New and improved Fire Emblem Awakening character guide now available

I’ve just completed a thorough revision and expansion of my character guide for Fire Emblem: Awakening. This has proven to be one of the more popular posts on the blog, so I thought I should go back and make it as good as it can be. I’ve recently been doing another exhaustive playthrough of this awesome game, so it seemed like a good time to return to the article in the hope of making it do justice to the game itself. It also feels like a good way for me to take stock of my thoughts about Awakening before I embark on the Fire Emblem Fates trilogy.

At 8000 words, it’s comfortably the longest piece I’ve written for the blog. If you’re a fan of Awakening, or even the Fire Emblem series more broadly, take a look and maybe let me know what you think!

Pokemon Sun/Moon (3DS) – Review

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2016 was the year of the Pokemon. Pokemon Go was one of the cultural phenomena of the year, the free-to-play mobile game generating an exceptional level of interest that briefly captured the public imagination. Of course, Pokemon Go was developed and published by Niantic, rather than Nintendo, but Nintendo still benefited from the massive exposure their franchise received. Pokemon Go’s runaway success undoubtedly helped sales of Pokemon Sun/Moon, the fully-fledged Pokemon RPG released for 3DS last year. Nintendo shipped over 12 million copies of Sun and Moon in 2016 (over 15 million at time of writing), making it the best-selling game of the year, two million clear of Fifa 17.

The Pokemon bug got me too. Before Sun, I hadn’t played a Pokemon game since the one that started it all, Pokemon Red/Blue, almost twenty years ago. Although the series is often associated with the famous catchphrase, “Gotta catch ’em all!”, there is more to Pokemon than an addictive compulsion to catch cute monsters. The Pokemon games – at least the main-series RPGs released on handhelds, if not necessarily all the spinoffs – have always been robust and well-crafted, even if (by all accounts) few have recaptured the perfect balance and pacing of the originals. Sun/Moon were generally well-received by critics, and with their cheery aesthetic and legions of cute monsters, this is a hard game to dislike. But while it reminded me why I have such fond memories of the franchise, it never quite lived up to my hopes.

Pokemon Sun/Moon are set in the archipelago Alola, a new, Hawaii-influenced setting for the series. This establishes a bright, sunny and colourful tone, likely to prove appealing to all but the most morbid of players. Alola also features quite some biodiversity, and there are about 300 monsters in the game. This means not all of the 800 or so creatures in the franchise are present, but there are still some new ones in addition to “Alolan” variants on familiar creatures. The quality of the monster design varies a little, and like many people I strongly favour the “original” Pokemon cast; but I suppose there needs to be some variation, otherwise I might as well have just played Red/Blue again. As a solo player, I was irritated to find some monsters won’t evolve without trading with another person. Believe it or not, as a man in his 30s I don’t know many people who play Pokemon, and I can’t rightly start hanging around outside schools asking people to trade. Thus I was never able to evolve the likes of Machoke and Kadabra into their final forms. I get that playing and trading with others is part of the game, and the developers want to get you interacting with other players in the world; but I just found it a shame not to be able to get the evolutions I wanted.

For a game as aesthetically cheerful and upbeat as Pokemon Sun/Moon – the closest thing to a holiday without actually taking one – the gameplay mechanics are surprisingly liable to frustrate. Wild monsters can summon a partner to help them in a fight, and you can’t throw a Pokeball to catch a monster unless it’s on its own. Monsters can also summon a partner on the same turn you take one of them out, leading to a near endless supply of reinforcements you have to eliminate (which can make you fell pretty bad, too, like you’re killing a bunch of wildlife for no reason). Of course, Pokemon can also break out of a Pokeball, and you often need to make several throws before a successful catch. This means random fights in the wild can go on for much longer than you would expect, at least if you are bothered with trying to catch new monsters (and who isn’t?) At the same time, the actual story progression for the first 20 or so hours is really easy – even boss fights feel trivial – and I didn’t find the artificial “challenge” derived from the frustrating and random catch system to be very rewarding.

As far as presentation goes, the music is chirpy but some themes can become a little grating. On the other hand, the graphics are impressive: as well as being bright, bold and full of colour, they’re surprisingly crisp and detailed. It’s a joy to see such a nice-looking game on a handheld, and it’s a tribute to Nintendo’s 3DS hardware. To get it running smoothly they’ve dispensed with 3D effects – a move in line with the recent release of the 2DS and 2DS XL. I still think the 3D effect is quite cool when it’s used, but Nintendo ditching it does encourage you to think of it as something of a gimmick. It’s funny now to read game reviews from five years ago which criticize inadequate or unimaginative use of 3D, when the Big N themselves seem to have abandoned it.

As for the 3DS’s other features, the bottom screen is mainly used for a world map, but it’s annoying that about half the screen is taken up with the googly eyes of Rotom Dex (the Pokemon who lives in your Pokedex). You can use the touch screen for selecting commands, or for stroking your monsters after battle to reward them, cure status ailments, and increase your affinity. I tended not to do that much just because it made me feel guilty for playing a game instead of bestowing affection on my actual cats. That said, the relationship between people and animals is at the heart of the Pokemon experience, and if the game helps nurture childish affection for animals, then that can only be a good thing. It’s also nice to think of children being able to spend time with Pokemon as surrogate pets if they’re not allowed or able to have real ones at home.

This is a game heavily marketed at young kids, of course, perhaps explaining the very low difficulty (a shame Nintendo didn’t adopt the same policy when I was a kid). Only towards the end do you have to deploy much in the way of strategy or grinding, and the rock-paper-scissors elemental system is quite straightforward. The main story is quite short and simple, clocking in at just over 30 hours. There’s a fair bit left to do in the post-game, but unless you’re really into context-less Pokemon battles and filling out your Pokedex, it’s unlikely to grab you. The game also has lots of little side mechanics – like developing little islands to house your Pokemon – but none feel very compelling, or are well-integrated into the core gameplay, meaning they’re easy to ignore.

I noticed a couple of other curious things as well. One was a literal way the game has of describing your actions after you acquire an item, explaining each and every time that you “pick up an item and put it away in the item pocket”. It soon felt like a bizarre pastiche of Hemingway. I was also put off by Team Skull, the rival faction you encounter over much of the game’s story. Team Skull are a bunch of generic ne’er do wells who are cruel to Pokemon and engage in various low-level crimes and disorder in Alola. They have a very “ghetto” style, wearing gangbanger outfits and using a rap music motif. The weird thing is, although Alola is an ethnically diverse place with lots of light- and dark-skinned people, every single person in Team Skull is white, giving it the profile of a racist gang. I don’t know whether this was conscious, and whether the developers were scared of being accused of racism if they had non-white members indulging in stereotypically “gangster” behaviour. It may just be an accident because the Team Skull “grunts” (as they’re called) all have the same character model.

In the end, Pokemon Sun/Moon is an enjoyable game with a good heart, and one that’s worth playing. 3DS owners are, of course, spoiled for choice when it comes to Japanese RPGs, and there are plenty of other games that can offer better and more sophisticated stories and gameplay. But there aren’t many that can show you more love.

7/10

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Devil Survivor Overclocked (3DS) – Review

devil_survivor_overclocked_logoI purchased Devil Survivor Overclocked on sale at Halloween last year. Having only recently discovered Atlus’s excellent Shin Megami Tensei and Persona series of JRPGs, I’ve since made it my business to play through as much of their enormous back catalogue as I can. Overclocked is a 3DS remake of a 2009 Nintendo DS game (hence Devil Survivor), brought out for the 3DS in 2011 in Japan and the USA and 2013 in Europe. It’s a satisfying and competent story-driven tactical RPG that, while it was never going to set the world on fire, is a reliable pickup for any RPG fan in possession of a 3DS. It achieved a decent amount of commercial and critical success and even spawned a sequel and an anime series.

