One of the most important aspects of a game of the year/decade for me is the impact that a game has on the industry around it. After all, we live in a time when a fantastic game comes out, only to be chased by another just around the corner. Thus, I feel that judging a game based on its quality alone isn’t enough to capture those games that truly stand above and beyond. When it comes to Nintendo, few games this decade have impacted a franchise more positively than Fire Emblem Awakening.
Prior to the launch of Awakening, the Fire Emblem franchise was in a bad state. Years of declining sales had prompted Nintendo to deliver an alarming message to Intelligent Systems — either Awakening sold 250,000 copies, or the franchise was done. Thankfully, the developer rose to the challenge, resulting in the strongest sales in franchise history to that time. As a result of this renewed interest in the franchise, we’ve since gotten a number of mainline Fire Emblem games (including my personal game of the year, Three Houses), a few great spin-offs, and even a fantastic mobile title.
Fire Emblem Awakening’s success largely came from its ability to cater to both its existing hardcore audience as well as a newer, more casual audience. Chiefly, it introduced internationally an optional casual mode, in which defeated units could return to the battlefield after each fight. Among my friends at least, this mode is the only reason they were able to get into the series.
Another fun addition to the franchise was the Pair Up system, in which you can combine two units to act as one. Doing so provides combat bonuses, but more importantly, this system allows units to build relationships with each other. Stronger relationships not only provide you with stronger bonuses but personal character development as well. At the strongest levels, you can even marry units, which can open up the recruitment of child units later in the game. Though a bit controversial, I really like this system, as it provides extra depth to the story. If you’re playing on classic mode, losing a character you’ve come to know on a deeper level also escalates the pain you feel if you lose them. All of these features helped create one of my favorite 3DS experiences of all time.
Despite being one of the best 3DS games ever released, I’ll be the first to admit that later series entries provide a few dramatic improvements over Fire Emblem Awakening. But none of these games have had as surprising and significant an impact on the decade in gaming as Awakening has (though Three Houses hasn’t been on the market very long). After all, subsequent Fire Emblem titles wouldn’t even exist without the success Intelligent Systems found back in 2013 with its formula refinement. It’s precisely this reawakening of the Fire Emblem series that earns Awakening a spot among Nintendo’s games of the decade.