Review: Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)

https://www.nintendolife.com/reviews/3ds/fire_emblem_awakening

A hint of trepidation arises whenever the “Powers That Be” decide that “Your Cool Thing” needs a bigger audience, primarily because “What They Like” and “Why You Like It” don’t always mesh. Take Fire Emblem, possibly the most hardcore of Nintendo’s franchises — not “hardcore” in the nonsense term of it appealing primarily to a traditional gaming audience, but because it is by its very nature a beautifully unforgiving beast. Expanding the base tends to mean dulling its claws, and the risk is that it’ll no longer sink them in as deep.

Why people fall off Fire Emblem’s tactical RPG train is one of the reasons others can’t wait to board: stakes are high and consequences of failure are real, all because of the novel notion that death is, get this, permanent. One wrong move in a hard-fought battle can bring the end of a unit. Perhaps a really important one that you’ve built a winning strategy with croaks, or one that is key in keeping all of your other units alive and stabbing gets a spear in the back. It’s like chess in that way, although flinging the game at the wall after frustrating defeat is a far more expensive endeavor (presenting a perfect opportunity to pick up that special edition 3DS you couldn’t justify buying before).

To love Fire Emblem is to feast up on the throne of Damocles, but not everyone wants to chow down with a sword over their brain. It’s clear that Nintendo would like more people to actually pay money for Fire Emblem: Awakening, so some of the series’ idiosyncrasies big and small are smoothed out or tweaked, including the option to switch off the whole eternal sleep thing — and without penalty at that. Doing so may fly in the face of what Fire Emblem fans love about Fire Emblem, but, after all, it’s only an option, tucked away safely in the likely healthier Casual mode you can choose to ignore. Or jump straight into. Who are we to judge?

If concessions like that are what it takes to continue to see high-caliber games of this ilk then Nintendo can tweak away; Awakening may be the most accessible Fire Emblem to date but retains its hardcore strategic faculties for those who are already very happy with the franchise, thank-you-very-much, and adds a whole bunch of other modern-day niceties on top of it that anyone can get behind. Damocles can have his delicious cake – and eat it, too.

The events of Fire Emblem: Awakening are set years past that of any other Fire Emblem entry, keeping its legacy at a distance far enough to prevent new players from feeling lost but with enough insider nudges to satisfy series veterans. After creating your character – named Robin by default – they are woken in a field by a group of soldiers led by Price Chrom of Ylisse. Robin doesn’t remember who they are or where they came from, but soon finds themselves joining Chrom’s cause in the role of tactician, fighting for the future of the kingdom. While we can’t say the overarching plot feels wholly unique – if we had a dollar for every time we’ve seen an amnesiac at the center of an RPG story, we’d be happily shacked up in the Bahamas by now – interest in Fire Emblem: Awakening’s tale of heroism and bravery against seemingly impossible odds is propelled in its near-entirety by the relationships between the game’s characters – all of which come with difficult-to-pronounce names. Stoic, heroic and witty to the end, each cast member – no matter how minor the role – has a strong presence and unique voice thanks to some really great writing.

Watching these personalities interact and build relationships is its own kind of reward off the battlefield, as are the gorgeous, fully voice-acted cut-scenes for key plot points, although this typically involves an awful lot of reading between skirmishes. Partial voice acting peppers the wealth of dialogue, where a character blurts something audible at the beginning of their lines, but this tends to be hit-or-miss affair as sometimes what a character says doesn’t align directly with the on-screen text. Still, it’s more interesting than just text and works often enough to grow on you. You can even switch the voice track to the original Japanese, if you’re so inclined.

There is certainly enough time for Fire Emblem: Awakening to grow on you as the campaign is quite lengthy, easily breaching 25 hours on a straight-shot through — indulging in the dozens of optional missions and side-scraps can tick up that clock significantly, not to mention the free SpotPass and paid downloadable missions slated to hit from day one. That’s a lot of strategizing, and in typical Fire Emblem fashion there is a great depth to fighting that never stops rewarding smart thinking or punishing lapses of judgment no matter how temporary. It can be frustrating to get knocked on your back at the end of a contentious fight, but then again, it was probably your fault anyway.

Each side takes turns moving their dozen or so units of assorted types around the map in a limited fashion, allowing one action per unit – move, attack, use an item and such. The battle mechanics build on a simple Rock-Paper-Scissors-type weapon triangle, and on top of that certain weapon types are more effective against assorted units. It sounds simple, but in practice requires a lot of careful consideration to maximize your turn – not only must you try to figure out the most powerful way to attack your opponent, but also ensure proper footing so you don’t get anyone killed when your enemy takes their turn. Successful routings require surveying the terrain, arming with the proper equipment and thinking two steps ahead. The campaign loves to toy with your emotions, often pitting you against what seems like an insurmountable enemy only to throw in an empowering twist somewhere down the line – or a devastating one, if you’re unlucky.