Devil Survivor is a spinoff from the Shin Megami Tensei series, and deals with the same kind of themes you’d expect to encounter in a SMT game (demons; friendship; Tokyo teenagers trying to avert the apocalypse). The game has an idiosyncratic structure. The bulk of the “action” takes place in tactical SRPG missions in the style of Final Fantasy Tactics, where your party engage demons and other hostiles in parties of three. In between missions, you choose between a list of locations, some of which have events associated with them which can advance the story, provide new information or flavour, or trigger a fight. These options each use up a half hour of in-game time, and you only have a limited amount of time to make friends, save lives, and kill demons (just like real life, right?). You’ll get to make choices at times between different events, or in conversations, which can have significant consequences.

Combat is pretty good fun for the most part. The demons you encounter are varied, and some of them have creative design and a surprising amount of personality. Like other Atlus games, much is made of elemental strengths and weaknesses, and you have to try and build your party accordingly to prepare for fights and make sure you’re covered. This contributes to one of the game’s weaknesses, though,as many boss fights are punishingly hard and practically require you to pursue a specific tactic to advance. In the early game, progress is relatively straightforward, but at a certain point the game will make you suffer if you thought you were going to get away without grinding “optional” content.

Each party member is accompanied by up to two demons, and you can learn and equip a variety of offensive and defensive moves. Demons themselves are recruited for the most part in a purely mercenary system whereby you can bid for their services against computer-controlled characters, or exercise a hassle-free “buy it now” option. You can also fuse demons to create new, more powerful creatures, which is an established mechanic in SMT games and a surprisingly deep system here. There are some exhaustive guides on the internet which show just how much work was put into designing this, but fortunately you can generally come up with pretty decent results through a bit of intuition and trial and error. I found the demon fusion system in Devil Survivor to be quite satisfying, and I welcomed the fact you don’t have to recruit demons through laborious trial and error conversations in combat. Sometimes a simple cash transaction can be in everyone’s interest.

As for story, Devil Survivor Overclocked has an interesting set-up whereby the centre of Tokyo (inside the Yamanote line) has been locked down due to a demon infestation. The story is quite detailed (for which read: there’s a lot of exposition), and you gradually learn about the machinations of the various human and supernatural factions involved. On the whole, I found the story to be well-paced: although the supernatural shenanigans can feel overwrought, for the most part this is balanced against the real-world disintegration going on inside the lawless lockdown area that’s been overrun by demons. I particularly liked the sophisticated and intelligent integration of mythological content into the story, which seems to be a hallmark of Atlus’s games. Having read both The Golden Bough and The White Goddess last year, I felt quite smug understanding the references to the various demons and sub-plots going on in the, at times, convoluted story. It’s rare for a video game to make these kinds of literary allusions – or at least, to make them in a way that’s sincere and meaningful to the plot and action.

The other cultural references are quite apparent, and without wanting to labour the point, the understandable Japanese preoccupation with urban obliteration is a central theme here. I also felt a (very welcome) influence of Death Note, not least in how some of the characters can see “death clocks” above the heads of people who only have a few days to live. As far as other video games go, Devil Survivor seems to be often compared to the highly overrated Square Enix RPG, The World Ends With You, but as Atlus have pointed out, Square’s game itself made use of certain tropes and devices that have been well-established in Atlus games for a long time. Overclocked’s story is almost entirely revealed over the course of lengthy talking-head scenarios that have something of the feel of a Japanese “light novel”. Remarkably, all of these sections are fully-voiced, which is no mean feat as we are talking about a very significant amount of dialogue here. Most of the main characters are voiced well, but some of the secondary characters will annoy you (see: Haru and, to a much greater extent, Midori). You know the voice acting is bad when you start trying to kill a character off. We’re not talking Final Fantasy X levels of awfulness, but it still stands out.

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If anyone has an explanation why the writers refer to this character like this, I’m curious to know

The narrative is rather unusually structured in that the main character is given a certain amount of freedom in how he approaches the central events of the game, and what you choose really does have a dramatic impact on what happens, and on who lives and who dies. (Telltale Games should be taking notes here.) There are something like six or seven endings, some of which diverge significantly, and several of the endings trigger extra content that was added in the remastered (Overclocked) 3DS edition. A first playthrough will take you 40 hours and change, so there’s plenty of content. Most people are unlikely to have the time or inclination to do an entire second run through the game, but the option is there. If you’re a 3DS owner who’s run out of RPGs, and especially if you’re a fan of Persona or Shin Megami Tensei, this is a game you should definitely check out.

7/10

Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars (3DS) – Review

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In the strange and persistent absence of a new Advance Wars game for the 3DS, I was grateful to The Otaku Judge for recommending Ghost Recon: Shadow Wars to me earlier this year. Shadow Wars is a military-themed SRPG which might help scratch the itch for those hankering for a new AW game. Rather than gathering resources and building units, Shadow Wars gives you control of a team of around six operatives who level up over the course of the game. In this sense, it’s a bit more like XCOM or Fire Emblem, with an important difference: if any of your units die, you fail the mission, as you can’t recruit new units to your squad.

Shadow Wars is part of the Tom Clancy universe which includes the Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and Splinter Cell franchises. I’ve never been a big fan of these games, partly because I don’t like quasi-realistic first-person shooters. I suck at this style of game, and would much rather play something more slapstick and unserious like the Hitman series. Also, the Tom Clancy games are generally based around a very gung-ho valorization  of American military power which sticks in my craw. Shadow Wars is no different, as the story sees your team of American ‘Ghosts’ carry out various black-op missions in Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe. The pretext for this is a cliche-ridden tale of Russian military and mercenary groups following a programme of violence and aggression to terrorize their peace-loving neighbours, and the Ghosts are the only thing standing against them. It’s basically a neo-con fantasy, which some players will be into, but it’s not for me.

As far as the dialogue and exposition goes, the writing is eminently unimaginative, with your squad engaging in by-the-numbers military banter and characters largely conforming to strict archetypes. But the draw here is the gameplay rather than the story or the script, and Shadow Wars largely does a good job of delivering a satisfying SRPG experience. Although your squad only consists of a few members, they level up after almost every mission, with linear but very long skill trees. You can then customize their loadouts so they can specialize in, for example, anti-personnel or anti-armour weapons. The game takes a distinctive approach to SRPG fireams combat: unlike something like XCOM, your characters can never miss, but have strict range requirements. So, a sniper has better range than an assault trooper, but has more restricted movement. If the character is out of range, they can’t shoot. It’s a simple solution, and removes the element of frustration when your sniper misses a 95% chance-to-hit shot for the umpteenth time, like in XCOM. You also get access to explosives, drones, and so on, as well as unlocking special attacks which can really help turn the odds against your opponents. It’s sort of like real life when the technologically superior force can just call in an airstrike and wipe out half the map.

The greater certainty in the gameplay perhaps contributes to Shadow Wars being a relatively easy game. The campaign is surprisingly lengthy, but is relatively light on challenge, and anyone who has completed games like Fire Emblem or XCOM should probably dive right into the top difficulty setting, Elite. I played it on Veteran and failed maybe one or two missions in the whole campaign. As you progress through the story you unlock Skirmish missions, which are usually based around a certain idea (hold a position with a group of snipers, complete a mission with only engineers, etc). Some of these are quite cool and there is a decent amount of content here. If it was released now, most of those skirmish maps would probably be paid DLC. However, I got bored before finishing them all. There is also a versus multiplayer element, but I didn’t try that. As the game is now five years old or more, I’d be surprised if there was much of a ‘scene’ around it.

The environments are quite well-rendered, and the game features some in-engine cutscenes which look surprisingly good in 3D. There is also a fair amount of character art which is pretty decent for the most part. On the other hand, the character animations in missions are rather minimalist, as are the tinny sound effects, and the game’s score is forgettable and generic. All that said, Shadow Wars is still likely to deliver a reasonably engaging experience for anyone looking for a portable, military-styled tactical RPG. And, considering that 3DS games generally hold their value pretty well, Shadow Wars is comparatively cheap now and should only take a nibble out of your bank account. Just don’t expect it to match up to the offerings of Intelligent Systems or Firaxis.

