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Friday, November 28, 2014 | Last updated: 7:21pm

"Fire Emblem: Awakening" is a must buy with game-of-the-year potential



It’s only February, but “Fire Emblem: Awakening” is already one of the best games of the year, and probably the best game ever to come out for the 3DS. It’s so good that, after having it for three days, I logged more than 24 hours.

I mean, sure, I play video games a lot, but not eight hours a day for three days straight. There’s just something irresistibly alluring about it. Even after beating it the game calls, and at the week mark I’m pushing 50 plus hours.

“Fire Emblem” is an often underappreciated series though, and so you might not even know about it. But do you remember Marth and Roy from “Super Smash Bros. Melee,” or Ike from “Brawl”? This is their series, and “Fire Emblem: Awakening” is its pinnacle.

“Awakening” follows the same basic formula that all “Fire Emblem” games are founded upon – that of strategy role playing game. All the characters have their own classes and are set up across from the enemy units on a gridded map. The player has to accomplish some objective (usually wiping the enemy out or killing their leader), taking into account the strengths and weaknesses of everyone in their army.

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It’s kind of like a more complicated form of chess, if each piece had a face and personality you fell in love with. What makes “Awakening” harder than chess, though, is that if you lose a piece (character) in battle even once, it’s gone forever. And since you’ll undoubtedly come to love many of them, losing them will be sad. It will probably make you start the map over to keep everyone alive.

The place where it shifts more into the RPG category is when you take the numbers into account. Every unit gains levels as they kill enemies, and as they grow in level they grow in strength. Eventually they can upgrade to a second tier of stronger classes, becoming veritable bad asses. They’ll also accrue skills as the game goes on, affording different units different abilities.

But RPG elements go beyond the battlefield and spill over into the time between fights. Characters that fight next to each other grow closer, emotionally, and after enough time come to support each other. In past games this translates into stat-bonuses in battle and little scenes where they slowly become better friends, but in “Awakening” there is so much more to it.

To start, characters of the opposite sex can straight up get married. Every couple also gets at least one kid who shows up later in the game as a playable unit, which a brand new concept to the series.

In fact, to get those children characters you have to marry everyone off – so the game is basically encouraging you to play matchmaker. And play matchmaker you will, while feeling like a creep for forcing people together.

“Awakening” is also unique in that couples can pair up and occupy the same space on the grid, fighting together with huge advantages. Not only do units get even more stat bonuses, their supporting partner has a change to join the fight themselves or block incoming attacks and nullify all potential damage.

There’s a learning curve to using these new concepts, and even long time players will need to adjust to these novel mechanics. But once you figure it out, you’ll love it. Watching a bunch of married couples absolutely tearing up the battle field is morbidly romantic.

A world map also makes a welcome return to the game, allowing players to buy new items at any time and fight side battles to help level up characters. It’s also where other players’ armies will show up if you happen to walk past someone else playing it, thanks to the 3DS’ “Spot Pass” feature.

And as if all this wasn’t enough for one game, there is plenty of downloadable content planned for the game. All of it involves older entries in the series, allowing players to recruit heroes from their favorite “Fire Emblem” titles.

Now that we have most of the mechanics out of the way (yeah, there are a few more little things), we can get to the story. In short, it’s awesome. Of course, it follows the same royalty-saving-the-world theme almost every “Fire Emblem” game does, but it’s still wonderful.

The characters come alive and you’ll be invested in most all of them. There are good twists you wouldn’t expect and the world makes plenty of references to older games, for long-time fans. You also get to create your own Avatar, which is inserted into the story itself, making you care all the more.

Production wise, the game exceeds every handheld game to date. It is graphically stunning, with cut-scenes that look like they were ripped from a home console. The actual gameplay animation isn’t sacrificed either, except for a weird glitch where everyone’s feet disappear into the ground. Musically “Awakening” is near-perfection, setting the perfect tone for playing.

The only draw-back is that the game is so good you’ll blow through it and then have to wait for more content to come out. If you have a 3DS, drop what you’re doing and buy the game now. If you don’t, go buy a 3DS. I did, and it was the best console purchase I’ve ever made.

9.5/10


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