Playing 'Fire,' 'Skulls' a winning strategy
Feb 02, 2013 (Boston Herald - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --
"Fire Emblem: Awakening" By Nintendo for the 3DS. Rated T for teen. Grade: A
"Skulls of the Shogun" By 17Bit for the Xbox 360, PC, Windows Phone and Microsoft Surface. Rated T for Teen. Grade: A-
I could never get into chess. It's too complex and boring. I do love a good strategy game, though, and two great ones are hitting shelves next week.
"Fire Emblem: Awakening" brings Nintendo's long-running tactical role-playing game to the 3DS. It's a sprawling, turn-based fantasy epic with the story twists and personal relationships of a soap opera. It's like "Game of Thrones" with just as much death, but none of the pay cable sexuality.
"Awakening" puts you in charge of an amnesiac military genius who devises tactics for the warrior prince Chrom and his loyal soldiers. Together, they fight a series of foreign invaders while slowly unraveling your character's mysterious background. Character interactions are more interesting than the plot itself, and those relationships develop and strengthen as units fight alongside each other. Eventually, characters marry and have children who grow to fight with their parents.
The story is told via anime-style cut-scenes, but the battles are like high-tech versions of chess. The battle-field is a giant grid that you view from above while moving- your units and attacking enemies. Your units have different strengths and abilities depending on their class. Knights can deal punishing attacks with any kind of melee weapon. Wyvern knights can cover large swaths of territory upon their flying dragons. Mages and clerics use magic to hurt enemies or heal friends. Traditional RPG stats dictate your units' abilities, and when their hit points drop to zero, they die permanently, unless you're playing the new Casual mode.
Because the game is on the 3DS, you should have no trouble knocking out a few chapters while on the train or on your lunch break.
The charming "Skulls of the Shogun" is less serious about its strategy but no less addictive. You control the ghost of a fallen samurai general as he rages against the guardians of the underworld. It isn't as time-consuming or complex as "Fire Emblem: Awakening" -- the maps are smaller, the interchangeable units only come in three classes (infantry, cavalry and archers), and you don't have to worry as much about defense as units can be purchased mid-battle. Still, it's a smart, funny and self-aware take on a genre that's often earnest to a fault.
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