Awakening: Trials and Tribulations of a Fire Emblem Virgin

Fire Emblem

I recently realized amidst the plethora of great games to play, I’ve fallen into a rut of just playing the genres that I know I like. So, I’m now making an effort to play games outside my comfort zone, which has been a rewarding but frustrating experience.

I’ve never played any games from the Fire Emblem series. Following the Fire Emblem Wiki, that means that I’ve missed 11 games from the core franchise. 11 games? How have I not played this series before? Somehow, I’ve avoided it until now.

Now that I’ve got that admission out of the way, I have an even bigger confession: I’ve never played a strategy role-playing game (SRPG). In fact, I was so ignorant of RPGs in general that I didn’t even realize how many variations on the genre there are, such as sandbox, fantasy, or action, and what makes them different. It’s not that I hadn’t played games from various RPG sub-genres, but rather that I just didn’t realize what I was playing. For example, many of my favorite games are actually RPGs, such as Castlevania: Symphony of the Night and Zelda 2: Adventures of Link. But because I had never connected the dots, I always assumed that RPG’s were restricted to turn-based combat in the style of Final Fantasy or Dragon Warrior.

Now that I’ve confessed my genre-related ignorance, let’s discuss my first exposure to the SRPG genre, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Since many of my most respected experts in the video game industry absolutely adore this game – seeing Peer Schneider campaign for FE:A as the best 3ds game at the live episode of Nintendo Voice Chat earlier this year was quite entertaining – I felt obligated to give it a shot, despite knowing that, being new to the genre, I’d be in for a learning curve. What I didn’t bargain for was how steep of a learning curve it would be!

As mentioned, I’ve played some various styles of RPGs over the years, so I figured I would at least have some knowledge to help guide me through the experience. FE: A offers newcomers two options for game style: “Casual” or “Classic.” The main difference is permadeath; in “Classic,” any characters that die in battle are gone for good, whereas in “Casual,” characters only die for one specific battle, and then come back good as new for the next fight.

In general, I always play games on normal difficulty. I’m not especially good at games, despite a lifetime of gaming, and I’m much more interested in experiencing the story and having fun than in challenging myself to be the best at any one game. I challenge myself enough every day in my own career and volunteer work; gaming is for relaxing, so I usually pick the middle road. I never pick easy, because, while I’m not a particularly good gamer, the easy option is usually just too simple even for my tastes.

Fire EmblemBut the people who adore this game say that you really need to play in the “Classic” style in order to get the full FE experience, so I choose Classic. Then you’re allowed to select between normal and hard, and as expected from my earlier explanation, I chose normal.

Thirty minutes later, I had killed off Lissa, the primary healer early in the game. Ninety minutes later, I had killed Lissa, Virion, Sully, and someone else I can’t even remember, and I began to realize the importance of protecting Lissa in the early parts of the game. It became so difficult for me at this stage that I didn’t think it was worth continuing this particular run of the game. Since I was playing on Classic, and I had begun to realize how much I screwed myself at this point, I decided to start the game over.

Round 2. This time I decided to do more than just rely on the game to teach me how to play, and went to look for some tips online. The problem is that many of the sites that offer tips assume that you’ve played SRPGs before, so they’re often using terminology and spouting wisdom in a way that’s completely confusing to me. Admittedly, it was probably more helpful for those who had some idea what they were doing, but it didn’t do anything for me. Next stop: Youtube.

I spent some time searching for a video teaching me how to play FE: A, but I never found one. I eventually stumbled on someone doing a playthrough where they talked about their experience as they played, and watching those first few battles, which I had already played earlier, was very helpful. With that new knowledge, I started a new game.

Things went much better this time. I have reset my game twice when I lost characters that I really didn’t want to lose through circumstances that were somewhat out of my control (I’m just going easy on myself; I’m sure it was my fault), but otherwise I’m just moving forward and accepting the losses of my crew. I’m on Chapter 11 right now, and I’ve lost probably about 5 or 6 from my team, which is fine right now because I still have enough to play through the game.

