to the moon and back

Awakening was the culmination of a very, very long wait. I donít remember the announcement, but I do remember the year spent waiting: the tentative hope that Nintendo would remember, or bother, to localise Awakening. (After New Mystery, things were not looking good). Eventually 2013 rolled around, I crossed my fingers even harder for a PAL release, and then the unthinkable happened. Nobody had banked on Awakeningís success. It was geared up towards a new generation, just like Blazing Sword - but this time, it was also a hit.

Some parts of Awakening are more problematic, retrospectively, than others - I can afford to be slightly more objective when itís not my favourite game in the series. Awakening holds a competitive second place alongside Elibe and Magvel in my heart, and managed this by being everything I wanted in a Fire Emblem game in 2013. Not only was it the franchiseís saving grace, this was the game I had been waiting for. And I donít mean that literally.

With all the praise being thrown at Awakening in its approach towards newcomers, what I never saw was how it felt to be a veteran coming back. I donít think itís something you can replicate, either; itís something you can only have if you were there, back in 2004 with Blazing Sword. Think Nintendoís advertising campaign for Sun and Moon - one of their spots called out to those twenty, thirty somethings who had been there as kids, playing the originals. ďYou have evolved,Ē they said. ďSo have we.Ē

Awakening was Fire Emblemís Sun and Moon for those fans who started out with Blazing Sword.

I didnít think this at the time, and Iíve no idea if itís universal. Maybe Iím the odd duck who happened to be the right age for this to have the same effect. Only by working on this site did it occur to me that everything I was describing - that I loved - about Blazing Sword is also present in Awakening. This is where the building blocks formula works, because as soon as Robin steps off the ground in Awakening, I was twelve years old again and playing Blazing Sword for the very first time. I was back in Elibe, and I was the tactician, except now I had an active role in the story and I fell hard. It doesnít work the same way with Corrin in Fates, because Robin was a callback - the ultimate callback, the kind that tugs on my childhood.

Then thereís outerrealm DLC where you can recruit Lyn, and she recognises you. In Blazing Sword, they parted ways forever, and this was canon acknowledging some kind of reunion. Our reunion. I cried, guys. I cried hard.

Honestly, Awakening in itself is a massive loveletter to so many different aspects of the series, and Iím not just talking archetypes. It was the return of a map you could traverse. Skirmishes and a second generation of characters. A bad character masquerading as a good guy. A better (and existing) support system. I could keep going.

also it looks rad and sounds even better.

Actually, I will keep going about Robin. Robin is the avatar that only works once, because so much is piled into Robin - not only are you an active participant and the tactician (the role you should be playing), you are also the final boss. Grima is a twisted fragment of Robin bent on destruction, and I admit I started theorising Robinís identity early on (the clothes, the prologue, itís pretty obvious) but dang - you are the enemy country, you are the scourge of the earth, and you are the dragon. Itís the same as Lyon playing host to the Demon King, but better - because in one version of reality, Robin failed. Robin succumbed to Grima. And though Robin is the cornerstone of almost too much, they are screwed over by fate and destiny to the point that I didnít care - I absolutely loved it, rubbing my hands with glee, because this is what Iím secretly all about, when the bad guy is the protagonist all along. Then I laughed harder, because by marrying a certain prince, our children were gifted with the blood of the Fell Dragon and the blessing of the Divine Dragon and that ticks all my wants. (Grima Lucina is a particular guilty pleasure of mine).

And because Robin is of interchangeable gender and the only thing that changes are supports, female Robin is a special, unusual creature as she is allowed the conveniences that are automatically given to male characters.

But a Robin only works once. Be it series, Awakening, whatever - the second time, you see it coming, and youíve been there, done that. I loved the ending to Awakening, which is an incredibly unpopular opinion, but thatís just it - it was an ending. Robin makes a choice. Robin lives (or doesnít) with that choice. Weíve reached a natural conclusion - it doesnít work when itís repeated, because this isnít a circular narrative. This story is all about breaking the circular narrative, because thatís just what happens when you involve time and changing the future, as you enter uncharted territory.

