Nintendo kicks off 2013 in tactical RPG style.
Critics of iOS and Android games always point to a perceived lack of depth, and it's tough to argue when Fire Emblem: Awakening makes its way to Nintendo's 3DS. Developed by the talented Intelligent Systems, this superb tactical RPG crushes the mobile competition with its endearing characters, richly detailed world and high production values that include beautifully animated cut scenes and a thunderous soundtrack. At $39.99, it's more expensive than the average $0.99 iPhone game, but rest assured that every penny spent is well worth the price of admission.
Players will know they're in for something special the moment they fire up the game. Catchy theme music emanates from the 3DS speakers, and the captivating computer-generated imagery redefines what people expect to see from the handheld; this is especially true with glasses free 3D turned up to the max. These two elements help get the adrenaline flowing. At that point, gamers won't even know anything about the story, but they'll charge headfirst into battle in the hope of experiencing something worthwhile.
To that end, Awakening almost never disappoints. Playing as an amnesiac, you team up with memorable characters to save a fictitious kingdom from evil. Heroes possess individual personalities that make losing one or more of the good guys painful. That is, if you choose to play the game Classic Style, where the dead remain that way; on the much easier Casual mode, they're merely out of the fight. Intelligent Systems drives this point home by having these units evolve over time, to the point where they form relationships, even going as far as getting married and having kids that you'll eventually recruit. On a lesser note, putting two warriors near each other results in effective bonuses against the opposition. Best friends forever, indeed.
Beyond that, this is the most accessible Fire Emblem in recent memory, thanks to an easily digestible tutorial. It won't take long to grasp the grid-based movement system, or positioning units around enemies to slaughter those aforementioned bad guys. This plays into the advanced customization options, making sure you get the most from the addictive Rock/Paper/Scissors gameplay in the hope of benefitting from the wizards, archers and swordsmen by your side.
Of course, there was room for improvement. 3D character models during battle scenes don't appear to take full advantage of the system's power, and characters don't fully voice their lines, instead opting to utter a word or two.
Neither of those complaints, however, should prevent you from purchasing this outstanding effort. Fire Emblem: Awakening is one of the best 3DS games in the system's history, standing alongside the likes of Super Mario 3D Land and Mario Kart 7. Although it remains to be seen whether western audiences will flock to it, this is Nintendo's best shot at giving the Fire Emblem franchise the widespread attention it so rightfully deserves.
Review code provided by Nintendo.
What's Hot:Outstanding cut scenes and music, 2D warriors and 3D effects give the game a cool pop-up book feel, extremely helpful tutorial, impressive character personalities and relationships, local multiplayer mode, downloadable content in the weeks and months ahead.
What's Not:Crude character models during battle scenes, lacks full voiceovers.