7/10

The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D (3DS) – Review

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Majora’s Mask is widely regarded as one of the best Zelda games ever made, but because it was released towards the very end of the N64’s life cycle, comparatively few people actually played it when it was first released. So it’s a good thing that Nintendo gave it a proper re-make for the 3DS last year. Having never played it before, and aware of its high critical standing, playing Majora’s Mask was one of my top priorities when I acquired a 3DS earlier this year.

Majora’s Mask eschews the older version of Link who figured prominently in Ocarina of Time and later games like Twilight Princess, focusing instead on Young Link. The story seems to pick up where Ocarina left off, and finds Young Link travelling the world trying to find his ‘friend’. I couldn’t figure out from the game who this was supposed to be, but apparently it’s Na’vi, Link’s erstwhile fairy companion. During his travels he is accosted by the mischievous ‘Skull Kid’, who steals a bunch of Link’s stuff, leaves him stranded, and turns him into a Deku Scrub! What a jerk. Link’s adventure starts by trying to return to normal, but soon expands into a mission to save the land of Termina, a kind of parallel dimension inhabited by the Skull Kid as well as a bunch of other characters who are more or less familiar from Ocarina of Time.

Majora’s Mask’s world occupies an odd place, being quite reminiscent of Hyrule in many respects, and containing a lot of its iconography and races, but also seeming quite separate and distinct. This has given rise to a slew of fan theories about the true nature of Termina, its inhabitants, and its mythology, ranging from dream-state theories to how the whole game is a metaphor for Link’s sense of grief. This all seems a bit excessive to me: the game was made in a single year, heavily recycling a lot of the aesthetic and technical assets of Ocarina of Time, and there is a simple practical explanation for the perceived tension or ‘weirdness’, in that the designers faced a challenge in making the game artistically and thematically distinctive from Ocarina while still relying on that game’s engine and art pool.

What is unique about Majora’s Mask is its three-day time cycle. Link is tasked with preventing an apocalypse, as Skull Kid is pulling the moon towards Termina, threatening to crash it into the surface and obliterate all life. It’s a terrifying prospect, enhanced by the deeply disturbing appearance of the moon itself. Fortunately, Link can use his ocarina to turn back time, meaning he has a seemingly endless supply of three-day cycles to complete the various tasks necessary to stop Skull Kid’s plans. The time-travelling mechanic is well-executed, and integrated into a lot of storylines and side quests.

Majora’s Mask has a somber and at times very sad atmosphere. It’s not just the impending destruction of the world, as if that weren’t bad enough; the game is full of the spirits of people who have died, often in tragic ways, and who are often filled with remorse or regret. Similarly, there are many characters who have lost loved ones, and are filled with pain and loss. Many of the game’s quests involve Link working to help people come to terms with their grief, which can lead to some quite moving moments. At the same time, one of the curious things about the game is that every time you reset the cycle, all these incidental events are reset, meaning everyone goes back to the state they were in before, plunged once more into the midst of their pain and grief.

From a gameplay perspective, this resetting of the gameworld contributes to a certain amount of frustration. Many of the side quests have a specific time limit, as you have to complete a certain task by a certain time in order to leave enough time to move on to the next step of the quest. Sometimes this can be quite arbitrary, for example if you have to wait until the next sunrise or whatever. Considering that in order to even begin certain sidequests, you have to kill a dungeon boss to, say, change the season in an area from winter to summer, this can turn a potentially interesting side mission into a frustrating chore. Moreover, the game has a certain inherent difficulty: this isn’t exactly Dark Souls, but neither is the difficulty trivial, and it has the potential to be a punishing experience for players unfamiliar with older Zelda games.

The fact you are always playing against the clock makes this even more acute. This can create a positive sense of tension, as you race against the clock to get things done, but it can also lead to frustration if you run out of time when trying to complete a long-winded side quest and have to go back to the beginning. Some people won’t mind this, of course, but from a contemporary point of view it is quite a ‘hardcore’ mechanic.

Probably the most interesting thing about Majora’s Mask is its general sense of poignancy and its thematic emphasis on loneliness and companionship, and love and death. It’s a curious mix, and for a company not known for its fondness for ‘mature’ themes, this is an emotionally mature and sophisticated game. In a world where it seems most people don’t get a happy ending, the game emphasizes the value of kindness and compassion in a way that’s all too rare. Although Majora’s Mask is probably not for everyone, it’s certainly a unique and memorable experience.

8/10

Fire Emblem Awakening character guide

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Welcome to my guide to the characters of Fire Emblem Awakening. This is an amazing game with a huge roster of characters. Many of them come to you in the course of the main story, but others require you to complete special objectives to meet and recruit them. One of the game’s interesting mechanics is the presence of time-travelling kids (Generation 2) from the future who you can recruit by “shipping” (pairing off) their parents (Generation 1) in the present day. Pretty much all of the offspring characters are exceptionally powerful and most of them are worth the effort to recruit if you have the time. Moreover, Awakening is characterized by an excellent script, and it really is a joy to recruit as many characters as possible and to see their interactions with one another.

You have a lot of control over how the second-generation characters develop, as your choice of parents helps determine what classes they have access to, and what skills they inherit. Therefore, most of these characters can become powerful (or even brokenly overpowered) if you build them the right way. I used to be of the opinion this meant that giving them ratings was pointless. However, I’ve changed my view on this: some characters require a lot more work than others to realize their potential, making some much more efficient to use. Moreover, some of the Gen-2s are just more entertaining and likeable than others, and this is surely a significant factor when choosing who to include in your main roster. Therefore I’ve added ratings for all the children, and reviewed and updated the ratings for the Gen-1 characters.

This guide is not conceived as an exhaustive how-to to min-max the skills and stats of your entire roster. There are a lot of guides like that out there already. More to the point, there is not always a “right” way to build a character, whatever someone on the internet might have you believe: the choice about who to use, and how to build them, often comes down to personal likes and dislikes and the “feel” of different characters. For the most part, unless you’re playing on Lunatic, advanced DLC maps, or Streetpass, you should focus on having fun using the characters you like.

Because of Awakening’s mechanics, you can generally level up your characters as much as you want (again, Lunatic mode is the exception), meaning everyone can be useful and there are no downright “bad” characters. However, some require much more work than others to become useful, and some are more inherently “fun”. This guide attempts to reflect that.

Chrom: 9/10 (former rating 8/10)

The main character of the game, Chrom’s default class is ‘Lord’ although he has access to other classes as well. Chrom is useful throughout the game and has good offensive stats and skills/abilities. He also has pretty good Speed, and good physical Defense for an unarmoured unit. His main weakness is against magic, and he’s not always the best unit to send up against a squad of mages. Nevertheless he’s a fun character to use, which is a good job as you’ll have to use him in pretty much every mission.

Chrom’s unique weapon, the legendary sword Falchion, is somewhat underpowered for much of the game, but as it has no durability it’s still useful. It has a damage bonus against wyverns. As a Lord, Chrom is also one of the only characters who can use Rapiers.

Chrom’s default class path is Lord into Great Lord. He gets decent buff/debuff skills, and his trigger skill Aether is a combination of Sol and Luna. When he has Rightful King at promoted level 15, the trigger rate for Aether should be enough to keep him alive in most conditions, and turn him into a killing machine. Paladin is a good reclass option as Aegis helps reduce the threat posed by mages.

Chrom’s main marriage options are a female Avatar or Sumia, both of whom make for very good support partners. Olivia is also a good parent for Lucina, and Chrom is a great parent for Inigo, but it’s more difficult to match them up. His supports are often very entertaining as Chrom plays often the “straight guy” to some of the colourful characters in Awakening’s cast.

