Fir Em Awak­en­ing

The tac­tics game that’s about re­la­tion­ships as much as bat­tling

EDGE - - TIME EXTEND - BY ALEX WILT­SHIRE De­vel­oper In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems Pub­lisher Nin­tendo For­mat 3DS Re­lease 2013

One of the grand­est, most sweep­ing games of the past few years is also one of the small­est. With a tale told across con­ti­nents and gen­er­a­tions, and fea­tur­ing dozens of char­ac­ters, Fire

Em­blem: Awak­en­ing is a hand­held game re­leased in 2013 that many play­ers will still be plug­ging away at – or at least have am­bi­tions to. Within its clock­work sys­tems is wo­ven a spe­cial kind of videogame magic, com­bin­ing In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems’ trade­mark pol­ish (in which ev­ery cur­sor move­ment, an­i­ma­tion and pixel is just so) with sure pas­sage through a story, and free­dom to ex­plore rich, ex­act­ing and flex­i­ble strat­egy.

Its se­cret is in how it all comes to­gether, how th­ese fea­tures in­ter­lock. It’s a game that you play at mul­ti­ple lev­els si­mul­ta­ne­ously, where turn-to-turn de­ci­sions pull through into cam­paign-span­ning ones, and where each bat­tle not only has a set ob­jec­tive, but as many self­set and in­for­mal ones as you care to take on. The only way to play Fire Em­blem:

Awak­en­ing, of course, is in Clas­sic mode. Here, when mem­bers of your band of rov­ing sol­diers die in bat­tle, they’re gone for­ever. Well, sort of. Ac­tu­ally, they el­e­gantly de­part with a few words of re­gret, but the point is clear: death means the end. That’s the way that Fire Em­blem al­ways worked un­til

Awak­en­ing, where the ad­di­tion of Ca­sual mode, pre­sum­ably as some con­tem­po­rary con­ces­sion to ac­ces­si­bil­ity, caused illde­served con­ster­na­tion from play­ers con­cerned that it marked the dumb­ing down of the se­ries. Ab­so­lutely not. If any­thing, there’s even more to con­sider in

Awak­en­ing than ever. So why is Clas­sic mode so es­sen­tial to play­ing Awak­en­ing? It’s not purely about sub­mis­sion to tra­di­tion, but it’s im­por­tant that Fire Em­blem re­mains dis­tinct from other tac­tics games, in­clud­ing In­tel­li­gent Sys­tems’ other strat­egy clas­sic, 2001’s

Ad­vance Wars. And at the heart of that is its ad­di­tion of RPG el­e­ments: its units are char­ac­ters, and you steadily level them and steer their de­vel­op­ment while get­ting to know them through di­a­logue. Fire Em­blem has, there­fore, al­ways con­trasted with

Ad­vance Wars, even though it’s fun­da­men­tally sim­i­lar. In Ad­vance Wars, your units are in­her­ently ex­pend­able. In Fire

Em­blem, they’re ir­re­place­able. The bonds you de­velop and strengthen with Fire Em­blem char­ac­ters only grow when you know the threats are real. Putting char­ac­ters into dan­ger makes you a neg­li­gent com­man­der – you know you’ll prob­a­bly win the bat­tle, but Fire Em­blem is all about the costs. If you lose too many char­ac­ters, you might have too few to face the gauntlets that com­prise the later lev­els, but that prac­ti­cal cost is far out­weighed by the emo­tional one. Be­cause, in that way that the best RPGs re­volve around, you start to re­ally love th­ese lit­tle toy­box peo­ple. And

Awak­en­ing’s are among the best yet.