As units level up they grow stronger and more capable with their weapons, which in turn yields higher damages and resistances and allows the wielding of more powerful arms. You can change or upgrade a unit’s class or abilities with items and Miyagi them to their true potential. Key to this entry are character relationships; while they are fun to watch unfold off the battlefield, how chummy everyone is together matters even more in the thick of it. The buddy system reigns supreme in Fire Emblem: Awakening: placing units next to each other in battle allows them to influence stats like hit, dodge and critical rates, jump in to protect from a blow or themselves swoop in with an extra strike. The more that the same units fight together, the stronger their relationship becomes, which can be crucial in determining whether they live or die.

At the outset of a campaign you can pick between Casual and Classic rules, and once selected you cannot switch. When playing in Casual mode, death isn’t such a big deal: your units hit the sidelines for the rest of the battle but are happy to join in with the next fray. Without the fear of permanent loss this style of play allows for more reckless action, although suffering too many losses in one battle is a sure-fire way to not win. Classic is more demanding in this area as a dead unit is, as one might imagine in reality, really dead. A steady stream of new units prevents your roster from depleting too much, but losing a unit you’ve groomed and become attached to because of a poorly reasoned move is a good way to drive yourself crazy. There are none of Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon’s Save Points on the maps so in Classic mode there is no saving while in battle; you can bookmark a fight and resume it later, but if you want to avoid a death then you’ll have to restart the chapter. Considering the stiff challenge of later portions of the game, restarting a map can become a frustratingly common occurrence – this is one of those games where your Activity Log and in-game timer will never align. In Casual mode you can save anywhere at any time, making deaths even less of a setback.

There are other tweaks to the mechanics that a newcomer might not notice but an old-timer will appreciate; legacy quirks have been ironed out by default to make for a smoother experience, like being able to approach an enemy unit before picking a weapon. Since there’s already so much on your tactician’s plate, anything to help make their life a little easier is very welcome, but grizzled veterans who hate change can switch off a bunch of settings to play the game they want.

Easy on the eyes for the most part, Awakening’s presentation is a real step above prior portable outings but not quite up there with the past few home console entries. The aforementioned CG cut-scenes have some of the best art design that we’ve seen on the handheld so far, beautifully bringing the world to life with vivid anime detail. Half of the exposition makes use of illustrated talking head-style exchanges with slightly tweaked facial expressions — the art is lovely and effective for its purpose but comes off a little static somewhere around the halfway point. The 3D portions are somewhat less detailed and impressive but they too get the job done, lending some much-needed dynamism to battles even if it takes some focus to get past how none of the characters appear to have any feet. The maps don’t generally look all that remarkable but fulfill their utilitarian purpose – were they any busier then they’d likely distract, after all, and the 2D sprites used relay information more clearly than a scaled-down polygonal model would on this screen. Plus they look neat and have a lot of personality, making it really easy to spot who is who out there.

Awakening’s wonderfully smooth campaign is paired with a suite of multiplayer modes in both local and StreetPass flavors. Alongside an ally in the same room, Double Duel has each player choose three friendly units from their campaigns to march into battle against an AI army, taking turns to send in a hero and buddy unit. Defeat nets you nothing, nor do your units stay dead here, but as it isn’t the same type of tactical combat as the rest of the game – more of a stat fight, really – there’s little risk involved, and thus a less fulfilling reward. Double Duel victories yield Renown to unlock bonus items and grow a scary number next to your name for StreetPass battles, the far more interesting social mode where you select an army of 10 to send out into the ether to do battle with, recruit or buy wares from visiting platoons. StreetPass Sorties take the place of online multiplayer, which is kind of a bummer to have removed for those who never seem to find themselves around fellow 3DS owners.

Conclusion

Fire Emblem: Awakening’s masterful tightrope walk between luring in curious onlookers and appealing to the hardest of cores is a sight to behold. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve been strategizing with Marth since the NES days or only know him as the weird blue-haired guy from Super Smash Bros: Fire Emblem: Awakening’s tale of heroism, colorful cast of characters and richly rewarding gameplay are sure to sink their talons in for a very long time. Who knows, with practice a beginner might even come around to the whole perma-death challenge thing. While the multiplayer options may be a little iffy depending on your circumstances, the sheer amount of quality content and replay value make this one icon sure to spend a long time on your 3DS menu. Have no fear: Fire Emblem: Awakening is here.

