The term ‘Killer App’ isn’t really used much anymore, but back in the console war days it was all the rage. Nintendo used to be the king of ‘Killer Apps’, that is to say, console-exclusive games which were so good you simply had to buy that console in order to play them. The N64 was probably the best example of such a console. Anyway, for me Fire Emblem is the closest thing there is to a killer app these days, and we recently bought a 3DS so that we could catch up on the Fire Emblem series, following the recent release of Fire Emblem Fates.
Before we can get round to Fates, though, there’s the small matter of Fire Emblem: Awakening. This is the game that basically saved the Fire Emblem franchise by breaking into the commercial mainstream and making bank for Nintendo. Its critical reputation is sky-high too, supposedly one of the best games in the franchise; and certainly the best since Fire Emblem: Rekka no Ken on Game Boy Advance, which was the first FE game released in the West and the first one I played.
Having played through the first few chapters, I’m certainly enjoying the game, though it doesn’t make the brightest of starts. There is a sort of player avatar in the form of the ‘Tactician’, and you get a few options to customize him. I was disappointed that the customization options were unbelievably slim: beyond your character’s gender and life stage (pubescent, late teens, or 30s), you can’t really choose much, with five options for a face (which all look the same) and five hairdos, all of which look stupid. You also get to choose between English or Japanese dialogue, but aside from the most important scenes most of the dialogue is not voiced. There’s an awful lot of dialogue and character interaction, though, so that’s fair enough. The character portraits are very nice and quite expressive, and the dialogue is well-written, but I find the 3D models and backgrounds somewhat plain, and less appealing than the sprites in the older games.
After a pretty nifty cinematic sequence gets the ball rolling, you go through quite a lot of exposition before the game really lets you experience any fights, and I confess to finding the game’s opening section quite boring. You can choose from three difficulty levels at the beginning (Normal, Hard or Lunatic). I plan to play through all of them, so I started on Normal to ensure I have the freedom to use any characters I want. In older Fire Emblem games you had to be very careful which characters you used, as there was a finite amount of experience available from killing enemy units, and you had to be precise about who on your team got kills to ensure that XP was not wasted. The basic archetype of the series is that characters who are strong early on end up useless in the late game, whereas characters who start off weak have great stat growth so you need to babysit them through the first missions. The same system seems to apply here, although it looks like you can summon fights on the world map using items, which should make it easier to level up everyone if you can be bothered.
In any case, starting on Normal is the best way to ensure you can use all the ‘hard carries’ you want, and so I benched Frederick, this game’s Jeigan/Marcus XP hog, straight away in favour of characters like Sumia and Donnel instead. On harder difficulties, I expect you have to use some of the tankier units early on just to get through the first chapters, which will provide a different kind of reward. It certainly looks like there will be a lot of re-play value in this one.
This is my first proper experience with a 3DS. Apart from the FE games, I’m also excited to play Majora’s Mask, and to play a Pokemon game for the first time since Red/Blue. There are about a gazillion versions of the 3DS now. I opted for a New Nintendo 3DS, having been put off by the reports that the XL’s larger screen causes polygon stretching and that its shell picks up grubby fingerprints. In hindsight, the New Nintendo 3DS strikes me as quite small, and even though I have small hands I wonder how comfortable it will be for long sessions. Even so, I’m delighted to have it and am looking forward to levelling up my team of overpowered misfits as I steamroller Fie Emblem’s easy mode.