In Awak­en­ing’s early game there’s Fred­er­ick. A stal­wart and ex­pe­ri­enced knight on a horse, his start­ing stats are higher than the rest of the army, which is a com­mon pat­tern for the se­ries. Like Sa­cred

Stones’ Seth, and Mar­cus in Fire Em­blem, his pur­pose is to take the heat in the early lev­els, go­ing out into dan­ger­ous land to en­tice en­e­mies into range of the rest of your force, who can eas­ily be killed if they’re at­tacked first. Soak­ing up hits and re­tal­i­at­ing with crush­ing force, he’s ini­tially at the cen­tre of your tac­tics and you love him dearly, un­til, sooner or later, you’ll re­alise that he earns XP slower than ev­ery­one else. To strengthen your force, you’ll need to care­fully ex­pose it to the front, and Fred­er­ick takes a new role: still ever-re­li­able and true, he be­comes the army’s shep­herd, al­low­ing it to make kills with­out get­ting into trou­ble and steal­ing too many of his own.

Then there’s Don­nel, the young farm hand with a tin pot for a hel­met. A later re­cruit to the army, his stats are down­right ter­ri­ble when he starts, so he needs to be car­ried by the rest of the team. This presents a whole new way of play­ing, where rather than clear­ing the map, the strat­egy in­volves lur­ing as many en­e­mies into Don­nel’s range as you can, al­ways soft­en­ing them up enough in a sin­gle turn, so Don­nel’s weedy hits can take them out. And it needs to be in a sin­gle turn, be­cause if an en­emy unit starts its turn with Don­nel in range, you can bet it’ll go straight over

and one-shot him. Why is he worth the bother? Be­cause of his Ap­ti­tude pas­sive skill, which in­creases the like­li­hood of his stats rais­ing when he lev­els up. For those who per­se­vere with him, by the end of the game he’s a mon­ster spout­ing rus­tic down­home quips, able to go alone into the middle of a map and face ev­ery en­emy vic­to­ri­ous.

Both th­ese char­ac­ters – and many more – be­come spe­cial through the way the game makes their roles dis­tinct, in­flect­ing bat­tles with ad­di­tional tac­ti­cal lay­ers that you can choose to take on, or not. But Awak­en­ing of­fers an­other way for its char­ac­ters to find a way into your heart. Take the mo­ment when Virion, the horny toff and dead-eye marks­man, saves the dif­fi­dent great knight Kel­lam from a strike that would’ve killed him. Saves like this, or ad­di­tional at­tacks, are down to Awak­en­ing’s Dual sys­tem, in which an ad­ja­cent char­ac­ter can help an­other dur­ing at­tacks or de­fence, of­ten swing­ing the en­counter in your favour.

It’s supremely ef­fec­tive. When your lit­tle charges right your crit­i­cal mis­takes and over­sights, it feels as though they’re look­ing out for you – that you’re not alone, that it’s not just cold num­bers un­der anime trap­pings. The key is that they’re not just ran­dom, ei­ther. The Dual sys­tem is an evo­lu­tion of Fire Em­blem’s sup­port sys­tem, in which char­ac­ters have re­la­tion­ships with each other. By fight­ing nearby each other or per­form­ing spe­cific acts on them, their af­fec­tion for each other grows through dif­fer­ent grades. In pre­vi­ous games it only con­ferred boosted skills to friends within range of each other, but in Awak­en­ing it’s far more im­por­tant. The higher the grade, the more likely that a char­ac­ter will pro­vide backup. By the end of the game, plac­ing friends next to each other be­comes a nec­es­sary part of your tac­tics.

The sup­port sys­tem is so im­por­tant, in fact, that it in­forms the game’s whole nar­ra­tive theme. Your army is called the Shep­herds, led by a young prince called Chrom. Through a twist­ing story of al­liances and be­tray­als be­tween var­i­ous com­pet­ing king­doms, against a back­drop of a ris­ing an­cient force (which is all rather hard to fol­low), friend­ships are struck, trust is earned, and mo­tives are un­der­stood.