Book Review: “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Eiko Kadono – MuggleNet Book Trolley

https://blog.mugglenet.com/2020/09/book-review-kikis-delivery-service-by-eiko-kadono/

Kiki’s Delivery Service is known by many as a Miyazaki classic, but few have read the 1985 novel by Eiko Kadono on which the film is based. Now, a new English translation by Emily Balistrieri is making Kiki’s story available to a whole new generation of readers. The story is by now well-known: 13-year-old Kiki has just come of age as a witch, meaning it’s time for her to leave home and find a community of her own to serve. Along with her black cat companion, Jiji, Kiki moves to the seaside village of Koriko, where she has to make a life for herself using just her ability to fly on a broomstick. She soon hits upon the idea of starting a delivery business – magical adventures ensue.

Kiki’s Delivery Service is refreshingly light and breezy in an era where many middle-grade fantasies have become elaborate operations. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that (and, indeed, some readers more used to that type of fare may find the minimal worldbuilding in Kiki a bit disappointing), but there is definitely something to be said for the gentleness of this book in a year that has seen surprisingly little of it. While the protagonist is 13, the reading level of this story is probably more appropriate for younger readers and would also make a great read-aloud, even for those who aren’t reading on their own quite yet.

Fans of the movie will find that the tone of the novel is definitely of a piece with its cinematic sibling. Each chapter features a quirky new challenge for Kiki (like rescuing musical instruments from an express train in time for a spring concert, or fixing the town clock just in time for the town’s traditional New Year’s run), which she solves with a little ingenuity, luck, and positivity.

If anything, the movie raises the stakes of Kadono’s story, which otherwise proceeds episodically throughout Kiki’s first year away from home. There is more emphasis on her relationship with her mother, also a witch, in the novel, though it was a little bemusing to read about such a young woman chafing under her mother’s influence (and the level of the book makes her seem even younger). All in all, I found the novel to be a fun, quick read that young readers looking for a little enchantment will devour.

Advance Wars Review – Review

https://www.nintendoworldreport.com/review/3803/advance-wars-game-boy-advance

So you’ve heard about Advance WARS and still not quite sure what to think? Before you even get to the review I say BUY IT!

WARS.

The name alone gives one the feeling of epic battles and huge armies throwing themselves at their foe. For Nintendo’s Intelligent Systems, this is a long running and highly innovative strategy series, which has graced nearly every Nintendo console in existence. From its early and humble beginnings on the Famicom, to the epic Super Famicom and N64 WARS… this is one of the many serials of games that should have made it to American shores, but was sadly never localized. NOA has stepped up to the bat and finally released the fifth game stateside for the GameBoy Advance. And what a game it is. As a long time RPG/SRPG fan I can honestly tell you that this is what the strategy genre is all about. It takes quite a bit to get me extremely excited about a game, but as I seem to repeat often: Intelligent Systems has yet to disappoint.

When you first boot up the game, you are treated to a flashy animé-esque intro finally revealing the title screen. Very slick. Next, you’re asked to input a name. After you’ve done so, CO (Commanding Officer) Nell will ask if you’ve ever played the game. If you aren’t familiar with the series, then I’d suggest you go through the Field Training with her. She’ll explain the basics of combat through fourteen different beginner missions to get you familiar with the units and how Rankings work.

Here’s a small overview:

  • Each Unit has 10 HP
  • As they lose HP, offense and defense become weaker
  • You can recover 2 HP per turn while stationed in an allied city
  • Some units (such as Tanks) are more effective against other units (such as Infantry)
  • Only Infantry and Mech units are able to secure and capture neutral/enemy cities/bases/factories/etc.

Keep in mind this is only scratching the surface of the game’s most simplistic mechanics. It’s not like I can spend 1500 words trying to explain the intricacies of Infantry tactics or ramble on about how to effectively use Md Tanks.

Then you’re taken into “Campaign” mode. The essential plot is how a certain Blue Moon CO, Olaf, had seized parts of Orange Star’s land and how you’re deployed as a “Special Advisor” into reclaiming the territory. This is where you meet your first CO: Andy. He’s a tech whiz and is able to fix just about anything. Each CO (including your enemies) have a unique set of skills along with a special power they are able to unleash in battle. For instance, Andy has good all-around skills without a single real specialty. His “Hyper Repair” power will heal units 2 HP and give them extra offense and defense until the end of that turn. Meanwhile, CO Max is best at the offensive, his heavy Tanks (and anything mechanical) packing an extra heavy punch at the enemy. To make this even more of an overkill, his power “Max Force” gives even more power to his units. However, his glaring weakness is his complete lack of indirect combat skills. His Artillery and Rocket units are weaker than normal and don’t even get that big of a range! Players really need to keep in mind the pros and cons of certain COs when playing a map. Some areas are clearly more suited to one type of Commander than another.

