Play Primer: Getting the most from Fire Emblem: Awakening

By Steve Watts, Feb 14, 2013 11:05am PST

Fire Emblem: Awakening has enjoyed a long history on both consoles and portable systems, and it's taken some lessons to heart to make this the most accessible edition yet. It is, however, still a difficult, turn-based tactical RPG, which can be a bit intimidating for newcomers. In case you're hesitant to take on the task or eager to dive in but hoping for a leg up, here are a few things you might like to know.

The History of Fire Emblem

Fire Emblem made its debut in Japan in 1990, but it took more than ten years for the series to reach North America. Many of the games take place on different continents, and some even in different worlds, but each are connected by the plot device of the titular "Fire Emblem." The device has served as a shield, a magical MacGuffin, and a prison for a powerful demon. The Fire Emblem is present again in this installment, with a completely new purpose. The story makes reference to fan-favorite character Marth as a legendary heroic king, but aside from that the story stands essentially on its own and can be understandable without any familiarity with series lore.

Two Degrees of Variable Difficulty

The game carries the standard difficulty settings you might expect (Normal, Hard, and Lunatic) which impact factors like the strength of enemies. But it also offers two modes with their own dramatic effect on gameplay: Classic and Casual. The series is known for its permanent death states, killing off characters you lose during battle for good. Allowing for these two variables lets you mix and match to your liking: maybe you want to try your hand at Lunatic but want to use Casual as a safeguard, or maybe it's your first time trying permanent death with Classic so you set it to Normal to ease your way into it. Pick the one that feels right, but keep in mind that playing with permanent death is largely seen as the true Fire Emblem experience.

Your Gender Matters

One of the first actions you'll take part in is creating your character avatar. Picking your gender makes a large difference in this regard, as it impacts your romance options which then have a major impact in certain aspects of the story. My female character seemed so naturally inclined toward one male that I thought it was predetermined, but others I've talked to had their pick of the litter.

The Characters Swear

While I doubt most Shackers mind if game characters interject the occasional four-letter invective, this is notable for a few reasons. For one, pottymouth-conscious parents should know that this game isn't Nintendo's usual all-ages faire. Plus, for older gamers, it helps firmly root Fire Emblem as one of the company's more mature franchises, since you wouldn't catch Mario or Link using words like "damn" and "arse."

Don't Fear the Reaper

The game's difficulty ramps up naturally, but in the last fourth of the game the challenge is considerable. If you're playing on Classic, you very well may need to sacrifice one of your soldiers to win a battle, and making those decisions is part of the experience. Just be sure that you've been extremely judicious and careful in earlier segments of the game, so you have plenty of troops left by the end in case you need to make the hard choice.

Remember to Pair Up

In the heat of battle, it's easy to forget some of the new elements that are unique to this both as a Fire Emblem game, and in general among tactical titles. This game lets your units "Pair Up" with other team members, granting them the movement speed of the lead member. It's handy for getting your slower units across the battlefield quickly, and for accessing the passive bonuses among units that have good relationships.

Social Gatherings

Be sure to make time to socialize with your units. The game presents two opportunities for this: the Barracks, and Support menu. The Barracks are available outside battles, to spy on units sharing conversations. Taking a moment to look in on these conversations can grant bonuses. Support is very similar, but only available as you prepare for battle, and focused squarely on improving relationships. Those relationships make up the backbone of the passive bonuses in battle, so you'll want to take advantage of them. Plus, the writing is through-and-through fantastic with genuinely funny and heartwarming moments, so this will make you feel more connected to your troops and more committed to protecting them.

It's a Large Download

If you plan on downloading the game from the Nintendo eShop, you might need to clear some space. In Nintendo's odd space terminology, the game is a whopping 8,577 blocks. New Super Mario Bros 2, by comparison, is only 2,725. The size is likely due to the brief (but beautiful) 3D animated cutscenes.

You Can Already Grab Free DLC

Early in the game, you'll gain access to a special area called the Outrealm Gate. For now, it's only occupied by the game's free launch downloadable content, titled Champions of Yore 1. It's only 1-star difficulty, so you should be able to handle it without too much trouble. Your reward is a wink at the series' legacy, and the ability to bring one special support character into battle with you from that point on. This DLC is only free for a limited time, and can only be accessed through the game interface itself.

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