Compared to the original DS, I never really made my 3DS into a constant pocket companion. By the time I’d owned one for a couple of years, I had to admit that I’d spent far more time collecting puzzle pieces and playing Find Mii than I had playing any actual purchased games. Its clamshell design and general feeling of indestructibility DOES make it the perfect system for travel, so my bursts of activity on the thing correspond pretty well to times when I’ve been stuck on planes or in hotels for hours.
So, it’s a rare thing to pull out the system and do a deep dive into a long strategy RPG when I am at home and surrounded by so many other high tech devices that are objectively much better platforms to play a game on.
It helps that Fire Emblem: Awakening was a genuine treat. At its core, it’s a familiar gameplay loop of carefully moving your little sprites around the battlefield and planning attacks to clear out a level while hopefully not losing any of them in the process. That hasn’t changed a ton since Shining Force on the Genesis.
Where FE:A really excels is the way that it turns your tiny minions into actual characters with personality, through a massive number of conversations that unlock as they fight side-by-side. The majority of games make everything related to the player character in some way, so there’s an almost voyeuristic glee in watching your soldiers build friendships and have discussions that have absolutely nothing to do with you or the whole, you know, saving the world from Ancient Evil plot. I got a particular kick out of watching a rather foppish character flirt with every woman on the team until one of them decided that his playing days were over and he was going to marry her.
He didn’t get much of a say in this.
It also let me break the system in a really enjoyable fashion, and I appreciate games that let you have a degree of leeway in how you approach the ultimate goal.
Let me tell you about dragons.
FE:A is …notorious? for having a character, Nowi, who is an ancient dragon who likes walking around in the form of a cute little girl. This makes it extra hilarious when she faces off against some massive knight in armor, transforms into her natural scaly and fanged form, shouts “YOU LIKE DRAGONS?”, and melts the aforementioned knight into slag.
At times, I would just send Nowi into the middle of a cluster of enemies, all of which would attack her and all of which would die to her counterattacks.
Because of some weird plot points involving time travel, you can get Nowi married to one of your other units and then recruit her daughter from the future into your army. Her daughter is possibly even harder to kill, and just as happy to wreck havoc, and then you can recruit a third cute-little-girl-oh-oops-that’s-not-a-girl-it’s-a-dragon in a side mission.
So I wound up with three charming little massive hulks of flaming destruction, and they formed the base of my offensive team for late game missions.
This leads me to the final boss, which I will talk about only in the vaguest of ways in order to avoid spoiling an admittedly eight-year-old game.
A couple of missions before the final boss, you finally complete the Big Damn Quest to unlock the Hidden Potential of a couple of Ancient Magical Swords.
I did NOT realize that the whole point of unlocking the hidden potential, yada yada, was that the swords in question would now do triple* damage when used against the final boss. They really wanted you to charge up to the Big Bad Guy, magic swords in hand, and mete out justice with stereotypical fantasy stabbity stabbity.
I rolled up the dragons and melted him instead.
I am probably Fire Embleming wrong.
Good game, though. And it finally convinced me to try out Shadow Dragon at some point, which is an older game that actually has the permadeath thing the series was known for back in the day. We’ll see how that goes.
* It’s probably technically supposed to be written “treble damage” but I couldn’t write that with a straight face.