Chrom is also very handsome, well-acted and written, and an all-round JRPG hunk. It’s no wonder so many of the in-game characters are secretly in love with him. Chrom is voiced by the excellent, and thankfully uniquitous, Matt Mercer.

 

Robin (the player avatar, aka Main Unit or MU): 10/10 (former rating 9/10)

The player-created Avatar starts off fairly weak but has enormous growth potential and a very high ceiling. You can customize your character, selecting their gender and having some basic control over their age and appearance. The Avatar has the widest access to classes, being able to access almost all of them, and has some good growth rates and skills. The ability to mix and match skills means that by the end of the game the MU can be quite a beast. Make sure to take advantage of the skill Veteran, which gives bonus XP when paired with another unit, as it will make levelling a lot easier.

You can pretty much make your character anything you want, although you’re limited by certain gender-locked classes. Also the MU’s child Morgan has the potential to be basically the strongest character in the game, and there’s a lot of competition for that spot.

The player character plays a centrally important role in the story and has access to the widest array of support and marriage options, being able to marry pretty much anyone from Gen 1 or Gen 2. The canon options are probably Chrom or Lucina, but you have a lot to choose from.

 

Frederick: 6/10 (former rating 3/10)

I used to think of Frederick as Awakening’s Marcus, or Jeigan. That is to say, he joins you as a pre-promoted character who is strong in the first few levels but doesn’t make efficient use of experience points. This was a big problem in older Fire Emblem games where you couldn’t grind optional fights to level; so you’d get towards the endgame and find that Marcus, who had hoovered up XP left, right, and centre, couldn’t contribute on maps against tough enemies.

However, in Awakening you can fight as much as you want (outside Lunatic), meaning there is XP for everyone. So, you can use Frederick if you want, without worrying too much about inefficient use of XP. He is very useful on early maps, particularly on higher difficulties where you need to use his tankiness and defensive bonuses to survive.

Frederick also makes a good parent for some units, particularly as he can pass on Luna, a very useful offensive skill. He’s also an entertaining character: Chrom’s loyal steward, Frederick takes the meaning of dedication to extreme lengths. His skits with Chrom are very funny, as are many of his other ones which you might not expect (Tharja). Frederick might not be one of your go-to units for much of the game, but he’s good fun and worth using.

 

Sumia: 8/10

Sumia is your first Pegasus Knight and a very useful character. She has high Speed, Skill, and Luck, and respectable Magic which means that she makes a decent Dark Flier once you promote her. This also helps her get the coveted skill Galeforce, enabling her to move and attack twice in one turn. However her HP and strength are a bit low meaning she can be vulnerable, and all-round I found Cordelia to be a better Pegasus Knight. You’ll probably want to use them both for the first half of the game. Just keep them away from arrows and wind magic.

Sumia is a very likable and happy character and her daughter, Cynthia, is also very entertaining and can become an absolute monster with the right abilities. Sumia will often end up marrying Chrom, and Chrom is an excellent father for Cynthia.

 

Lissa: 6/10 (former rating 4/10)

Lissa is Chrom’s sister, and you get her from the beginning as your healer. Healing with staves is important in the early levels when your access to Vulneraries is quite limited. However later on you may find healing items easier to come by, and characters will find ways to regenerate their own HP, meaning healers become less important. You also don’t really want a roster slot taken up with a dedicated healer most of the time.

However, on Lunatic your characters will generally be XP-starved, and Lissa’s ability to gain experience from healing may make her more valuable to you. Her growth rates aren’t bad and she makes a decent Pegasus Knight if you reclass her, but this requires a lot of babysitting and effort – arguably more than the payoff is worth.

You can promote Lissa once she hits level 10, and most players will make her a Sage to give her some offensive capability. The problem is that she will only be able to use weak, E-rank tomes (unless you spend an Arms Scroll), and will not be able to reliably kill enemies – and will also take an XP penalty for being a promoted unit.

So, the upshot is Lissa will probably make way early on for other units, which is a bit of a shame as she’s a very entertaining character with some great sketches. Her son, Owain, is one of the funniest characters in the game. Several characters make good husbands for Lissa, but favourite choices would include Ricken (for a magic-oriented Owain) or Libra.

 

Vaike: 7/10 (former rating 6/10)

Vaike is your main axe user and a very funny character. He has some of the best voice lines, and often refers to himself in the third person as ‘The Vaike’, or as the nickname he gives himself (which nobody else uses), ‘Teach’. Vaike comes from a deprived background and is obsessed with establishing a good-natured rivalry with Chrom, who often reacts with bewilderment at Vaike’s endless attempts to duel him (Chrom always wins – swords beat axes, after all).

Vaike is a good guy to have around in the early game, as his high HP makes him a bit tankier. He also has very high Strength. However, later on you will find that his low Defense means his +5 HP skill doesn’t help that much, and he can end up surprisingly squishy. His Resistance to magic is pitifully low – it will end up about 5 when he hits the default level cap. What’s more, his low Skill and Speed means he will miss more often than you would like. It’s a shame, as although he is your main axe user you might not rely on him all that much. Axes just aren’t all that good in Awakening.

Vaike’s standard class paths don’t give him particularly useful skills. However, he gives good growth rates to his kids, so makes a good husband for most of the female units, especially those with physical-oriented children.

 

Sully: 6/10 (former rating 7/10)

Sully is one of your two Cavaliers, or mounted knights. She is this game’s red knight, which in Fire Emblem tropes means she is the more passionate of the two. Sully is useful early on for her high Movement and relatively good Skill and Speed. Overall, her stat growth is reasonably good, but her low Defense and HP makes her much less tanky than I want from a Cavalier.

Promoting Sully to Great Knight or Paladin helps solve her defensive issues, but by the point she’s starting to be reliable you’ll find that there are other units that do the same job but much better. It’s also jarring that her skits build Sully up as a real badass, but that doesn’t add up next to her actual performance in battle.

Sully is quite macho and something of a tomboy, which can lead to some entertaining conversations and skits. Gregor makes for quite an amusing husband for Sully as he’s even more macho than she is. Sully’s daughter, Kjelle, is a very powerful unit and it’s worth putting some thought into her father as she can turn out one of your most powerful fighters.

 

Stahl: 6/10

Stahl is your green knight and is Mr Average. He has higher HP and Defense than Sully, making him a bit tankier, but his low Skill and Speed means he doesn’t reliably “double” enemies (attack them twice in one turn) until quite late on. It’s a shame that all three of your starting mounted units – Stahl, Sully, and Frederick – are quite underwhelming.

Stahl’s skits and conversations are also often comparatively boring, as his main characteristic seems to be being unexceptional – though he does have a passion for food. That said, Stahl is quite in-demand as a father due to the stat growths he passes on, if not for his personality. Stahl also has relatively easy access to skills such as Luna which he can pass on. But you’ll probbaly want to bench him before he gets to that point.

 

Miriel: 7/10 (former rating 8/10)

Miriel is one of four Gen-1 mages you get during the main story. She’s one of two standard elemental mages (what FE used to call “anima” mages), the other two being dark magic users. Dark magic is much more powerful than elemental magic in Awakening, so Miriel’s usefulness is relatively low.

She is very squishy early on, but she has decent Speed growth which means she can dodge with some reliability later on.  But even then, you won’t want her to leave in harm’s way, and you’ll probably want to prioritise dark mages/sorcerers anyway. Miriel’s high Speed means she is at least more reliable than Ricken at killing enemies, as she will double most enemies unless they’re much high level than her.

Miriel is an egghead and her conversations revolve around her obsession with study and her lack of social skills. I’m not really a fan of her personality but she does have access to some decent support skits, like with Lon’qu. A lot of people don’t bother much with Miriel, and it doesn’t help that her son, Laurent, is also an underwhelming character, so they are often both neglected.

