Saturday, June 21, 2014

Chrono Trigger- A biblical metaphor?

I really enjoy watching the Game Theory channel on YouTube, there are some really entertaining videos. One of the best ones is this 'theory' looking into where the game parallels with salvation history. Some of the stuff ties in with my review of CT from some time ago which you can read here

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Final Fantasy IV Review

I recently completed playing through Final Fantasy IV for the Android/IOS, a version which is, for the most part, a port of the DS version of the game. I had been looking forward to playing this version of FF4 in order to experience a new, as it were, updated, take on the classic Snes game. The game is now in 3D and features both a remastered soundtrack and a slightly revised, that is, lengthened, script. There are a few gameplay changes but it was really quite funny how for the most part entire dungeon maps were exactly the same as in the original version, albeit through a 3D lense.

Final Fantasy 4 never reached England for the Snes and so I first played FFIV on the Playstation as part of the Final Fantasy Chronicles, and this was an imported copy because, again, Square didn't release Chronicles over here either. I was probably 15 at the time, my younger brother and I chose the Hard Type version to play, and I can remember how much levelling up was involved to progress slowly but surely through a pattern of town to dungeon to town to dungeon. We enjoyed playing 4 but I remember that my teenage impression was of how much behind FF6 and Chrono Trigger seemed to be in terms of gameplay, story and characterisation. 10 years later playing the game on the IOS (and having replayed the snes version about 3 years ago as well), my opinion has completely changed- I would now rank the game as up there among my all time favourites; not only because I have come to appreciate some of the interesting novelties of ffiv gameplay, but most of all because I think in the plot and characterisation we have the most pro-Catholic of all the FF games. There are only a minor number of ethical problems with the game and these are mostly in terms of modesty, the underlying philosophy in the game and moral outlook of characters is basically Christian and we even have a natural theology that, unlike most of the FFs, accepts the existence of Almighty God and doesn't feature Him as some kind of evil overlord. Also, like Chrono Trigger, the game doesn't take itself too seriously- a major fault in most of the later FFs and most modern RPGs- they try and expound a vision of reality, a hard, tight knit science fiction narrative, rather than allowing imaginary fantasy elements to simply be imaginary elements.

Let's then go through the usual categories to analyse how supportive Final Fantasy IV is to a Catholic worldview.

 Character and identity

Each of the characters in Final Fantasy 4 has his or her own distinctive attributes profile, a feature readers may be familiar with in Final Fantasy 9. Characters are clearly determined as to what their role in battle ought to be- we have a summoner, a white mage, a ninja, a knight, a dragoon etc and each class has its own unique set of abilities. Readers of my other reviews will know that I really favour this style of gameplay mechanics in RPGs, I think it most corresponds to a true vision of vocation and that flourishing comes from living in accord with the design that God has built in to you, rather than in FFX for example, where each character is capable of eventually becoming the same as any other through the power of their own choice.

Within the narrative there are some enjoyable characters and the DS remake, featuring occasional voice-acting, brings a greater realism to them. Characters are quite sure about their vocations in life, and they are aware that living in accord with them is not an obstacle to their freedom but the enhancement of it. There is a good amount of humour running through the game, and also a sense of fraternity among the party members.

 Reality of Objective Moral laws.

The game endorse the idea that there is a real distinction between good and evil and that evil is anti-life. The crystals somehow sustain life (and unlike in FF9 there is no hard piece of sci-fi to divinize the crystals) and Golbez (controlled by Zemus) is having them stolen in order to further a wicked plan. Often Golbez uses trickery to try and get Cecil (the protagonist) and his party to obtain crystals for him, he, for example, is able to appear as allies of the party, he also seems to have a certain power over anyone who is still wedded to darkness (evil). The party does not resort to trickery in response to Golbez, and Cecil, above all, is driven by a sense of justice to conquer evil.

