Confessions of a nerdy-assed video game writer #1: I played Fire Emblem: Awakening on my wedding day.
That’s right, on the day I was due to marry my beloved fiancée at that famous old romantic bolthole of Gretna Green, I spent some time on the virtual battlefields of Plegia and Ylisse, as I nervously waited in my hotel room until we were due to tie the knot that afternoon. And as my first wedding anniversary looms large, I realise that not only has it been a full year since that awesome, happy day, but it has also been nearly a full calendar year since Intelligent Systems dropped what was comfortably my favourite game of 2013. It is a game that I enjoyed so immensely that I happily began playing afresh just as soon as I had completed it. Admittedly, this is something that applied to many 3DS games released last year, but none captured my imagination more than the brilliantly crafted tactical role player.
What is it about this game that ignited such a passion within me, which included having a near-ruck with our reviews editor – sorry Mick – at the time? [Editor’s Note: Seriously, I remember this, it was full of the kind of drama you only get in the video games industry, REAL TEARS!] Aside from perfectly balanced turn-based RTS action, Fire Emblem benefits from creating characters that you actually care about. If you are playing it correctly, then you will have perma-death switched on – which makes your emotional connection to your soldiers even more important. Throw into the equation the fact that your squad can form bonds and relationships with each other, which even result in offspring (albeit in a crazed, Back to The Future style), and you soon find yourself enamoured with a squad of inter-linked personalities that you would happily step into battle and take an arrow for yourself – a menagerie of unique characters as rich and diverse as any soap opera.
Which is why losing someone is such a gut-wrencher. Remember the bit in the NeverEnding Story when the horse sinks in the mud? It really affected you emotionally, seeing the little lad screaming as that old white hoss gets sucked down into the icky blackness, right? Well, multiply that by, I dunno, your favoured sports team getting their ass handed to them in the big match, and you get somewhere close to what it is like when one of your faithful units pegs out. And because of the inherent fairness of the game engine, usually when someone dies, it is because you fucked up. That’s right – it was because of your lack of planning that your beloved Pegasus Knight just got annihilated in a hail of ordnance. How can you sleep at night now, you bastard?
You find yourself fiercely protective of your characters, some more than others. My personal favourite was always going to be the underdog Donnel, the simple farm boy who wields a log as a weapon. The concept that you have to level him up during a battle or face losing him is a compelling one, particularly as he is so weak to begin with that he dices with near-death during every battle. Get him over the line, however, and his Aptitude means you can level this bucket-wearing yokel into one of your most badass units. Even some of the more annoying characters, like poncey bow and arrow master Virion, and meathead douche Vaike are loveable in their own way, and superbly fleshed out with some superb dialogue and nods to previous games in the series.
I must confess that I haven’t played Awakening for a few months, but writing this now I feel the urge to have another run-through and play through all of the excellently implemented downloadable content I have missed in the interim. I just have to make sure I don’t do it on my wedding anniversary.