Games Gone Good is a series that tries to identify exactly what makes a game great, and celebrates games with interesting and exciting designs. This week, I look at Fire Emblem: Awakening.

Image by Blazemaster97 – Click on image for his deviantart.

Fire Emblem: Awakening is a Fantasy Strategy game by Nintendo where you pit your army of characters against a computer controlled army of characters. Characters weld swords, axes and spears to attack each other, and knowing which weapon beats another weapon is an important part of the strategy. Another important idea in the game is permadeath. When a character dies, they can never be used again. This forces you to carefully consider each move you make, because it could get someone killed, causing you to either keep playing without that character, or reset the game to try that level again.

One highly praised part of the newest game in the series, called Fire Emblem: Awakening, is the support system, which will be covered in detail today.

What is the support system?

Players can have characters stand next to each other, to increase their chances of winning a fight through the other character providing an extra attack or blocking a foes attack, or pair up, which buffs a character and provides a chance of an extra attack or block, but leaves the player with less characters to move and attack with.

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After each battle, the support rating of a pair can “level up”, and players can watch a small vignette of the two characters talking to each other, often in hilarious and heartwarming ways. If a male and a female reach the highest rank, they marry and their child from the future will join the team after the player completes that character’s level successfully.

What does the support system do to improve the game?

The most obvious improvement is to replayablity, because players can create new pairs each game and discover stronger pairs, ways to make the children characters stronger, and new character interactions.

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The next improvement is a little bit higher level. The connection of the player to the characters and the story in the game increases because players are choosing who to pair. This leads to more player investment in  the story because player’s choices matter, and there is more emergent story / gameplay because the game reacts to that player’s choices.

How was this done?

The most important thing done to make this work was having the gameplay favor characters in pairs. Pairing two characters for an extended length of time leads to massively superpowered characters. Having the story be about friendships and “ties that bind” really hammers home the point to the players that they really should be thinking about how they position and pair up their characters. There’s really no feeling like having your super powered assassin husband and wife team unleash 4 criticals in a row on some poor bad guy, all while music is blazing in the background (it rises in intensity using variable mix when your characters battle) and they are shouting their battle cries with conviction.

One nice touch is that who you pair up determines a little about the child that is created. The female parent always decides which child is made, but the male decides the hair color.

I had to.

And the final way this was done was with lots and lots of writing! There’s 3-4 interactions between just about every adult character and every child character, and even some interactions between parents and their children. Here’s a FAQ for all the interactions for the main character. It’s huge!

Ways to improve the system, and get more involvement in story

While I think the system itself is already perfect, I can’t help but feel that there could have been a little bit added if there was time. If partners could react to their spouse dying (which unfortunately can happen) with some barks or flavor text, that would add to an emotional scene for the player. Maybe adding a buff because the character is outraged or a debuff because the character is crestfallen could be a good idea? So I guess that would be one line for each character with a name placeholder, and some new gameplay to set up. Could run the risk of annoying a player since they wouldn’t know how a character would react to their spouse’s death, but when you have a game with trapdoors that open with enemies and allow them to kill characters immediately, some randomness seems to be allowed.

The ending does react to the way couples are set up, but it would be great to have seen more reaction to it, in scenes where all the characters encourage Chrom, maybe they could have been paired up in their couples. That’s probably a heck of a lot of extra writing, but might have been worth it?

Thanks for reading!

Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes this a good game mechanic, or what you think you would do to add some extra spice to the mechanic.