But now that I’ve sunk my teeth in, I’m still finding myself constantly asking questions. What is the deal with these paralogues? Should I be doing these side missions as much as possible? What about those characters that show up on various past levels on the overworld map? I’ve tried to initiate a few battles with those, but I was grossly underpowered and ended up dying quickly. Do I need to wait until later to play those missions? Are they Street Pass related? Why are they offering these really powerful enemies this early in the game?

Those questions are the least of my confusion. There are so many little intricacies that I don’t understand. OK, the rocks/paper/scissors approach to weapon strength is simply enough: Axe is better than lance, lance is better than sword, and sword is better than axe. Got it. But once you start talking about optimizing weapons, it starts getting muddy quickly.

Yes, I can choose to forge a weapon and increase “Mt” (what the heck does Mt mean anyway? I wish they’d just write out the word), but does that increase go away once you’ve worn that weapon out? If so, should I be trying to save money to spend on weapons later in the game when the difficulty ramps up?

I don’t understand the whole pairing system. Yes, if you pair up two characters, they are generally stronger, and the stat boosts are higher. But which characters should I try to pair? Is it worth combining what would otherwise be two turns into a single shot? And what does that mean when the little hearts show up on the screen after a turn next to paired up characters?

I keep hearing about having children – is that related to those hearts? How do I go about building relationships with characters? What’s the deal with conversations – do they just open up randomly, or is there some way that I’ve cued them to occur? I’m struggling on Chapter 11, so I looked online to see if there was a strategy I was missing, and the article I found mentioned that the character introduced in this chapter is Chrom’s “5th and final potential wife.” What! How do I marry these people? Apparently I’ve had loads of opportunities to do this throughout the game, but how the heck am I supposed to have figured that out? Looking over all the reasoning in the referenced article, I’m at a total loss.

Fire EmblemWhat’s the deal with this “master seal” thing I just bought? I have no idea what it’s supposed to do or how to use it. A reeking box calls Risen to the field, why in the world would I want that? Aren’t those enemies? Is that just a way to build up XP?

Ugh! I know that there’s value in discovering how to play by yourself, but I still wish it had more tips and explanations throughout the game. Like, try to kill the enemies that have higher hit percentages, or focus on protecting your healer, or marry people by doing x and y, but instead it’s just a source of constant frustration. The questions I posed above are just a tiny percentage of the total number of questions I have had while playing through this game.

I know at this point, you’re probably pulling your hair out, shouting answers at the page, and thinking about how this author is an idiot, and then probably deciding that you shouldn’t waste time reading articles from some ignorant wanna-be gamer anymore. Reasonable conclusion, but let me say that the purpose of this article was not to ask a bunch of questions and expect responses, but to relate my experience as someone new to this series and to the genre in general. I’ve searched and found answers to many of these questions, though certainly not all, and I’m still playing and (mostly) enjoying the game.

At the end of the day, FE:A is a fantastic game, no doubt about it. I have to say though that it’s been pretty irritating to frequently have to google a question that I don’t feel the game adequately explained. As much as I hate tutorials in modern games that hold your hand through the experience, this is one case where I absolutely would have loved to see more tutorials to explain things. Because as things stand, I’ve spent about eight hours playing the game, and probably another eight looking for information on google and watching videos to try and understand the game’s systems better…and still coming up short.

So, that’s my experience – can you relate to similar feeling of not knowing what to do in a game? If so, which one, and what did you find confusing? What about my playthrough of SRPGs – given how many problems I’ve had, should I just throw in the towel or should I keep plodding through? Throw down your thoughts in the comments below.

[Update: I’ve since figured out answers to all of my questions, got back into the game, and absolutely love playing it. I’m approaching 25 hours and I just can’t get enough of it. Awakening is truly an amazing game, and I’d now place it in my top three games for the system.]

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