Take them with you.
Last year, strategy enthusiasts indulged themselves in X-COM: Enemy Unknown, forming relationships with their units and dealing death to alien invaders in Firaxis's reboot of the classic franchise. Nintendo follows that with another strategy rebirth of sorts in the 11th original title of the Fire Emblem series.
And while Americans were introduced to Marth and Roy via Super Smash Bros. Melee, the series has been warmly welcomed by sword and sorcery enthusiasts more interested in ordering soldiers around the field than bearing arms themselves. While Fire Emblem: Awakening is the first entry on 3DS, it remains to be seen if the series is still worth carrying around in your pocket or if strategy is better on the big screen.
Awakening gives you choices for the main character's hair, face, gender, and height, before the character must survive his or her role in the trials ahead. Those generally revolve around bandits, warring nations, and a persistent sense of peril. In that effort, you join a group of warriors called "The Shepards" and are quickly whisked off from battle to battle.
As you progress, the overworld map is filled with new story missions and Paralogues, urging you onto the next battle, but you'll quickly find that some of the most rewarding systems are outside of combat. Awakening layers combat, gear, and story with a sweet, heavy cream of character development. You'll see members of your team talk to each other in story cutscenes, but off the battlefield, characters will meet and develop relationships in their headquarters.
The more frequently characters fight side by side on the field, the faster they'll level up socially. Two characters might become so close that marriage and a child aren't far away. That child can then join your fight, meaning you can combine the stats of two particularly high-power characters to devastating effect.
The cutscenes that play out between two fighters are rewarding in and of themselves, but these social links also aid your battle stats. Leveling up socially can sometimes be more rewarding than leveling up in game.
Fire Emblem: Awakening also astounds visually in its diminutive 8-bit characters and full 3D cutscenes. Pushing units around on the battlefield is smooth and fast. Battle scenes are skippable, but you might enjoy the way your characters gang up and beat a level-boss to death in 3D.
With the top screen focused on the battlefield, the bottom screen is free to present copious amounts of battle information. You can see your unit's health, your opponent's stats, tile advantages, and more. Awakening continually focuses you on the objectives at hand, whether you're defending the Queen or investigating a border dispute.
Nintendo's gorgeous animé-inspired cutscenes are easily the best cinematics I've seen on the 3DS and I excitedly cranked the 3D-slider all the way up when they started. Even a passing interest in the series is handsomely rewarded in production value, in everything from movies to the soundtrack. While I'd continue to gush, I tried the game on a "regular" 3DS and found the graphics much smaller and less suited to the screen. The XL's larger top and bottom screen allowed more detail and greater readability.
Fire Emblem's typically looming difficulty curve has been cured in Awakening thanks to a host of different menu options, allowing the player to choose from three difficulty options as well as whether character deaths in-game are permanent or if they simply get "Knocked-Out" in battle instead.
That leaves as pure a strategy-epoch as possible intact, meaning anyone with a passing interest in the genre and brand can get sucked into the small dramas that play out in every turn. The time invested into growing characters together will also bond them to you.
When a critical hit killed my Sumia (a pegasus-riding female knight with ties to lead-character Chrom), I gasped and fumbled for the power button, ignoring menus for the instinctual on-off switch. X-COM: Enemy Unknown reached the same kind of gut-wrenching highs, but the sheer volume of well-written characters in Awakening means you don't need to fill in your favorite soldier's backstory.
Fire Emblem: Awakening rivals Super Mario 3D Land as the best piece of software in the burgeoning 3DS library. It's measured, paced, well-written narrative is only rivaled by the personal side-stories that chain some small digital soldier to your heart. Even if you're not a fan of the genre, you can find an intense wealth of value and entertainment somewhere in the barracks.