you a stat boost as long as you are on it. Or you could move next to another unit, which will support you in battle, and you will grow closer as friends. Did I mention you have to manage relationships as well?

The more characters battle together, the closer they get, and the closer they get, the better they will support each other in battle. If a male and a female character get close enough, they can get married, which provides the best level of in battle support. This system is helped greatly by Awakening’s best new feature, the pairing system, which allows you to place two units on the same spot, giving the lead unit an immense stat boost. Is your new Wyvern Knight a little too slow to be effective? Pair him with your best Assassin and watch the extra speed help him fly circles around the enemies.

Support is important not only because of battles, but also because it is the source of the best story bits in the game. There is an overarching narrative about warring nations and magical artifacts, but the character conversations are far more entertaining, and there are hours of them for dedicated players to see.

There are hours of everything for players to see. On top of the extensive campaign missions, random battles pop up on the map, DLC battles can be downloaded, and optional side quests are scattered throughout the game. You can even battle other players through Street Pass or just buy items from their avatar. Even after beating the game once, numerous difficulties (including a Classic mode that keeps the series’ infamous permanent-death feature). The game looks beautiful despite the 3DS’ limitations. The characters sprites are great as always, but the 3D characters look amazing as well, especially during battle scenes. The music is great, setting the mood perfectly in epic battles as well as goofy chats. 

Fire Emblem Awakening is a true strategy game. Admittedly, it is daunting at first, but once you get into the rhythm, there’s not another game you would rather play. This game is proof that handheld games aren’t just appetizers for gamers. They are full experiences that can eclipse their big screen counterparts when done right. Fire Emblem Awakening is done perfectly.

Reviewer Score: 10

Fire Emblem Awakening
Released: Feb. 4
Published by Nintendo
Developed by Intelligent Systems
Cost: $39.99
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
ESRB Rating: T for Teen


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