This edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems' character-driven strategy-RPG Fire Emblem: Awakening, which reviewers describe as "a brilliant entry point to both the franchise and the genre." Fire Emblem: Awakening currently earns a score of 91 out of 100 at Metacritic.com.
IGN's Audrey Drake scores Awakening at 9.6 out of 10, calling it "the best thing to hit the 3DS since Super Mario 3D Land."
"Far too few people have played the Fire Emblem series," she continues. "A darling of the hardcore strategy RPG crowd -- and one of the shining gems of the genre -- the biggest hurdle the franchise has faced in terms of reaching a broader audience has largely been due to its niche nature and brutal difficulty.
"But with Fire Emblem Awakening, that velvet curtain has been pulled back, and the series has finally come into its own as something gamers of all proficiencies and backgrounds can enjoy. The folks at Intelligent Systems have created a remarkably accessible Fire Emblem experience, and they did it without sacrificing the intensity that FE loyalists hold near and dear."
Drake finds that the new Casual mode is a key addition. "The Casual mode is an especially brilliant way to ease players into the FE waters, or even to just allow busy gamers to run through the story without having to worry about missing out on a character arc because that person died and they don't have time to redo the entire battle," she explains. "The tutorial system is also something to behold. It can be disabled right from the get-go for those who already know their way around a Falchion, but even if you leave it on it's incredibly unobtrusive."
Drake is also impressed with the quality of the game's localization. "Part of the story's success comes from the expert characterization," she praises. "The impeccable localization aptly preserves each character's quirks as well as the game's delightful sense of humor. Few games can so readily attach a player to such a wide array of characters, or keep each addition to such a large, revolving cast so distinct and memorable, but Awakening achieves both."
"Awakening exceeds all prior installments for a game that is at once a Fire Emblem lover's dream come true and a brilliant entry point to both the franchise and the genre," Drake writes. "This isn't just a Fire Emblem game, this is where Fire Emblem finally awakens from its deep slumber as a cult favorite and steps up as one of the Big N's big franchises, no longer shackled by its niche origins."
Kimberley Wallace at Game Informer rates Awakening at 9 out of 10. "Loss, uncertainty, and the fear of making a mistake with your next move fill Fire Emblem: Awakening with undeniable intensity," she begins. "Awakening makes you think long and hard about every move, but its standout achievement is enhancing the classic formula to create one of the best strategy/RPG experiences I've had in a long time."
Awakening's combat boasts surprising depth. "Systems work so well that it feels like battles have infinite, unpredictable paths to success or failure," Wallace notes. "For instance, placing units next to each other gives bonuses, such as increased odds to dodge. Characters also build relationships over time, occasionally providing additional attacks or blocking incoming strikes. However, assistance is never a given; all you can do is deepen relationships and increase your odds."
"Maps also come with a variety of advantages and disadvantages," she continues. "Different terrains impact movement, while forts refill health each turn and decrease enemies' hit chance. Other squares, such as staircases, spawn enemies unless blocked by a friendly character. All of these elements provide a spontaneous, challenging puzzle to overcome against-all-odds battles."
The game's difficulty is one of its greatest assets. "Fire Emblem games have never handed out victories easily, and Awakening is no exception," Wallace warns. "The margin for error is slim and the AI is sharp. If you leave a combatant vulnerable, expect swift vengeance. Intelligent Systems has offered the option to disable permadeath, but I recommend you keep it on. Permadeath added intensity to my choices, kept me on the edge of my seat, and created an unmatched sense of accomplishment."
"During my time with Awakening, I always had a reaction to what was going on around me," Wallace says. "My heart raced as I watched enemies close in on an injured character, and I found myself devastated if I executed an action that cost me the match. Awakening made me scratch and claw for victory, and I savored every moment."
Over at GameSpot, Heidi Kemps gives Awakening an 8.5 out of 10. "While some pioneering games have a tough time evolving along with the genres they helped form, Fire Emblem: Awakening takes many of the best elements of modern strategy RPGs and implements them beautifully into its classic, time-tested formula," she writes. "The result is a high watermark for the franchise and one of the most engaging and enjoyable experiences on the 3DS yet."
Unlike previous games in the series, a variety of optional missions and events await players in Awakening. "It's not a strictly linear progression: you have a world map that allows you to fight side battles and visit shops in-between story events, which makes managing your gear and leveling up some of the lagging characters much easier," Kemps says. "You can also play optional side missions with unique objectives in order to recruit new members to your merry band or obtain rare items."
"Though many elements of Fire Emblem: Awakening are both smartly designed and extremely fun, there are a few minor annoyances that bog down the experience," Kemps warns. "Avatar creation is limited, with limited options to change physical features. Some elements of the game's interface are cumbersome -- in particular, the inventory system."
In addition: "More advanced combat information, like the odds of your companions performing guards or follow-up attacks, can be tough to find and isn't shown at all in the default pre-engagement screens. The local multiplayer is also disappointing given both the robustness of the StreetPass features and the history of multiplayer in portable Fire Emblem games."
"Nonetheless, it's difficult to find any glaring flaws in Fire Emblem: Awakening," Kemps concludes. "The fun, tactical combat, the character-driven relationships, and the greater feeling of freedom combine to make Awakening the best installment of this beloved series in a long time. Anyone looking for a fantastic strategy game or a long, engaging adventure perfect for on-the-go sessions should absolutely not overlook this gaming gem."