An area of morality where the game falls short is in modesty- all the female party members wear too little. If I was Cecil, I would tell Rosa to get some more clothes on, she is dressing like a prostitute. The worst aspect of the DS version are the dancing stripper girls that perform little dances for you if you ask them to, this was unfortunate. There is also a town where there is a brothel, and the player is able to spend a load of gil in order to be 'entertained' by a bunch of the stripper girls. On the positive side Cecil makes no comment about the situation, and a lot of the things that the NPCs say in the brothel mock the situation rather than glamorise it.


Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

This is really where the game excels. In the early part of the game Cecil is a 'dark knight' experiencing pangs of conscience upon being given orders to seize the crystal from a defenceless village. On a second mission to seize another crystal, he realises that he can't obey the orders, resulting from his expulsion from his job as commanding the 'red wings'. It is not enough the for Cecil to have rejected evil, he must also do penance and make a concerted return to the good, he returns to the town which was destroyed by his countrymen and begs forgiveness, he then has to travel to the height of a mountain in order to confront his darkness and renounce it. Cecil has a mystical experience of some kind on the mountain, where he is given a vision from a great light, and in the light he is transformed into a paladin- a Holy Knight. Through the remainder of the game Cecil is a defender of the weak and forgiving to those who have fallen through weakness. Later in the game we see how characters who have been used by the real bad guy to perform evil show sorrow for their acts, we also see them struggle to resist his influence. Kain struggles throughout the game but finally he seems to conquer himself and the temptations of evil, and as the game closes we see him on the holy mountain where Cecil had his conversion, hoping to experience a like transformation through penance.  

Divine Providence working through free will.
Do the victories of the evil one ultimately bring about his demise? The game does not reflect too deeply on this matter. Do the deeds of good men with free will somehow accomplish grand ends? I think so, a good example is the scene where the white and black mages gather to the tower of prayer and pray that the 'prophecy will be fulfilled' and their prayers are heard, bringing about the return of the 'lunar whale' who can enable the party members to travel to the moon. Another example is when, early in the game, Cecil chooses to save Rydia a summoner who has somehow survived his army's attack on an innocent city, Rydia will later prove to be essential to the party.

Self Sacrifice for others

Again, FF4 scores really high on this point, almost half of the characters who join the party attempt to sacrifice their lives to save others! The ones who survive both mourn the loss of a beloved companion and profess gratitude towards him. When I first played FF4 I was a little annoyed that a lot of the characters who sacrificed themselves for others somehow manage to survive against all odds! Looking at the game now I see this as part of the game's innocence, and also as getting the point across that virtue is rewarded, even, occasionally, in this life. My favourite act of sacrifice is performed by Tellah, where, reminiscent of the summoner from FFX, he performs a spell which ought to destroy the evil one, but he knows that performing it will take his own life. Unlike Yuna, who sadly never took this noble route, Tellah performs the meteo spell, and suffers the consequences.

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

No JRPG can be expected to have a perfect Christian Theodicy, there are always oddities. Characters mention heaven, but we don't hear much, if anything, of hell though and heaven without hell is a mockery of the divine order. Like in Chrono Trigger, there are a number of apparitions of deceased good characters, such as the King of Baron, who explains that his body is gone but his mind will live forever. Cecil's father, also deceased, appears to Cecil from beyond the grave. So there is a definite continued existence of the good. There is however a problematic statement when Edward's girlfriend, who has died, appears to him but says she must depart as "the spirit calls me onward to be part of it again", what that means who knows? But it is off from a Christian natural theology. I don't think the game makes a big deal of the statement though and I may be being over-sensitive about this.

What's absent is any idea of judgement, that is, that evil characters who have perverted their nature in this life, necessarily endure separation from the good in the next life. Slightly problematic is the fact that the deceased king says that he will now be an eidolon, that is, a 'summon'. In ff4 summons are not gods but more like fairies that have their own little town and come to help the summoner that calls upon them, this is a nice understanding of summons, but it seems a bit messy to view a dead human as becoming a fairy.