Campaign mode, however, is quite possibly the smallest area of the game (barring Field Training). After each completed map you are awarded a certain amount of “Advance Coins”, depending on how high of a rank you were awarded in the previous battle. These can be used in the “Battle Map” shop on the main screen. Here you can buy maps to use in the “Vs Mode”, “War Room” and “Link Mode” areas along with unlock COs and other secrets. The “War Room” is a series of maps (most of which must be purchased) that helps hone your tactical skills. Make no mistake, these areas can be tough, even with the ideal CO. This is the only other mode that awards you Advance Coins. Also, you can gain higher ranks through this area. The greatest “addition” in my opinion, is the “Design Maps” option. Thank you Intelligent Systems! Here you can create and save entirely customized maps. Have an idea for the nastiest four-way brawls? This is your home! In fact, with the Link Cable you’re able to trade your maps with friends.

This brings me to multiplayer. Unfortunately, I don’t have many people near me so I was only able to test it via CPU opponents. However, that said: it is extremely addictive. You choose up to four COs, choose your Map and can set a variety of options including “Fog of War”, how you’re going to win (Capture HQ, kill all units, capture a certain amount of bases, etc.,) and various other conditions. Players take turns fighting and setting up. It can get a bit tiring waiting for your turn when there’s four players, but I’m sure with actual people to play with, trash-talking will take an all new meaning.

Graphically and aurally this game is rich and quite spectacular. It’s a sin to use anything less than a good set of headphones with this game! Myself, I tend to jack my AGB into my uber|337 PC speakers to enjoy the games great tracks. Each CO has a unique theme song that plays during his turn. The best way to describe the style is a hard industrial beat, and it goes very well with the military trappings of the game. Even the “Map Design” and Save music is great! In fact the Map Design track reminds me of Earthbound’s quirky jazz-like ramblings. This is a good thing. NOA should take my hints and release an OST for this game. I oftentimes find myself humming along with one of the CO’s themes even when I’m nowhere near the game. Even the sound effects are top-notch. Tanks grumble along and explosions sound quite realistic. The graphics might be considered “simple” by some but I heartily disagree. Every unit is completely unique and has its own battle animations. In fact, each army has a different design for the same units. So while your Orange Star Tanks might look one way, the Green Earth’s will look entirely unique. No cheap palette-swapping techniques here. The presentation is extremely slick, like something you’d get out of an animé movie. Your COs have a variety of expressions, and their portraits are located at the top of the screen during battle animations. For instance when you destroy an enemy unit with Andy, he’ll start laughing and hold up his hand in the “V” sign. If his unit is wiped out he’ll blink and cringe. In fact, the COs will even have different expressions depending on the odds of the battle. If the CO’s unit is weakened, he will be concerned and apprehensive, while the opposing CO will smirk in confidence.

Menus are simple but stylish & easily read. Overall this game has the flash to match its personality. There’s charm and yet a “seriousness” to the game that I can’t quite pinpoint. This definitely isn’t a child’s game: it can be quite hard. In fact, unless you’re familiar with the genre and the series it can get almost impossible at times. I’ve been getting A and S ranks for the duration of the game (no small feat I’ll tell you,) but I know other staffers have had problems at times and even readers who frequent our chat get stuck. That’s the biggest “flaw” with this game. Intelligent Systems has created the one of the best strategy games of all time, but it is clearly aimed at hardcore fans. Since US gamers hadn’t even heard of the series before NOA began localization, it brings a bit of a problem. That said, buy this game before I hunt you down and beat you. It really is that good. Once you’re into the game, strategies get easier to think up and there’s nothing stopping you from restarting a map if things go really awry.

Intelligent Systems has never disappointed me with their games. While here at PGC we try and avoid calling games “TEH BEST TIHNG EVAR”, this is quite possibly the title that truly deserves it. The game is insanely deep, has almost unlimited replay value and has over 114 single player maps alone! IS has packed so much into this game it is positively frightening. As you plow deeper and deeper into the game you’re continually surprised at the insight that the designers had in creating this masterpiece.

So I’ll reiterate: Buy this game. Don’t even bother renting.

Now NOA, get the courage and localize Fire Emblem VI, and completely wow your fans again!

At the Pacific National Exhibition in Vancouver. Summer of 2018.

