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Fire Emblem: Awakening

by Scott Thompson - January 30, 2013, 9:00 am EST
Total comments: 23


The tactical mainstay tries to appeal to everyone. Does it succeed?

“I’ve always been curious about Fire Emblem.”

That’s something I’ve read a lot in the past couple weeks. Despite the series’ buoyed renown thanks to Super Smash Bros., people remain wary. Whether it’s the infamous “permadeath” feature or its nature as a tactical game in general, something about Fire Emblem is uninviting at best, and repulsive at worst. Intelligent Systems tries to address this issue in Fire Emblem Awakening, and it is no coincidence that Nintendo has shone the spotlight so squarely on the game this winter; there has never been a more accessible entry in the series. But don’t let that fool you—underneath its friendly veneer awaits the same challenging experience Fire Emblem is known for.

Still, that challenge is yours to mold. Thanks to its Casual Mode, players in North America can play with “permadeath” turned off for the first time, fundamentally changing the experience. While Classic Mode has your beloved characters teetering on the precipice between life and death with every decision, Casual Mode instead brings every fallen character back to life after a battle is won. Players can even save their games during battles and, if a gutsy gambit should fail, can simply load that save to make a different move. It’s a calculated, radical change to the DNA of Fire Emblem meant to extend a hand to fence-sitting players, as if to say, “See? I’m not so bad!”

The character creation feature is another way Awakening ingratiates players. Your avatar is crucial to the story and is entirely customizable, including his or her name, face, hair, voice, height, and other attributes. The variety of choices makes running across a duplicate via SpotPass pretty unlikely. The most interesting aspects of the process, though, were the asset and flaw categories. Here, players choose which stat their character should excel in (strength, magic, speed, luck, etc.) and which they should have a deficit in. I thought these choices might affect how your character plays; a character excelling in strength might be more of a “tank,” and a character flawed in defense might be an archer or thief, for example. But, much to my surprise, the created character always uses swords and magic, and plays irrespective of your choices. This was especially disappointing to me, as I picked magic as my weakness, and had to use rare items to boost my magic prowess to make the most of my character’s abilities. After a few hours, you gain the ability to change any character’s class, including your created character, but by then, I had adjusted and simply stuck with what I was given. My advice: don’t be flawed in strength or magic.

The story of Awakening centers around Prince Chrom and your created character, who is found unconscious in a field by the good prince. Your character suffers from amnesia (as all good, mysterious protagonists should) and is soon enlisted into the Shepherds, a group of soldiers who protect the borders of Ylisse from invading countries. Despite its familiar beginnings, the story moves in some interesting directions as more and more science fiction is injected into the typical fantasy setting. Things are appropriately grandiose by the endgame, and the complexities should keep you interested as you move from battle to battle, something that definitely isn’t the case with every Fire Emblem game.

Awakening’s noticeable production quality helps in this regard. It portrays key moments with gorgeous animated cut scenes, which feature full voice acting and look brilliant in both 2D and 3D. Even the scenes played out in-engine look great, thanks to stylized and detailed 3D models, but be prepared to read a lot of text boxes. Fortunately, the writing is sharp, and, thanks to its excellent localization, often humorous, so it isn't a chore. What is a chore, though, is listening to characters make a noise each time their text box appears, from grunts to simple exclamations like “yes” or “no.” It sounds miniscule, but when you are reading text for over a minute, you quickly grow weary of the continuous barrage of “No!” “What?!” and “You!”

Gameplay is broken up into two phases: battling, and traversing the overworld map. The overworld portions are the more uninteresting of the two, naturally, and offer the player a chance to sell loot, visit shops, promote units, level up relationships, and then move on to the next battle. These functions are all simple enough to navigate, and you’ll easily develop a succinct post-battle routine that quickly gets you back into the action.

The bulk of the game takes place on the battlefield, where the strategic elements of Fire Emblem are all accounted for. Characters move across grid maps as they attack, heal, open chests, visit villages, and more. The maps start out pedestrian, sporting fields, castles, and small towns, but with progression, you see some incredible terrain. I was shocked at the inventiveness of some levels; I found myself climbing up a tree, with branches forcing me in different directions, and navigating an active volcano as the traversable land burned away with each turn.

The battle system is mostly unchanged. Choosing to attack an enemy displays the percentage chance you have to hit him, the potential damage, and the chance for a critical hit, while also displaying the stats for the enemy’s counterattack. Here, Awakening, as in all Fire Emblem games before it, becomes a strict numbers game. Do you risk attacking an enemy with a 78 percent chance to hit, knowing that if you miss, his counterattack will kill you? Every turn is filled with deliberation, particularly for those playing the Classic Mode. Adding to the strategy is the fact that each weapon type has something it is effective and ineffective against. Bows are useless against heavily armored foes, but can knock out a Pegasus Knight in one hit; swords are better against axes, which are better against lances, which are better against swords. Think of it as Pokémon meets Advance Wars.

