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Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the deepest and best 3DS games (review)

An epic adventure starring you

One of your fighters is literally you. Well, at least it’s your avatar. You create your own character from a few customizable options at the beginning. Not only can you take this personalized unit into battle, but they actually play a major role in the story. Arguably, you are the main hero in Awakening, which does a lot to immerse you in the epic story.

Awakening’s tale spans continents and years, focusing on wars against rival nations and (of course) a mysterious evil. The plot is typical fantasy stuff, but like all good genre fiction, it’s made great with a strong, likable cast of characters. Some of my favorites include a knight in giant armor who seems invisible to his allies and a thief who cares more for candy than gold.

Each fighter has their own personality that’s expressed in multiple conversations and in-game cutscenes. You really grow to like them, which makes the prospect of losing one all the more horrifying.

Fire Emblem: Awakening

Artfully crafted

Awakening has amazing production values for an original 3DS game. Just look at that beautiful image taken from the cover art at the top of the first page. Character portraits done in that same style pop up during dialogues, but even the 3D models used in cutscenes and the awesomely animated battle sequences have an appealing, exaggerated look. It also features a few computer generated cut-scenes, which look like a stunning cross between anime and a CG movie.

Even the system’s 3D effect impresses. I was actually startled once while scrolling across the battlefield when a flock of birds seemingly flew right by my face. You can choose to view battles in a first-person mode, which is a fun showcase for the screen-popping technology (although it gets a little disorienting).

A great soundtrack complements these visuals. The score matches the epic scope with triumphant themes and exciting battle music that actually grows more intense when you transition from the field to a battle sequence.

What you won’t like

Critical hits

One of the stats that factors into every battle is the chance for a critical hit, which does a great deal of extra damage compared to a normal attack. Now, this is extremely helpful for you, especially when a nearby friend or spouse greatly enhance your fighter’s critical hit ratio, but your enemy also has a chance to deal massive damage (insert giant enemy crab joke here). Not much of one, really. Usually just 1 percent. But when you fight hundreds of battles, you’re going to have a couple of them trigger, and they almost always kill your unit in one hit.You can’t do much to defend against them, and it’s a big pain when it causes all of your plans to become undone 30 minutes into a fight.

If you’re obsessive-compulsive about keeping all of you characters alive — like I am — then you’ll want to restart the skirmish. I never found an easier way of doing this outside of turning off the entire game and loading my save file from just before the battle started. Still, this is more of an annoyance than an actual flaw.

Conclusion

Fire Emblem: Awakening completely engaged me while I was playing it, whether I was connecting with its well-written characters or taxing my (limited) intellect as I tried to win a difficult battle while keeping everyone alive. It’s hard to ask for much more from a strategy game, but Awakening goes beyond that by supporting its great mechanics with immersion and beautiful art.

This is one of the best games Nintendo’s released for the 3DS yet.

94/100

Fir Emblem: Awakening will be available on Feb. 4 for the Nintendo 3DS. The publisher provided GamesBeat with a digital copy of the game for the purposes of this review.

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