The Game That Changed Fire Emblem Forever
While it may be hard to believe, there was a time when the Fire Emblem series was more obscure than the EarthBound series. After all, at least EarthBound showed up in America on the Super Nintendo, whereas multiple Fire Emblem games were passed over until the seventh entry – titled Fire Emblem: The Blazing Blade – was finally brought over onto the GameBoy Advance in 2003. Boasting little else than a few localized games and decent representation in Super Smash Bros., fans of the franchise must have felt that the series was doomed to obscurity.
That is, until the release of Fire Emblem Awakening. Without a doubt, this is the title that people can point back to as the catalyst for making Fire Emblem one of the most popular Nintendo franchises in recent memory, and is probably the reason why we currently have so many of these sword-wielding characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.
Releasing on the Nintendo 3DS in 2013 in the US, Fire Emblem Awakening was immediately hot stuff. While the gameplay itself isn’t terribly different from previous Fire Emblem games, the quality-of-life updates made for this game made it far more approachable and accessible for new fans of the series. While you can still choose to play with the harder difficulty that this series had been known for – including perma-death for your characters – being able to turn that difficulty down means you no longer have to feel like banging your head against the wall if one of your characters happens to die mid-battle.
The story is a bit bonkers if you aren’t used to anime tropes in your video games, but fairly straightforward. A kingdom is in trouble, the royals have to step up to protect their realm, and you – the player character – are a mysterious tactician with amnesia. You join Chrom and his family and friends as you fight evil and seek to save the kingdom. Pretty standard stuff from the outset, and nothing too particularly out-of-the-ordinary.
The back-half of the game is where things start going really crazy, though. Without spoiling too much, you find that time travel is actually going to be an important aspect of this game. Not only that, but you quickly realize that the characters you have been matchmaking and building bonds with actually determines a significant portion of your party layout later in the game – you are actively responsible for the creation of the descendants you get to play as later in the game. How this all works out story-wise is a bit murky and perhaps not thoroughly thought through; even still, it provides an interesting setup that (mostly) pays off by the end and leads to some genuinely heartwarming moments.
There are some criticisms of the game that people should keep in mind before playing it. The romance options the game makes available to you are pretty interesting, but can definitely lead to more risque conversations happening between the different characters. Not only that, but the entire trope of Fire Emblem now being called a “waifu simulator” really started full-force with this game, so it definitely leads to more of those cliched anime stereotypes than you might care to see.
Fire Emblem Awakening was one of the first games I had to buy digitally when it released. I was living in South Korea at that time and to import a game I wasn’t sure about at first seemed like a fairly pricey endeavor. What if I wasn’t good enough at the game? What if it is still too hard for me? I remember having to give up on Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones on GameBoy Advance because I was simply unable to clear the level I was perpetually stuck on, so taking a gamble on paying exorbitant import fees on a game like this seemed like it would be too much money at the time. Luckily, the eShop had recently allowed full retail game downloads instead of smaller, download-only titles, so as soon as I finished the demo, I was instantly hooked and plunked down the cash to play the full version.
Fire Emblem Awakening not only revitalized interest in the series, but has now become one of Nintendo’s big franchises – for better or worse. Some see the release of this game as “watering down” what Fire Emblem is truly all about – and fans aren’t entirely wrong about this, either. But for me, it came out at exactly the right time and committed me to this series from here on out. I vividly remember rolling credits for the first time and seeing how each character got a final and definitive ending to their story. It really hit me at that time just how much I enjoyed interacting with them, and just like any good novel, it was tough to put it down. While some may say that Fire Emblem has lost its way, I prefer to see it as a reinvention of a good franchise into a greater one that can be experienced by more people than ever before. That’s worth it to me.
What was your first Fire Emblem game? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below!