My first experience with Fire Emblem was with the English localization of Fire Emblem: Blazing Sword, on the Gameboy Advance, and while the visual overhaul has been quite significant over the years, the same basic formula remains. You will embark on a campaign to fell bands of brigands, powerful armies, evil sorcerers, and ancient dragons.
Graphically, the game is a superb mix of classic sprites, beautifully rendered maps, hand drawn character artwork, and 3D, fully animated combat. The high quality symphonic score is a joy to listen to, and particularly noteworthy is the rousing main theme of Fire Emblem, which never fails to spur me onward and bring a tear to my eye.
There has been a significant increase in the number of pop culture references in the game’s character dialogue. The first instance that springs to mind is Frederick’s regurgitation of the classic Reggie Fils-Aime quote from E3 2007; “My body is ready.” Humour continues to be prevalent throughout the game, along with a significant serving of melodrama, as one would expect from light fantasy.
Also returning is the support and marriage system, which has been adapted to serve as the backbone of the new pairing feature, which is used to to turn two characters into a single fighting unit with increased chance to hit and avoid, in addition to increased statistics. While this is an interesting new mechanic in the series, it does make combat significantly easier than previous incarnations of Fire Emblem, which may be disappointing for some of the series’ more experienced fans.
The game also features the newly introduced “Casual” mode, which enables the player to retain all their units even if they fall in battle, this is provided alongside “Classic” mode, which provides the same set of rules Fire Emblem has employed for the past twenty years, whereby units that fall in battle are considered dead or injured and cannot be used again, encouraging players to employ more caution in their battle strategies.
Another new feature of Awakening is the inclusion of both free and paid downloadable content, which provides a healthy mixture of expanded gameplay, featuring maps of increasing difficulty, extra characters, maps that centre around character dialogue and fan service, and maps that exist for the sole reason of empowering your units. While some of these maps may not be suitable for some, there is enough variety to provide new content to players of all abilities and tastes for enjoyment during and after the completion of the main campaign.
There has been slight controversy for Fire Emblem fans in the west, who have had parts of the game undergo light censorship that has varied by region; The Harvest Scramble map in Europe, and the Summer Scramble map in the United States, both of which are paid content. While not game breaking in any way, it is of note that the censored content is the main selling point of the downloadable content in question.
Overall the game is an absolute pleasure, and is thoroughly engaging. The story, characters, visuals, and music, never fail to invoke an emotional response, whether it be laughter, happiness, anger or sadness. The gameplay, while significantly easier than previous incarnations of Fire Emblem, does not disappoint and opens up the series to players of all ages and abilities in a way that no previous title has. I would heartily recommend it not only to those who have played and continue to play Fire Emblem, and those who want to play for the first time, but even to those who have played Fire Emblem in the past but felt that the series was not for them. You might be pleasantly surprised by the difference that time and small changes have made to a fantastic title.