Alex Phillimore: (alex.phillimore-deleteme[at]-deleteme-direman [dot] com) 2013-05-16 16:31:02
5 Flawed Things About Fire Emblem: Awakening
Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS) is definitely a quality product from Nintendo and Intelligent Systems, and there is a lot to like about the game, as outlined in my previous article. However, while I listed five things that I like about Awakening in that last article, I feel compelled to acknowledge five limitations of the game, and why these particular issues concerned me during my time playing.
#1: Balancing Issues - Having played Fire Emblem's 6-11, and having spent a couple of years back in 2008 or so learning to modify the GBA titles, I would consider myself to be reasonably well-versed in the numbers and balancing behind a typical Fire Emblem game. When playing earlier games in the series, I never felt as if they were imbalanced. Sure, you could abuse the arena in the GBA titles, and you could overpower your troops by focussing your efforts into the development of one or two units, but otherwise the games maintained a fairly consistent level of difficulty.
Awakening changes this up, and it isn't to the game's benefit. Playing the game for the first time in Hard Mode, I found the chapters to be reasonably challenging for a while, which suited my play style. However, while the main storyline chapters remained of average difficulty, some of the side chapters, and, in particular, the Paralogue chapters (more on these later) were a lot harder in terms of their difficulty, with enemies having much higher statistics. Of course, because I wanted to complete these chapters when they became available, I found myself grinding experience to be able to conquer them. As you can imagine, though, by the time my units were good enough to be able to do these side chapters, the main storyline chapters were far too easy, and I ended up breezing through the game.
I feel as if the chapters in Awakening are not fairly balanced. Side missions are a lot more difficult than the main storyline missions, but many of them become available at the same time as the storyline missions. And so, you either cannot do the side chapters because they are too difficult, or you level up enough to do them and find that the rest of the main quest is too easy. Balancing is certainly a concern in Awakening, and I found that very few chapters were of a comfortable difficulty level - either they were far too easy or overwhelmingly difficult.
#2: The Paralogue Chapters - One of the cool things about Awakening is that you can unlock the children of characters you pair together in the game. Essentially, you build up relationships between characters, and if these characters get close enough to each other and achieve an 'S' rank in compatibility, a new location opens up on the map. Playing this level offers you the chance to recruit the paired character's child. It's a cool system, but one that isn't effectively presented in the game. Given the large roster of characters and the small amount you can actually take into a battle (in addition to the relative uselessness of certain characters) I found that most of the time spent unlocking the children wasn't an organic process that occurred during playtime. Instead, I actively had to go grinding with characters I didn't really use just to unlock the chapters that would allow me to play as their children.
Unfortunately, the statistics of the children are based on the statistics of the parents. Thus, if you don't use the parents very often and they aren't very good units, the children won't be particularly good, which happened in my game for about half of the cast of children. While you could say that I brought it on myself, I didn't really feel compelled to level up characters that I don't use just to ensure that their children were good units. In addition, these Paralogue Chapters, as mentioned earlier, are usually quite a bit harder than the rest of the main game, which doesn't make sense. By the time I'd unlocked most of the children, I'd pretty much completed the majority of the game, making me wonder why I even needed the children in the first place - their parents were doing just fine. Speaking of which...
#3: About those children... - To expand on the previous point, I found that the idea of recruiting the children was a little bit at odds with the nature of the game. The children have the potential to be grossly overpowered if their parents are good; they inherit the skills of their parents as well as a percentage of their stats. If the two parents of a child are some of your best and most used units, you can almost guarantee that the child will be an incredibly powerful unit as well. Sadly, however, this is a double-edged sword, as I found that when the parents are good, the child is ridiculously overpowered, and actually become much better than their parents are. Thus, I ended up actually dropping the parents from my team to make room for the child in one situation, which seems to me to be a little bit broken and imbalanced. Similarly, if the parent characters suck, the child can be really underpowered, especially at the point in the game that they come in. Given the difficulty of the enemies within their respective chapters, the children can die really easily, and thus recruiting them isn't a particularly enjoyable experience.
#4: Promotion Items - In Fire Emblem when your character passes level 10 you can typically promote them into a better class. In previous games in the series it was advised that you waited until the level cap of 20 before doing so. If you promote at level 10, your level returns to 1 in the promoted class, and you can level up to 20 before capping out (giving you 30 levels on your character). Getting to level 20 before promotion, however, allows you to gain a maximum of 40 levels, and your character will ultimately be better for it. In previous games this resulted in strategic decision making, where you kept your unit weaker for longer in order to ensure that they ultimately became better when they did promote.
In Awakening, promotion items can be abused in a way that is new to the series. While you can still promote your unit after they pass level 10, you can now just keep promoting them indefinitely. There is no limit on how many times you can promote your unit, hopping back and forth between classes without giving it much thought. While this does allow for a greater variety in skills, characters quickly become incredibly overpowered; while the level of your character keeps returning to 1 after promotion, their stats remain largely the same. You can abuse this system to make every single character in the game into a perfect unit. Sadly, this also works against the nature of strategic battling, as there isn't a huge amount of strategy to it, and if every unit can ultimately become the best unit in the game (or near enough to it), you don't even really have to think about who you're using or promoting. Of course, you don't have to abuse the system, but there's no real incentive not to, especially considering the high stats of some of the enemies you come up against.
#5: Non-Strategic Enemy Placement - This one is kind of subjective, but I never got the feeling in any of the levels in the entire game that enemy placement had been particularly well thought-out. In previous games in the series, enemy placement is vital to the way in which chapters work - chapter 7x in Fire Emblem 7 springs to mind, with high-defence units nestled in the narrow corridors and a thief chasing the treasure chest in the level. In Awakening, enemy placement seems to be a little bit random - I never felt as if any enemy was in a particularly devious position on the map, and I never ran into any problems just sending a unit in to wipe out huge amounts of enemies. I remember more items that reversed the weapon triangle and tripped you up in previous games. No single chapter in Awakening really stood out to me as being especially challenging or intelligently designed, and of those that were difficult, it wasn't enemy placement that made them so but rather enemies simply having high statistics.
Ultimately, most of these concerns wouldn't be concerns at all to casual players, or people new to the franchise. Fire Emblem: Awakening is, without a doubt, a very well-made game and something that any 3DS player should be happy to have in their collection. As a pretty big fan of the series, however, I have to say that some of the changes that have been made in Awakening don't necessarily appear to be for the better.