The nature of evil is slightly problematic, there is some suggestion that evil is necessary so long as there is good- the idea that the existence of light necessitates the reality of darkness. The two are not depicted as equally powerful forces though, light outshines the darkness.The final badguy is never completely destroyed and he promises that he will always exist so long as evil dwells in the hearts of men, I would have preferred if he had been destroyed and seen descend into a fiery lake of punishment, and then said, "others will follow me so long as evil dwells in the hearts of men".

 Prayer is mentioned quite a bit, the only problem with its usage though is it isn;t precisely clear to whom the prayers are being directed- and there is a possibility that by 'prayer' what the game really means is a telepathic energy source. At the very end of the game two characters depart into a lengthy sleep and promise that within this stasis they will 'pray for the peace of the planet', it is a good message.

There is no mention of God, a personal Almighty Creator of all that is, there is one line that refers to the existence of 'gods'. The FF4 universe is theistic but there is nothing as strong as the 'Entity' of Chrono Trigger.

 Conclusion


When you put FFIV alongside FFX, XIII, VI, VII, Tactics and Xenogears I think it stacks up as the most Christian of the FFs, there is no major earth-spirit Gaia theme which plagues VII and IX, and there is no 'atheism is liberation' trope like you get in X and XIII. I really enjoyed the battle system of FFIV, it is simple but enjoyable, and there are some great player abilities such as Edward's automatic 'Hide' when he is low on life, and Edge's 'throw' ability which lets him throw any piece of weaponry at an enemy. A lot of the stuff which characterises later FF gameplay is here in FFIV for the first time- I think FFIV was the first FF to have an engrossing storyline and a quality soundtrack. There aren't any minigames, there are only a couple of little sidequests, but there are plenty of secret treasure chests and enough things to make the game worth a second and more thorough play through.

FFIV is a fun game, but be prepared for a lot of grinding! Especially if you play through the DS hardtype mode. The IOS version is a lot easier that DS because it automatically saves you at spots between save points, so you lose very little if, or rather when, you happen to be knocked out in a random battle featuring ridiculously hard enemies that would be ok in a group of 2, but not a group of 5!

The game isn't the Catholic RPG I have been looking for, as Lord of the Rings could be said to be the Catholic fantasy fiction, I think that still needs to be produced, but it gets close to the heights of Chrono Trigger in some areas and in the area of 'interior struggle to pursue the good' it clearly surpasses it.

Like CT, the game wears itself lightly, it knows it is a game and lot a philosophical treatise and it doesn't try to reduce everything to matter- we have spirit, we have mind, we have prayer. I think I would be quite comfortable giving this game to a child or teenager in a way a wouldn't for a lot of rpgs. I think it can, in parts, be a preparation for the Gospel.

I'm sure many of you have played through Final Fantasy IV, I'd love to hear your take on the game and on how it supports or contradicts a Catholic worldview.









Thursday, April 17, 2014

Finding Christ in the Classics: Wiz n Liz: The Frantic Wabbit Wescue

Note: Finding Christ in the Classics will focus on finding Christian elements in old games. Not going crazy with it, such as comparing Mario's coin collecting with the Israelites collecting gold to melt into an idol, but just a general Christian theme. Hopefully I'll run this once a week every two weeks. Here is a link to two other games I did in this series on my old site.



If I could only have six or seven games from the 16-bit era of gaming (1989 to 1995), Wiz n Liz: The Frantic Wabbit Wescue, would be put in the same cupboard as classics like Super Mario World, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and SimCity 2000. This under-appreciated gem from Psygnosis, the folks who brought us Lemmings and would later go on to do the Wipeout Series, is an odd but charming little game for the Sega Genesis and Amiga that sees you running across the screen to catch rabbits and letters before the timer runs out. At the beginning, you only need to catch letters, but after a few rounds, you'll lose if you don't collect all the rabbits.