The Pacific National Exhibition (PNE) is a nonprofit organization that operates an annual 15-day summer fair, a seasonal amusement park, and indoor arenas in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. The PNE fair is held at Hastings Park, beginning in mid-to-late August and ending in early September, usually Labour Day.

The organization was established in 1907 as the Vancouver Exhibition Association, and organized its first fair at Hastings Park in 1910. The organization was renamed to the Pacific National Exhibition in 1946. During the mid-20th century, a number of facilities were built on the PNE grounds, including Pacific Coliseum and the PNE Agrodome. In 1993, the amusement park adjacent to the PNE, Playland, became a division of the PNE.

The Vancouver Exhibition Association (VEA), the predecessor to the Pacific National Exhibition organization was first formed in 1907; although the association was not incorporated until 18 June 1908. The VEA had petitioned Vancouver City Council to host a fair at Hastings Park; although faced early opposition from the city council and the local jockey club that used the park for horse races. However, the city council eventually conceded to the VEA’s request and granted the association a 5-year lease to host a fair at Hastings Park in 1909.

The VEA held its first fair at Hastings Park in August 1910. It was opened by then Canadian Prime Minister Sir Wilfrid Laurier as the Vancouver Exhibition. The biggest attractions of the two-week fair are its numerous shops, stalls, performances, a nightly fireworks show, and the exhibition’s Prize Home. From its beginnings, the exhibition was used as a showcase for the region’s agriculture and economy.

In the initial years of the Second World War, the fairgrounds saw an increased military presence. However, the exhibition itself was not cancelled until 1942, after the Canadian declaration of war against Japan was issued. From 1942 to 1946 the exhibition and fair was closed, and like the Canadian National Exhibition in Toronto, served as a military training facility for the duration of World War II. During this time, the exhibition barns that were used to house livestock, were used as processing centres for interned Japanese Canadians from all over British Columbia. The interned Japanese Canadians were later shipped away to other internment camps throughout British Columbia, and Alberta. The Momiji (Japanese word for Maple) Gardens on the PNE’s grounds serves as a memorial for the event. The barns used for the internment of Japanese Canadians are still used to house livestock during the annual fair, and serve as storage area to house some of the PNE’s property the rest of the year.

On 7 February 1946, the Vancouver Exhibition Association changed its name to its current moniker, the Pacific National Exhibition; and later reopened the fair to the public under that name in 1947. The organization was formally reincorporated as the Pacific National Exhibition in 1955.

The highest attendance at the fair was recorded in 1986, with 1.1 million guests visiting the PNE, most likely due to Expo 86 that was occurring at the time. In 1993, the amusement park adjacent to the PNE, Playland, became a division of the PNE organization.

During 1997-1998, the PNE grounds was transformed with the demolition of a number of buildings including the Food Building, Showmart and the Poultry Building. This gave way to the Sanctuary, a parkland setting with a pond. The pond restored part of a stream that once flowed in the park out to the Burrard Inlet. The city restored a large portion of the park. Many old fair buildings have been demolished and replaced by a more natural character. Although land was purchased in Surrey that was to become the fair’s new home, the PNE has since transferred ownership from the province to the City of Vancouver and will remain at Hastings Park. The PNE is a registered charity.

Two attractions at the PNE were named as heritage sites by the City of Vancouver in August 2013. The Pacific Coliseum and the Wooden Roller Coaster were added to the list.

In 2020, the fair went on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, alongside other agricultural and county fairs across Canada, including the Calgary Stampede, the Canadian National Exhibition, and K-Days.

In the early hours of February 20, 2022, a major fire broke out on PNE grounds, where multiple vehicles, tools and equipment, and buildings were destroyed as a result.

The PNE grounds contains several buildings and exhibition halls. The PNE Forum is a 4,200 square metres (45,000 sq ft) exhibition facility that is used for large displays and trade shows. Rollerland is a 1,840 square metres (19,800 sq ft) exhibition, banquet hall and venue for the Terminal City Roller Derby.

Two buildings on the PNE grounds are indoor arenas. The Pacific Coliseum is multi-purpose arena that holds 15,713 permanent seats, with provisions for 2,000 temporary seats for concerts and certain sports. The PNE Agrodome is a smaller indoor arena with 3,000 permanent seats, with provisions to expand up to 5,000 seats. Entertainment facilities includes the Garden Auditorium, a building that features a built-in stage and dance hall. The PNE grounds also feature amphitheatre with bench-style seating for 4,500 visitors.

Other buildings on the PNE grounds includes the Livestock Barns, a large multi-use facility, and the organization’s administrative offices.