Is Fire Emblem: Awakening one of the worst strategy games?

Is Fire Emblem: Awakening one of the worst strategy games?

By: Tuan Bui


Fire Emblem: Awakening (FEA) can be considered as one of the most unbalanced and unfair strategy role-playing games (SRPG) in this current generation of gaming. This video game features some of the most problematic game-play issues involving balance and fairness. FEA was released by Intelligent Systems in 2012-2013. As the 13th installment in the Fire Emblem franchise, FEA appeals to a wide audience and sold a lot of copies. With its large cast of colorful characters and unique story, FEA quickly became a popular game. However, the gameplay leaves much to be desired in terms of strategy and fairness. FEA is one of the most unbalanced and unfair SRPGs.


The maps in FEA should encourage the player to use different tactics to overcome obstacles. As a result of FEA’s over-simplistic map design, the game does not encourage the player to employ various strategies and is unfair in favor of the player. As a strategy game, the levels in FEA take the form of maps in which the player maneuvers soldiers, or units, to defeat the enemy army, similar to a game of chess. Like previous Fire Emblem games, many strategically fair SRPGs with this type of level design usually create obstacles such as narrow hallways in castles. The battlefields are structured so that the amount of soldiers can send in as reinforcements are reduced. The maps usually have many defenseless civilians that need to be rescued from the enemy. Unfamiliar terrain on the battlefield can affect the player’s soldiers’ fighting ability and movement. These kinds of structurally-varied maps found in most SRPGs encourage players to form different tactics to overcome map hazards while successfully defeating the opposition.


On the contrary, Fire Emblem: Awakening uses very few of these strategy-enhancing features. Most levels in FEA are in the style of wide-open fields where the player can fight freely without thinking too hard about how to position units and approach foes. The maps feature very few structures and terrain that encourage the player to move units in different ways. For example, the battlefields may take place in a tight mountain range that encourages the use of airborne units to overcome the limits of the terrain. Enemies are usually weak and only become aggressive when the player enters their attack range. With this amount of freedom, players are able to create unbeatable formations without fear of losing to enemy assaults. Instead of forcing the player to use strategies based on map design to overcome the enemy, FEA opts for more simplistic yet boring levels that enable players to simply rush and defeat the enemy without difficulty.


The scales of difficulty in FEA contribute to the game’s unfairness due to the extreme types of challenge presented. At the start of the game, players can choose a preset mode of the game that decides how hard the game will be whether it be on a normal or harder level of challenge. These choices of difficulty determine how strong enemies will be. The easier difficulty levels in Fire Emblem: Awakening, “Normal” and “Hard”, pose very little challenge for the player. Enemies are not strong enough to face the player characters, the maps have little strategic value as previously mentioned, and many strong units are widely available for the player to use. For example, the first soldier the player receives can use powerful magical attacks. Almost all of the enemies in the beginning of the game have very little resistance to magical attacks and are slower than the player’s soldiers. These factors create situations in which enemies quickly fall in battle without being able to counter-attack.


On the other hand, the more challenging modes of the game “Lunatic” and “Lunatic+” are beyond unfair. These game-modes feature enemies that can kill even the strongest player units in a few attacks as a result of their immense strength. Many opposing forces are often equipped with unbalanced skills such as “Hawkeye”, a skill that ensures enemies’ attacks never miss. Another example is  “Vantage+”, a skill that allows enemies to always move first. It is impossible to play through the game on these challenging game-modes without resetting the game to change the enemy units and/or getting lucky through the random-number generator (RNG). Every time the game is played, the RNG decides where enemies appear on the map and can end up placing them in weaker positions. When attempting to play the game on these difficult game-modes, the player is usually forced to play on “Casual” mode so that player units do not die permanently.


By preventing permanent death from occurring, “Casual” mode hampers the strategic aspect of FEA. The Fire Emblem series has always featured a permanent character death mechanic so that when a unit falls in battle, they cannot be revived. This game mechanic encourages players to not only be wary of enemies but also take care of units’ health. The use of “Casual” mode removes any strategy this mechanic brought to the game since players can just focus on defeating foes. FEA’s game modes are hardly fair and decrease the balance and strategic value of the gameplay.


Some people who have played FEA seem to believe that the many choices presented to the player allow them to create stronger characters help balance out the gameplay on the harder levels of difficulty. Such choices include infinite leveling and downloadable content (DLC). The DLC in FEA gives the player access to overpowered abilities and units such as “Limit Breaker”, a skill that increases a character’s offensive and defensive capabilities by a large amount, and “Dread Fighter”, a type of soldier that can use a wide variety of powerful weapons. Although effect of balancing the unfair game-play is true, this game feature also unintentionally results in many of FEA’s gameplay-related balancing issues.


However, many players may, intentionally or not, abuse the infinite leveling and become grossly overpowered. In FEA, the ability to infinitely level-up characters is readily available if the player is having difficulty with the game. This feature serves as a “footstool” for players and their troops to grow stronger. As a result of the huge power difference caused by using this feature, stronger enemies become no more than pests in the eyes of the player and his/her army of super-soldiers. Players enjoy their immense strength and most will attempt to grow even stronger through DLC. Although optional, these “broken” skills contribute to the unbalanced gameplay of FEA as a whole. Their versatility even has the potential to trivialize the “Lunatic” and “Lunatic+” levels of difficulty. In other words, players with access to DLC and those who abuse the leveling system will be completely overpowered and ruin any challenge the game may present.


Although Fire Emblem: Awakening is very popular and successful, the game mechanics inherently cause balancing issues and unfairness. The bland and plain levels discourage players from using complex strategies in favor of simpler defensive formations. The difficulties fluctuate from abnormally easy to frustratingly difficult. Other game-modes remove any semblance of danger on the battlefield. Features that are designed to assist newer players are abused by others to become overpowered. As a culmination of all of these gameplay flaws, FEA is a prime example of one of the most unbalanced and unfair games released in recent memory.