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[10.0] Fire Emblem Awakening Arbitrary Review

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A FRANCHISE REVIVING MUST-HAVE MEDIEVAL TACTICAL TREAT ON THE 3DS THAT WELCOMES SERIES VETERANS AND NEW PLAYERS ALIKE

Welcome back to another entry in my Arbitrary Review series where I review titles that may or may not be new ones, but ones I feel passionate about and feel like reviewing for all who love them or are interested in possibly picking them up! I was inspired to do arbitrary reviews based on the fact that few large entities return to older titles that may or may not have improved since their releases (such as with patches, DLC, hotfixes, etc), and that in some commercially funded organizations there are rumors of reviewers who could be paid-off to write positive reviews, or may be writing about titles they may not have fully experienced or enjoyed. This is why I am happy to present my honest reviews for games that I feel I have fully experienced so you can get a full opinion on a particular product, usually close to the time I've personally finished it. Thanks for reading! 
Some spoilers will be present to allow me to write a full assessment of my experience, but don't worry, there's plenty of plot surprises left than what is written here. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Back In The Day 

Its the year 2003. It was a normal weekend, I was 13, and had made plans to hang out with my best friend who came over for a routine spending of the night, where we'd game together almost all weekend. 
Spending time with friends is great, but I deeply connect with others who have shared interests the most, and my longest friendship with who I have known since my early childhood, is a guy I always admired for his tactical expertise, knowledge, and strategic skill. He's a couple years older than me, and I've always found him to be very intelligent. 


"Have you ever heard of Fire Emblem?"

As a kid what I admired most about him was how many games he finished, and he didn't just race through things no- he usually did everything in them and did things well. He became so renowned for finishing games and remembering minute details in them that he nearly acted as a hotline for myself and other friends to call up on the phone and ask for guidance on games like The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Mario 64, and many more back in those days. 
It just so happens that he and I were reconnecting at the time, being that I had just turned 13, we went through a phase before that time whem I had turned 10 and he was becoming a teen which meant I was still finishing up being a younger, more naive kid while he was becoming a teen, and for just a couple years we didn't talk much. 
During our first time hanging out again on that weekend in 2003, one of the very first things we did was sit down on the floor in my bedroom as he said, "Have you ever heard of Fire Emblem?" and I gave him the common response of what I assume many US born and raised 13 year olds of that time would have said: "Only from Marth and Roy's Bio's in Super Smash Brothers Melee." 
He then pulled out his Game Boy Advance SP and opened it, revealing the first Fire Emblem game I ever laid my eyes on- as it was for many in the western world. 

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The very first Fire Emblem to release in the west was none other than Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade, the prequel to Fire Emblem: The Biding Blade which released previously in Japan, and was only given the title "Fire Emblem" in the west. 
None of that really mattered to us though, but being a somewhat scholarly kid (and an obsessor of Lore and a collecting fanatic today) I had done what research I could when I first became enthralled with Roy's appearance in SSB:Melee, even without going online. 
I had light knowledge of 'what' it was, but with my friend's recommendation and how he showed me the game's final chapters that day, I immediately had to get my own copy. Fire Emblem's GBA presence and continued releases from that point forward became something special to me and was one of a few things that brought me and my bestie a lot closer for many years to come. 
Needless to say the series has a special place in my heart, and nostalgia is also a powerful thing. 

This review isn't about Fire Emblem on GBA though, but I wanted to share how powerful the series' introduction to the west was for me, and how all of those past experiences and feelings, feel to have come full circle with Fire Emblem Awkaening. 
Following Fire Emblem Shadow Dragon's lower sales, released on the Nintendo DS in 2008, the franchise took a break from releasing in the west for a while as sales began to decline overall, until finally some of the fine folks behind the series, decided that Awakening was going to possibly be their final game. 

Let me just say that Awakening is light years ahead of anything made before it, and it is very clear and obvious while playing it, that you can tell the developers went all out, giving it everything they had for one last hurrah.

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Awakening is filled to the brim with things to do, characters to invest in, an incredible story, and tools unseen before in previous entries that actually provide the player with many options to fully max out their characters' stats, relations, and more. Not only that, but Awakening gives you the reigns to keep summoning encounters to use for grinding. 
Awakening also gives you what the game calls Paralogues- which are great sidequests that usually award you with new characters or special items that expand the already deep storyline, and there's even a hefty amount of DLC to top it off, ranging from showering you with special legendary arms and heroes from previous entries, even maps for Awakening's characters and older characters alike!

