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


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.




2016 in Gaming: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The Good

Nintendo has been through a relatively rough few years. Their latest home console, the Wii U, was a commercial failure. Its eventual install base of about 13 million constituted about a tenth that of their previous console, the Wii. That said, having picked up a Wii U in late 2016, I’ve been impressed by the range of exclusive games available on the console, not least Tokyo Mirage Sessions, one of the best games I played all year.

I also finally picked up a New 3DS in 2016, and have been very taken with the console itself, as well as the enormous library of high-quality games available for the handheld. In a world where addictive free-to-play games are more and more prevalent, Nintendo’s approach to providing quality (and, generally, wholesome) handheld game experiences stands out. At the same time, Nintendo also made waves by bringing two major franchises to mobile phones. Pokemon Go was the video game sensation of the year, making an impact on popular consciousness which few entertainment products matched. The day it was released in the UK, I came back from my lunch break to find a group of young professional women in suits visiting a Pokemon station outside my workplace. The game was important, not just for its own success, but for what it showed about the potential of the medium.

In December, Nintendo released Super Mario Run for iPhones. The game received largely positive critical reviews, but has had a mixed reception largely because of Nintendo’s bold move of, er, charging people to play it. Nine pounds is admittedly quite expensive for a mobile phone game, but the game’s release highlighted the toxic nature of the mobile phone games market. More Nintendo games are on the way for mobiles, including Animal Crossing and Fire Emblem games, so it will be interesting to see whether their reception is in line with Pokemon Go or Super Mario Run.

Nintendo announced their next console, the Switch, towards the end of 2016, and the machine is due out early next year. Most of Nintendo’s useful innovations tend to get cloned by Microsoft and Sony as soon as they’re announced, which might explain why they left the announcment as close to launch date as possible. Essentially, the Switch is a home console which will also supports handheld gaming, as it features a portable device you can pick up and take with you to continue your home gaming experiences on the move. It’s an ingenious idea with great potential, and with a likely price point of around £200 it would remain in the budget of a relatively large proportion of the population. Here’s hoping the console’s launch is well executed and its features clearly explained, and that it doesn’t suffer from the confusing myriad of control options that hampered the Wii U. The end of the year also saw the spectacularly successful launch of Pokemon Sun/Moon, a conventional video game release which proved to be one of Nintendo’s biggest ever, with 10 million units shipped by the end of the year and at least 7 million sold.

Overall, 2016 was a successful year for Nintendo on a number of fronts. It’s good to see the company traditionally associated with gaming doing well in a challenging, and often confusing and chaotic, creative and retail environment.

The Bad

2016 was expected by some to be ‘the year of VR’. Certainly a number of Virtual Reality products hit the market, in the form of Oculus Rift, the Vive, and Playstation VR. Having been fortunate enough to try both a Vive and Oculus, I have a sense of how exciting this technology is, and the extraordinary potential it offers to deliver a range of cultural, educational and other experiences to a very wide range of the population–to pretty much everyone, in fact.

For that reason, it’s depressing if not surprising to see how Virtual Reality has been delivered to the public so far. The year started badly when the Oculus Rift, the first headset to come to market, was priced far higher than most people expected. One of the reasons given was to make the product “aspirational”, which some interpreted as code for making it something only rich people could afford by artificially inflating the price. Later in the year, Oculus founder Palmer Luckey was caught up in a bizarre scandal in which he seemed to be aligning himself with extreme “alt-right” internet trolls by offering to bankroll pro-Donald Trump shitposting memes in the run-up to the US elections. Oculus also faced criticism from some quarters for trying to buy up VR games and make them Oculus”exclusives”–a highly controversial strategy in the PC environment, which has always benefited from the lack of platform fragmentation that exists in the console market. But VR technology has the potential to be a game-changer, and in the pursuit of exclusive titles, Oculus owner Facebook seemed to many to be adopting a predatory strategy with sinister implications.

The Ugly

When I was growing up in the 1990s, and into the early 2000s, dedicated video games magazines were my main source of information about games, and I was totally reliant on them for news, reviews, and guides to difficult games. The internet has totally changed the games journalism industry, and most people now rely on online sites for this kind of information. Only a few magazines remain. In the UK, Edge Magazine and Games TM both vie for the same market with ‘mature’ and intelligent games journalism. Post-2008, with declining living standards the reality for most people, it’s harder than ever to pay for print journalism, and the price of these magazines keeps going up just as the page count and format of the magazines keeps getting smaller.

