At a preview event on Wednesday, Nintendo demonstrated its upcoming 3DS strategy game, giving the media a glimpse at its secondary features. My time with it left me intrigued. It's rare to see StreetPass bonuses and DLC embedded so deeply in the single-player experience.
Fire Emblem: Awakening's DLC plan, for the most part, has already been revealed. We've been aware that characters such as Marth, Roy, Ike, and other franchise luminaries will be available via an in-game variant of the eShop. What I hadn't realized until now, however, is that there are actual rewards for completing a map in the game. This approach works better than other games with additional character because the bonus cast doesn't feel completely untethered from the single-player campaign. In Fire Emblem: Awakening's DLC, players must successfully complete a map before they are rewarded with the additional character. It's an approach that makes me that much more inclined to spend real money on Fire Emblem (even better, the first DLC map will be free at launch).
The StreetPass feature also parcels out characters, but in a slightly different way. If you happen to be lucky enough to pass another Fire Emblem: Awakening owner, their customized avatar will appear on the map along with their party. Visiting the StreetPassed character gives you the opportunity to buy their weapons, or if you have the money, recruit the avatar into the party. So theoretically, I could end up using a Fire Emblem party that consists entirely of my friends (at which point they would proceed to die senselessly, because that's how Fire Emblem rolls). In a nice touch, adding a friend to the party isn't necessarily a question of money. It's also possible to challenge their party to duel for the honor of adding the leader to your party.
What I really like about both of these features is that they aren't tucked away in a menu somewhere. They are fully-integrated into the world map, which lends them a certain legitimacy that might otherwise be lacking. The DLC mixes seamlessly with the on-cart content.
Fire Emblem's map, for its part, offers more freedom than past games in the series. Instead of simply proceeding from one chapter to the next, it's now possible to wander around the map and accept side quests, recruit StreetPassed characters, or visit the aforementioned in-game eShop. It's not really a new thing for strategy games – Final Fantasy Tactics has had a similar degree of autonomy for some time now – but more freedom is invariably a good thing. And in case you're wondering, it's not possible to simply grind side quests and bonus maps before sweeping through the main quest. Campaign enemies will match your characters level for level.
It's the implementation of the StreetPass functionality that really impresses me though. So often it's a throwaway feature – a fun little extra that doesn't amount to much in the end. In Fire Emblem though, it feels like a great deal more. I love the idea of being able to challenge my friends to asynchronous multiplayer duels and recruit their avatars to my cause. I really hope something similar appears in the newly-announced Pokemon X and Pokemon Y, because it would be great to be able to challenge random passersby in-game (and then crush them without mercy).
After a period of dormancy dominated by relatively disappointing entries on the Nintendo DS, it seems the Fire Emblem series is ready to come on strong with its 3DS debut when Awakening launches on February 4.
Kat Bailey is a freelance writer based out of San Francisco, California. Her work has been featured on multiple outlets, including GamesRadar, Official Xbox Magazine, gamesTM, and GameSpot. You can follow her on Twitter at @the_katbot.