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So How Does It Play? 

Awakening is an amazing entry on the Nintendo 3DS that should not be missed if you're a fan of Japanese Tactical Role Playing Games, or someone who wants to get into them. Gameplay is recognizable for JTRPG veterans who find a lot of entertainment in the grid-based movement system and planning out your own tactics. 
While one player could think further down the line of one battle as they create their own sense of strategy, others newer to the genre or series will find a welcoming new experience that continues to evolve as the game progresses. 

Veterans of Fire Emblem are graced with new concepts as well in Awakening, a few being the new systems of pairing units together for strategic values, marrying characters together with Awakening's inclusion of minor dating sim elements that produces children who are also new units in your army and very unique characters with their own backstories and lore, and last but not least- the new and improved seal system!

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Seals are items used in Fire Emblem games that 'evolve' a unit to a higher class usually based on whatever class the unit is. Seals are best used when characters cap their levels at the usual Lvl.20, and re-level back up starting from Lvl.1 as a new class, retaining all stats and leveling new ones as their new class. In Awakening, Second Seals are used to change a class to an entirely new base class, while Master Seals promote them to the higher evolutionary classes. 

An Archer character for example can benefit tremendously by leveling to max and using a Master Seal to become a Sniper class, a unit with fearsome power and range on the battlefield. Don't want that character to be an Archer though? Use a Second Seal and make them something way different, how about a Knight? Its up to you! Where in previous titles one character was usually always locked to their starting class, with few or no options on what they could become.

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For those new to Fire Emblem or unaware, tactics rpgs or for Fire Emblem specifically, it is like playing a very intricate board game rather than your usual turn-based or action rpg games. 


"Awakening does a masterful job at including familiar elements of the series while having the potential to be a unique experience."

Like board games, the characters have statistics and abilities that follow rules, and you've got a lot of character classes to choose from, such as knights, mages, swordsmen, mounted cavalry, dragon knights, axemen, healers, all types and more that represent the types of character classes you'd expect from an rpg. 
However Awakening takes what Fire Emblem already had, including previous unique classes, and makes new ones like War Monk, a healer who carries a big axe, or how about a mounted mage who can wield a sword? Throw in plenty of skills and abilities and the weapon triangle the series is known for (Swords against Axes, Axes against Lances, and Lances against Swords) and you're on your way to understanding a little bit more about how things play.

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With So Many New Features, How "Fire Emblem" Does Awakening Feel? 

Awakening does a masterful job at including familiar elements of the series while having the potential to be a unique experience. Remember, this is a game that could have been the last one of the series, that means it was built with enough under the hood to last a long time. 
I must stress it now that I LOVE games that give you a lot of options to customize what you want, and tools that remain present that help you take things as far as you want to take them. Some of these tools include speeding up battle animations, being allowed to switch between Japanese and English text or voices, different difficulty levels, getting the extra characters you want, versatile tutorial modes, extra scenes to unlock all over the place whether in camp or between unit relations, tons of usable weapons unique or otherwise, being able to access tools for grinding off the beaten path- the list goes on and on.

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One very famous mechanic of Fire Emblem games that has made this franchise notorious in the realm of tactics games is the permanent loss of characters when they die. 
Throughout the series most gamers will ensure they have a save at the start of a long arduous battle for insurance just in case a character dies. 
And yes I mean permanently gone, unless its one of a small handful of main protagonists who'll immediately give you a game over if they die. But yet again, Awakening surprises us all by offering a new option in Fire Emblem gaming- something called Casual style. 
This mode aside from Classic, allows you to save at almost any time and the permanent loss of characters is disabled.


"...many of us live in a day in age where there are just too many amazing games coming out..."

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In my first go at the game I went straight for Classic with an attitude of "Heh, I've survived old Fire Emblem games and am a veteran, no baby mode for me!", but that attitude has since changed and I'm very glad it did. 
Fire Emblem Awakening's Casual setting is an amazing way to ease in players who may be new to the game, or give an experience that is a lot less stressful to anyone playing. 


"Gone are the days of long summer vacations and that feeling of "I'll never grow up I have plenty of time..."

I personally finished the game on Casual, which allowed me to do everything in the game with decent pace (still reached about 100 hours though) as I enjoyed all the basic and most extra content without having to often restart entire maps, a fate that could have caused me to take much, much longer, which might have even driven me away from the game for a bit. 