This per­sonal stuff is what Awak­en­ing is re­ally about, with the re­la­tion­ship be­tween the player char­ac­ter, the Avatar and Chrom at its cen­tre. From the start of the game, the Avatar has vi­sions of killing Chrom, but Chrom re­fuses to ac­cept them as a prophecy more pow­er­ful than friend­ship. Near the end of the game, the Avatar, pos­sessed by evil forces, dou­ble-crosses Chrom, but Chrom keeps faith in his friend and they tri­umph. At the end we learn that the Avatar can fi­nally ban­ish the ul­ti­mate evil but will die in the process, un­less his or her bonds with Chrom and the Shep­herds are strong enough. Em­body­ing those bonds, at the end of the story Chrom at­tempts to de­liver the killer blow and sac­ri­fice him­self in the Avatar’s place. Do you al­low him to,

WHEN YOUR LIT­TLE CHARGES RIGHT YOUR

CRIT­I­CAL MIS­TAKES, IT FEELS AS THOUGH

THEY’RE LOOK­ING OUT FOR YOU

or do it your­self? Af­ter all the time you’ve spent to­gether, and the sup­port stat you’ve steadily de­vel­oped, it’s a choice with mean­ing that be­lies the pulp story.

While the ma­jor char­ac­ters play out th­ese grand the­atrics, other mem­bers of the army are grow­ing their re­la­tion­ships, too, and they prob­a­bly mean even more to you. You can hear con­ver­sa­tions be­tween them in the bar­racks, watch­ing them grow closer and learn­ing new things about their mo­ti­va­tions and back­grounds as their sup­port lev­els rise. The lothario Virion and proud, butch mounted knight Sully are not easy friends, with Sully unim­pressed by Virion’s in­ten­tion to de­fend her as a lady, but they learn to re­spect each other. It’s light stuff, but de­tailed and un­der­pinned by the ex­pe­ri­ences you’ve had with them on the field. To see two char­ac­ters be­gin to ap­pre­ci­ate each other as a re­sult of your care­ful ma­noeu­vres in bat­tle is sat­is­fy­ing on many lev­els.

The end­point of all this friend-mak­ing is mak­ing ba­bies. Many char­ac­ters of op­po­site gen­ders can tran­scend A-rank sup­port into S-rank, a state of love that will lead to a new gen­er­a­tion of sol­diers.

Awak­en­ing fea­tures 13 such char­ac­ters in all, each unique with char­ac­ter por­traits, stats and di­a­logue. The as­tutest of play­ers will have breed­ing pro­grammes in mind, hop­ing to spawn the right kid and hand down to it the best skills, such as Gale­force, which grants a char­ac­ter a se­cond move in their turn if they make a kill with their first.

Breed­ing, there­fore, not only plays into the tac­ti­cal game, but also into Fire Em­blem’s metagame of char­ac­ter de­vel­op­ment, where you’re craft­ing an army of the finest met­tle which also suits your tac­ti­cal style. The pur­suit of cre­at­ing a new gen­er­a­tion is, in fact, Awak­en­ing’s endgame, an oddly fit­ting one as you re­place the old with the new for an army you can take to StreetPass, which places those of other play­ers in your world, ready to bat­tle with.

It’s in th­ese armies that you see the true nu­ance that lies in Awak­en­ing’s sys­tems: you see how other play­ers chose to fo­cus their at­ten­tion; who they in­vested in and nur­tured. And you re­alise how your he­roes are very much your own, and how ev­ery char­ac­ter in Awak­en­ing that you over­looked or un­der­val­ued al­ways had the po­ten­tial to be a hero too.

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Each char­ac­ter is pre­dis­posed to strengthen their dif­fer­ent stats in de­fined ways as they level up. Lissa here is all about magic

De­spite its wide range of char­ac­ters, Awak­en­ing’s icon de­signs are eas­ily iden­ti­fi­able, mak­ing tac­ti­cal de­ci­sions a snap

To be aided in an at­tack, char­ac­ters need to be placed next to each other, like Chrom and the Avatar here, the odds de­fined by their sup­port level

When sup­port is pos­si­ble, they’re shown in the at­tack an­i­ma­tion, of­ten lead­ing to the nail­biter of whether they’ll team up and save the day

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