About Time: Chrom
Iím just going to come out and say it - I love Chrom. As someone whoís notorious for disliking the main lords in the franchise, that says something - and itís not just that I like him now, a tolerance granted thanks to time and distance. I liked Chrom from the start; I didnít require time to warm up to him. Until Awakening, I had only felt this way about Lyn, and Lyn is a lord by convenience. She was not raised as a prince and potential ruler, and Chrom is down to earth enough that heís an active defender of his haildom and leader of the Shepherds - a group that performs more like a mercenary band than the haildomís special task force. That doesnít matter. What mattered was that finally, there was a lord that I loved. Chrom was a breath of fresh air and an instant favourite for me, but despite what the popularity polls show, Chrom is not a popular lord when stacked against the rest of them. Go figure.

A lot of Chromís criticism stems from his choices in the latter half of the game - I never said he was a smart hero - and I can agree that he lacks finesse. Yet as Chrom bumbled through the narrative, disaster by mistake by screw-up, it only strengthened my like for him as a character.

The reason I love Chrom is for his flaws. He was not meant to lead, and he is not the perfect ruler, and he knows it. He might be one of the most trained, battle familiar princes of the series but he is not cut out for the paper-pushing, day-to-day aspects of leadership. Itís not a matter of learning that itís hard, like Skrimir does in Radiant Dawn - Chrom is just not cut out to be Exalt, but unlike some people (Ike, Lyn) being a lord is not something Chrom can walk away from. Chrom takes this burden unto himself and never stops trying; heís very humble, and always goes about bettering himself.

Chrom is not the saviour of his realm - his daughter is. But Chrom, like Robin, is the dual protagonist. This is a story about them. And just like Robin, Chrom is pushed about by the narrative as its plaything, forced to do so many things where so many other people would be better for it. But he doesnít stop trying. When he learns what the future holds for his country? He keeps trying to save it, but he acknowledges his weakness. Again. He apologises to Lucina, because she deserved so much more than a sword and a world of troubles. Chrom might be a mess, but heís a very human mess with one quality we should all aspire towards - persistence in the face of impossible odds.

That persistence should tell you a thing or two, because I am all about characters who defy their fate. (And you better believe I had Robin marry this sucker.)

When it comes to the characters in Awakening, I often think about the children first - the future kids are fantastic and Iím totally in love with the dynamic (read: angst and suffering) of a bunch of teens coming to terms with a war they were losing in an apocalyptic world and traveling back in time to fix it. For them, this time mechanic works. Though I was terrible at the Future Past, seeing a version of their perseverance was one of Awakeningís highlights for me.

They also have a better, broader friendship base than the adults - be it with each other or their parents - as the first generation are often getting to know each other for the first time, or suffering from the sheer amount of supports the game contains. As a return to supports, Awakening was a step in the right direction - being able to have more than five fixed a long term irk - but as a woman could now support with every man (except Sumia and Chrom), the quality suffered. A ďtopicĒ or ďthemeĒ is often chosen for select characters, and that is how they are treated in supports with the opposing gender. Probably all of their supports with the opposing gender. An occasional support does have more thought to it, but these are few and far between.

The same gendered supports, because there was no marriage (another kettle of fish, give me same gender marriages already), were much better, and more wholesome, giving me insights into each character and their relationship rather than ďone day there is a one in something chance they will marry and their kid will arrive from the futureĒ. I prioritised these supports when I began to fill them in, as they were always good.

Hope: Lucina
It turns out if you mess up time enough, a character voiced by Laura Bailey will come along (possibly yelling) in order to fix it. Well, no. Much like Nephenee, I donít have any pearls of wisdom to offer for Lucina. And sometimes you just need a good icebreaker to identify your type, which Lucina is, and my second favourite character in the Fire Emblem universe. I know. I use second loosely, because Nephenee might be my favourite unit, but when it comes to personality, goals, drive, everything that makes up my character type, itís this young lady right here. And best of all, the first time I got to know her, she was my daughter.

