Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS: A gripping, strategic drama

FIre Emblem: Awakening review

It's not normal to expect drama from a strategy game. But it would be safe to anticipate sweaty palms and tired eyes--even sans 3D--from Intelligent Systems and Nintendo's Fire Emblem: Awakening on 3DS. Few, if any handheld games will make you care more about some puny, pixelated characters than this fantastical chess match.

It would be easy to say that it's all thanks to the difficulty, and make no bones about it: Awakening has no time for the carefree player. But this turn-based battler has systems at every turn designed to have players sympathize with what might otherwise be anime caricatures.

%VIRTUAL-Gallery-177648% Sure, Awakening is a game about intense, turn-based tactics (which rewards players with beautifully animated cutscenes and gorgeous in-game visuals). But what this is truly about is relationships, their importance, their impact and how precious yet fragile they are--especially in world at war filled with dragons, magic and pegasi.

As players go to battle with armies serving various nations of ill intent, they're encouraged to not only place characters on the battlefield adjacent with one another, but to pair them up into fighting duos. This offers various tactical advantages from stat bonuses to protection for supporting characters. As given characters continue pairing up in battle, their bond will grow stronger, gaining more bonuses. By the time players reach a certain point in Awakening, it seems silly not to pair characters together at all times.

Fire Emblem screens

But there's an even more compelling reason to pair characters. Through what must be thousands of lines of dialog that's at times believable, cheesy, hilarious and heartfelt, characters come to depend upon one another as friends or lovers as they do battle together. (Though, the absence of same-sex romance in the Mass Effect era is somewhat disheartening.)

When characters fall in love, they'll have children that players can recruit via "Paralogues", or sidebar missions to the main story. If you're the kind of sap that grows attached to this sort of thing, which can quickly spin into an anime soap opera, then it's all the more reason to keep these characters alive and well. But one small problem.

If you're short of tactical genius (or slept through Military Strategy 101), characters will invariably bite the dust. Once a character falls in battle, there is no turning back. Regardless of whether this tugs at the heart strings, losing too many characters will grow problematic, as there aren't that many to begin with. (Not to mention that it might cause some annoying miniature paradoxes by nature of a certain plot point.)

At any rate, if it's not the endearing relationships that dig their claws in, Awakening is stuffed with features for strategy nerds to fawn over for hundreds of hours. (This editor must be at 50 by now.) Between several class trees and advanced paths for each, countless stats, skills and weapons to track, there's enough content here to satisfy even the most talented tacticians.

The latest Fire Emblem may have an arguably exclusionary difficulty level even on the lightest setting, but it's more than worth the while to master. If Awakening isn't the greatest in the series, it's at the very least a brilliant start for the 3DS in 2013. You'll come for the challenge, but you'll stay to see what happens next.

Do you plan on picking up Fire Emblem on Feb. 4? What psychs you up the most about the game? Add Comment.