After the level is over, you can take the various pieces of fruit you've collected and mix them together for zany spells, such as all the rabbits turning different colors and bonus games, among other silly things.

Simple? Absolutely. Challenging? Very. Especially when you're running out of time, and there's that one last rabbit you need to escape the level. With your character moving at Sonic-like speeds, this can get really frantic.

I remember seeing this game advertised in the pages of Sega Visions magazine, but didn't pick it up until I was living in Pittsburgh a few months after graduating college. Instantly I was blown away. I shouldn've been surprised, as I loved Lemmings and Puggsy, two other games from the same company.

So what positive faith lesson did I take out of this simple game starring a wizard and his wife rescuing rabbits? For this, I look to the Gospel of Luke, specifically Christ's parable about the missing sheep.

In Luke's book of knowledge, Jesus tells us of a shepherd who would go looking for one sheep out of a 100, saying that heaven rejoices over one sinner repenting more so than 99 righteous people who aren't in need of grace. I thought of this Bible verse as I frantically scrambled for that last missing rabbit. In this game, it doesn't matter if you have 37 rabbits when the time runs out: If you don't have that 38th rabbit, you still lose. That missing rabbit is just as important as the rabbits you've already rescued.


There are other nice things to take away from this game. The fact that Easter is just a few days away and this game features a smorgasbord of rabbits! It's also a great two-player game that lends well to sitting on the couch with your friends or younger relatives (non-violent, another bonus for those with younger children). But the biggest thing for me is that reminder that we are all important to God.

And that's a nice thing to think about as we head into Easter. Christ died for that one sheep out of 100. And that 38th rabbit, not to mention that rotten person like me.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

8-Bit Catholic T-Shirt

I received an e-mail today from a guy who has produced an 8-Bit themed Catholic T-Shirt, he is selling them in order to try and raise money for his parish- this looks like a great thing to support. I'd also be interested to know of any other 8-bit Catholic T-Shirts, comment if you're aware of any.





The T-Shirt could be a nice way to celebrate Easter and to proclaim it around you.  It's an adaptation of Mario by the looks of things, where, whenever you complete a castle, as far as I can remember, you get told something along the lines of "Thank You, but the princess is in another castle".



Monday, February 10, 2014

Final Fantasy IX- some reflections

I recently finished playing Final Fantasy 9 from the Playstation Network and had a number of thoughts on the themes of the game from a Catholic perspective.

Character and identity

A large and recurring theme in the game is that of identity, and to its credit the game features some well crafted characters that are appealing and interesting. The game's leveling up pathways for each characters differ, as does the equipment they can wear and the abilities they can learn, something that I really like as I think it reflects faithfully the principle that each individual is created by God for a definitive role or purpose and that they find fulfillment in living according to their design.  

Ultimately every human person has been known by God from eternity inasmuch as God has known Himself from all eternity and each person reflects or embodies in creation an attribute of God Himself. In the loving gaze of the Son proceeding from the Father is contained the blueprint for all created persons. When we speak of vocation it is the objective fact that God has designed you to encapsulate in your life and personality a certain fundamental truth about Him. 

We find this in FF9 in a way we don't see in FF7 where Cloud can essentially be molded by the player into whatever role the player wishes, or in later FFs where over time characters move out from their given roles. In FF9 there is an understanding that it is good to have an identity, that the quest of finding out one's identity is a worthwhile project and that fulfillment is somehow to be found through living in accords with that identity.
Each character in FF9 struggles with these issues of identity and almost half of the characters realise that they weren't who they thought they were to some degree, they then have to adapt to the reality of who they really are and discern how this is to be lived.

From a Catholic perspective some come through this crisis better than others. I think Garnet comes out very well, she integrates the fact that she is a summoner and not the biological child of the queen very well, she is honest with herself and those near to her that her background is more complicated than it seemed and yet she realises that 'who she is' is shaped by more than just biological factors and that her calling is nonetheless to be future queen.