Lucina is what Chrom and Robin are not - a competent leader who deserved the world but ended up growing up in war, long after the end of the world could feasibly be deflected. Lucina has Chromís natural charisma in order to inspire, his brashness, his indomitable will; yes, she will fling herself into the past at Nagaís urging, but Lucina only does so because sheís run out of options. She has the sense, and the smarts, and the means, to save the world. Her resolve might waver, but thatís only in the face of so much despair and pain. When nothing about the past changes, she panics; when it goes wrong, sheís reminded sheís accomplished nothing. This is the girl who had to be strong for her peers, never allowed to be weak, and all of her comrades would die for her.

(This is probably why I ship Lucina with a lot of people.)

Lucina was the hero I always wanted, the lord of my dreams. Sheís a character I know well, having written thousands upon thousands of words for her in RP (and she got to live a happy life with a family, because if anyone deserves a soft epilogue, itís Lucina). It was only Chrom that pipped her to being the first lord I liked from the beginning.

Then thereís the matter of her identity. Itís no secret that I donít really like Marth all that much, and what little marketing Awakening had pushed the mysterious masked Marth. Youíd think I would have been wary of her, and I was - but not as wary as I might have been, for one of my favourite Marth theories was that this Marth was actually a woman. And she was. (Sure, no one saw the daughter thing coming, and I have seen some things, guys. Chrom and masked Marth were a ship. I have lived in those hallowing times.) I cautiously let down my guard for when Lucina arrived, but I didnít really have any idea that I would fall for her entirely and completely.

Keep hope alive, sweetheart. I believe in you always.

Given that Awakening is more recent, I actually remember not only the waiting, but the playing of it. I was very, very excited to get my hands on this game, and when it was announced that it would be getting a PAL release after all, I grabbed the demo and played it through twice. I was very enamoured. Everything was how I wanted it to be, how I would want a game on the 3DS to look. Unfortunately, when Awakening did show up in my needy fingers, I was in the final two months of my degree with a dissertation to wrap up and at least two more essays to write (the dissertation is supposed to be your last, what was my course even thinking that year), so playing Awakening was an exercise in reluctant moderacy, which wasnít how I usually went forward in new Fire Emblem games. Or any games that I get really into, for that matter.

It also occurs to me I can show off my starring Robinís before I get into unit recommendations. They are named Nina and Hanako respectively, recreated with the Robin Customizer - I have a male Robin (Alexander), but heís just the default.

As the world was literally my oyster and skirmishes were frequent even into the postgame, I have used everyone in Awakening at some time or another - because I felt sorry for those that I abandoned in their early first tier and decided to level them up to their second, mostly. Iíve also spent time working on a better selection of skills, since skills were so abundant and different combinations were fun to try out.

My priority to units based on overall game usage (and whom turned out the best in the long haul), however, goes to Chrom (give him a horse), Sully, Vaike, Miriel, Sumia, Loníqu, Maribelle, Gaius, Cordelia, Gregor, Nowi, and Cherche. I liked using Olivia, but I never found a particular groove with her; I tried to limit my use of the kids, but Lucina, Kjelle and Severa keep creeping into my roster more frequently than not. No one is truly a bad unit in Awakening, and the kids are naturally better than their parents, so this game can easily be played with whatever preference you have.

I had a blast playing Awakening. It was a triumphant romp that reminded me, and everyone else, why we loved this series, and that if Marth is going to be in this game, to turn him into Lucina instead. Despite my affection towards it, Awakening was a game I could only play once. Was it a one trick pony? Did I just need the distance? Maybe. Itís been a few years now, so I likely could go again, but all attempts at another Robin at the time felt as though they were missing a certain magic - Awakening has such a clear-cut ending, and as I keep coming back to, Robin is a breed of avatar and main character that only works once.

Maybe this is a story I can only love as much as I did the first time, where it was new. I do have my issues with Awakening - some of the fanservice DLC and the treatment towards women, as the armour designs and respect given to them is not equal to the men - but the parts that made up the whole were fantastic, and it was a step in the right direction, so objectively I can forgive Nintendo for my misgivings. Mostly. And only once.

And between you and me, I loved the no feets.

the good, the bad, the disinterest - fates