I recall playing Smash Brothers Melee on Gamecube and scratching my head along with many other American gamers at the secret characters. “Marth? Who the hell is this guy?”
After some digging and investigation I found a rare RPG gem amongst Nintendo’s lovably brainless platforming arsenal: Fire Emblem.
November 3, 2003. Nearly ten years ago Fire Emblem was released on Gameboy Advance in the US. Three interesting main protagonists an addicting battle system, and extremely high quality animation made this instantly lovable. True it has a predictable conflict… but what game didn’t in the early 2000’s?
The thing is: This was not the first Fire Emblem game. The franchise had been around since the NES / Famicom. Like Nintendo’s other notable RPG, Mother, this was only brought to light when US players could ‘handle it’. Our overseas gaming savants in Japan built complex games on consoles akin to our PC game market. You would have to delve into Adventure games and Dungeon and Dragon’s gold box games for that sort of complexity.
A lesser know function of Fire Emblem was its support system. You could play through the whole game without really noticing it. However now, in 2013, it becomes the main focus in Fire Emblem Awakening.
Some may endearingly call Awakening: Fire Emblem the Dating Sim. This isn’t a complaint. It does what many games try to do, weave substance into a good mechanic. At its core this is a turn based strategy game. You have military units of varying classes, varying strengths, and varying strategies. For those unfamiliar, Fire Emblem uses a Triad system with its main weapons. Swords beat Axes, Axes beat Spears, and Spears beat Swords. It isn’t an end all system but it is law if you are playing on the higher difficulty levels. Especially in Classic mode. In that, every choice counts. If a unit dies. They are gone for good.
This is the first Fire Emblem I decided to play Casual on. Not because of difficulty, but because of attachment. My focus shifted from the high end strategy to its relationship planning. I was sucked in by the potential of valued comrades fighting side by side.
The hardcore crowd can rest easy though. As I mentioned before, the ‘love and marriage’ mechanic is actually a min-maxing tool in disguise. It comes down to this: Have two units stand next to each other and they provide stat boosts to each other. The stronger the bond, the better the boost. Male and female pairings yield marriages which yields children. These Chimera of your war machine inherit the potential skills of their parents.
The children are actually defined by their mothers. The child’s hair color will change per his or her father. That said… the game does a great job justifying the union. Other than Chrom the story’s main character, any of the men in the man story can marry any of the women. That is a hefty chunk of romance writing. Chrom has a choice of Four women that he must marry to advance the plot but none of them feel forced or false. Also. There is a fifth potential choice.
Awakening lets you make an Avatar character. Customization between male and female, faces, hair color, build and voice set. The game doesn’t have full speech but has the Nintendo trademark limited speech that gets mildly grating at times as it is said with every line. It makes you almost pine for the ‘beep speak’ of old games… or silence.
Your Avatar is NOT a silent protagonist. They have character, concerns and actually proves to be one of the more fun characters of the cast. I instantly bonded with the game when it used ‘Robin’ as a default. Seeing as it is also the middle name of a fledgling fantasy author I will not name~.
The children produced are Time Travellers. This adds to an amusing situation where the kids are the same age as the parents. It’s also bit creepy that the Avatar can many anyone as long as they are the opposite gender. Anyone.
I can just see Chrom shooting stink eye at his Tactician for wooing his future daughter/son. The kids are otherwise limited on who they can marry. They can only fraternize with their fellow time-travelers. Their relationships are refreshingly lighter than the parents and despite the ‘Husband’ and ‘Wife’ tag in their status you get the impression it’s more like girlfriend and boyfriend.
Bonds can be forged with the parents as well, translating to familial war machines decimating the battle in Casual Mode and acting as the tool of survival in Classic Mode.
This versatility makes for a pleasant diversion. The Primary conflict is a bit cut and dry and I haven’t finished it yet. It falls into the ‘go collect five magical doodads to counter the world’s great evil. But at the core, this is a game. And because it’s fun and immersive, I forgive it.