Then there are the numerical guides that appear when you're planning to attack an enemy unit. These show you the likely hit points that will remain for both you and your foe if you decide to go ahead with the attack (critical hits and missed attacks notwithstanding), allowing you to better determine whether it's actually worth bothering with the attack or whether it's likely to work out worse for you overall.
The result is a battle system that's both very complex - we've barely scratched the surface here, with different unit types, weapon types, group attacks, relationships, reclassing and the like to also take into account - and yet refreshingly simple to understand.
The never-ending glory
The excellent and approachable battle system would be enough to recommend Awakening alone, but it's also packaged in an epic, cinematic storyline laced with gorgeous CG cut-scenes. Upon beginning the game you're asked to create and name a custom character, who awakens with amnesia (but of course!) and finds themselves embroiled in a huge quest spanning many years.
Time and time again you'll think you're approaching the story's end, only for another large chunk to be added to the sprawling game map and a new story thread to develop.
The story's so complex that you're able to marry two characters together, make them have a child and have that child then join your army too. You don't know the true pain of permadeath until it's your own sprog biting the bullet. Then there are extra side-stories, random battles and unlockable difficulty modes for multiple playthroughs. You're easily talking well over 50 hours of gameplay.
And if you don't fancy sitting through hours of cinematics? Skip them. Mercifully players can skip entire scenes - even text-based ones - by hitting Start at any time, which is particularly useful if you're the impatient sort or playing through for a second time.
In a way, it's emotion that drives Awakening and makes it so compelling. Permadeath (when it's turned on) makes you genuinely care about every character in the game, and you're gutted when your top archer or the character you've come so close to marrying off misses their attack and is struck dead in battle.
And when you do eventually finish the game, clear all the paralogues and level up your characters to a satisfying degree, it isn't over yet. Awakening is one of the few 3DS games that actually makes good use of the handheld's StreetPass features, allowing you to create a squad of ten units (including your custom one) and then trade them with any fellow Fire Emblem player you walk past.
When you receive someone else's squad you can then either battle them, buy items from their shop or, interestingly, scout their custom character and add them to your own squad. It's a clever way to replace units that have previously fallen in battle and adds a personal touch to proceedings, though it does make you wish there had been more customisation options to make the hero characters look more varied.
Downloadable content, meanwhile, is available in two flavours. There's a selection of paid DLC map packs that are set to be released regularly (there's been a couple every week since the game came out in the US), each of which reward you with special skills and unique characters if you complete them. On top of this, Nintendo will be sending characters, items and maps for free over SpotPass.
In short, Fire Emblem Awakening is a sensational RPG. While it goes without saying that fans of the series will love this latest batch of scenarios, we also can't stress enough that those previously intimidated by the genre should still consider it.
Without a doubt, this is one of the finest, deepest and most engrossing games currently available on the 3DS. Come on in, there's nothing to fear.
A breathtaking tactical RPG that will consume every minute of your spare time. Whether you're a Fire Emblem expert or a complete beginner, this really should be in your 3DS library.
- Perfectly tuned, compelling battle system
- The most accessible Fire Emblem yet
- A massive adventure with plenty of sidequests
- Character customisation is limited
- No online multiplayer