Following on from our reader-voted Top 50 Games of the Decade, Nintendo Life staff members will be picking their personal favourite Nintendo games between the years 2010-2019. Today, Gavin looks back nearly seven years and tries to remember the name of his kid...
Picking one's favourite game from a decade’s worth is a tough proposition. It involves quantifying something intangible. What does 'favourite' mean exactly? The games I've had most fun with were invariably tied up with people, places and periods of my life where the game itself was just a single element, one part of the puzzle. They're tied up inextricably with memory and these days I have trouble remembering what I did at the weekend. You might suggest looking at solid metrics like Most Played Game to help arrive at a decision, but is StreetPass Mii Plaza really my Game of the Decade?
My introduction to the Fire Emblem series was through Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. Having got in early with the 3DS (and paid top dollar before the price cut), I was eligible for the Ambassador Programme and the 20 Virtual Console games it gifted. I played through several of the exclusive GBA offerings for the very first time and Sacred Stones was one of them. I'd tried Advance Wars back in the day but somehow bounced off it (I should really go back and try again at some point), but Fire Emblem's mix of story and strategy hooked me immediately and I devoured Sacred Stones on my commute over a month in 2012.
Being a listener of the 8-4 Play podcast (check it out if you’re a fan of Japan, games or Japanese games), hearing that they were behind the translation of the upcoming 3DS entry encouraged me to dive in early, and digitally - a novelty for me at the time. I remember weighing up whether I wanted to wait until morning just to have a box or start playing that very night (a couple of days after the EU launch on Sunday 21st April 2013 according to my 3DS Activity Log - how I miss these stats on Switch). Impatience got the better of me, so I got it on the eShop and dived right in.
I don’t remember why, but for some reason I went straight in on Hard difficulty. Perhaps I'd heard that was the best way to play (it certainly is for the latest entry on Switch). Whatever the reason, it was the right choice; the pitch-perfect level of challenge that expertly walked the line between frustration and compulsion and had me hard resetting many, many times. Permadeath is a fundamental part of the series, but I wasn't about to let any of my team go gently (or not so gently) into that good night - not on my watch! In fact, I doubled my playtime through resets as I restarted battles again and again to make certain my entire team survived.
Where normally such a rigmarole would sour me on a game immediately, Awakening was brilliant enough to make hard resets essential. I simply had to go back, rethink, restrategise, and redeploy my team to attain victory. I was invested in all aspects of the game - the positioning, the strategy of terrain, character and weapon type, and the stories behind the characters themselves. Every component dovetailed to make Awakening one of the most challenging and satisfying games I've ever played.
Much of its appeal comes down to the writing. The web of interactions between all characters is complex and relationships are forged and strengthened in a system which puts friendships at the heart of the game, on and off the battlefield. Fighting alongside one another strengthens a pair's bond and you find yourself playing social engineer as well as coordinating offensives on enemy forts. The spunky Sully quickly stole my heart and we ended up marrying and fighting back-to-back on many occasions. We had a kid, too, although I'm hazy on the details. I told you I can't remember what I had for breakfast - you expect me to remember my kid's name? Sully, though! She sure sticks in the memory...
In addition to the synergy between narrative and gameplay, it's one of the games that used the 3DS' namesake function really well. The battlefield UI and map was well-designed and easy enough to parse without it, but the 3D effect separated each layer and made it a breeze to understand what was going on at a glance. A thrilling soundtrack and beautiful presentation rounded out what has to be one of the 3DS' most perfect packages: it would seem you lot agree, too. The game was so good that you really didn't notice the absence of feet for the entire cast.
You'd think that having enjoyed Awakening so much I'd have gone on to devour Fates and Shadows of Valentia, but other games got in the way. The latter, in particular, is one I'd like to return to at some point, but I've had Fire Emblem: Three Houses sitting on my Switch for months and have barely scratched the surface thanks to about thirty other games waiting to be played. This is what I do now - buy and collect brilliant games and never play the damn things. Maybe that's another factor in how fondly I look back on Awakening. Back then I had the time to pump 100+ hours into an SRPG and get totally lost in it, hard resetting over and over with no care for the clock.
So, there we are - I went with Fire Emblem: Awakening. Shout-outs to Super Mario Galaxy 2, Kirby's Epic Yarn, Dark Souls II, Breath of the Wild, Overcooked and about forty others, but Awakening was particularly special for me. Is it categorically my ‘favourite’ game of the last decade? Pah, I'm not sure what that even means anymore. All I know is that it’s a phenomenal game that's worth hunting down a 3DS to play.