Special report by RPG correspondent Jonathan Hawk
This is the thirteenth
entry in the Fire Emblem franchise, a series largely unknown to North America until its characters appeared in Super Smash Bros. Melee (GameCube, 2001)
. Simply put, Awakening
is a delightfully addictive tactical role-playing game. The story, revealed via action-packed cut-scenes, follows a royal family during a time of strife, cultists, and zombies. Awakening
offers no towns to explore, no hidden items to find in someone's cupboard, and no vague conversations with villagers. What it does offer is a load of strategy/combat action at interesting locations like cliffsides, flooded forests, and catacombs. The characters are colorful and likeable, but often rendered with no feet
, which is just plain weird. You have the choice of Japanese or English language, but the game lacks true spoken dialogue. Instead characters sport a dozen or so canned expressions and exclamations displayed during combat and their witty conversations. The musical score is stellar, contributing to the atmosphere of each stage (a five
-disc soundtrack was released in Japan). The game's class system allows you to carefully mix and match unique talents for each of your units. There's no armor to worry about, only weapons. In combat, there are lots of factors to account for during each turn. Melee weapons (swords, spears, and axes) have a rock-paper-scissors dynamic. Some weapons deal bonus damage to certain units, so never bring a pegasus to an archery fight. As units fight in close proximity, they become friends and in some cases can fall in love and even get married!
These relationships provide in-combat bonuses, allowing for dual attacks or parrying damage. On top of that, the children
from these marriages (!) actually travel back in time
(!!) to help you fight. You can flex your strategy muscles by choosing which of your first generation units get hitched and pass on their desirable skills. Now, if the Fire Emblem franchise is known for one thing, it's permanent death
. When a unit dies, they're gone for good. Fortunately for newcomers and casual players, Awakening
includes a mode where death only lasts the duration of the current fight. The game prompts you to save your progress after combat, and there's even a quick-save feature available mid-fight. The menus are polished and the data screens offer a wealth of information at your fingertips - literally! The touch screen features all inventory and unit stats, and you can tap on anything
for a description. A whole cadre of DLC is available, providing extra maps for a buck or two each. You can also fight and recruit characters from basically every
past Fire Emblem title for free. Your 3DS StreetPass feature can share 10 units (of your choice) with other nearby Awakening
players. The local two-player mode isn't terribly good and feels tacked on. I've played Fire Emblem Awakening (with perma-death on) for a combined two-hundred
hours. Suffice to say I would regard this game alone as a perfectly valid
reason to invest in a 3DS. © Copyright 2014 The Video Game Critic.
It's time someone said what a lot of people are thinking: Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is not very good!
Originally released in 2000 as the follow-up to Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
(Nintendo 64, 1998), this bizarre sequel relies heavily on confusing gimmicks. Majora's Mask is also very dark - and in more ways than one. During the disturbing opening scene a maniacal freak in a mask casts a spell on Link, giving him the frightening appearance of a Deku creature. The hub of the game is a town in a continual state of counting down 72 hours to doom. Time can be magically reset to the beginning but at the cost of losing items and rupees. The time of day changes frequently and after dark shops close and it becomes hard to see. At some point you obtain a song that lets you slow down time to a more reasonable pace. The game keeps you on a tight schedule, providing you with a notebook to keep track of important events and appointments. How is this supposed to be fun? You don masks to activate special abilities, but the masks themselves look creepy as hell. Some of the mechanics of this game seem very arbitrary, like having to remove your mask just to plant a seed. The camera angles are occasionally deceptive, especially in the overhead stealth areas. That said, Majora's Mask does have flashes of classic Zelda charm. There are some clever dungeon designs and the game provides regular clues to keep nudging you along. The automatic jumping is nice and using the 3DS touch screen to assign items to buttons is a snap. The controls are precise but I found myself contorting my hands to perform certain sword attacks. The 3D graphics are novel at first but I ended up shutting them off. The game's Nintendo 64 origins occasionally show through, like when you can't read a poster because it's so pixelated up close. The audio is surprisingly effective, delivering a surround sound quality you don't expect from a portable. Diehard Zelda fans who couldn't get enough of Ocarina are sure to relish the challenge and complexity of Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask 3D. Personally I found reviewing this game to be a bit of a chore. © Copyright 2015 The Video Game Critic.
I was pretty high on the console version of Lego Pirates of the Caribbean, but this portable edition is actually a better game. All four Pirates of the Caribbean films are represented and fully unlocked after you complete the first few stages. You'll explore tropical environments, solve simple puzzles, and engage in hand-to-hand combat. It's shallow, light-hearted fun best enjoyed in small doses. The stages are different from the console versions, and they are less complex and easier to complete. You still toggle between characters, only one is shown at a time, resulting in less clutter on-screen. There are some new elements like rowboat challenges, the chance to control a parrot, and the ability to hit multiple targets with one gunshot. I liked playing while wearing earphones because the tic-tic-tic sound of collecting cogs is pleasing to the ears. You'll also notice the crisp sound effects of churning water, clanking swords, crackling fire, and even sipping tea. There are some brief load times, and the cut-scenes look a little grainy. The stages are shorter and less frustrating however, making this a nice title for those looking for some casual fun. © Copyright 2012 The Video Game Critic.