The one wildcard is the new relationship system. Where particular units would develop relationships in past Fire Emblem games that might translate to a small advantage on the battlefield, Awakening allows every character the opportunity to build relationships with other members of the cast, simply by battling next to each other. The lowest level of relationship, which is automatically shared between all characters, results in a +10 aim bonus. So, casting a spell alone might give a mage a 75 percent chance to hit. But, position him next to another character, and he suddenly has an 85 percent chance to hit. As units fight alongside each other more and their relationship levels up (from C to B to A and, in some cases, to S), extra modifiers are applied on top of the hit bonus, including chances to critical, dodge, and more. You can even gain a small chance for the second unit to attack alongside the main, which doesn’t even use up his turn!

This forced me to play Fire Emblem in a new way. Instead of running characters in each direction to the nearest foe, I would stop and think about how best to position units to build and utilize the perks of their relationships. Moreover, it was sometimes a better idea to move two units together into a defensive position and draw the enemy out then to try and move and attack separately. More difficult battles featured this ebb and flow, as I charged for the attack and then withdrew to regroup my units and play defensively.

Building relationships becomes a worthwhile investment on the battlefield, but It also leads to unlockable characters. When a male and female character both reach an S rank, they marry. After that, you can recruit their child, who possesses characteristics (both in look and in job class) of his parents. Since each character can only marry once, you won’t even see a number of child variants in a single playthrough. I know I’m already itching to run through again and start marrying different characters, just to see what I get. Expect to spend lots of time working on relationships.

Outside the main quest, Awakening has a few things to keep you coming back. StreetPass brings in armies of other players for you to battle, recruit, or purchase items from, and there is a local-only co-op mode (which requires two copies of the game) that lets you and a friend battle against AI opponents. Additionally, Nintendo plans to continue supporting Awakening with additional maps and characters, available both for free over SpotPass and as paid DLC.

Fire Emblem Awakening confidently toes the line between servicing its roots and courting potential players. The battle system is as mathematically complex as ever, the added relationship system can suck up countless hours, and the final handful of missions is absolute hell for anyone playing on Classic Mode. Still, an olive branch is extended to newcomers, who can turn off the more imposing features while being met with helpful tutorials and impeccable production value. Despite its minor flaws, I was never once unhappy while dumping 30 hours (officially, though you can add at least another 10 for all the times I had to restart battles) into the main quest over the past two weeks. Is Fire Emblem Awakening for everyone? Absolutely not. But it is certainly for more people than any other game in the series. If you’ve been curious, now is the time to dive in.


  • As accessible as Fire Emblem can be
  • Interesting and well-told story
  • Relationships add a whole new dynamic to playing
  • Some amazing level design
  • Character creation is limited in terms of gameplay
  • Character sound effects are grating


FjurbanskiJanuary 30, 2013


Yeah, I'm definitely getting this. Has any Fire Emblem ever been a success in the states? Because this one looks like it's gearing up to be.

Goldenlink18January 30, 2013

I can't wait for this game. One more game I get to play on my 3DS.

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterJanuary 30, 2013

First Fire Emblem I will be buying. Meant to go through my ambassador version first oh well.

CericJanuary 30, 2013

I didn't see this in the review but can you upgrade you units?  Like take a Pegaus Knight to a Wyvern Knight like in the Ambassador game?

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorJanuary 30, 2013

Yup! Units can be promoted at level 10 to one of two (in most cases) advanced classes.

Pixelated PixiesJanuary 30, 2013

It bums me out so much that I need to wait until April to play this.

TaehoongerJanuary 30, 2013

This was a really well-constructed review, I thought!
I just bought it so I'm excited to play it now. However, one thing you can note is that one of the cons ("character sound effects are grating") can be easily dealt with by turning it off in the game's settings!

But overall, I'm glad I read this review! It's amped me up!

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorJanuary 30, 2013

Well I guess that's what I get for not skimming through the options more thoroughly! One less con. :)


NWR_JoshJosh Max, Associate EditorFebruary 01, 2013


YmeegodFebruary 02, 2013

"don’t be flawed in strength or magic."

Actually if you invest a few points in luck you'll never have to worry about any physical or magically weakness.  Usually I have one high level "luck" character in my group to use as "bait" especially for long ranged magic attacks which are a pain otherwise. 

Which also brings up my next point, Palidins are usually you main attack force mostly because they have only one weakness and that's against certain types of horse slaying weapons which in most cases the enemies don't bother to carry.  Axes are supposed to effective against them but axe weilding characters have some poor luck stats and they miss 40-50% of the time. 

