Fire Emblem: Awakening will be the first major release for the 3DS this year, and after spending a weekend playing the demo version it is clear that if this is the level of accessibility we can expect in Nintendo’s upcoming titles, it will be a good year for physically disabled gamers.
To begin with, Fire Emblem’s core concept is inherently barrier free. The game revolves around the idea of building your squad by adding soldiers with particular specialties and then taking them into battle against groups of adversaries. The game’s main mechanic is turn-based combat, which means that it will be playable not only with one hand, but if necessary the game can be thoroughly enjoyed with just the use of one finger. Awakening seems to be a game that rewards planning and strategy rather than quick reflexes, which is good news for players with fine motor disabilities. When not in battles, the interface is just as accessible since each decision is made by pressing buttons one at a time rather than simultaneously. As a result, this game should impose very few barriers on players with fine motor disabilities.
Players with hearing disabilities should be able to enjoy Fire Emblem as well. From the demo, it was clear that most of the game’s vital information is conveyed with boxed-subtitles similar to those in the Pokémon series. However, one concern arose when the game’s visually stunning cinematics did not seem to have subtitles. This was a shame because if this were the case, players who relied on subtitles would not be able to enjoy the game’s lore. The story revolves around Lord Chrom, Protector of Ylisse, discovering and battling the insidious Risen alongside a character whom the player designs and a mysterious figure bearing the legendary name of Marth. It would be a shame if players with hearing disabilities were cut out from experiencing such a well-executed story. However, when going through the demo a second time, I was able to access the settings menu and turn on the cinematic subtitles. This change seems to have added thorough enough subtitles to every part of the game that any player, regardless of hearing ability, should be able to appreciate Fire Emblem’s story.
Another impressive feature that Awakening uses to make the game more accessible is the way it treats the Nintendo 3DS’s second screen. In other turn-based strategy games such as Final Fantasy: Tactics, players with visual disabilities are often at a loss because they cannot read the important information that is displayed on such a tiny screen. However, Fire Emblem: Awakening shunts all of that information off of the main screen and onto the 3DS touch screen. This results in two substantial impacts on gameplay. First is an uncluttered battle interface. There is not much information that overlays across the map of each battle, making it easier for players to sort through important information. Second, because information such as the characters’ stats is given its own screen, it is presented using a much larger font than in similar games, which will make it easier for gamers with sight disabilities to read the important information that a game like this hinges on.
But the best news for players with all disabilities is the amount of customization that Fire Emblem allows. Everything from the design of the player’s particular character to the abilities and classes of their squad mates is up to the player. This extensive amount of customization deepens the experience and provides a better escape for gamers with all disabilities. Overall, I was incredibly impressed with the Fire Emblem: Awakening demo, and I can’t wait to get my hands on the actual game on February 4.