The Best Laid Plans

by bhayden
1. May 2013 21:55

I had this plan, a vision if you will, to keep up the pace of playing games and writing reviews about them.  But then Awakening kept happening.  And then it happened again.  I’ve beaten the game three times now which is a definite first for me.  I’ve never replayed a game that quickly, and then replayed it again.

Central to my gaming experience with all RPGs is character building.  In my gaming groups I’m always one of the first to look around and think about building a new character.  There’s something intrinsically rewarding about thinking of a concept and then breathing life into.  Awakening taps into this in a visceral and simple way.

I didn’t replay the game again for the story or even for the characters.  I replayed for what the characters could become.  With the marriage and children systems in place there’s tons of minor tweaks and gains that could then be parlayed into different concepts for what a character could be.  Case in point, Kjelle went from unused in my first party, to a tank assassin in my second, to an actual armored tank in my third.

The powergamer in me obsessed for hours over these combinations.  I had spreadsheets that spawned spreadsheets.  I boiled it down to a science.  Within a few hours I could take a character and transform them from sapling to redwood.  It was like clockwork, a character factory generation.  There was something soothing in the rhythm of it.

Over the course of these three playthroughs I discovered a twto things.  First is that switching to casual changes the entire perspective of the game.  Further, it turns the harder difficulties into annoyances.  When there’s no risk of permanent unit death, the increased difficulty in the game becomes a buzzing fly.  Not that quiet fly that buzzes you quick and then wanders off to wherever it is that flies go, but it’s that one with the loud wings that decides to hang around your house a while.  Eventually it goes away (your characters get stronger) but while it’s there it is there.

Second is how the DLC radically changes the complexion of the game.  My first time through I didn’t play any of the DLC.  I spent hours grinding reeking boxes for gold, experience and dates.  After buying the experience and gold DLCs I’m wondering if they can ever go back to not having them.  There are now tons of artwork and units from other games in the series that have now been created.  I can only hope that we see something other than three map packs from this effort.  If there is justice in this world then we will.  And when we do I’ll be there, ready to brave the gauntlet again.

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The Awakening

by bhayden
22. February 2013 23:50

I didn’t own a 3DS.  I didn’t have any plans to own a 3DS.  Then Nintendo announced the release of a game that gave me pause; a new Fire Emblem.  I was reticent still, clinging to the belief that it would be ok to wait.  Then they upped the stakes again.   They released a special edition 3DS with Fire Emblem bundled.  It was like kryptonite.  A special 3DS along with the new entry in my favorite series?  Sign me up.  One credit fraud alert and a call to customer support later and my 3DS arrived on Valentine’s Day.  I told my wife thanks for that even though she had nothing to do with it .  She shook her head and smiled.  I bought her flowers.  I think I got the better end of this Valentine’s Day for once.

This game.

I don’t know how often I repeated that phrase to my former Gamer’s Logik alumni and fellow Fire Emblem enthusiast, Watts.  It has been some time since a game has reached out and grabbed me in such a manner.  I found myself consumed by the game, head buried in my DS while my wife and kids wondered what happened to Daddy.  My toddler found it especially enlightening.  I play games around him, but I never played games around him if you catch my meaning.  He loved the roads on the map, and always wondered where the cars were.

I was this obsessed before I discovered that who you married your units to really mattered this time.  I spent some amount of time debating if I should restart to scratch that power gamer itch.  I came to a compromise and made the best of my army with what I had already done.  To be clear, the damage was not crippling but it niggled at those power gamer instincts that WoW sharpened in me. 

I’ve always maintained that Fire Emblem games exist for the sole purpose to display their exquisite battle system.  While Shadow Dragon challenged this assumption; being a remake of the first Fire Emblem you could see the evolution in the series that was present in newer versions.  I almost gave up hope of ever seeing a Fire Emblem stateside again.  Awakening answered with a bang.  Like Lebron in the open court, Awakening is breath taking and beautiful sight to behold.

Back to the dating simulation.  By simulation I mean that you pick and choose who your characters love through the sheer act of killing things.  That’s romance and love.  Hi honey, I know we just killed fifty swordsmen together, I’m so hot let’s go make babies!  I’m being flippant. I made a spreadsheet of who should marry who.   That’s love.

This is the best strategy RPG since Final Fantasy Tactics.  Yes it maintains the tropes of the series.  It pays homage to its forbearers but it also cuts a new swath.  The brilliant battle system is still there, intact and refined as it has become.  It’s the new additions that raise it a level – swapping classes along with promotions and pairing up.  Those two things don’t sound like an awful lot, but they add depth and richness that I didn’t even know were missing.

The story is there, did I mention I play the game to enjoy the battle system and not the writing?  I actually found the writing to be ok.  It’s a Japanese RPG, and if you’re down with the anime, you’ll make it through this game.  The characters take a turn for the wacky, especially some of the second generation ones.  This adds to the game’s endearing charm.  It vacillates between serious and silly as anime often does.

The worst part about this game was that it ended.  Sure that’s kind of their purpose but it’s been a long time since I was disappointed that I finished a game.  I’ve still got that glossy stare and a hole in my mind that it burned through.  The after image lingers and I whisper to myself, we will meet again and you shall be broken once more.

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