Fire Emblem: Awakening is finally available in Europe after a couple of additional months of waiting. The series itself is now 23 years old, and is arguably one of the more 'hardcore' franchises that Nintendo owns.
One element Fire Emblem is known for is its punishing levels of difficulty, which has never shown any mercy towards the player. Making a tiny mistake often leads to several hours of gaming being washed down the drain. It can be frustrating at times, but it's this ruthless nature that keeps many coming back.
However, Fire Emblem: Awakening breaks from tradition a little in that it features a Casual mode — known as the Newcomer mode in Europe — which makes the game easier by removing permadeath; we'll come to that shortly. Of course, it's only optional and though many may call it gaming heresy it opens up the series to more people, which can only be a good thing.
The recent Nintendo Direct presentation also revealed a new mode for Donkey Kong Country Returns 3D, which gives the player extra hearts and items that make the game less difficult than it was on the Wii. Again, the original mode will be included but people who were intimidated by the Wii version now have the opportunity to get involved.
It's easy to see how people may be put off from a game like Fire Emblem, considering how unforgiving it can be. For example, the series is known for its permadeath feature, which removes characters from the game completely should they kick the bucket in battle. It's an ingredient the series has become famous for and creates more of a connection with the characters you're commanding.
Permadeath has been the cause of many a reset console over the years. It can be a frustrating feature but it also offers an extra element of strategy to the game. When playing without it in the Casual mode, in theory, you can throw a character into certain doom as a way of distracting the enemy, allowing him or her to perish and helping you reach victory. Once the battle is won, that character would then return to action with barely a scratch on them.
So is that cheating, or good design to allow less experienced players to enjoy the game?
Indeed, the development team even argued about its inclusion, as was revealed in the Iwata Asks interview from a few months back. It appears that at the beginning of development some members of Intelligent Systems were ardently against the new mode, but were talked around as the process went on.
However, it's clear Casual mode still keeps project manager Masahiro Higuchi awake at night, as in an interview with 8-4 he had the following to say:
Well...I still think about it. It's that nuance... If someone dies, you can't just go and resurrect them like in other games. You need to think more carefully about the value of the lives you're controlling in the game. It connects with the difficulty level, too - it makes you work your way through the game very carefully, which I think makes each victory all the more exhilarating. It's one of the charms of Fire Emblem, which is probably why adding Casual mode generated a fair amount of controversy [within the team]...
It may feature a Casual mode, but Fire Emblem: Awakening still offers extreme difficulty levels, with lunatic being the hardest. It should be said that many of the development team at Intelligent Systems haven't cleared the game in lunatic, so there's a challenge for you. Naturally, Higuchi has managed it and he wants fellow Fire Emblem veterans to join him in playing the latest game on the hardest setting.
The inclusion of Casual mode does undoubtedly enable more players to get on board. Sales of the game in North America have been impressive to say the least and, although we'll never really know, it would be interesting to see if they would be matched if Casual mode was not included.
Even Higuchi was turned in the end, as he said in the 8-4 interview:
While permadeath is a part of the series, it's also something that I think kept a lot of people from trying the game. That's not good for us, if people don't even pick it up to see what kind of other things we've put into the game. And in the end we did get a lot of feedback from people who tried [Awakening] because of Casual mode, so in that respect I'm glad it's there. But I still play in Classic mode myself.
Many players could play through Fire Emblem: Awakening on Casual mode then brave Classic mode afterwards. This gives the game a bit more longevity and allows players to ease themselves into classic Fire Emblem style of gameplay. Or it's possible to play in Classic mode and still manipulate the system, as a soft reset (L+R+Start) will reboot the game and you can start the mission again. Considering the fact that you're told how to soft reset in the included basic controls booklet, the developers clearly expect you to use it on occasions.
What are your thoughts on the inclusion of Casual mode? Is Classic mode the only way to play, or is Casual mode an equally good way to experience the game? Tell us know in the comments section and let your voice be heard in the poll below.
Do you play - or plan to play - Fire Emblem: Awakening in Casual (Newcomer) or Classic mode? (296 votes)
Casual mode for me
Classic all the way
I'll use both in multiple playthroughs
I haven't decided yet
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Will you - or do you - use the soft reset in Classic mode? (261 votes)
Never, if a character dies then it stays that way
Sometimes, depending on the character/situation
Always, because I don't want to lose characters
I didn't know there was a soft reset option
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