I hate to say it, but many of us live in a day in age where there are just too many amazing games coming out, and unless you do have tons of time on your hand to spend 200+ hours on any one title, by all means do it, but for me I like to do playthroughs that do in fact accomplish either everything, or just about everything, but keep a steady pace so I can keep working through my backlog. Gone are the days of long summer vacations and that feeling of "I'll never grow up I have plenty of time" for me unfortunately, so casual mode helped me enjoy the game to what I felt was the max for me- which just means that I didn't have to deal with the classic permadeath, feeling the need to restart whole chapters.

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I know some people who will go to ludicrous levels to play games to bits (like an old friend who spent the better part of a decade or so off and on, re-writing the entire sphere grid in Final Fantasy X using items that let you change each point of the game's 'skill tree' and then refilled each one, for each character, then had all those characters level each other's skill trees), and even how far I like to take things is a bit far at times, but I just didn't care to play until every character's stat was completely maxed out. And yes, you can do that in this Fire Emblem too! 


"Min/Maxxers will find themselves at home here."

Every level up uses RNG to pick stats to level at random, so technically if you really spent hundreds of hours, the ability is there to level a character to 20, use a Second or Master seal, re-level them back up, then send them back to Lvl.1 again, then repeat until every stat is leveled to the max. As far as content in the game goes, literally nothing requires your characters to be THAT godly powerful, but the fact is that you can do it if you wish. Min/Maxxers will find themselves at home here, and so will anyone who enjoys Fire Emblem's classic style with permadeath. 

Fire Emblem Awakening's story gives us another classic tale of a noble or leader who needs to save their country. It is a repeating story element in the series just as Warriors of Light are to Final Fantasy. 
It doesn't get old in Fire Emblem because most of the series take place in what is roughly a thousand year story arc that began a long time ago with the great Hero-King Marth who defeated a powerful evil dragon and other villains, and over time the games chronicle the noble bloodlines or heroes who keep the peace in the same or nearby lands until we reach Awakening- yes you guessed it- which was designed to be the end. 

For Longtime Fans, Awakening Provides 
A Unique and Entertaining Sense of Ending As You Progress 

Awakening's main protagonist, Chrom, is a descendant of Marth who is destined to collect the pieces that make up the Fire Emblem (a magic shield with slots for sacred jewels that does a few different things in the series) and defeat the series' longtime antagonist, Grima, once and for all via a long campaign of uniting allies and defeating more than one uprising that either wants to conquer his lands or resurrect the ancient foe for the purposes of ending all life. 

Usually in Fire Emblem stories we are presented with a Lord who must face invading or evil forces that would end the world or control it using some dark power that isn't usually revealed until big plot elements start coming together way down the line.

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Awakening's story has a unique flow to me. The story flow gives us the general idea that this smaller nation is invading for whatever means, and introduces a few antagonists who then disappear a third of the way into the game after the story makes you feel like you've defeated them. 

You spend time making allies, unlocking Paralogues, and then a time-skip happens! I love stories with time-skips as they provide a way to clearly see how characters have aged or grown in different ways, sometimes introducing new ones who join with the characters you already love, and being able to see how the state of the game's world has changed. 

Time-skips are always a unique element to me and I always enjoy them. This skip also occurs after a major tragedy which adds another element of surprise when you see how things have progressed from there. 

New enemies appear as you learn about the Valmese Empire and the character named Walhart the Conqueror who is invading from an entire second continent. The main characters and their allies lead an assault into the Empire and defeat Walhart, more tragedy occurs. 
By that time stirrings of old enemies from the first portion of the game's story reappear and by then you begin to see why/how things are happening with ominous cryptic messages slowly translating to you that the end of the story is coming one way or another. 
Chrom's tale and duty as Marth's descendant who is destined to defeat Grima once and for all with the inclusion of characters from previous titles like Naga and Tiki who fought beside Marth, gives a unique sense that Fire Emblem is headed toward an epic climax.

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Before that epic climax though, is the tying up of many loose ends- such as the ability to meet previous story antagonists, to have an effect on them that brings about a change of heart, and recruit them and others you've met along the way to where everyone- even Walhart!!!- joins you for one epic final battle. 


"It continues to give me chills today to think about it all."

Intertwined is Chrom's daughter/Lucina's story, which heavily reminded me of Future Trunks from Dragonball Z who miraculously returns to the past after all the main heroes died as the world ended, to warn and assist them in changing the future. Even the children of most of the characters come through time portals or dimensional anomalies from the future to help their parents with the big fight taking place in the present- if you earn them. 
It continues to give me chills today to think about it all.