A quick question, in this game is there stages where you can replay over and over again to level up weak characters?  That's one of my pet peeves about FE series is alot of times you focus on just leveling up your main party so alot of additional characters are unused and overlook. 

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorFebruary 02, 2013

Oh yeah, for sure. Keep an eye out for Anna. She's a recruitable character who is high in luck and seriously dodges everything. And yeah, there are always random battles available on the map you can grind in. So plenty of opportunity to level everyone up.

Uncle_OptimusFebruary 05, 2013

It as the right move to add the "Casual Mode" and therefore allow the game to appeal to a larger audience. I've read many comments over the years from experienced players along the lines " got killed. He was my favorite. I can't take this anymore. I'm quitting." If a good number of experienced players already felt this way, good luck with attracting newer folks in this day and age!

That said, as a player who enjoys that sense of danger and risk as well as other wholesome masochistic activities, I would have appreciated extra easter eggs in the form of characters or scenarios or story scenes reserved for the "pure" Fire Emblem players :)

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterFebruary 06, 2013

I can't believe I avoided Fire Emblem this long. I didn't realize the type of gameplay I was missing. But holy crap I put it on hard with permanent death... Everytime a man dies I restart the battle, I just can't carry on without them. I don't know how I'm going to finish this game. I lost a villager but didn't care much since I didn't grow attached but still man this game is as stressful as it is fun.

Are there any places to grind and level up a bit without everything being a life or death decision?

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorFebruary 06, 2013

No, your characters are always at risk. But there are random battles on the map that you can play endlessly outside of the main story quests. Some are easier than others, so you'll have to find the one that puts your characters in the least amount of danger.

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterFebruary 06, 2013

Ok cool, will those places on the map show up red or green?

Also should I try and level up every character I have? Constantly cycling them in and out?

oksodaScott Thompson, Associate EditorFebruary 07, 2013

Random battles are red. Green spots are bonus side missions that usually unlock hidden characters. Be sure to do those!

And it's up to you whether you want to level everyone. I stuck with the same party the whe game, but you can definitely spend a lot of time maxing everyone out if you want to!

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterFebruary 13, 2013

If you are on hard and need to grind use the Downloadable content. I got all 3 and you can keep going until your characters are ready for the next real mission.

Question: I waited until level 20 to use my master seal, for Chrom and my character. What is the difference between a Master Seal and Second Seal? When should I use the second seal, when they hit level 20 as well first time around?

CericFebruary 13, 2013

Quote from: Caterkiller

If you are on hard and need to grind use the Downloadable content. I got all 3 and you can keep going until your characters are ready for the next real mission.

Question: I waited until level 20 to use my master seal, for Chrom and my character. What is the difference between a Master Seal and Second Seal? When should I use the second seal, when they hit level 20 as well first time around?

1:47 into this they talk about Second Seals.  I would recommend watching in for a general overview.  Master Seals Evolve you.  Seconds seals Side-Volve or Unevolve.  So you want to turn you Knight into a Thief.  Second seals may let you do that.

CaterkillerMatthew Osborne, Contributing WriterFebruary 13, 2013

Nice! Thanks man!

WahJuly 24, 2013

THIS IS MY FAVOURITE GAME ON THE 3DS!! (exculding x&y maybe) It is done so well nintendo really kicked sony and xbox in the balls with this one. People say that handheld games cannot live to "proper" games, but this is so cool! This is a must-have for a 3ds owner!

p.S virion is my favourite chracter! ;D

Pixelated PixiesJuly 24, 2013

I've noticed a trend with the 3DS games that I've purchased and what I do with them once I've completed them. A couple of weeks after the release of a given game I'm usually geared up for my next purchase. So usually a month or so after I've completed a game I take stock of how much I enjoyed it and whether or not I have any intention of playing it again in the future, which will determine whether or not I trade the game in to fund my next purchase.

I've bought quite a few 3DS games over the years, but my collection of keepers thus far comprises only 4 games. Super Mario 3D Land, Mario Kart 7, Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing (the last of which I purchased digitally and am, therefore, stuck with regardless of what I think of it).

I'm not even a big SRPG guy! So the fact that I've seemingly deemed it a keeper should give you some idea as to how good Awakening is.

WahJuly 24, 2013

dude this is the best 3ds game (so far) Plus the games you metioned are all really good!
Plus i am stuck on whether to buy animal crossing or not? is it good?

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Fire Emblem: Awakening Box Art

Genre RPG

Worldwide Releases

na: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Release Feb 04, 2013
jpn: Fire Emblem: Kakusei
Release Apr 19, 2012
eu: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Release Apr 2013
aus: Fire Emblem: Awakening
Release Apr 20, 2013
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