Fire Emblem was always a bit of a mystery to me. Apart from a few a characters that had appeared in various Smash Bros. games, this strategy RPG (think chess meets Final Fantasy) was a Nintendo series I had squarely ignored. The story seemed obtuse and impenetrable, the art style was maybe a little too Japanese, and I had heard about its steep difficulty. In other words, it had enough obstacles for me to feel no regrets about skipping it.
And then, back in early 2013, Nintendo released its latest game in the series, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Suddenly, it seemed like every podcast and gaming site was talking about the 3DS game: the story was supposed to be so good, the game promised to be more accessible than ever, and the characters could even get together and have kids. It had it all, they said! You must play it, they said! It was one of the best 3DS games ever, they said!
So what did I do in response to such accolades? Nothing. I was intrigued, sure; but I still managed to wait over two years to finally purchase this game during this year's E3 sale on the eShop when it dropped to a rare, low price of $27.99.
So, is it worth all the the hype?
To answer that, I have to mention an important Fire Emblem mechanic: "permadeath" (or "permanent death"). Kind of a morose place to start, but bear with me.
In most RPGs, if a character dies during battle, you can revive him or her with an item (Phoenix Down says hi)—or they will at least come back to life after staying at a trusty inn. No one really dies unless it's part of the script (oh, Final Fantasy VII). This is standard, expected behavior and it means you can sometimes afford to be a little brash with a weak character to muscle your way through a tough battle with no long-term consequences.
In Fire Emblem games, death is, as you may have guessed from my earlier comments, permanent. If a character dies, he or she is dead. Gone. From the rest of the game.
That's a really big deal. And, yes, I know it's not the only game to incorporate this mechanic, but it's the only one I've played (okay, I guess ZombiU is on that list, but I'd say it's more of a half-breed in that regard). And, also, yes, one of the reasons Awakening was touted as being more accessible was its inclusion of a "casual" mode in which dead characters are revived after battles, but I was determined to get the true Fire Emblem experience.
So, back to it being a big deal: although I wanted to play with permadeath, I didn't want to miss out on content because characters died. I also didn't want to win battles only because I was willing to wantonly sacrifice soldiers. I knew I might regret it, but I choose the "Normal" option and started a new game (note that you cannot switch this setting without starting another new save file).
I can confirm that these games are, in fact, hard. Sure, things started easily enough, but by chapter five (there are 25 total), I started to face some very difficult battles. Characters were dying. I couldn't bear it! So, I did what I suspect many Fire Emblem players end up doing: resetting the game if a character dies and trying the battle again. And again. And again.
By the time I got to the main battles in chapters six and seven, I was encountering battles that took me 10+ attempts to win without (many) deaths (yes, I've had to let a few deaths go). The thing is: I'm not a very patient gamer. I like to play a lot of games but have a limited amount of spare time, which means I don't often have a lot of patience for games that I feel are wasting my time. Usually, frequent or too many retries means I'm likely to move onto something else through which I can make faster progress. Yet, with Awakening, I kept on trying.
So back to my question: is it worth the hype? I think it just might be.
Keep an eye out for more posts on Fire Emblem: Awakening as I progress further into the campaign.