After being accidentally announced at E3 2012 by Nintendo of America’s Reggie Fils-Aime, Fire Emblem: Awakening has undertaken a complete reversal in regards to its localization treatment. Since then, it has been revealed that the game will release with dual language tracks and will be getting its own 3DS bundle. I would be in just as much disbelief if the Dragon Quest 3DS had made its way here (though I certainly wouldn’t complain if it did). Now, a full-fledged demo has been released on the North American eShop. Here are the thoughts I came away with:
1. My first observation is how accessible Nintendo aims to make the latest Fire Emblem title. Right from the get go, not only are there three difficulties to choose from (Normal, Hard, and Lunatic), but you have the option to disable permanent death for your characters. While the latter option wasn’t selectable in the demo, given the short length of the demo, in most of the previous games, you didn’t have a say in this. Defeated characters would be permanently removed from your party and would no longer appear in any cutscenes after that, unless they were an important character.
2. You’re also given the ability to customize your character at the beginning of the game. The demo limits you to just the character’s name and gender, but you can still view the things that are modifiable in the main game, including their facial features and their voice. It’s unclear if you are able to adjust the character’s class, though the tutorials and cutscenes that I encountered didn’t indicate that I could.
3. The game opens with your crafted character meeting Chrom, who is presumably the other lead character in this title. You’re also introduced to his comrades Lissa and Frederick. Chrom and his crew are known as Shepherds, which are exactly the kind of shepherds you’re thinking of, only more heavily armed. It’s unclear what kind of role your created character will have in the grand scheme of things, as he/she seems to have amnesia and behaves much like a tagalong character during the opening events. So long as they don’t end up in the creepy onlooker role that the custom characters had in White Knight Chronicles, it’ll probably be fine.
4. The visuals, particularly during the cutscenes, are stunning. The cel-shaded art style seems like a natural fit for the Fire Emblem series, and while the in-game graphics aren’t quite as impressive, they’re certainly on par with the Gamecube and Wii releases. During battles, your characters are in miniature form, though attacking and defending will cut to another scene that shows the exchange play out. The game lends itself well to the 3D effect, given the angle at which you view the action. The top down perspective makes it seem as if the buildings rise up towards you.
5. The English voiceovers are really well done, though there aren’t too many of them within the game. They play primarily during CG sequences, while the rest is mostly sound bites that play while reading text. While Marth from previous Fire Emblem games does make an appearance, his tone seemed incredibly high pitched, which I guess is appropriate given his feminine stature. It’ll be interesting to see if he maintains this voice, should he reappear in the next Super Smash Bros. game.
6. If you’ve ever played a Fire Emblem game in the past, you should feel right at home with this one. Your party, as well as your enemy’s party, are all laid out on a grid. When it’s your turn, you can select a character to move, which will turn the grid into red and blue squares; blue being spots you can move to and red being spaces you can attack. The character classes operate on a rock/paper/scissors mentality, with swords being strong against axes, axes being effective against spears, and spears bringing down swords. There are also magic and ranged attacks that get thrown in that mix as well, and terrain can impair the movement of certain classes. Objectives typically change from one chapter to the next, though these first few just task you with defeating all of your enemies.
7. There’s a much greater emphasis on positioning this time around in Fire Emblem: Awakening, as placing units directly adjacent to each other will give them a boost to their stats. In addition, you may notice that when enemies attack one of your units that has another unit nearby, they will appear in the melee as well and may block attacks for you. Conversely, you attacking a foe may cause a teammate to launch an additional attack. This adds a whole new dynamic to the game, as bunching up your characters now offer additional benefits that weren’t present before.
8. The demo covers two chapters, the Prologue and Chapter One. Each serve as tutorials for the various gameplay mechanics that you encounter during the game, though they are presented in such a way that they aren’t intrusive for veterans of the series. While the action takes place on the top screen, the bottom screen will show any new things that the game has to teach you, which you can certainly ignore if you already know it. You’re also introduced to the main conflict of the game, as following an initial bandit attack, you meet with Marth and must fend off an army of mysterious creatures that have emerged from a large portal. Things begin on a quick pace as they have in the past, though I’m interested in seeing what connection Marth has on the overall plot as well as what direction they take the story in.
9. When you travel from one chapter to the next, you are shown a map that is zoomed out on one screen and enlarged on another. I suspect that game progress will be done in a linear fashion as in previous games, though I wonder if you’ll be able to revisit locales in order to shop and gather information, or if you must do so from camp.
10. I found it interesting that there was a set limit on the amount of times you can launch the demo. Granted, the number is rather large (thirty), and it can easily be cleared in one go. But if it’s just a demo, why have a limited number of uses at all unless the file contained the full game? This has little bearing on the final product, but this is the first I’ve noticed anything on the eShop doing something like this.
The Fire Emblem: Awakening demo was incredibly short, but it was enough to reaffirm my excitement for the game. The gameplay is perfectly in line with what previous games have to offer and by all indications, seems to improve upon it. Meanwhile, the added accessibility should allow for new fans to take a dip into the franchise that haven’t already. Hopefully the final game pays off on my renewed enthusiasm.
Fire Emblem: Awakening releases February 4th for Nintendo 3DS.