I reviewed Fire Emblem: Awakeningback in January and I absolutely loved it. In fact, I still boot it up a couple of times a week to check item box updates, get a few random battles in, and see if there's any new downloadable content, which has been streaming in steadily since before the game was officially released. There's been quite a bit of DLC for Awakening already, and as the original Japanese release of the game saw its number of add-ons scurry on into the dozens, it seems extremely likely that that gravy train will keep a-rollin' for Nintendo's coffers in the rest of the world, too. That aforementioned meaty, saucy locomotive doesn't necessarily deliver the goods to your 3DS in return, however. After playing through the first four packs of extended content for Awakening, I have more than a few grievances to air to regarding how such a stupendous game is being so flatly, greedily monetized.
Awakening DLC is sold in sets of three maps, and each has been either $6.00 or $6.50 USD thus far. The "Golden Pack" - second of the first four releases - is by far the worst offender and greatest epitomizer of the greed I discussed earlier. As the name suggests, the three levels in this set revolve around bolstering your army through great wealth. Each of the three maps included - "The Golden Gaffe," "EXPonential Growth," and "Infinite Regalia" - focus on one particular aspect of progression (gold, experience points, and powerful weaponry, respectively). Problem is, the developer made no attempts to disguise the fact that these maps are blatant boosts to your power intended to make the game easier; the pack advertises itself based on that premise in the eShop and Outrealm Gate, even! These maps shower your party in gold, experience boosts and otherwise rare gear in a manner not unlike ugly pay-to-win microtransactions in an MMORPG. Except it's worse: enemies don't even engage your party. That's right: foes don't even actively attack you during your stay on these maps. They just run from one end to the other, attacking only when you engage them, and after four turns, they clear the map, your ill-begotten spoils are awarded, and that's it.
The remaining three opening releases - the "Champions Pack," "Lost Bloodlines Pack," and "Smash Pack" - fare a little better, but these too can't manage to capture much of the excitement and drama of the main campaign.
Each battle in these packs is accompanied by a brief introductory and concluding chat with Old Hubba, a strange, inter-dimensional fortune teller who sends you to the worlds of previous Fire Emblem titles via the Outrealm Gate, a map location that becomes available after completing the sixth chapter of Awakening's story. It's all a flimsy framework to shoot you into quick, simple battles starring famous characters from series' past. Marth, Ike, Alm, Julia - these and countless other players from the ten(!) Fire Emblem titles prior to this one make their appearance in these Outrealm adventures. The setup of these maps carry an obvious air of nostalgia, feelings that are probably seeded moreso in the game's native Japanese audience who have been aware of the series a decade longer than North Americans. So while the supposed main attraction of these maps is likely a little lost on newcomers, each of these packs at least delivers more of that delicious Fire Emblem combat, no mean feat in itself. They'll also serve as a historical curiosity for some, as past series events are explored and some radical, original NES tunes are played.
Once the land is cleared and the battle won, Old Hubba hands you off a new Einherjar card, allowing you to summon one of those old, powerful series favourites to your own party. These legacy characters often pack a mean punch, and it's a neat, if weirdly anachronistic thrill to be able to take them back into the main campaign with you. Like most everything else in these packs, however, it's just not needed. I can't think of a game that needs more base content less than Fire Emblem: Awakening. The more silly, nostalgic tone in the writing can be refreshing, and the core battles involved are fine, but the game is already packed with endless random encounters that provide more challenge, for free. Paying two bucks a pop for missions that can be completed in four or five turns each just isn't my idea of fun, and I can't imagine that it is for many others.
It's really too bad that the way Awakening deftly combines its incredible tactical combat with moving and colorful storytelling - the thing that really puts it over the top as one of the finest games this year - isn't represented in this extensive DLC catalogue. There are plenty of ways that these profound connections between action and downtime could be expanded on through extra content. So far, though, nostalgic pandering and little else has been the order of the day. If you've mopped up all of Awakening's base content and just can't resist the lure of more to do, the non-Golden packs offer up some enjoyable, if bare bones and hollow fracas to take part in. It all reeks of a bit too much money for a bit too little effort, though, and I wouldn't recommend any of the first four packs to any but the most diehard fans.
Sadly, the "Champions," "Golden," "Lost Bloodlines" and "Smash Pack" all get a pass on this, the first roundup of Awakening DLC.
Coming soon on the Fire Emblem DLC roundup, we'll be checking out the next two packs for the game - "Rogues" and "Challenge" - both of which are rumoured to bring a heat that will make even experienced parties sweat. Until next time, here's hoping that these latest packs manage to invigorate the source game in ways these initial maps just couldn't manage.