This E3 week the world has witnessed the very first footage of Super Smash Bros Wii U/3DS. I would like to take a moment to…
While there were some cool Nintendo 3DS games the last couple of years, it has been collecting dust on my shelve pretty much after completing Resident Evil: Revelations, woefully eyeballing some new kid on the block calling himself ‘Life’ in Latin. Showoff.
But, sweet 3DS of mine, be peevish no more, for one of the most magnificent portable games has landed on thine shores. Its name is Fire Emblem Awakening, a ‘Tactical-Top-Down-Japanese-Role-Playing-Game’, or TTDJRPG (screw it, I made that up), and it’s here to rob you blind. Of your freedom, that is.
Seriously, this sucker is one hell of a timewaster, breaking the barriers of time and space and depriving you of what’s little youth is left in you. And you’ll enjoy every second of it, even while your soul mate is restlessly prancing through the living room, her – or his – words of anger falling upon deaf ears. ’Hush dear, my level 19 wizard is about to level up…’
The Fire Emblem-series can best be described as this awesome kid, conceived one night when chess and JRPG had way too much fun. Heavy drinking might’ve been involved and things got awkward afterwards. It has all the strategic elements of chess on speed, but this time each piece is imbued with its own personality, special powers and stats which increase as their individual kills stack up.
These unique skill-sets are essential to understand, because it will dictate how and when you move or use your units. For instance: burly axe-wielders can chop down large foes but can be trampled by horse-riding knights, Archers can be cut down from up-close but can effectively destroy flying horses and armored tank-like figures are vulnerable to magic-wielding wizards . The list goes on, so there’s much to wrap your head around. Fire Emblem luckily trickles out new units at a glacial pace, so you can easily get accustomed to your ever increasing roster of fancy and palaver-happy soldiers.
To place each unit correctly and use them accordingly is pretty hard and cool to figure out, but using the terrain to your advantage is of equal importance. Some tiles, like water, mountain or forest, cannot by traversed by some units, while others can happily fly over them. It makes surprise attacks something you should be wary of, so don’t let your healers or wizards linger in the back. One mistake and they’ll be taken out by flying wyverns or other, nasty, beasties.
And this is what makes Fire Emblem such a sublime game: it gives you all these customization and leveling options for each of your units, but you’ll lose them when they die… permanently. Truth be told, this is the first Fire Emblem where you can switch off the whole perma-death thing, but honestly: why would you? Allowing characters to die on the battlefield raises the significance of each and every battle to a level where an enemy’s turn can make you clench your 3DS in fear, hoping nobody gets blown to bits by a fireball. And since the game does allow you to save mid-battle but deletes your save upon loading, losing somebody forces you to redo the entire chapter or swallow your pride, grief, and carry on. Yes, you may cry just a bit.
Normally death in games is quite insignificant, but the characters in Fire Emblem Awakening are such vivid and likeable personalities that you’ll die a bit as well when your favorite knight mutters ‘This wasn’t supposed to happen…. I’ve got so much things to do and learn…ACK!’. Awakening improves this concept by adding comradely, marriage and even childbirth – which means: moar units! - into the mix. You’ll feel like a real turd when little Timmy’s father gets eaten by wolves because you’re trying to save a sexy troubadour, that much I can tell.
Visually, I’ll admit few 3DS games have wowed me in the past, and Fire Emblem is graphically not really an exception. I’ve bought a 3DS XL just because I got pretty pissed at my original 3DS’s screens when travelling by train – which I do quite a lot – and although the bigger screens solve a lot of the glaring issues, the bigger pixels really hurt my eyes. But…. but! Before you try to cram my Vita – which incidentally holds up quite well outdoors – someplace where the sun doesn’t dare to shine, please let me say this: cranking the 3D all the way up alleviates much of my groaning and actually makes most games look rather pleasant. And it makes Fire Emblem Awakening look absolutely stunning.
Yes: character models miss feet because the developers thought it would go over-budget polygon-wise, texturing is pretty weak overall and everything looks a tad blocky, but my-oh-my does this game look like a completely new world existing on the other side of your screen in full-blown 3D. There is real depth to be seen here, making canyons look really deep while faking your eyes into thinking fire and swirling cinder are really close to you. It makes you dream about how a game such as Skyrim would look and feel, if only the stupidly weak 3Ds’s internals could cope with such demanding graphics. So to sum it all up: play this game no other way… you won’t be disappointed.
All in all, the game is pretty much a train-commuters dream come true, but it doesn’t stop there. You’ll play it on the sofa, in the kitchen while your favorite pizza is smoldering to a black crisp in the oven, in bed, in the lavatory… hell, I’d hit that game in the shower if that wouldn’t kill my 3DS.
And I even haven’t told everything yet. Like the great storyline, the well-written dialogue and the interesting online stuff which lets you meet interesting people… and kill ‘em! This is one cohesive package, and I urge every 3DS-lugging person, be it casual or hardcore, to give this one a whirl.
It’s that good.
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