Team Joystiq is barging into 2014 with a celebration of last year's best games. Keep reading throughout the week to see our assembly of ingenious indies and triple-A triumphs.Fire Emblem: Awakening was one of this year's most pleasant surprises. It rekindled an addiction I'd long thought dead, and its deep mechanics kept me hooked through several playthroughs.
Previously, the Fire Emblem games scared me away with their brutal permadeath mechanics; earlier series entries kill off major characters for good if they fall in battle, often leaving players with a gaping hole in their ranks if an enemy should land a lucky critical strike. Awakening allays these fears with its new "Casual" mode, which mercifully allows characters to retreat after being defeated, instead of croaking on the spot.
Casual mode is a boon for fretful players (and obsessed micro-managers), and it allows both casual fans and hardcore veterans to customize their experience to a degree never before seen in the series. For instance, if you want to sample Fire Emblem's traditional high-stakes gameplay but don't want to risk losing several units during each battle, you may want to set the game's difficulty to Easy while opting out of Casual mode. During my second playthrough, I chose to play on "Hard Casual," a seemingly oxymoronic combination that provides a satisfying level of difficulty without the stomach-churning risk of permanent character loss. It proved to be an ideal solution for me, emphasizing everything I like about the genre while downplaying the elements I didn't especially enjoy.