|Truly, thou hast Gale Force'd thy way into mine heart.|
I was no longer playing with soldiers, who struggled to overcome enemies on the battlefield and used strategy to win the day. I was playing with gods.
The Golden Gaffe had unlocked new potential for me. No longer was I stingy with my purchases- I could fund an entire army- and I intended to do so. That wasn't all, either- I had discovered the wonders of class changing. I didn't know why I had been so careless with them in the first place- but now I had become obsessive about skills and stat balancing. I wanted no character to perish after I had so foolishly let four die in the past.
This was essentially my first Fire Emblem- I had played Sacred Stones but couldn't really get into it the way I had hoped- but this title had changed everything. I figured I would throw myself right as hard mode, and I had been hurting because of it. There were some points where I no longer cared about a useless character being felled in battle- Virion was one of the first to go, having supported others as a decent, but unmemorable archer in every way. I won't go into the full details of my other deaths, but they usually occur around the end of a chapter when I'm fed up with the sequence and just want to get the damn thing done instead of restarting the chapter all over again.
In any case, I've enjoyed Fire Emblem: Awakening from a number of perspectives. I found hard mode to be difficult to jump into, but eventually I got the hang of it, and I was soon making the right strategic choices and predicting enemy behavior. I had a couple of dirty encounters and more than a few resets, but I really enjoyed the game. The story drove me up until the point when I could unlock descendants of my marriages, and once I got to that point, I began the arduous task of leveling them up rather than their parents.
And then I discovered the DLC.
Don't get me wrong, it's awesome that it exists, but unless the post-game or new DLC content is scaled to reflect how easily you can boost your characters after playing the most recent DLC, there's little else to really entice me about that game. Sure, I could restart and remarry characters, discovering new conversations and producing offspring with different abilities. But when it's so easy to max out your characters, there's little reason to really get invested in the class changes they can have. I mean, Lucina with Gale Force... well, actually, anyone with Gale Force is a really nice investment, but that option is available very easily because of a number of variables in-game. And if there's one thing I can say about Fire Emblem: Awakening, it's that it is accessible. The Create-a-character (you, essentially) has proficiency in both physical and magical strength, so you can take him in whichever direction you want, class-wise. Re-classing characters is easy with the amount of money you can obtain and the price and availability of Second Seals and Master Seals. You can truly explore options, unlike previous Fire Emblem games that pushed you along a linear story. While this has its benefits, the game feels less like a series of complex chess boards and more like a smattering of different enemy types on some complicated board designs.
There is always the increased challenge of the harder difficulties, and if that's your cup of tea, go for it. But I spent forty hours of gameplay making sure my hard mode team would be able to make it into the endgame, and now I feel a little burnt-out. There's no doubt the title has longevity to it, and perhaps too much Fire Emblem in a short amount of time is too much for me. But that's not really a detractor from the title- the story and characters are engaging, the presentation values are wonderful, and the gameplay is extremely solid. It just feels less like a tactics RPG and more like... an RPG. And I'm not too sure I like that direction for Fire Emblem.
Final Verdict: Fire Emblem: Awakening takes the series to a different level, one where the typical RPG grind can result in plentiful rewards. It's tough to say if this is a good direction for a Strategy Role Playing Game series, but the game is still extremely rewarding from a tactical perspective, keeping all of its original game mechanics intact while layering the additional grinding mechanics atop it. It is, without a doubt, one of the best titles on the 3DS for many different reasons.