Steiner comes through his crisis fairly well as he realises that essentially to be a good knight requires him to serve the crown faithfully but that of even greater importance is to obey the moral law written in his heart.
Vivi is a very interesting character and probably my favourite character in the game, he has the most explicit identity crisis when he discovers that he is manufactured and manufactured to carry out an immoral purpose. 
Vivi doesn't at this point reject the fact he is a black mage, something which could have happened, or alternatively decide that he has to be an evil black mage. Vivi seeks to realise how being a manufactured black mage need not mean living a destructive life. Vivi's powers and abilities which being a black mage endows him with, can be used in a good means.  In both the case of Vivi and Zidane the ability to make friends, to experience loving relations, seems to bring life to their unfortunate inherited natures of being creatures intended to destructive purposes.

Here is a glimpse of the reality that each of us, regardless of how messed up our family background is, possesses a fundamental vocation to love and that in loving others the meaning of our lives in illuminated. When we love and give ourselves in love we come closer to enabling who we really are, in God's plan, to surface.

Reality of Objective Moral laws.

Final Fantasy 9 actually does fairly well here, much better than 10 or 12, there are clear “conscience characters” such as Vivi and Steiner who are reliable in asserting the moral order. Everyone knows that the mage-manufacturing is objectively wrong, that it is an undignified way to come into the world and a perversion of the natural creative order- it doesn't need to be vocalised, it is presumed quite rightly that what is going on is wrong and that an objective moral law that is being broken.  

Interior Struggle to pursue the good.

We don't see too many occasions where characters have to fight their fallen side and selfish inclinations to do what is right, perhaps in Steiner as he vows to rescue to princess or fights to the end to try and defend the castle. The good characters generally find it easy to pursue the right course. When it comes to the struggle to remain pure and live a chaste life, there are some problems with modesty on behalf of Garnet and clearly Zidane has issues with the ninth commandment. Overall however the game is not generally impure, even if there is no recognition of the battle to remain chaste which we must all undertake and the virtue in being victorious in this fight. That Cid experiences a punishment for his womanising behaviour is treated with humour, but certainly it seems that after the experience of having been a variety of different creatures, he is quite sure that he is now going to remain faithful to his wife, nor does he have any resentment towards her but realises that her punishment on him had been deserved in some sense.


Divine Providence working through free will.

There is no reference to providence or the concept that there is higher power at work in bringing about the good. There is some irony in that Garland's instruments to destroy Gaia end up destroying him. That evil destroys itself through its wicked schemes is an important truth that the game seems to echo a number of times.

Self sacrifice for others

On quite a number of times we see characters choosing to stay to fight with their friends when the friend wishes to go on a solo vendetta. There is a very strong emphasis on the value of fighting for the good and being willing to join another in his own personal struggle for what is right. At the end of the game we even see Zidane wishing to undergo great danger to be with Kuja, and even possibly to save him, he does this on the basis of understanding that he could have easily become like Kuja, and also after recognising that Kuja has been responsible for teleporting the party into safety. 

Basic Christian Theodicy- Monotheism, Goodness of creation, understanding of eternal reward/punishment based on moral behaviour.

 After having commented on how supportive the game is to a basic Christian worldview we finally come to its major weakness! Unfortunately, the game has major problems in the area of the natural theology. Only gradually do the problems become apparent and they are generally confined to the last disc. I will outline three problem areas.

1) The game has the typical FF poison of viewing souls as recyclable, the idea that, after you die, your soul returns to the planet, to then, at a later point be given to another individual. This idea essentially does away with any concept of reward or punishment for good and evil, and the fate of each is exactly the same- essentially annihilation. This means that the whole emphasis on identity and character present throughout the game is rendered rather meaningless for ultimately you have no lasting identity, you are a recycled soul that will, very soon, sink back into the mush of soul energy. The nature of the soul is even more problematically presented as the game explains how the souls of the dead that are inside the planet can be sucked up to be used to power airships, and indeed to animate artificial creatures. This undermines the previous strength of the game in emphasising the dignity of the individual as a person with a unique identity and so the player is ultimately left very confused as to whether his life has any meaning at all, or indeed, whether his life actually is uniquely his own or is some kind of reincarnation job.