It’s a bit odd that Miriel, who is older than Ricken and more experienced as a mage, has lower Magic than him but higher Speed. He has higher Strength, but you might expect the Speed and Magic to be reversed as well.

 

Maribelle: 4/10

Maribelle is a Troubador, ie, a mounted healer. This means she has better Movement than Lissa but pays for it in slightly worse stats. Overall, she suffers for the same reasons Lissa does, in that dedicated healers aren’t really worth it in the long-run and her offensive capabilities are limited. If you really like her you’ll be able to find ways to use her, but most players will probably not bother. She’s very vulnerable and without a lot of work she’s not going to make a very effective damage-dealer, even once you promote her to Valkyrie.

Maribelle is a snob, and some of her skits and support conversations can be quite funny. Her relationship with her son, Brady, is hilarious, but he’s not the most useful unit either. Maribelle is one of Chrom’s marriage options, but like with Sully, it’s unlikely many players will make that match.

 

Ricken: 5/10 (former rating 7/10)

Ricken is a cheerful, earnest young mage who wants to learn about magic and show everyone what he can do. He has decent Magic, but his low Speed means he won’t double enemies a lot of the time, reducing his usefulness. He’s slightly tankier than Miriel, but we’re talking small margins here. He’s not going to tank more than 1-2 hits unless you reclass him, and few players will bother with that route.

You’ll often see Ricken referred to as a good father for certain characters, but this is more due to the class options he passes down and skills he could pass down if you spent a lot of time re-classing and levelling him, eg as a Paladin or something. But if you dig his personality, go ahead and use him – he’s not useless or anything, and he has a high ceiling if you put the effort in.

 

Kellam: 7/10 (former rating 5/10)

Kellam is your armoured knight. He is penalized by very low base Movement of 4, but he has high Defense and HP, and decent Strength. However he starts with low Skill, Speed and Luck, meaning he will often miss attacks; and as a knight he is vulnerable to magic. However his growths are not bad and he can become a reliable unit in the mid-game, and a Javelin helps compensate for his low Movement.

Kellam also makes a decent early game tank, gives good defensive support bonuses, and his Rally Defense ability can give your other characters a welcome boost. On the whole, though, he is not a very inspirational unit, and a bit of a disappointment as he is the main knight for much of the game.

Kellam’s gimmick is a weird one: nobody seems to notice him, despite his massive armour, and some of his interactions with other characters almost make it seem like he’s being bullied. Poor guy. He makes a decent father for certain units, but in general feels a bit underwhelming.

 

Cordelia: 9/10

Cordelia is your second Pegasus Knight, and a very good all-round unit. She has high Skill and Speed, and superior Strength and HP to Sumia, meaning her weaknesses are not as pronounced and her strengths are still strong. She’s more a Lightning Bruiser next to Sumia’s Glass Cannon. Like Sumia, she has amazing movement as well which ignores terrain. It’s worth levelling her through Dark Flier to get Galeforce, and then reclassing her into Falcoknight which has better growth rates and makes her tankier. If you level her properly she has the potential to be a good end-game unit.

Cordelia is a great character with entertaining interactions. She’s noble-minded, dedicated, hardworking, and earnest, and other characters end up making fun of her a lot because she’s so perfect. She’s also in love with Chrom (unrequited), so a bit tragic. However there are other good romance options for her like Gaius and Frederick.

Cordelia’s daughter, Severa, is a great character too and their supports are worth seeing. Galeforce is a really useful skill to pass down.

 

Gaius: 7/10 (former rating 8/10)

Gaius is brilliant. He’s your main thief, meaning you’ll want to use him a lot to open doors and chests. He has low Luck and Defense, so he can die easily, but his utility means you’ll want to use him on a lot of maps anyway. Moreover, he has high Skill and Speed, and decent Strength, making him useful as an offensive unit – just be careful. He makes a good Assassin, and Lethality is a good skill that also has an awesome animation.

As far as his personality and the script goes, Gaius is one of the best characters in the game. As a thief, he’s a bit of a rogue, but has a monomania about sweets and tasty food which comes up all the time. He has some of the best support conversations in the game and is a great character to have around. He makes a good father due to his class options, and Lethality, Pass or Movement + 1 are useful skills to pass down. Marry him to someone you like!

Gaius is voiced by Gideon Emery.

 

Virion: 7/10

Virion is your main archer so you will end up using him a lot. While not as powerful as I would have liked, he still has high Speed and Skill and decent Strength. He will normally one-shot flying units but not always take out ground units in one turn, even at high levels. His defensive abilities are reasonable for an archer, although you won’t want to leave him unprotected too much.

Virion’s main weakness is simply that as an archer, he can’t counterattack from melee range, whereas mages can. Honestly bows aren’t very good in Awakening, and Archers are a bit gimped as a class. It’s a shame, as Virion is a fun character to have around. He’s an incorrigible lech, hitting on almost every female character in the game at every opportunity. It’s generally very lighthearted, though it can be a bit weird when he does it to women you’ve already married off. But as this is a JRPG, he always fails and everyone makes fun of him mercilessly.

Virion makes for a decent father for the most part, though Archers don’t get the best skills. Use him a lot, if only to shoot down pegasus knights and unlock his support conversations.

 

Cherche: 7/10 (former rating 6/10)

Cherche is your wyvern rider. She starts off great, with brilliant Movement, high Strength, and good Defense. However, later on her Skill and Speed start to fall away a bit and you might find she’s not so reliable at taking out enemies. The curse of the axe wielder. Try to pair her with a support unit who makes up for her weaknesses – like Virion. She is also highly vulnerable to bows and magic.

Cherche has a touching bond with her wyvern, Minerva. She’s a lovely character, though a bit of a minor one, so not everyone will see that much of her. Definitely worth using though. It’s a bit weird that her sone Gerome is so “dark and edgy” when his mum is so nice. Maybe it’s because nine times out of ten he’ll have Virion as a dad.

 

Lon’qu: 7/10 (former rating 6/10)

Lon’qu is a myrmidon. This means he has high Skill and Speed, and decent Luck, but low Strength and HP. The low Strength can be a problem as it means he somtimes relies on crits or special abilities to kill enemies, which is not ideal. However, once he gets Vantage and Astra, he becomes a lot better, and is a good unit in the midgame. Eventually, he’ll be outclassed by the likes of Chrom and Donnel, but he’s not a bad unit.

Lon’qu’s gimmick is that he is terminally shy of women. There’s not much more to say really, he’s quite laconic so much less memorable than many other characters. He may appeal more to young male gamers who are scared of girls. His interactions with Miriel are quite funny as she tries to figure out the basis for his fear of women.

 

Panne: 5/10

Panne is the last Taguel, a species of human-rabbit hybrids. Panne hates humans for wiping out her species, and her interactions with the other characters are generally shaped by her bitterness and resentment. Her conversations are much less light-hearted than most.

Panne starts off quite strong. Like the manaketes (dragons), Panne transforms in combat, in her case into a giant rabbit. When you recruit her she is quite tanky and can often double and kill enemies. She seems to have reasonable growth rates at first, but as she can’t be promoted (instead levelling to 30, rather than 20), she suffers in the long run from low stats and poor skill availability. You can reclass her (Wyvern Lord is a popular option) but it sort of defeats the purpose of having a unique unit. In Taguel form, she can only attack in melee, whereas manaketes can perform a ranged attack. Like manaketes, she also can’t use most weapons.

Overall, Panne represents an interesting idea that’s executed in a way that ultimately leaves her significantly underpowered. The fact she is so cold to everyone in skits means there’s little reason to persevere – other than to recruit her son, Yarne, who’s great.

 

Gregor: 6/10

Gregor is the first Mercenary you recruit, a sellsword who swings a swell sword. Gregor might be underwhelming at first, but he has reasonable growth rates, and Mercenaries/Heroes are a strong class. However, if you are using Donnel you will almost certainly have made him a Hero, and he is infinitely better than Gregor. Gregor is also quite similar to Chrom and Lucina, but worse, meaning he will see relatively little action.

