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Fire Emblem: Awakening

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In mid-February, Nintendo released the thirteenth installment to their Fire Emblem series, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Physical copies have been really hard to get since its launch (for reasons that are unclear but theorized to be Nintendo pushing the digital distribution function on the 3DS), and its release marks the first time that a Fire Emblem game has had DLC. I finally got my hands on a physical copy the other week (I will never settle for less than a physical game), so it's time for a quick first-impression review!In terms of gameplay, Awakening plays just like any other Fire Emblem, with a few minor adjustments and additions. The first, most notable change is that any character can work together with other characters to give each other support while in battle. For most units, this is a simple accuracy increase, but some supporting units will grant the attacking unit skill, might, defense, or sometimes, even jump into the fray and attack the enemy along with you! This support system ties into another slightly new addition to the game, which is relationships. Whenever two units work together, a heart appears over their heads, signifying that their relationship has increased just a tiny bit. When outside of a mission, you can have your units discuss with each other, or listen in on their conversations in the barracks, which will rank up the relationship of the two units who talked together, and the conversations you listen in on will most of the time produce a better relationship between the two units who conversed in the barracks, as well.On top of the relationship addition (which isn't so much an addition as it is a refinement of a system that already existed), this Fire Emblem adds in the ability to create your own character. Though the customization options are limited, there are more than enough to tailor-make your own custom character for the Fire Emblem universe, and enough options to leave those of us who have tons of characters already created with the freedom to get our characters as close as possible. The customization options range between three body types (child, teenager/younger adult, older adult), about seven or so hair styles for each body type, and around 10 colors for the hair. This is mirrored for the female character as well, so in total, there are about 40 customization options, though female hair styles cannot be used on males, hair styles from each body build cannot be used on different bodies, etc. Your customized character doesn't replace the game's canon Lord class (Crom), but is central to the plot, and is a playable unit, given the class "Tactician". Like the main Lord class character, your character cannot fall in battle or else you get a game over, but there's no need to worry, since the Tactician class can use both magic and swords, which makes your custom character powerful and versatile.Another slightly less important addition to the game is a setting, "Casual mode", that allows you to keep units who have fallen in battle instead of removing them from the game with no way to revive them. While this is out of character for Fire Emblem games, since one of its selling features is the inability to regain lost units, making you actually fear for their death, I can't really complain about it, since it will without a doubt help new players get into the game, and from what I hear from fellow Fire Emblem players (and from my own experience), when a character dies that you like, you typically reset the game anyway and replay the mission. In a sense, Casual mode is just saving us the time of having to reset our game, but there are situations where I feel it adds a deeper sense of actually commanding an army to allow a unit to die and complete the mission without them. I let scenarios like this only happen at the end of a mission, and only if there was seriously no avoiding it, but it's at that point that I decide the loss of this one unit is not as crippling as restarting this mission could potentially be, so its best to let them die here. With Casual mode on, something like that could never happen, so out of principle (even though I rarely get myself into a situation where one of my units could die), I play in Normal mode, where dead units are dead for good.The last noticeable addition to the game is the system of abilities. As certain units level up, they gain extra abilities that add passive stats to them, such as stat boosts, or combat benefits. Many of these are based on already existing stat benefits that certain weapons provided, so it's very possible to stack effects on one unit to make them incredibly strong.Overall, the game is challenging and enjoyable, just like any Fire Emblem before it. I highly recommend picking it up if you can get your hands on it, although you can buy it from the Nintendo E-Shop, but I won't recommend it, since I'm against digital distribution.

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