I went out and picked up Fire Emblem: Awakening yesterday. Or rather I should say I went out and bought a 3DS XL and then downloaded Fire Emblem, because apparently it didn't ship when it was supposed to and most stores didn't get it.
Either way, I've never played a Fire Emblem game before, but I enjoy tactics games so I thought I'd give it a shot. I mentioned I had a love-hate relationship with Ni no Kuni... well I have a strictly love relationship with Fire Emblem. It's pretty awesome.
It's got a lot of what you'd expect from a tactics game... most of the game comes down to your positioning and strategy. Having units adjacent to eachother or even paired up to fight together can get you call sorts of bonuses. Plus certain weapons are better against other weapons, and certain weapons are strong against certain unit types, and you really start getting some depth.
If you play the game in classic mode, when one of your units dies, they're dead for good. This is how I opted to play it. I played Classic Ironman when I played Xcom: Enemy Unknown, and the idea that I could permanantly lose a squad member I'd grown to like made the game all the more tense. Fire Emblem takes it a step further because all of the characters in the game have a personality, and they develop relationships. So not only are you building them up from a skills/mechanics point of view, you're also getting to know them.
I hear a lot of people play on classic, but then quickly reset their system when one of their characters dies. I really don't see the point. If you're going to do that, just play on casual mode. I made a positioning error while playing last night, and now Sully is dead. It sucks, but that's the purpose of playing with permadeath: real consequences.
As units fight together, they develop bonds. They become friends, which opens up not only new conversations between them, but also increases the combat bonuses they give eachother for fighting together.
If characters are of opposite genders, these relationships can progress all the way to romance, and finally marriage. So that's pretty neat.
And then the married characters can have children. Okay.
And then you can recruit said children into battle.
It's essentially a breeding system like Pokemon has. You want to think about the skills of the parents so you end up with a kid that has a good combination. There's a ton of strategy to it, planning who will fight together to foster those sort of relationships, to eventually produce an offspring with desireable traits that you can use in battle. It's really cool, but at the same time when you're talking about human characters... it's kind of creepy, right?
So while you're playing this really cool combat tactics game, in the background you're sort of also playing a matchmaking game. Marriage happens automatically once a relationship progresses to a certain level. There's no "are you sure?" moment. So you have to be careful about what units get friendly.
My character is a female, and I'm keeping her as far away from Virion as possible.
Visually, the game is stunning for a handheld game. The battlemap is the least impressive, where you move 2D sprites around 3D environments to engage enemies. When you get into a fight, the game switches to full 3D models to show you the exchange. These can be fast forwarded through, but they're pretty cool to watch. The models and animation are fantastic.
The game also uses these 3D models along with 2D character portraits to portray most cutscenes, and it works pretty well. I find all of the dialogue to be wonderfully written, and the characters are interesting and engaging. I'm never tempted to skip through dialogue to get back to the fighting.
And then occasionally you get some absolutely gorgeous pre-canned cutscenes, which use an even higher quality of 3D model. These are often pretty stunning, and add just that extra level of immersion to the game's story.
If you own a 3DS, I'd highly recommend picking up Fire Emblem. If you don't own a 3DS already... I'd recommend it as long as there was at least another game or two you'd want to play on the system. I justified it for myself with Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate coming out next month. I may get it on the 3DS as well just so I can take my save data from the Wii U on the go. I get pretty addicted when playing Monster Hunter.
Either way though, I'm now a Fire Emblem fan as well.