It’s a bit of a shame as Gregor is a different kind of character to most of the others and one who can really grow on you. Gregor is older than most of Chrom’s warband, and he’s an alpha male who flirts with most of the women and who can defeat most of the guys in combat. His supports are pretty fun, and as he makes for a good father he’s worth using long enough to unlock an S-rank.

 

Nowi: 7/10

Nowi is a manakete, a human who can transform into what looks like a sort of cute baby dragon. She looks and acts about 12 but is in fact over a thousand years old, which is a source of much confusion for other characters, and some squickiness for the player when you consider some of the available marriage options.

Nowi is fairly powerful, tanky and has good growth rates, but by the late game she falls off significantly. It’s possible to recruit a couple of other manaketes who will be more powerful than her. She’s worth shipping to get her daughter, Nah, and has some funny supports. Simply because she can attack from range, she’s better than Panne, and you definitely have room for a tanky ranged attacker in your squad in the midgame. At that point, she’s better than a Mage or an Archer.

 

Libra: 4/10

Libra reminded me very strongly of Lucius from the old Game Boy Advance Fire Emblem, Blazing Sword. Libra is a very beautiful blonde man who looks at first like an exquisite lady, the source of much merriment in his skits. I’m not sure it’s really played to its potential though – possibly because Libra is actually a devout priest, very clean-living and frankly a bit boring.

Libra arrives as a pre-promote, a War Cleric who wields an axe and can heal with staves. Considering that axe users are a bit weak in this game, and manual healing is a bit of a waste of time, Libra is unlikely to be a major part of your team in many playthroughs. He’s reasonably strong when you first get him, but the XP penalty for promoted units means he’s tough to level and by the time he can get decent XP he’s going to be underpowered and need carrying by other units.

 

Anna: 4/10 (former rating 5/10)

Anna is a merchant, who you recruit as a fairly powerful pre-promote (Trickster) but who falls off quite quickly. Anna is kind of crazy, obsessed with her merchant business, and will generally only talk to people about money and commerce.

Anna has a lot of identical sisters who function as merchants on the world map. There’s definitely something of the supernatural about her. She doesn’t have many support options, but her supports with Tiki are not bad. You’re unlikely to want to use her much. I guess it’s useful to have a second lockpicker if you let Gaius die and don’t restart.

 

Tharja: 7/10

Tharja is the first dark mage you can recruit. She has decent Magic but low Skill which means she has a poor hit rate; she also has low Luck and is fairly squishy, but not as much as Ricken or Miriel. It helps that, as a dark mage, she can use Nosferatu, the most broken weapon in the game.

Tharja’s gothic, bitchy, borderline insane personality is consistently entertaining, as is her obsession with the male Avatar. This helped Tharja become something of a breakout character and she featured in Tokyo Mirage Sessions. She’s worth having around for her support conversations alone; whoever she marries – the MU, Henry, Frederick, Donnel, etc – you won’t be disappointed. Also, her daughter, Noire, is one of the best characters in the game.

 

Henry: 8/10

Henry joins the team at a very sombre point in the storyline and lights things up with inappropriate and awful (ie, amazing) puns that drive Chrom crazy. Henry is peculiar – he doesn’t have normal human emotions like fear – and he’s always happy and cheerful, but also obsessed with blood magic and macabre subjects in general. Makes sense for a dark mage I suppose. His dialogue and voice lines are some of the best in the game. He’s a pretty handy mage too, with higher Skill than Tharja, access to Nosferatu, and he comes with a very handy Ruin tome.

Henry makes for a good husband for a number of characters, and his character development can be quite touching. He’s well worth using; you’re unlikely to be disappointed.

 

Olivia: 8/10

Olivia is the game’s Dancer, which means she has a unique ability. By dancing for a unit who has finished their turn, that unit can move and act again. In certain situations this is a very important skill and it can help you complete an objective or kill a boss just in time.

Olivia starts with negligible offence, just being able to wield a sword by default; and with horrible stats and stat growth, she’s highly vulnerable. However, you can easily reclass her to Myrmidon, and with her growth rates she can end up being a pretty decent offensive unit, especially if you give her good weapons. It takes a bit of investment, but being able to include a Dancer in your party is quite useful – and her son, Inigo, is a great unit too. Olivia also makes a good wife for Chrom, especially for a second playthrough.

 

Say’ri: 6/10

Say’ri is another pre-promote, a Swordmaster you recruit about halfway through the main story. Unlike some other pre-promotes, Say’ri is actually decent, with respectable stats for her level. By the time you recruit her you’re fighting promoted units, so she can level up without too much trouble, too.

Say’ri also plays a fairly important role in the story for a while which means there’s sort of a narrative purpose in bringing her along. She talks more than Lon’qu, as well, so if you don’t take to him you can always wait and use Say’ri instead. That said, you can also do without using either of them. Say’ri doesn’t have a kid and has a fairly limited pool of supports.

 

Tiki: 8/10

Tiki is another manakete, recruited in a side-mission. Tiki is supposed to be a very powerful being – she is something of a FE series stalwart – and this is reflected in her stats: she’s certainly stronger than Nowi, although she is still outshone by some of your other units.

As a pretty self-sufficient and tanky ranged unit, Tiki can be damn useful, but her level 30 cap means she can only carry you so far. Well worth recruiting and using if you’re not going to use Nah.

 

Donnel: 10/10 (former rating 9/10)

Ah, Donnel. Donnie starts off as a laughably weak unit called a Villager. Of course, this is a Fire Emblem game, so you can rest assured he will eventually turn into an unstoppable monster. This is in large part down to his skill Aptitude, which means he has unreal stat growth. In particular, he can easily max out his Luck; combined with the Mercenary’s Armsthrift ability, this can mean powerful weapons never lose durability. Combine this with Donnel’s absurd stats, and the Hero skill Sol, which replenishes health on attack, and Donnel is effectively unstoppable.

In Normal mode you might eventually stop using him because he renders the game’s difficulty trivial. On the highest difficulties, though, it’s kind of hard to recruit him and get him those first few levels. Considering you can get some of the super-powerful kids through shipping alone, you might find it easier to recruit some powerful Gen-2 characters instead.

I previously refused to give Donnel a 10 because of “the extreme nature of his mechanics”. This seems silly in hindsight. He’s hands-down one of the most powerful units in the game, and also an excellent father – not just becuase of his growths and skills (hello, Aptitude), but because he can give the Pegasus Knight class option to his daughters. He’s a ridiculously strong character, and if Donnel can’t get a 10, who can?

 

Flavia & Basilio: 7/10

Flavia and Basilio are separate characters, but you recruit them at the same time and it makes sense to address them together. For pre-promotes, they’re actually very strong, but you recruit them very late in the story so you can’t use them that much. They’re also lacking in support options, and oddly enough can’t S-support with each other. They’re quite strong, though, and if your ranks have been depleted by the late game, then these two might help you get to the end of the story. They’re a bit like Pent and Louise from Blazing Sword, in that sense.

Flavia and Basilio are well-written characters with some very funny interactions. Basilio feels like he belongs in an Old Spice advert. Their supports are worth unlocking, and it’s a shame most people won’t get to see them just due to how late they join Chrom’s army.

 

Lucina: 9/10

Lucina is the first of the Gen-2 characters you recruit. She’s an inspirational character and leader, and arguably the central protagonist of the story. Like Chrom, Lucina starts out as a Lord, with access to the Great Lord class, and she gets some re-class options too. The Myrmidon/Swordmaster path is pretty good for her.

Lucina gets a stronger version of Chrom’s sword, which is referred to as Parallel Falchion. It helps make her a better offensive unit than Chrom, as does her high Speed, Skill, and Luck. However, Lucina has noticeably lower Defense than Chrom, and similarly low Resistance, so she can be a bit vulnerable if left alone and relies a bit too much on Aether procs for my liking. However, there’s no doubt she’s still an exceedingly powerful unit.