2) Then there is the problem about how the game answers its own ongoing question of "what is the meaning of life?" The issue is significant for Vivi because he does not have a clear identity/ character which can easily offer his life meaning. Vivi, at one point in the game, perhaps its highest point, considers what it means to die and whether life continues after death, the moment is profound and well crafted. 

Sadly the conclusion he comes to at the end of the game and the solution that the game promotes is the following: A) that 'our memories live on'   and B) that we should live life “to the full” while we can. With respect to the first 'solution' (A) the game proposes a bizarre theory that all life, apparently having evolved from space dust, has a connection to each other and that the connection carries the memory of lower life forms- I'd like to see how consoling that doctrine is to someone on their deathbed. It is philosophically ridiculous for obvious reasons. Even if we take the view that memories have a physical side to them and are in some way impressed upon the brain, it is certain that a rock or a particle in space cannot possess a memory, Furthermore, even if memories are simply physical qualities of the brain, the brain is not, in its entirety transmitted in sexual reproduction. Aside from the nonsense pseudo science, at its most basic sense, Vivi's first solution is not evil and it has some basis in scripture. In the Old Testament there is a strong sense at times that it is a good thing to be remembered as an honorable person in order to be an example and encouragement for future generations. The point is however; our memories do not live on somewhere out there, floating around in the sky. Our memories do live on, in as much as God wills it, as infused knowledge in the separated soul that has gone forth to be judged by him

The second solution (B) is much more pernicious and undermines a lot of what is good about the game, it is fundamentally the assertion of atheist existentialists- that life is meaningless but enjoy the ride and forget about how meaningless the whole thing is.
What should have Vivi said from his position as living before divine revelation? Well, ideally Vivi could have concluded A) our memories live on and B) Our lives have value from the good we achieve in them. C) The good we perform goes with us into the unknown of the next life to bring us some kind of reward.
3) Finally, in terms of natural theology, the game suffers, in its closing few hours, from a bizarre theological idea that all life, all souls, all existence, somehow depends on this giant space crystal and that if the space crystal is destroyed everything falls into annihilation.... The Almighty space crystal which is completely inert, indifferent, unthinking, rock is somehow the source of the existence of life- both spiritual and physical. Furthermore, the Almighty space crystal needs its creatures to defend it! Finally, the fact that the crystal is a thing, existing in the universe, causes anyone with a little bit of philosophical reasoning to realise that a thing, existing in the universe, itself composed of parts cannot be the eternal uncreated, source for the universe. Because the crystal is a material thing we can reasonably ask "how, indeed, did this crystal get there?"- Things don't simply exist they require an explanation. Even if the space crystal is the cause of other material life, the space crystal needs an uncreated, eternal, spiritual, immutable cause.

  Conclusion
  
Overall I enjoyed playing FFIX- from a gamer’s point of view the game has a lot going for it- the music, the battle system, the lightheartedness, the character development. The game is also the very peak of the psx graphical capabilities. The battles system had fewer cracks in it compared to 8, which could easily be broken by the gamer and the summons are a lot shorter to watch! I’m probably rate it above ff8 and ff12 but under ff7 and 10.As the game went on I was disappointed with the nonsense Japanese new agey stuff that infects the otherwise healthy portrayal of characters trying to work out their place in the universe. The plot isn't as insidious as FFX, Xenogears or Final Fantasy Tactics but it isn't a preparation for the Gospel by any means.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Captain Falcon: Roman Catholic?

