I’d happily review Fire Emblem: Three Houses today. But I’m roughly thirty hours into it and I’m only halfway through one of the three stories in the game. So you can expect that one in… god knows when.
Current consensus: it’s a very good game. But that’s not the Fire Emblem I’m talking about today.
A few years ago, Fire Emblem was a franchise struggling to stay alive. Sure, it was decently successful over in Japan! But between two games on the GBA and one on the DS (one of which I love, one of which I haven’t finished and one of which I hate), it only just managed to do well enough to keep going! It was riding a fine line, one that could send the tactical RPG down to hang out with F-Zero and Mother in the ‘ Realm of Likely Never to Return’.
Then Fire Emblem: Awakening came out.
This game didn’t just resuscitate the franchise. It put it onto a rocket and sent it out into space! Awakening quickly became one of the most popular games on the 3DS! It single-handedly changed Fire Emblem into a flagship franchise, featuring tons of rapid-fire sequels and spin-offs! It went from a dying series to an unkillable titan!
But time has passed. Numerous games have come out since Awakening and changed up the formula. So, does Fire Emblem: Awakening hold up? Or has it been left behind by the annals of history? Let’s find out, shall we?
I hope a buddy of mine doesn’t read this. I’m not eager to find a mutilated Raz doll in my bed for talking shit on his favorite game.
Plot: Strong Start, Weak Climax, Decent Finish
This game is a lot like me running a relay. It has a strong burst of speed at the beginning, then carries on for an even pace for a bit, then stumbles and wheezes for breath before pulling it together again for the end. Only this game is slightly more appealing to look at than my sweaty form.
You play as your own created character: Robin (or whatever you want to name him/her), a tactician with amnesia. After being found by Chrom, Lissa and their guardian Frederick, they become a member of the Shepherds, a small military force in charge of protecting their country. It seems like a simple job!
Except for the strange monsters popping out of portals. And the masked mystery man running around with a duplicate of Chrom’s sword. And the war-mongering king that really wants to fight their homeland. And the evil sorcerer that wants Chrom dead super badly.
Just another day.
Initially, this game’s story is solid. It’s decently paced, with each level leading into the next and building up to the climactic final battle. Then, after the time skip, the plot continues to keep the pace up. Unfortunately, the plot itself falls apart near the end due to the shift from villain to villain.
Allow me to explain. After the time skip, you’re faced by a new villain: Walhart, a warlord aiming to conquer the world. He may not have an especially deep personality, but he cuts an intimidating figure and pushes our heroes to their limits. He’s a great antagonist that could easily have been the final enemy of the game, one that could very naturally bring the resurrection of the dark dragon for the final boss.
Because we all know that a Fire Emblem game has to end with a fight with a dragon.
Unfortunately, Walhart is killed and immediately replaced with the uninteresting and cliche Validar. Validar is a pitiful excuse for a sorcerer, one that has already been stomped on consistently throughout the game thus far. Not to mention, Validar has the ultimate, totally original plot twist: “Robin, I am your father.”
Right. I can totally see the resemblance.
It doesn’t help that all the other characters are pretty weak (which is a given, considering the sheer number of them). Some of them have a decent level of depth, such as Cordelia and her secret feelings of inferiority hiding beneath her apparent perfection and Lissa’s childish nature hiding her fears and tragic past. But then you have other characters, such as Kellam, whose entire personality boils down to ‘people forget I’m here’.
Yes. The most forgettable character in the game is a walking joke about being forgettable. How clever.
Fire Emblem games never have the deepest, most well-written stories. Awakening is no exception. It isn’t a bad story, mind you. But it’s messy, overloaded with too many characters and a lack of focus, especially towards the end. It does the job and does it well. But it isn’t winning any awards for the plot.
Visuals: Block People With Their Block Feet!
I know this is a 3DS game, so I shouldn’t be expecting a whole lot. But damn man! Half the time it looks mediocre, and the other half looks amazing!
Let’s start with the cutscenes. In the game’s more cinematic moments, we’re treated to fully animated, 3D anime cinematics. These are surprisingly good, considering that they’re on the 3DS! The character models manage to avoid the uncanny valley, reaching closer to the ‘Guilty Gear’ side than the ‘Berserk 2016’ side.
Which is impressive, considering when this game came out.
In terms of the actual gameplay, this game only looks okay. The character models look decent for a 3DS game (excluding their lack of proper feet), even if they are a bit jagged in certain areas. The environments are rough, but they do the job well enough. The game runs at a decent framerate, with very few dips at any point in the course of play.
It is very rough around the edges. What would you expect from a 3DS game? But you know what isn’t rough?! THE MUSIC!!
Holy shit this OST is good! The orchestral score perfectly complements every scene it’s in, from the quiet to the dramatic! Each track is catchy and memorable, working just as well out of the game as in it! I’ll still listen to it in my downtime, even all these years later!
Visually speaking, this is a solid game. Not great, not terrible. But it certainly works well for what it is, especially on the hardware that limited it so deeply.
Gameplay: Tactics and Waifus
Fire Emblem: Awakening has two identities. The first is a fun, challenging and addictive tactical RPG. The other is an anime dating simulator/visual novel. It is an odd game, but hey! It certainly seemed to work out!
Which is probably why the next game was basically a carbon copy of it. At least until Three Houses trimmed it down.
The majority of the gameplay is spent in tactical combat. This is equal parts simple and complex. You select which units you want to send into battle, move them around the board on your turn, then move on to the enemy’s turn. You go back and forth, fighting to keep your units alive until you fulfill that mission’s parameters for victory.
Each unit has its own strengths, weaknesses, and proficiencies. Some run in with swords, axes, and spears, which counter each other in a classic rock-paper-scissors system, others sit back from a distance and fire arrows, and others cast magic to either heal your team or kill the other.
Your units can also help each other out on the battlefield. If they’re standing next to each other, they can add extra attacks onto their own to deal more damage. Or, if you want to better protect your team, you can pair them up to make one super unit. While in this state, support between the two builds much more quickly, and the supporting unit will sometimes protect the primary unit from damage.
After doing enough battle together, certain units will have support conversations with each other. These vary in quality depending on the characters involved. Some of them are just jokes based around the character’s singular personality traits. Others are interesting discussions that further flesh out each characters backstories and motivations. Sometimes, if you rank up a man and a woman’s support all the way to S, they’ll get married and you’ll unlock a new unit: their child from the future!
This is where the game becomes a weeb’s addiction. The tactical side of it is incredibly fun, addictive and satisfying! The supports, regardless of quality, make the characters more endearing and likable! So, to get more support conversations, you jump straight into the next fight. Thus, the loop begins and continues all the way up to the end of the game.
Now, there are a few issues. There are so many units in the game that it is impossible to utilize them all evenly. By the end of the game, you’ll only be using all your most powerful units and slaughtering all the opposition without difficulty. Some units will fall so far behind that they become forever useless, requiring so much grinding that it isn’t even worth it.
Still, it is an incredibly fun system. It is simple to learn with enough depth to make mastering it both rewarding and fun. It is addictive, satisfying, and challenging. There are few tactical RPGs that can match it for me.
And most of them start with the words Fire Emblem.
I hesitate to say that Awakening is my favorite Fire Emblem game. It certainly is a great game, if for no other reason than the fact that it single-handedly saved the series! But the narrative woes, the
If you love Fire Emblem, then you’ve likely played Awakening already. But in case you haven’t: fix that. Immediately. It is easily one of the best in the series and one of the best tactical RPGs to ever come out.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to burn through another one-hundred and twenty hours to finish Three Houses. I’ll get back to you in another thousand years.