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You Get To Be A Part Of The Action Too! 

Fire Emblem Awakening allows you to somewhat create your own character who can be a male or female companion to Chrom and friends, someone they meet who has amnesia at the start of the game. 
Your character can take on any class in the game and even take part in the character relations system to make friends and even find romance. 
The developers even provided ways to affect the story if you play a female who wants to marry Chrom, which makes Lucina your daughter. 
Morgan is a side character you can recruit who can end up as a male or female child to more than one character. 

For me, I played an Original Character I tend to make in most games that allow you to make your own character, named Ellia. My Ellia married Chrom, and Lucina was my daughter, and Morgan was my son born to Chrom and I. In a friend's game he was a male who was Chrom's loyal comrade who bedded one of the female characters. In another's they played a female character who was a platonic ally of Chrom's and loved no one. The fact that I got to play a 4-person family who got to fight together on the battlefield together and chain combos together somehow added more emotion to the story for my personal experience, and seeing them support each other in battle and hold on during rough moments made things really enjoyable in those situations. 


"...the big list of personalities who were created for this game that communicated to me well that this was a world that had existed before I arrived..."

For those who know how things go toward the ending, you will know how your own personal character may summon forth even more emotion in the end or with what transpires toward it. The same goes for other characters as well, as there are many combinations of who can get close to who or marry who. 
In my game, Stahl and Sully were together and made an epic couple who rode together as Paladins and supported each other mechanically really well in the late game. In other's games, Sully might have been without someone else. 

Seeing how the game's children are generated and even go as far as to take on certain skills their parents share, really shows the level of depth and worth in the relation system if not for just game mechanics but even possibly emotional attachments.

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"As I move on through more games and future Fire Emblem titles, I truly believe this game's story and characters left a mark on me that will be impossible to forget about."

The writers did a phenomenal job at making each character unique and fleshing out their personalities, quirks, and more. 
There are so many different combinations of character interactions that blow previous entries in the series that have character relation systems out of the water- almost making them completely incomparable. 
Humor, tragedy and sorrow, happiness, philosophy, and much more is present in the big list of personalities who were created for this game that communicated to me well that this was a world that had existed before I arrived, with characters who's lives were important and many very diverse from one another. 
Reaching the ends of many of their arcs in the story, and seeing them through until the last dialogues could be read, gave me an enormous sense of fulfillment. I tend to enjoy a lot of stories from JRPG's, anime, other video games, movies, books, and more- but this is one that I think will truly stick with me for good. 

As I move on through more games and future Fire Emblem titles, I truly believe this game's story and characters left a mark on me that will be impossible to forget about. Its that good. And that is what also made older games in the series so memorable to me, I believe it is a titanic strength for Fire Emblem, that being the characters and story. I have seen with older titles in the franchise as I can imagine with Awakening, that the classic permadeath mechanic could add even more to the emotion, since characters will stay dead.

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How Does Awakening Look and Sound? 

Unlike what I feel to be the semi-ugly-ish impression the first Nintendo DS Fire Emblem game (Shadow Dragon) gave us as the series moved into 3D-ish graphics on the handheld, Awakening is beautiful all around. 

From the artwork for the game and aesthetics overall, down to the in-game graphics that do their best on the Nintendo 3DS, Awakening stunningly represents it's medieval world and characters in a way that mixes some anime-style themes with game sprites, 3D maps and background graphics, not to mention the quality of it's full CG animated cutscenes. 
It all feels very Fire Emblem while taking a slightly new style since the game's art and character design was done by Kusakihara and Yūsuke Kozaki. 
Together through their lengthy meetings, a new art style was achieved for the series, which has nowadays continued with the Fire Emblem -if- (Fates) games.
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As if there wasn't anything else for me to gush over, Fire Emblem Awakening's soundtrack is absolutely amazing. This is one of those game soundtracks (if you like the general style of jrpg music) you can easily find yourself listening to long beyond your time playing the game- I know I do. 
In fact the official OST actually includes some higher quality versions of songs found in the game that were already darn good. 
Some of the music sounds incredibly epic, some utilize choirs (which always gives me chills), orchestral epics, soft medieval tunes, a lot of great battle themes, and music overall that I found very well placed wherever you are in the game that to me, felt like the game's tracks contributed to how important, light-hearted, serious, or emotional that moment in the game was. 
Even the classic Fire Emblem theme is included in different ways, especially during my FAVORITE song from the game that I listen to on a regular basis to get pumped up during my day, called Id (Purpose) which you can listen to herePLEASE give it a listen and see what I mean!!! 
Awakening has a way of giving me a lot of chills it seems, and is such an epic end to a long tale. 

