A hint of trepidation arises whenever the "Powers That Be" decide that "Your Cool Thing" needs a bigger audience, primarily because "What They Like" and "Why You Like It" don't always mesh. Take Fire Emblem, possibly the most hardcore of Nintendo's franchises — not "hardcore" in the nonsense term of it appealing primarily to a traditional gaming audience, but because it is by its very nature a beautifully unforgiving beast. Expanding the base tends to mean dulling its claws, and the risk is that it'll no longer sink them in as deep.
To love Fire Emblem is to feast up on the throne of Damocles, but not everyone wants to chow down with a sword over their brain. It's clear that Nintendo would like more people to actually pay money for Fire Emblem: Awakening, so some of the series' idiosyncrasies big and small are smoothed out or tweaked, including the option to switch off the whole eternal sleep thing — and without penalty at that. Doing so may fly in the face of what Fire Emblem fans love about Fire Emblem, but, after all, it's only an option, tucked away safely in the likely healthier Casual mode you can choose to ignore. Or jump straight into. Who are we to judge?
original Japanese, if you're so inclined.
As units level up they grow stronger and more capable with their weapons, which in turn yields higher damages and resistances and allows the wielding of more powerful arms. You can change or upgrade a unit's class or abilities with items and Miyagi them to their true potential. Key to this entry are character relationships; while they are fun to watch unfold off the battlefield, how chummy everyone is together matters even more in the thick of it. The buddy system reigns supreme in Fire Emblem: Awakening: placing units next to each other in battle allows them to influence stats like hit, dodge and critical rates, jump in to protect from a blow or themselves swoop in with an extra strike. The more that the same units fight together, the stronger their relationship becomes, which can be crucial in determining whether they live or die.
Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon's Save Points on the maps so in Classic mode there is no saving while in battle; you can bookmark a fight and resume it later, but if you want to avoid a death then you'll have to restart the chapter. Considering the stiff challenge of later portions of the game, restarting a map can become a frustratingly common occurrence - this is one of those games where your Activity Log and in-game timer will never align. In Casual mode you can save anywhere at any time, making deaths even less of a setback.
There are other tweaks to the mechanics that a newcomer might not notice but an old-timer will appreciate; legacy quirks have been ironed out by default to make for a smoother experience, like being able to approach an enemy unit before picking a weapon. Since there's already so much on your tactician's plate, anything to help make their life a little easier is very welcome, but grizzled veterans who hate change can switch off a bunch of settings to play the game they want.
Easy on the eyes for the most part, Awakening's presentation is a real step above prior portable outings but not quite up there with the past few home console entries. The aforementioned CG cut-scenes have some of the best art design that we've seen on the handheld so far, beautifully bringing the world to life with vivid anime detail. Half of the exposition makes use of illustrated talking head-style exchanges with slightly tweaked facial expressions — the art is lovely and effective for its purpose but comes off a little static somewhere around the halfway point. The 3D portions are somewhat less detailed and impressive but they too get the job done, lending some much-needed dynamism to battles even if it takes some focus to get past how none of the characters appear to have any feet. The maps don't generally look all that remarkable but fulfill their utilitarian purpose - were they any busier then they'd likely distract, after all, and the 2D sprites used relay information more clearly than a scaled-down polygonal model would on this screen. Plus they look neat and have a lot of personality, making it really easy to spot who is who out there.