Some time ago there was some talk on the forums about doing game reviews for the front page, so I figure I'll kick it off with a game I've been rather enthralled with lately: Fire Emblem: Awakening, otherwise known as Fire Emblem 13.
We're gonna be doing this feature by feature, so let's get started, shall we?
Let's get this out of the way right now. The classes in this game are awesome, and a huge improvement over the other installments.
The first thing you'll probably notice once you start your first battle, is Tactician: the class that the Avatar -- your created character -- starts out as. Being able to use both Swords and Tomes, it's already well established offensively, but once you promote into Grandmaster, your abilities really soar -- especially with the two skills you get.
The Avatar aside, once I got into promoted classes, something I realized immediately (aside from the fact that you don't need class-specific items to promote anymore; it's one item now, the Master's Seal) was the sheer amount of versatility you can have in your team.
There are three classes in particular which stand out in this regard: the Falcon Knight, the War Cleric/War Priest, and the Trickster. The Falcon Knight uses Lances and Staves, the War Cleric/War Priest, Axes and Staves, while the Trickster.. you guessed it, Swords and Staves. The ability to swap out between attacking and healing on a whim is really nice, and although it's seen in previous incarnations of the franchise, it's nice to see melee/healer hybrids become more prevalent (Valkyries in Genealogy of the Holy War, Thracia 776, Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn) in the mainstream titles.
That said, there's a couple of changes to the way classes are meant to be used as well. One of these that I found interesting was the change to the Dark Mage/Shaman trees of the previous games: in Awakening, they're essentially defensive Mages -- they have high defense. This gives them a different role, as well as more possibilities since you can actually send them into combat and have them not be squishy.
Another change in usage that I thought was brilliant was giving Dancers the ability to use Swords. The complete and utter inability for a Dancer to ever do something other than.. dance has always bugged the hell out of me and prevented me from using them, but in Awakening that problem has been solved rather nicely.
Something else that's more of a personal quality of life change, is that Manaketes are no longer the God-unit they used to be. Instead, they're treated like a normal unit. After clearing a certain battle, you're able to actually buy Dragonstones. It was something that always bugged me in the previous games, not only because of their God-like status, but because once you used up your Dragonstone, the unit was useless unless you glitched the game and gave them a monster weapon.
This really deserves a section of its own, as it is the defining trait of Awakening -- the mechanic that sets it apart from the others.
At any time once reaching level 10, you can use a Second Seal to change your class. The classes you can change to are limited -- each character has a static array of class trees they have at their disposal. The Avatar's bloodline have by far the largest pool, as the only classes they are forbidden from changing to are unique (Lord) and gender specific (Fighter/Barbarian, Pegasus Knight/Troubadour) class trees.
When reclassing, you retain some of your stats as well, allowing you to even make a really bad unit into something that's very usable. For instance, I turned Olivia -- the Dancer -- into an amazing Falcon Knight; she's one of my most powerful units.
Reclassing also allows you to get a number of different skills, but I'll get into that later.
The main issue I have with reclassing is that it really has a huge potential to break the game, at least on Hard mode -- I haven't played on Lunacy or Lunacy+ just yet. I could have easily cleared -- not completed, cleared, as in killed every single enemy on the field -- the final battle with just a single paired unit as a result of the stat gains from reclassing, which is ridiculous. That said, there are several optional battles that can challenge you, namely the Prologues and some of the teams you can summon via the Bonus Box, but I'll get to that later.
As someone who never got the opportunity to play Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn, the skill system in Awakening was something fresh and new to me. That being said, I'm told that there are new skills in Awakening, so it's not like they were all recycled from the previous games.
You learn new skills generally by reclassing around. Prepromotes learn them at 1 and 10, and promoted units at 5 and 15. You can do some pretty wicked stuff with them; I'll list a couple of my favorite setups to give an idea.
This setup is really overkill, but it drives the impenetrable wall point home. At no point should this character probably ever die, because ideally you should cap out your HP with every player phase due to Lifetaker, Renewal, Sol, and Pavise/Aegis.
The skill system only adds to the versatility you're offered, which is awesome in my opinion.
This is a new mechanic found in Awakening that is essentially a replacement for the Rescue system seen in previous incarnations of the series. You can choose two units to Pair Up into a group, giving them statistical bonuses, and helping each other out in combat. When one attacks, the other has a chance to attack the enemy at the same time, for a -- skills excluded -- chance of four attacks each turn.
Similarly, when you are attacked, either on the player phase or the enemy phase, your partner has a chance to step in and negate any and all damage done. Yes, you can have a level 1 Mage step in and negate all damage from a level 20 Berserker if you choose to.
There's really no reason not to Pair Up your units, except for in one single battle in the entire game, in which you have to form an impenetrable wall around a certain unit you're trying to protect against waves of enemies. That being said, the game has a tendency to give you an uneven number of units you can send into battle, meaning that you can potentially have one unpaired unit if you wish. Sometimes you get a new unit in these battles though, so it all pans out.
This system can be somewhat broken, not only because of the complete damage mitigation, but rather the chance for it. The extent of these bonuses -- how much of a statistical increase, the chance for a double attack/guard -- is dependent on your support level with your partner, and their stats. If the Avatar has support level S with Chrom, he's going to get significantly better bonuses than if the Avatar had support level C with him.
