For most of us, marriage is the time when we have deep conversations about balancing careers and friends with upcoming lifestyle choices.
In Fire Emblem: Awakening, marriage is a time to sit down with your future spouse and discuss whether they're planning to master the Dark Knight's Lifestealer ability before they switch classes to Wyvern Rider.
It may sound unromantic, but it pays to be pragmatic in a fantasy world where your spouse is your only shield against arrows and axes.
Till death do us part
Fire Emblem: Awakening follows the story of your amnesiac main character and the bold warrior Chrom, who leads the warband known as The Shepherds.
This is a turn-based strategy title, and most of the gameplay takes place on the fantasy battlefield grid, with Pegasus Knights and Paladins trading blows as Clerics tend to the wounded. As with many previous Fire Emblem titles, your units grow stronger through accumulating experience points and Support Conversations with their allies.
These Support Conversations crop up when two units fight next to one another, and they represent the bond of friendship (or love) growing between them. Happily, they also offer certain stat bonus to each character next to them in battle.
Awakening goes one step further with this relationship mechanic by allowing you to marry your units and combine them with the flexible 'Pair Up' command.
Yes, marriage. Leaving aside the unfortunate limitation that only heterosexual characters can wed, you'll want to focus on characters that complement one another on the battlefield as well as in the cut-scenes.
The 'Pair Up' command is new to the Fire Emblem series, and represents a tremendous leap forward in Awakening's strategy gameplay.
Pair Up allows you to freely combine two characters on the battlefield to support one another. They'll occupy the same space and effectively act as the same unit - which makes the mechanic a bit limiting at times, but it affords tremendous bonuses as well.
For married couples and those with high Support ratings, Pair Up combines two characters into unstoppable juggernauts on the battlefield who can dodge attacks and respond with critical strikes almost at will.
This feature also allows you to ferry slower units across a large board on the back of flying units, which gives a great amount of flexibility to strategy.
It's almost always better to Pair Up characters who compensate for each other's weakness, like Great Knights and Mages, as the Knight will give the Mage more durability on the battlefield.
A Mage and Cleric might have more to talk about, admittedly, but neither offers much resilience when it comes to withstanding a charging Cavalier.
In many ways, Awakening's strategy element plays like a visually sumptuous game of chess: the key to winning lies not only in devising a winning strategy, but also in positioning your pieces so they can support one another.
Faithful to a fault
If anything can be taken away from Fire Emblem: Awakening, it's that the game feels far too short. While there are plenty of sidequests and DLC missions available along with the odd random encounter battles, one can easily breeze through the 26 main missions in under 30 hours.
Despite this brevity, the truly excellent relationship mechanic and brilliant strategy elements of Fire Emblem: Awakening combine to create a unique game that will appeal to long-time fans of the franchise and newcomers alike.
Many mechanics from previous Fire Emblem titles return in Awakening, like the looming threat of permanent character death and weapon hit points. The former can thankfully be turned off by playing in Casual Mode, but the latter is omnipresent and another factor to keep in your mind as you build your army.
As recompense for the micromanaging, Hiroki Morishita's amazing soundtrack combines with rich graphics and animations to help flesh out Awakening's world to the point that you'll be forgiven for wanting to live in it.
There are occasional missteps along the way - like the character's baffling lack of feet and the choppy voice-acting - but the visuals and audio are, like the game itself, something that fans of strategy titles and RPGs will remember fondly for years to come.
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