I have been ignoring this thread for a long time. I have been playing quite a few games that I don't finish, some that I can't finish, and FE Heroes (which might fit both categories), but mostly I haven't had much time to simply sit down and write a review for the one game I properly beat... about a few months ago. Like, 6th June. That's how long I've been ignoring my duties to this thread.
Fire Emblem Awakening
You know Kellam's in this picture, right?
I'm big on Fire Emblem. It might be my favourite series. However, since I didn't own a 3DS for the longest time, I ended up ignoring what might be one of the most important entries in the franchise. But the moment I got that device, I got Awakening ASAP, and finally got to experience the game that "saved" FE.
For reference, I played Hard/Classic, and beaten the main story, as well as all the side stories/paralogues. I still have to beat the Spotpass chapters, as well as most of the DLC chapters I bought.
So, right off the bat, the cel-shaded FMVs are gorgeous. I initially found the art style a bit off-putting, but the moment I see those opening FMVs, I'm sold. I'm honestly surprised the 3DS could produce something that good-looking. The in-game portraits also grew on me, once I saw how emotive they got (though I still think the armour designs are ridiculous. Especially Sully & Stahl's toilet helmets). The battle animations also flow very nicely, a big step up from Radiant Dawn. Coupled with the amazing soundtrack, I think this game's presentation is 10/10 for sure.
l can't embed music anymore, but I'm posting this anyway
Gameplay-wise, it definitely feels familiar. You got your usual weapons and classes, the grid-based system, terrain, etc. The rescue system was replaced with Pair-up. It's an interesting mechanic for sure, even if very easy to abuse. It also brings back a ton of one-off stuff from previous games, such as skills, reclassing, supports, children... and the most important one, the World Map.
Usually, Fire Emblem is divided into chapters, and you play one after the other in succession. No going back, no grinding, no takesies or backsies. You do this linearly. Some games in the franchise have tried to implement an explorable world map before, but Gaiden's was overly slow and time-consuming, and Sacred Stones' was bland and gave you no real incentive to explore or go out of your way. Awakening decided to fully commit to the idea however, and has an easy-to-navigate world map with so much to do: several side-chapters, incentive to grind, occasional sales in specific spots, and even gave you the ability to fight Streetpass players there. I deviated from the main quest so often because of this.
All of this longevity (some of which is free post-game content), alongside all the DLC this game eventually got, means that Awakening resembles a Final Fantasy Tactics style of play more than a traditional Fire Emblem: you don't devise strategies chapter to chapter, you raise and build a team. You grind your units, you marry them to get optimal children, then you grind them as well, collect several stat-boosting items, and then you use Pair-up to demolish. And why not, it's very pleasant to do so, with that music in the background.
"Surely strategy still plays a part?", you might ask. Turtling, mostly. Multiple chokepoints, if you're lucky. These maps are surprisingly barren of objectives. In other FEs, each map gives you multiple small optional objectives, like visiting villages, stopping thieves, and such, and you're rewarded with rare items. Here, not only are these objectives uncommon, the rewards are trivial, since most items can be obtained elsewhere, they're not limited. And the enemy AI only encourages turtling behaviour, since their strategy consists of rushing you like madmen, all the time, in every map. Set up a defensive formation, and watch them kill themselves on you.
(Also, can I just say the same-turn reinforcements are BS? I can usually see them coming, but occasionally, the game just decided to throw a random Falcoknight out of friggin' nowhere right into the middle of my army (Bye, Olivia). Like, is this their idea of adding fake difficulty? Sheesh)
To cut the game some slack, the side chapters usually provide you with more interesting objectives. There's a couple of defend chapters, an escort mission, a few where they ask you to kill a few enemies with an underleveled character... They're all optional, but they're the most interesting chapters in the game.
It might sound like I'm being harsh on the game, but it was still a blast to play through. Planning and building a team is still fun, and this game certainly plays better than the likes FF Tactics. 8/10 in Gameplay, 10/10 in Longevity (especially if we include DLC).
It's "Ohmigoshes", Henry. You Plegians and your monotheism...
About the story... it's a mixed bag. On one hand, I gotta give kudos to 8-4 for their translation, as the dialogue they wrote is memorable and compelling to read, whether it's coming from goofballs like Owain and Henry, or from more straight-up serious characters like Chrom and Lucina.
On the other hand, the main plot is... really sloppily written. It's frustrating, because there are some really good moments there (for example, he chapter with Mustafa - and the FMV preceding it - were brilliant!), and yet I see dropped plot threads everywhere, obvious symbolism and potential parallels being ignored, and even plotholes in certain points.
On the other other hand, the characters are very appealing. They speak when we visit the barracks, they say one-liners when levelling up or critical hitting, and they have voices! Most of the supports are well written, which is good, since there's a lot of them. The cast definitely feels quirkier in comparison to previous games, but that's not a bad thing (especially when the worldbuilding is so poor), as we get a bunch of colourful fellows living their day to day.
I generally like the child characters more, though. They have more fleshed-out histories and upbringings, and it's interesting to see 12 different people dealing with tragedy and loss in distinct ways.
One downside to this support system is that every male can marry any female, and vice-versa. I know this is to flesh out the baby-making (that came out wrong), but there's a severe lack of chemistry for many pairings. Kellam/Cordelia is all about Cordelia learning to be stealthy, and then they marry. Miriel terrorizes Lon'qu for weeks before he proposes out of the blue (in fact, considering Lon'qu is gynophobic, shouldn't he have very few potential wives?). When Henry proposes to Cherche, she actually says "Sure, I'll marry you. I want to get to know you better." as if she only plans to go out for coffee! (Ironically, I think that Henry&Cherche do have chemistry)
That minor flaw aside (those bad pairings are optional, after all), there's no doubt that the supports (and additional DLC convos) were the best part of the story. So that's 6/10 for the main plot (being generous, here), and 9/10 for the characters.
I'm not giving you context for this.
...Oh, and also, this is the game that introduced Casual Mode in the west. Honestly, even if I was against it at first, I'm over it. It doesn't affect me, it functions as an entry level for strategy newbies, it allows more players to enjoy other aspects of the game and players looking for a challenge still have Classic Mode available to them. Nothing wrong with modular difficulty levels.
After what is possibly the longest review I've done here, I'm giving the whole game a 9/10. I can see why this game got so popular, and I'm thankful for it. Even if rough in places, Awakening's qualities shine through, and it's not just fun to play, its charming characters are good enough for a fandom to form (as evidenced by the ton of fanart, comics, and videos on the net that I keep finding). Great stuff.