Fire Emblem: Awakening cover art featuring Chrom, Lucina, and other characters

Retro Game Review: Fire Emblem Awakening

Title: Fire Emblem Awakening
Developer: Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SPD 
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: April 19, 2012 in Japan; Feb. 4, 2013 in North America; April 19, 2013 in Europe; April 20, 2013 in Australia
Reviewed on: Nintendo 3DS

Role-playing games have become a recent passion of mine as I’ve started to find love for the genre over the past few years and that means experiencing games for the first time years after their release.

Fire Emblem Awakening was one of those games that many heralded because of its accessibility to newcomers and loyalty to long-time fans of the franchise. Many have gone as far as to say this was one of the greatest 3DS games of all time.

I fit into the category of a newcomer to the franchise as my prior Fire Emblem experience has been beating Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright and playing as Roy on the Super Smash Bros. games.

I did start this game several years ago when the 3DS was still new but I never got around to finishing it. This time around, I was determined and boy, was I not disappointed.

Before we jump into the review, I want to throw out the caveat that I am not a pro at tactical RPGs, let alone the RPG genre as a whole. I will fully admit and embrace my novice status, which will factor a lot into this review.

That said, let the battle begin.

Warning: This review may contain mild spoilers. 

Fire Emblem: Awakening characters Chrom and Lissa
Chrom and Lissa (Image Credit: Nintendo via US Gamer)

Synopsis: An Ongoing War

Robin — the avatar which you can decide on the name, appearance, and gender — has a dream of killing the sword-wielding Chrom after a battle with antagonist Validar. Robin then wakes in a field with amnesia where he meets Chrom and his sister Lissa for the first time outside his dream. 

Chrom and Lissa are the siblings of Emmeryn, the Exalt ruler of the Halidom of Ylisse. Robin joins Chrom’s personal army called the Shepherds as the group’s tactician and aids in the war against the neighboring kingdom of Plegia.

The Shepherds receive assistance from a masked-woman who goes by Marth, who helps thwart an assassination attempt on Emmeryn. Plegian forces, which Validar leads, capture Emmeryn but Chrom and the Shepherds defeat Plegia and bring peace to the continent.  

Two years after the Plegia’s defeat, Chrom inherits the throne and fathers a newborn daughter. Marth’s true identity is revealed and she warns of a future where the Fell Dragon Grima returns and lays waste to the continent of Ylisse.

Chrom and the Shepherds embark on a journey to perform the Awakening, a ritual that grants Chrom the powers needed to defeat Grima. Their journey leads them to Validar, the new king of Plegia, who is set on resurrecting Grima.

Players learn more about Validar and his connection to Robin as well as the meaning behind Robin’s vision at the beginning of the game.

Robin uses his past dreams to thwart Validar’s attempts to resurrect Grima, but a new threat finishes the job. This leaves the Shepherds with some tough decisions as they attempt to defeat the evil dragon Grima.

Fire Emblem: Awakening character Lucina protecting a fallen Chrom
Chrom and “Marth.” (Image Credit: Nintendo via Polygon)

Gameplay: The Choice is Yours

Fire Emblem Awakening is a turn-based tactical RPG. It also features many cutscenes and dialogue.

Players operate on a grid system where they utilize a rock-paper-scissors mechanic called the Weapon Triangle to defeat enemies. Certain weapons have greater effect against specific battle items while others are weak against them.

Fire Emblem: Awakening grid-based gameplay
Image Credit: Nintendo (via Destructoid)

Each character has different types of strengths such as sword wielders, healers, or magic users. As characters battle, they increase in the statistics thus growing stronger in certain areas and learning skills specific to a character’s class.

Fire Emblem: Awakening combat system
Image Credit: Nintendo (via Zelda Dungeon)

Players win battles by usually defeating all enemies or just the commander, but there are some stipulations. 

There is also a support system that allows characters to interact with each other, with some eventually marrying. Supports can offer stat boosts while marriages can lead to new units that are children of established characters.

The romance option is unique because it gives players free reign to marry who they want. The game does nudge you in some directions but ultimately, the choice is yours.

The game has three difficulties: normal, hard, and lunatic. There is an unlockable lunatic plus mode. There is an option to turn off permadeath, meaning characters never die permanently despite what happens in battles.

Fire Emblem: Awakening characters Morgan and Gerome during a converstation
Morgan and Gerome. (Image Credit: Nintendo via Nintendo World Report)

Analysis: A Great First Step

This game was a fantastic step into the series. It did a great job at teaching me the intricacies of a tactical RPG while still allowing me to experience the challenges of it. As a newcomer, that was the game’s biggest strength. 

I played with the permadeath turned off as this was my second Fire Emblem game and I wanted to experience all it had to offer. I tried to play like the permadeath was on and by the halfway point, I was rarely losing characters in battle.

Long-time fans will likely want to stick to Classic Mode, but newcomers might benefit greatly from not having to worry about losing a character forever. With this stress gone, I could focus on learning the game a lot more and experience all the story had to offer.

Speaking of story, Awakening had a fantastic story that genuinely caught me by surprise at times. There’s one part, in particular, toward the beginning of the game where I was left with my mouth agape because I did not see the twist coming.

Fire Emblem: Awakening character Lucina emerging from a portal
“Marth.” (Image Credit: Nintendo via RPG Site)

Furthermore, the ending was great because it wasn’t a traditional happy ending. There are two endings the player can choose and both are bittersweet. I loved this because it emphasized the point, to me, that war rarely has a completely happy ending. 

The characters are both lovable and memorable. Awakening boasts a large cast of characters with a host of different classes so reason would say they all can’t be winners.

This is true, but more often than not, I found myself really liking the character and their interactions with the rest of the Shepherds. A few of the dialogues had me laughing out loud.

The marriage system is a lot of fun, especially if you enjoy playing matchmaker. There are so many great combos of characters and it’s fun to see how their child turns out.

I paired Robin with Lissa on this playthrough and got an absolutely deadly Owain. Children are tied to the mother, but Chrom and Robin both have children tied to them, providing the potential for two kids for each. 

The format of Awakening fit perfectly for my schedule. I have two young children and a full-time day job so gaming can be difficult. 

That said, Awakening is episodic with each chapter having a battle along with dialogue. I could typically play a chapter in 30-45 minutes, making it great for my lunch break or before bed. The portability of the 3DS also helped in this regard.

A bit of a complaint of mine was that following the story could be difficult at times. Once you beat the game, an option appears to let you rewatch cutscenes and reread supports. 

I will admit I didn’t look for this harder prior to the final level but the game never made it clear it was available. I clocked in almost 70 hours on this game over several months so I was bound to forget something. 

Fire Emblem: Awakening character Sumia talking with Chrom
Sumia (Image Credit: Nintendo via Dual Shockers)

Final Score (5 out of 5 Stars)

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Fire Emblem Awakening isn’t perfect, but it’s darn near close, so much so that giving it 4.5 stars didn’t feel right. 

This game is a fantastic jumping on point for any newcomers to the franchise despite it being just about a decade old. I have yet to play Fire Emblem: Three Houses so I can’t speak to that game yet. Still, I believe Awakening to be a great game that’s worth visiting.

The hours of gameplay coupled with an engaging story and lovable characters helps Awakening to live up to its mantra of one of the best 3DS games of all time. 

As I mentioned earlier, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright started my love for the tactical RPG genre, but Awakening really lit the fuse for the genre and the franchise. 

This is a fantastic game for newcomers and veterans alike, one that will keep you engaged for hours and make you yearn to return to Ylisse for years to come.


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