To a certain extent, games websites have filled the gap, with the advantage that they’re updated several times a day rather than once a month. However, websites have to way to monetize a “free” service, competing for clicks and ad revenue, with the result that accessing good and reliable content can be a challenge. The always-on, herd mentality culture of the internet also means it can be difficult to get divergent opinions about games. Even as an independent, casual blogger I understand the pressure of not wanting to be “caught out” with your view on a game, so there’s a tendency for writers to be conservative and hew towards a standard view, and with the internet it takes about 30 seconds to find out what that standard viw is. To me, this explains why so many bang average (or worse) games get a free pass from critics, with franchises like Uncharted and developers like Telltale and Kojima enjoying a bafflingly inflated profile online.

Although sites like Polygon do seem to try to hold powerful companies to account, neverthless the gap in wealth and power between multi-billion dollar publishers and relatively small and precarious news and opinion outlets couldn’t be more apparent. In proportion as their real power wanes vis-a-vis the gaming giants of the world, so games outlets seem to devote more and more time to eulogising arthouse independent or ‘indie’ games. The desire to promote games made outside the big publishing houses is admirable, but games websites regularly go to cringeworthy lengths to shower praise on gimmicky and simplistic games that would have looked and felt primitive on the NES. Emotional manipulation or shock value in game narratives seems to be valorized, even while sincerity or simplicity is regarded as old hat. Until recently this could perhaps be dismissed as a symptom of our “post-modern” times but, if 2016 has taught us anything, it’s surely the corrosive effects of this kind of vain intellectual posturing.

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


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.


Thanks, Nintendo


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.


Fire Emblem Awakening (3DS) – First Impressions


In years gone by I’ve seen these blue arrows in my dreams. Now it’s a matter of time before that happens again. 

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.

Bring back Advance Wars


In my family, we’ve been playing Nintendo games for over 25 years, since we first got a NES back around 1990. Since then we’ve owned almost every system Nintendo have put out: two or three Super Nintendos, N64, two Gamecubes, Game Boy Pocket, Game Boy Advance, two DS’s, Wii, Wii U, two 3DS’s. My brother and I joke about Nintendo’s fondness for remaking the same games over and over on new consoles: sometimes making virtually the same game, sometimes literally releasing the same game, except in HD, 3D, or whatever. But considering the unparalleled strength of the company’s stable of characters, and the unmatched quality of the back catalogue, it’s understandable.

I’ve just purchased my first 3DS, persuaded to do so at last by the release of the new Fire Emblem games. I love the series and played all of the other games released in the West on GBA and DS. It’s good to see that Nintendo is giving the series such love and that it has been commercially successful. But I was surprised when looking up developer Intelligent Systems’ other franchise, Advance Wars (also referred to as Nintendo Wars), that the last entry in that series was Days of Ruin, which I remember playing on the DS way back in 2008. That was before I bought my 360, ie, two whole console generations ago.

Advance Wars is a series of top-down, tactical combat games with a modern military feel but an (on the whole) cartoony and light-hearted aesthetic. Several AW games were released on GBA and DS and they were all critically acclaimed, especially the first. Unfortunately, it seems that the games didn’t sell exceptionally well; sales figures are difficult to find, but it seems none broke a million, selling a few hundred thousand copies each. Days of Ruin (called Dark Conflict in Europe) was a very good game, but suffered from a bizarre dual-translation–it was translated separately at the same time in North America and Europe, and the characters were named differently as well–and the ‘darker’, more mature theme was not well received. But the basic gameplay remained intact, and the game features a pretty awesome prog-metal inspired soundtrack, too.

Considering the mainstream success of Fire Emblem, I assumed that Nintendo would still be churning out AW games as well, but apparently not. There’s no hint of another Advance Wars game in development. I haven’t been able to find any statement on it at all, from either Nintendo or Intelligent Systems. Considering that in the mid-2000s this was a fairly major franchise for the Big N, at least on handheld, it seems weird. All I could find from trawling the internet was this post which discusses the troubled history of the franchise, but considering that most of that pre-dates the most recent games, it doesn’t explain everything. I wonder if there’s some kind of conscious decision to move away from the series due to its military nature?

In any event, I was pleased to see that my new 3DS should be backwards compatible, so at least I can fire up my old copy of Dark Conflict/Days of Ruin–if I can find it. But if you ever get a chance to bend the ear of a Nintendo executive, do me a solid and ask them what’s going on with Advance Wars, OK? Maybe they can find time to do another game in between remakes of old Mario and Zelda games. Both 3DS and Wii U would be well-suited to the mechanics, and the Wii U might even be able to improve on the old GBA graphics.

Check out some of Dark Conflict’s music below–Will’s, Lin’s and Tasha’s themes are particularly awesome.