Like Chrom, she’s a very well-written character and her voice lines are brilliant, making her one of the highlights of Fire Emblem’s incredible roster. She’s a great marriage option for a male Avatar.

 

Cynthia: 9/10

Sumia’s daughter, Cynthia is the only Gen-2 unit who starts as a Pegasus Knight. Cynthia starts off fairly strong and has excellent growth rates which means she soon outstrips Sumia and in the long run will probbaly be better than Cordelia too. Seriously, just use her: she will be one of the best offensive units you have, particularly if you give her Galeforce (from Sumia, or just level her as a Dark Flier – she’s so good she might get there before Sumia would anyway).

Cynthia is a very funny character who is fixated on looking and acting like a hero, and who spends a lot of her time thinking about entrance flourishes and badass one-liners to use in combat. Her supports are consistently entertaining. As Sumia will marry Chrom in a lot of playthroughs, Cynthia will often end up related to Chrom and Lucina (inheriting Aether from Chrom), making for some even funnier skits. She’s a really good unit and you don’t want to miss out on either her combat skills or her support options. As Sumia is a pretty useful unit as well, marrying her off and recruiting Cynthia should be a no-brainer.

 

Inigo: 9/10

Inigo is Olivia’s son. He joins you as a Mercenary on a pretty challenging map; if you let him get some kills you’ll get some bonus items (up to five). People like to give Inigo Galeforce, which certainly makes him even more effective as an offensive unit, but levelling Olivia to level 15 Dark Flier is no joke. It’s much easier to get him something like Astra, from Swordmaster, or Lethality, from Assassin, which are both level 5 skills. This is especially good if you are marrying Olivia to Chrom, as he will always give Inigo Rightful King, which increases the proc rate of skills like these.

Inigo makes for an effective offensive unit with the inherent advantages of being a Mercenary. Armsthrift and Sol are extremely useful skills, and if he gets good skills from his parents, he’ll become strong quite rapidly. He has good growth rates and no pronounced weaknesses.

Inigo is a lothario and his supports can be very funny. He’s also secretly a dancer – following in his mother’s footsteps – which gives him a bit more depth. He has some great supports, and is another Gen-2 character you should make sure to recruit. Even if Olivia doesn’t marry Chrom, Inigo is a good unit to have in your party – just keep him away from your daughter…

 

Brady: 5/10

Maribelle’s son, which is tricky in more ways than one. Maribelle has entertaining sketches, but she’s an insufferable snob, and poor Brady evidently had a hard time living up to his mum’s expectations. From a gameplay perspective, Maribelle is not the most useful unit, and Brady is not going to find his way into your core strike team without a lot of effort.

Brady starts as a Priest, which means healing is his only role at first. His standard class progressions are to Sage or War Monk; his Magic means he makes a decent Sage, but unless you have levelled Mribelle extensively (unlikely), he’s probably not going to have great skills. Probably your best option, without a lot of work, is giving him lots of Rally skills and making him a support character or Rally bot. Rally abilities stack, so having more than one is a viable tactic, especially on the highest difficulties. It kind of fits with his personality as well, seeing as in conversations people often refer to him as a healer, and he regards his fighting ability as inferior. His supports are good, so it’s worth finding a niche for him if you can. Technically speaking, he can be Chrom’s son, but Chrom x Maribelle is an atypical pairing.

 

Kjelle: 9/10

Sully’s daughter, Kjelle can also be Chrom’s daughter, but Chrom x Sully is another unlikely match. It doesn’t matter much, because Kjelle will probably turn out to be a very powerful unit with another father. Vaike and Gregor are popular fathers for Kjelle, and both make probable matches with Sully, too, while Donnel gives her access to the Galeforce tree to increase her offensive utility.

Kjelle starts as a Knight, and has good Defense, Strength, HP, and Skill. Her growth rates are good, and she can quickly become one of your most effective units. Her only weakness is to magic, and her relatively low Speed can make her vulnerable to being doubled by casters. You really don’t want that to happen. Pairing her with a speedy unit can give her enough of a boost that you don’t need to worry about this, and you can also compensate for her weaknesses with skills like Pavise.

Kjelle is her mother’s daughter in the sense that she puts a lot of store in fighting ability and has a high opinion of her martial prowess. Unlike Sully, Kjelle can actually back it up. Her arrogance and intolerance can be a bit off-putting, but it also makes for some funny conversations. As Brady says, there’s no painful truth that a total lack of sympathy can’t make even worse.

 

Owain: 9/10

Owain is hilarious. He’s Lissa’s son, so it makes sense, as Lissa is a humorous gal herself. Owain’s humour is somewhat unintentional, though, and borne of his obsession with being a famous fighter. He likes to call out the name of his moves, name his weapons, make up stories about himself, and that sort of thing. He takes things even further than Cynthia – and while Cynthia wants to be a hero who protects people (and look good while doing it), Owain wants to be notorious for his prowess alone. He’s mainly played for laughs, and very successfully too, as many of his supports are laugh-out-loud funny. Characters regularly call him out for his nonsense but he sticks to it steadfastly. In a bit of fourth-wall breaking, he’s also something of a Fire Emblem fanboy, and he sometimes references the titles of other games in the series (like Sacred Stones and Radiant Dawn).

Owain starts as a Myrmidon, but his Strength growth suffers a bit as Lissa is weak in this area. He can still make for a good Swordmaster, though, or you might want to make him an Assassin. Considering his personality, it kind of makes sense to build him around dopamine-related skills such as Crit and Lethality. It’s just too bad he can’t get Rightful King. If the Fire Emblem series was concerned with realistic depictions of the aristocracy, it would feature more endogamy within its royal families; but then I suppose the kids’ stat growths wouldn’t be so good!

 

Severa: 9/10

Severa is another excellent character. She’s Cordelia’s daughter, and Severa is frustrated by the fact her mum seems to be so perfect: after all, Cordelia is an unparalleled Pegasus Knight, a talented musician, and is universally admired for her kind and humble personality. Severa is also irritated by her mother’s unrequited devotion to Chrom, which the game hints is something that endures even after she’s married to Severa’s father. The upshot of this is that Severa is a consummately bitchy teenager prone to tantrums and bad temper, and notorious for giving everyone a hard time (especially her mum); but her interactions with other characters can ultimately end up being quite sweet.

As befits the daughter of Cordelia, Severa is a very powerful unit. She starts as a Mercenary, which is one of the best classes in the game anyway, and she makes a very good offensive unit as either a Hero or Assassin – especially if Cordelia passes down Galeforce, as she should. Her growths are well-rounded and she doesn’t have any real weaknesses. There are plenty of good options for a father, but Frederick is a good choice due to the ease with which he can pass down Luna. Once she hits Level 5 Hero, a Severa with Sol, Luna, Galeforce and Armsthrift is a veritable one-woman army, cutting down enemies left, right and centre. That is, if they haven’t already fled before her fearsome personality.

 

Noire: 9/10

Tharja’s daughter, Noire starts off as an archer, when you might more naturally expect her to be a dark mage. As you can imagine, being Tharja’s daughter has its challenges, and poor Noire has a… polarized personality. For the most part, she’s extremely timid and gentle, but she also has a talisman which can convert her into a terrifying force of vengeance at a moment’s notice. This leads to some entertaining scenarios, and it’s worth unlocking her support conversations.

Noire makes for a good archer, but as the class is a bit underpowered it might make sense to reclass her into something like Sorcerer. One of my all-round best units was a Sorcerer Noire with Donnel as a father; passing down Aptitude means Noire hits her skill caps very quickly, and can tear through entire maps with Nosferatu – surely the most brokenly overpowered weapon in the game. One of her lines when levelling up refers to her good stat growth being a curse; it’s kind of ironic if it happense because she gets Aptitude from Donnel.

