1 2 3 Though it wasn’t the first game in the genre, Fire Emblem was indeed one of the first, and is responsible for popularizing the strategy role-playing game. The first entry in the series, Fire Emblem: Ankoku Ryū to Hikari no Tsurugi, was released way back in 1990, but the series didn’t see a stateside release until 2003 on the Game Boy Advance, which was the seventh entry in the series. Since then, most — not all, unfortunately — entries in the series have received an English language release. Though usually well-made and extremely fun and addicting (if you dig the genre, that is), the series evolved very slowly, similar to another Nintendo stalwart, Pokémon. The newest entry in the series and the first 3DS iteration, Fire Emblem: Awakening, makes a giant evolutionary leap from past entries.For the uninitiated, most strategy role-playing games (SRPGs) have gameplay quite similar to the mechanics found in Fire Emblem. You control individual units that are spread around a field, and have to use them to defeat an opposing force. However, whereas a classic JRPG has characters line up on either side of the screen without any sort of movement involved, an SRPG usually turns the field into a grid, and characters have to move around said grid, positioning themselves to attack opponents based on the range of their weapons. If you have ever played a Final Fantasy Tactics, Shining Force, or even an Advanced Wars, you have Fire Emblem to thank.Developed by Intelligent Systems since roughly the dawn of time (1990) FE stories have always been entertaining and complex, but have largely been the same. A story about some sort of royalty getting into some sort of war with another kingdom or two, which it turns out was being controlled by some dark dragon or demon the whole time. As fond of FE as some of us may be, it’s difficult to, for example, make fun of Mario for having to fight Bowser ad infinitum when a large portion of FE games feature stories startlingly similar to one another. Luckily, the FE writing (at least since the series’ first US release) has been above par — so while you’re entrenched in yet another medieval war (with some magical element) between kingdoms and then ultimately a demon or dragon, reading through it all has always been a pleasant experience. That is no different this time around.The core gameplay also remains unchanged from previous installments. You select one of your many units — which are played by individual characters with their own stories, stats, skills, fighting styles, strengths, and weaknesses — then individually move them toward or away from an enemy or some other objective on the map, in the hopes of either attacking or defending, fleeing, recruiting a new character, talking to locals, or simply buying and selling items from a shop. Each successful attack (doesn’t miss the target) gains the attacker experience points, which are used to advance to the next level, and ultimately promote to an advanced character class that opens up new skills, stats, and equipment.What always set FE apart from most SRPGs is that the game employs a perma-death system; once a character dies in battle, they are gone forever, leaving you to move on through the story without any of the deceased character’s input, or reload from the save before the fatal mission took place. This always gave FE an edge, as it makes you take your time with your characters and really analyze your next move — an ideal reaction for genre that begins with the word “strategy.” This notion also makes you care more about your characters, as you’re putting a lot of thought into their existence, whereas in other SRPGs you can just cast a spell or use an item to resurrect characters so you don’t put as much effort into keeping them alive. Perhaps because the FE series has never quite been a killer app due to its somewhat hardcore strategic perma-death gameplay, Intelligent Systems has offered a Casual Mode with the game, where characters only get temporarily removed from a battle if they die, rather than removed from the game. Luckily for longtime FE fans, Classic Mode and all of its perma-death glory remains, and you simply select which mode you’d prefer when starting a new campaign.This is where Fire Emblem: Awakening begins to diverge from the usual FE formula, and ends up as the best entry to date.