This fascinating bit of gaming trivia brought to you by the fine folks over at The Gamer's Atlas, who hosted a gaming trivia quiz show panel at ACEN this past weekend: Captain Falcon, Nintendo's iconic F-Zero/Super Smash Bros. mascot, is a Roman Catholic.



Skeptical? Incredulous? Well, so was I. When I pressed the panelists for a source for this information, I was told that one of the Game Boy Advance F-Zero titles lists Falcon's religion in the instruction manual. A quick google search neither confirms nor denies this, but Captain Falcon's Catholicism is apparently well-known to Super Smash Bros. fandom. Behold Brawl in the Family's "Captain Falcon at Church," completed back in 2009:



All silliness aside, I think that Catholics could do worse than having Captain Falcon as "token" gaming representation. Certainly, given his character development in F-Zero GX, we should be downright thrilled. If anyone can find better verification of Falcon's Catholicism, I'd love to see it! 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Fire Emblem Awakening Review

Shipping delays notwithstanding, the release of Fire Emblem: Awakening couldn't have come at a more opportune time for me. It's been years since I played a Fire Emblem game. It's also been years since I wrote a review for Catholic Video Gamers (shame, shame on me, I know). As an added bonus, I also get an excuse to brush the dust off my Nintendo 3DS. Trifecta!

                                             

Despite my years-long hiatus from the series, I recognized the game's many features almost instantanously: the rock-paper-scissors weapon mechanic; the (slowly) expendable items; the Final Fantasy-esque class system. These were all features of the first Fire Emblem I played on the Game Boy Advance years ago, and features I am thrilled to say have survived the test of time. Yet I also noticed significant changes and new features to the gameplay, as well. For example, the class system is greatly expanded from its previous incarnations, allowing greater flexibility in character development. There's now multiplayer battles and a plethora of downloadable content. The “tutorials” (if one wants to call them that) are integrated seamlessly so as to allow players familiar with previous Fire Emblem games to quickly immerse themselves into this version without needless hand-holding, while providing for quick, rudimentary lessons for newcomers. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the series' signature gameplay mechanic, permadeath (in which characters that fall in battle can NEVER. COME. BACK!!!!) is now optional in Awakening. Purists may lament this alteration, but neverfear, traditionalists: you can still play the old fashioned way if you want.

Presentation-wise, Awakening is something of a watershed moment for the series. Graphically, the game looks just slightly less impressive than its console brethren; were it not for a few pixelated character models, I'd presume I was playing a Gamecube or Wii game. There's a supplemental first-person camera for the game's battles, and players can re-watch the game's numerous cutscenes – both Fire Emblem firsts. Perhaps the most singularly spectacular element of Awakening, however, is its musical score. It features fewer tracks than most other JRPG soundtracks, but it's a worthy trade-off: Awakening's musical score is the epitome of quality over quantity.



Multiple critics have compared this game, in positive terms, to a Soap Opera. I'm not sure how that makes Awakening different from any other Fire Emblem iteration, or any other SRPG for that matter. In terms of story, Awakening provides the usual JRPG fare: a campaign setting, static characters, and melodramatic plot developments. Without spoiling anything, the plot isn't entirely linear, and it's engaging (though not quite engrossing): there are a few "wow" moments, but they come less frequently (and, perhaps because of their infrequence, seem less contrived) than the Deus Ex Machinas in, say, Downton Abbey. There is a recurring Christ-figure trope that finds a particular resonance by the game's finale, but the nuances of this thematic element are left mostly unexplored. On the whole, Awakening's storyline is fractionally better than the standard JRPG narrative - which isn't saying much, though it is saying something.

Having spent 40+ hours during the past 2-3 weeks completing the game, I can say with surety that Awakening lived us to its name, especially if you're a sedated 3DS fan looking for an excuse to boot up your system. It's not quite the quintessential gaming experience that its metacritic score would suggest it is, but it is nonetheless a well-produced title that represents an organic evolution of a solid gaming franchise. Worth playing.  

Final grade: B