Also, I can’t help but mention that Noire’s ingame model reveals her to be… exceptionally well-endowed in the chest department.

 

Nah: 9/10

Nowi’s daughter, which means that Nah is also a manakete. It can’t be easy having Nowi as a parent – a thousand year old dragon who looks like a young teenage girl and acts like a child. I mean, what kind of a person would consider naming their child Nah? Naturally enough, Nah comes across as older than her young years would suggest, the consequence of having such an immature and childlike parent. She’s a bit of a bossy character who scolds most of the other kids at one point or another, as well as her mother, but she’s generally less of a bitch about it than Severa.

The manaketes are generally powerful units, and Nah is no exception, being stronger than Tiki and Nowi. You can reclass her to pick up some extra skills, but it probably makes sense to make her a manakete again at the end of the day. Depending on her father, some versions of Nah can be among the strongest units in the game, and if you choose to marry her to the MU, a 3rd-gen Morgan manakete can be exceptionally strong. Be prepared to deal with some squickyness if you go down this route, though.

 

Yarne: 7/10

Panne’s son, which means she’s no longer the last Taguel. Fortunately, Yarne has a more appealing personality than his mother, which means his supports are more satisfying to unlock. He’s still not the most rounded of characters, but his cowardice and sense of self-preservation make for a more interesting and entertaining trait than Panne’s cynicism and hostility to humankind.

Yarne is also more useful in combat than Panne, but Taguel is still a weak class. As he’s more fun to use, it’s more worthwhile to reclass him into something like Barbarian/Berserker (you’re also unlikely to send anyone else down this route). Like Panne, Yarne actually has good stat caps and potential, so if you’re prepared to grind to get the right skills he in fact has quite a high ceiling. The problem is that other Gen-2 characters offer similar potential for a lot less effort, meaning Yarne (like Panne) is only going to reach his peak in the most diehard of playthroughs.

 

Laurent: 6/10

Laurent is Miriel’s son. He has a bit more personality than his mother, but that’s not really saying much. Like her, he is fixated on improving his magical skills, with a rational and scientific approach to learning. Among the children, Laurent is one of those closest to his parent – or close to his mother, anyway.

Naturally enough, Laurent starts as a Mage, and it wouldn’t feel right to move him into a different class path. He makes a decent Sage, but it’s not a particularly useful class (they can’t use Nosferatu tomes), so unless you reclass him into a Dark Mage, there are better options. Combine his lacklustre personality with his lack of combat prowess, and Laurent is not going to see a great deal of use on the battlefield.

 

Gerome: 8/10

Gerome is Cherche’s son, and comfortably the “darkest and edgiest” of the Gen-2 characters. He even wears a mask, which Severa tells him to get rid off because it looks silly (she’s right). Cherche is lovely, so Gerome’s aloof and superior attitude is a bit of a mystery. It’s also a bit strange that he’s rather popular with the other characters – particularly the ladies. His affectionate relationship with his wyvern, Minerva (a future version of his mother’s mount) would suggest he’s not a complete doofus underneath it all.

As a wyvern rider, Gerome is a tanky unit with good offensive potential and excellent movement. He can do good damage with his axes, and can learn skills or other weapon proficiencies to improve his accuracy and survivability. As ever, if you keep him as an airborne unit you’ll have to beware archers and wind magic, but his high HP makes him a bit tougher. A solid unit combat-wise, even if his personality leaves something to be desired.

 

Morgan: 10/10

The avatar’s child and potentially a “Gen-3” unit if you marry the MU to one of the Gen-2s. Morgan is probably the highest-potential unit in the game due to the range of class options and skill inheritances that are available. If you put any sort of planning into it, Morgan will probably end up with godlike capabilities, and that will probably happen anyway.

Morgan has a touching relationship with the main character, and I like that the game changes Morgan’s gender depending on the MU; meaning Morgan will end up either as a daddy’s girl or a momma’s boy. Their relationship is very well-written, and testifies once again to the passion and sophistication that went into this game’s script and overall design.

 

~

Thanks for reading my character guide; I hope you enjoyed it. I’ve certainly enjoyed working on it: Awakening is one of those rare games that seems to support an endless amount of discussion and debate, which is a product of the richness of its writing as well as the depth of its gameplay mechanics. In that vein, if you have any thoughts or comments, please feel free to share them below. I’m sure some of the views I’ve expressed here will change in the light of future experience, and I may well come back and revise this guide again.

Originally posted 5 May 2016

Updated Summer 2017

 

 

 

Thanks, Nintendo

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When I left home at the age of 18 handheld games became very important to me. Video games have been part of my leisure time and part of how I’ve managed stress since early childhood; and when I was a student, frequently moving between low-quality accommodation and with very limited income, handheld gaming provided something of a lifeline. I spent a lot of time with the Game Boy Advance, an underrated device that had an amazing lineup of games; and the DS was pretty good too. Although I never really liked it as much as the GBA, the DS benefited from strong support from Nintendo and Japanese developers, as well as backwards compatibility.

Around 2009, I stopped playing handheld games, for two main reasons. The first was that by then I was working full-time and finally had the money, time and space to get a 360. The second was that the proliferation of smartphones and mobile gaming that started around then made me think that dedicated handheld consoles were finished, and that mobile phone gaming experiences were the future. So why bother with a Nintendo handheld?

How wrong I was. My smartphone gaming experiences since then have been risible, mainly consisting of a brief Angry Birds addiction around 2011 and a disappointing Warhammer RPG in 2013. I’ve been put off by the abysmal controls, low production values and terrible performance most mobile games seem to suffer from, as well as the sinister rise of freemium gaming. As a result I haven’t played any handheld games at all for the last couple of years.

So I’m delighted to have recently purchased a New Nintendo 3DS. The main inspiration was the release of a trio of new Fire Emblem games, which brought home the fact I never played the well-received Awakening. I love the Fire Emblem series and, 25 hours into my first Awakening playthrough, it’s thrilling to be able to return to it. The game features mature writing, humour, satisfying gameplay, and great polish and production values that you just don’t get with most mobile games. It’s more expensive, sure, but well worth it, particularly considering the insane replay value the series is known for. I’m absolutely loving it and looking forward to reviewing it and doing a character analysis on this blog.

It’s also been a pleasure to introduce my girlfriend to the Fire Emblem series, and I think she likes Awakening even more than I do. We’ve got a couple of Zelda games lined up, including Majora’s Mask, a birthday present from my brother. The console has an amazing back catalogue. As for the machine itself, it’s very nice. It’s compact, with a satisfying weight, and a pleasing appearance. The front and back panels are prone to blemishing but they can be replaced if we want. The stereoscopic display is an intriguing feature and a lot of fun. Overall that’s the best way to describe it–the 3DS feels like wholesome fun.

It turns out I still have my old DS Lite–untouched since about 2010–and my old copy of the original Fire Emblem on GBA; the only GBA game I still have. As well as firing that up for another playthrough we plan to get Chrono Trigger to play on the old DS. Chrono Trigger was never released in PAL territories when it came out for the SNES, and though I played Secret of Mana in the late ’90s, CT is a big gap in my gaming library. I’m very excited about playing it, and the DS version is supposed to be the best adaptation around. We’re also going to track down some old Advance Wars games as it doesn’t look like there will be a new one for the 3DS any time soon.

I realize now that in assuming dedicated gaming handhelds were finished, I fell victim to the kind of techno-faddishness I regularly decry when it’s applied to music or books. It’s a very good thing that Nintendo have continued to support high-quality handheld game experiences. I should have learned by now not to make sweeping assumptions about future technology markets, so I will just say that I hope Nintendo continue to do so, and handheld games like Fire Emblem continue to thrive; and that the growth of the toxic free-to-play industry, centered around exploiting gambling and addiction, doesn’t put paid to it all.