Stop whatever you're doing, unsheathe your Falchions, and raise them in honor of Fire Emblem Awakening's sixth anniversary. Yes, it's been six years since You, Chrom, and Lucina saved the world from a tyrant dragon—and saved the Fire Emblem series from oblivion.
Though it's one of the best-known and most beloved tactical RPG series today, Fire Emblem's popularity steadily declined through the aughts and the '10s and was in danger of blinking out. Intelligent Systems had one more chance to make a Fire Emblem game that'd re-ignite interest in the series, and after brainstorming a bunch of crazy ideas that'd make for a memorable send-off (Fire Emblem on Mars, anyone?), the team came through with Fire Emblem Awakening for the Nintendo 3DS.
Fire Emblem Awakening turned out to be an excellent strategy game, but a very poor send-off for the series. That's because the game sold very well in Japan and in the West—a territory where the Fire Emblem series typically enjoyed cult status at best.
I dabbled in Fire Emblem games before the arrival of Awakening, but like a lot of Western fans, Awakening was the game that snagged me. When I think back on the reasons why Awakening was the first Fire Emblem game to garner a significant audience outside Japan, it's not hard to break down the reasons why:
Fire Emblem Awakening's Casual Mode makes the game far less stressful—I know there are Fire Emblem fans who cringe at the words "Casual Mode" like they're a pair of rabid animals. I understand why: For years, Fire Emblem took pride in its brutal nature. One slip-up usually means losing a beloved character for good. However, death isn't forever in Fire Emblem Awakening's Casual Mode, and "fatal" blows just sideline characters until the next fight. As someone who falls apart under the pressure applied by a typical Fire Emblem game, Awakening's Casual Mode lets me relax and enjoy myself.
Fire Emblem's cast of characters and localization are great—Fire Emblem games are designed around strong casts, but Awakening's crew is especially memorable. That can be attributed to a combination of excellent character design, good story writing, and a localization that knows when to make you laugh, and when to dial things back. Lucina's first face-to-face meeting with Chrom—her first time seeing her father alive since travelling backwards from her own ruined timeline to seek his help—is still a heart-wrenching bit of video game cinema.
My own admiration for Awakening's cast, writing, and localization is wrapped up in one neat example: Frederick, Chrom's wholly devoted bisexual warrior-butler. First and most important, you can catch a glimpse of Frederick's butler uniform under his armor, and you just know he keeps it pristine. He's a wrecking ball on the battlefield. He knits mittens for his fellow warriors (all in matching colors, of course). He's deeply in love with Chrom but would never dream of making a move because doing so would be appallingly unprofessional. His battle cry is "Pick a god and pray!", and it rules.
I suppose my continued admiration for Frederick ties into the third reason why Awakening was a huge success:
Never underestimate the power of waifus—Fire Emblem Awakening's story stretches across two generations, which means it's highly beneficial to pair up characters and demand they kiss. Support conversations have been a Fire Emblem trademark for a long time, but several of Awakening's support conversations veer into courtship territory and end in marriage. These vignettes are sweet, silly, and admittedly irresistible.
Players who just want to ship their favorite characters can do that, but stat-hounds intent on breeding the perfect warrior-child can scrutinize each character's strengths and pair them up like a farmer looking to create an efficient milking cow. Whatever your preference, Awakening provides.
Comedy, drama, romance and eugenics: Awakening truly has something for everyone. Happy anniversary, Fire Emblem Awakening. I still want to try one of Gaius' honey cakes.