Currently Awakening is still the furthest in the timeline and whether or not it remains the true end of at least Marth and Chrom's bloodline's story or not, it is epic all the way around without a dull moment I could find anywhere. 
When it comes to games on handheld systems, its usually the masterpieces that I find myself listening to the soundtracks of for decades to come, and this game is certainly one of the best I've listened to. 

Final Thoughts: 

Fire Emblem Awakening is not just another amazing entry into the already developed and revitalized tactics rpg franchise, or a great 3DS game to pick up. 
It is a necessity for gamers who enjoy the genre and aesthetics of medieval tactical rpgs where relationships count as much as making your characters surpass mortal bounds, ascending to godly levels of power. 
All of that is complete with a story and characters you don't want to leave behind when you've reached the end. 
It is a game and a story that will stick with you for a long time. 
Awakening blesses gamers with the developer's mastery of game mechanics, character relationships, extra content, and tools for customization, preferences, and personal achievement along your own journey. 


"Have you heard of or played Fire Emblem Awakening?"

Its been a long time since that weekend in 2003 that I mentioned at the start of this article. By the end of my time with Awakening in 2018, I truly felt like I could feel how clear it was that everything in the franchise had lead up to this experience, whether it be because I met Naga and Tiki again as they joined in with antagonists-turned-recruits, meeting Priam who carries Ragnell and is Ike's descendant- the hero from Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance on the GameCube, getting to see Eliwood, Hector, and Lyn even if it were in their flashback/phantom cameo forms, or just the general feeling the game presented where it became everyone VS Grima in a final assault, and how peace descended on the land and the character's epilogues played out. 

The friend I mentioned at the start of this post was deployed in the military far away where I didn't have much contact with him for about 5 years, which was during the time he played the game back in 2012 when it originally released. 
However just like in the old days when we returned to hanging out again, we sat down and reconnected again with the subject of Fire Emblem once more- this time the question was, "Have you heard of or played Fire Emblem Awakening?" asked 15 years since the start of both of our Fire Emblem journeys. 

Awakening is a must-play experience hands down, and I don't usually intend to always give out maximum high scores for games I tend to gush so much about, but this one really takes the cake. 

Believably, Fire Emblem Awakening became the savior of the franchise, with high scores all around and with enough profit made to blast the series into what I view as being close-ish to mainstream popularity today with loads of new plans and games for Fire Emblem on the horizon. Following Awakening is Fire Emblem Fates, a game with 3 versions that takes place in a distant past, and Fire Emblem Echoes which is a remake of the classic series entry, Fire Emblem Gaiden. Fire Emblem Warriors is out now on the Nintendo Switch, and just announced for Switch as well is the upcoming Fire Emblem The Three Houses. 
I have yet to play Echoes or Fates but they're on my horizon for sure as soon as I finish the current long rpg games I'm working on now. 

The future is bright again for the Fire Emblem franchise, if not brighter than it ever has been- its clear this new era just took an Awakening to get there. 

Final Verdict: 

10.0 Masterpiece 

Fire Emblem Awakening is the best game in the franchise, welcoming series veterans and those new to the series, and is a must-have for any 3DS library. 

+High Customization and Tools For Further Enjoyment 
+Character Relationships and Deeply Written Characters 
+Addicting and Innovative Gameplay That Reinvents Series Style and Includes New Mechanics 
+Unit and Overall Strategic Versatility 
+Wonderful Aesthetics and Art Direction 
+Soundtrack That Can Live In Your Ears For Days And Beyond 
+Emotion and Overall Ability To Get Hooked 
+Plenty of Potential Time Consumption and Value


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PS: I just wanted to add that Fire Emblem Awakening doesn't have a lot of merchandise, but what it does have is an assortment of figurines ranging from figma, amiibo, to expensive scale figures- as well as a very nice artbook which you can see in the back of the picture above. 
There's also some other things out there like character key chains, and a really nice soundtrack box for collectors. 
Just a few bits of Awakening merch from my personal collection seen in the photo above, where you can see the artbook, some amiibo, the game, and Figma Lucina. 


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