Fire Emblem – Hands On

A preview of Fire Emblem I wrote for the website www.square-go.com

Role-playing games have long been aimed towards the more niche end of the market but there have been times when they have burst into the mainstream. The late nineties boom in Japanese RPGs for example or in recent years with big hits like Fallout 3 or the Elder Scrolls series. There’s such an audience now that Nintendo can release a new version of its 3DS XL console branded with the logo of the long-standing tactical RPG series Fire Emblem, a series that not so long ago was firmly a Japanese only title. Good news?

Good news, as we will get to. Fire Emblem, as noted, is a tactical turn-based role playing game which means that you command a squad of soldiers up against some bad guys. You move your team around, then the enemy moves no doubt with some fisticuffs (or sword-icuffs?) involved somewhere along the way.

What made Fire Emblem stand out, all the way back to its first releases on the original NES, was the characters. Everyone gets fleshed out in the story in a way that is baked into the game; having characters stand next to each other will boost their fighting abilities but also their friendship. The better their friendship the stronger they get. You can even marry characters to make them even stronger.

Until one of them dies.

This is always what made Fire Emblem stand out; in Fire Emblem deaths are permanent (perma-deaths). That character that you spent hours building up? If he gets killed then thats it. He’s gone. It’s why the game has always appealed to the more hardcore end of the RPG market and also why the latest release on the 3DS is very interesting.

Fire Emblem Awakening, already available in Japan and America and soon to be released in Europe, has a casual mode. What this means is that if you choose that mode characters no longer die, you just can’t use them again until the end of the battle.

Now, some cynical people might view this as a typical move from Nintendo, watering down it’s beloved franchises in an attempt to appeal to the mums and grannies. Or you might view it as a great way to open up this classic game series to a wider audience that doesn’t like to be punished so harshly when playing video games. And both of these, to an extent, are true but if you don’t like Casual Mode then you can play in Classic Mode that retains the perma-deaths for the dyed in the wool Fire Emblem fans.

A demo for the game was recently put up on the Nintendo eShop giving you a flavour of the game; the first thing that stands out is how great it looks. The cut scenes are top notch but are almost out done by the pin sharp battle sequences. On the big screen of the 3DS XL it looks superb, playing with the 3D turned on is almost a pleasure.

You get two battles which are pretty easy but walk you through the mechanics of the game enough to get a handle on everything. You can tell that this is a game that has been crafted and refined over decades. The story, at least in the demo, seems to be the usual JRPG ‘person with amnesia and a big sword helps fight evil people’ schtick but it’s the characters that draw you into the game which will only truely reveal itself over a longer play.

So this would be a good time to dip your toe into the world of Fire Emblem? Well, that would be a firm yes. The last big releases of the series were on the Wii and Gamecube which were good but this kind of game fits a handheld console like a glove made of mythril. Being able to pick it up whenever you fancy for a quick five minute blast is a treat, especially when it looks this good which.

One to keep an eye on for sure.

Originally published April 11th 2013

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