This brings us to the next section.
Supports are a little different than they are in previous incarnations of the series, albeit not by much. You can still only have support level S with one person, but the difference here lies in what happens when you hit that point.
Usually you'd get a certain ending with that person -- which still happens -- but what's different is that at support level S, you marry that person. This enables special dialogue in certain cutscenes involving the two -- which I thought was great, because it's always nice to see developers go that extra mile.
This also brings me to the next section.
This is a system that was first seen in Genealogy of the Holy War for the Super Famicom, but has found its way back here in Awakening, albeit slightly altered. In Genealogy of the Holy War, if two people had enough lover points, at the end of a certain chapter they'd pass on their skills and weapons to their offspring.
The system in Awakening is similar, except they pass on some of their class set, growths, and their newest skill to their offspring. There's only one offspring that you meet during the main storyline; all the others are met during Paralogues -- side missions of sorts. This allows you to create them (mostly) at your leisure, being able to take the time to learn a skill that you might want them to inherit (if possible, Galeforce for men would probably be on this list).
Since class pools transfer over as well, that means that the Avatar's offspring will also be able to reclass into almost anything in the game as well. Second generation units cannot have children of their own, so there is obviously a limit to this system. Nonetheless, it is very versatile and allows you quite a bit of customization previously not seen in the series -- at least to me since as previously mentioned I never got the chance to play Path of Radiance or Radiant Dawn.
Admittedly, I haven't dabbled in the Wireless function too much outside of the Bonus Box and Renown awards.
However, for those curious, I'll leave a link where you can see some information on Double Duel here.
One thing I can say is that the DLC prices are ridiculous. Through the Outrealm Gate, you can purchase and play DLC maps. Some of these award you with new possible characters, some even with new classes (Bride and Dread Fighter). Most of the single maps range between $3.00 and $3.50, with 3-map packs hovering around $6.50. I personally might shell out some cash for them at some point, but that's still rather steep for a few maps on a 3DS game, or at least that's how I see it.
However, these aren't something that you by any means need; you can complete and enjoy the game perfectly well and have fun with friends without them.
Last but definitely not least, difficulty. We can't very well have a game review on Insane Difficulty without taking its difficulty into account, now can we?
Overall, I think the difficulty stacks up fairly well. There's a steady increase during the main storyline; once you start getting a few <strong class='bbc'>Master's Seal</strong> items is around the time you start to see promoted units pop up on the enemy's side as well, which is nice.
It's worth noting that I've only played the game on Hard Classic thus far, and I found it decently difficult -- until I got grind-happy, that is. Then again I didn't use Rally Spectrum either, which I've heard (and based on the description, it really is. You're essentially getting four perfect RNG levels, minus the HP) is highly broken.
The game itself has four difficulty modes, with two game modes. You have Normal, Hard, Lunatic, and Lunatic+, and a choice of Classic or Casual.
In Lunatic, there are more enemies, they have higher stats, stronger weapons, stronger Weapon Rank bonuses, and have earlier access to skills.
Lunatic+ mode is pretty much the same as Lunatic, only the enemy has access to exclusive skills that are more powerful versions of the skills you can get. For example, you will only encounter enemies with the Hawkeye and Luna+ skills in Lunatic+ mode.
Classic and Casual are a slight change, similar to the Ironman and Normal difficulty modes of XCOM: Enemy Unknown. Classic is what you've come to expect out of a Fire Emblem game: when your unit falls in battle, that's it. Goodbye. On Casual mode, however, when your unit falls in battle, you get them back in the next battle. I can see Casual mode allowing for more strategies on higher difficulties -- baiting the enemy with a low HP unit, then destroying him with your glass cannon of sorts.
It's important to note that Lunatic+ is not unlocked initially -- you have to beat the game on Lunatic first. Similarly, if you beat the game on Lunatic Casual, only Lunatic+ Casual will be unlocked for you. You have to beat the game on Lunatic Classic and Casual to unlock both modes of Lunatic+.
When you clear the game, it saves your Renown, so once you get access to Wireless functionality in your next playthrough, it leaves a wealth of items for you which is a much-welcomed assist in most cases if you're playing on the higher difficulties.
The Bottom Line
There are a few features I didn't mention -- the Barracks, and the removal of the Magic Triangle -- though they're pretty minor.
I'll say this: I've clocked (between two saves; I restarted once to change my Avatar) roughly between 50-70 hours of game time on Awakening, and if you know my gaming habits, it's exceedingly rare that something keeps my attention for so long.
This game enthralled me from the moment I picked it up, and I still have plans to play through it again on Lunatic and maybe even Lunatic+.
The plot is pretty good -- not God-tier, but it kept me entertained, in particular a really nice plot twist near the end of the game -- and the level of customization is really nice. I loved being able to create my own character who does not suffer from Silent Protagonist Syndrome, and who actually feels like a real character in the game, not just someone who's thrown in there and is pretty much an afterthought for the entire game. Yes, I'm looking at you, Rekka no Ken.
Even on Hard mode, I died my share of times and had to reset, so unless you grind your face off it's not piss easy.
All in all, I'd give this game an 8/10, and definitely recommend it to anyone who's a fan of SRPGs, and especially any fans of the Fire Emblem franchise.