Nintendo and Intelligent Systems managed to save the Fire Emblem series from cancellation with Fire Emblem Awakening back in 2013 (2012 in Japan), as that game managed to not only breathe new life into the series, but also managed to expand the audience of the franchise. It did so well that two of the characters, Lucina and Robin, made it into Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, not to mention they are still some of the most sought after Amiibo from Nintendo’s line of collectible figures. Now it’s 2016, and Fire Emblem Fates is their follow up to the previous title, but with a special twist. Instead of one release, it was decided to release Fire Emblem Fates as three titles: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. For this review, all three versions will be covered and will be given individual scores, plus a score for Fire Emblem Fates: Special Edition that contains all three titles.
Fire Emblem Fates gives players a difficult choice, as each game represents a different path for the main character once they reach chapter six. Upon finishing the battle, the main character, the custom avatar Corrin, has to choose to either side with one of two opposing armies, or choose not to take a side. Birthright represents choosing Corrin’s birth family, as the land of Hoshido is a feudal Japan inspired country that cherishes peace and harmony. Conquest represents the family that Corrin was raised by, hailing from the land of Nohr, a dark and dreary place full of monsters, dark magic, and hellbent on destroying Hoshido. Picking the downloadable option of Revelations gives the player the choice to recruit characters from both armies, deciding to make a new path that takes players to a new land.
One thing that fans of the series may notice in this game is that the presentation has been improved quite significantly, as character models can be customized a bit further with special accessories, map details show up in battle to give great variety in visuals, and the game offers new features like Amiibo support and even online multiplayer battles. Even the gameplay offers new features, like changes to the character pairing where enemies can pair up, automatic switching between healing staves and weapons (so healers aren’t left defenseless when attacked), Phoenix Mode where fallen characters revive after one turn, and the new Dragon Vein spaces that allow “royal” characters to modify the map. These modifications can be a number of things from freezing lakes, flattening mountains, and even placing dangerous obstacles or traps for the enemy. It really feels like a good direction of the series and it makes one wonder if some or all of these features will make their way in future games.
Intelligent Systems also managed to reuse some character designs and assets from Fire Emblem Awakening, which can be viewed as lazy by some, but still manages to work well in the grand scheme of things. Gameplay still uses the tried and true rock-paper-scissors method as seen in previous entries and the class changing system remains more or less the same. A lot of returning elements from Awakening are still here, like the aforementioned character pairing feature, marriage between S-rank support characters, their children being added into the mix, and multiple class change options per character. Fans of Awakening would be able to familiarize themselves with these games no problem.
One of the newest features is My Castle, which adds a sort of home for the player to return to after each battle. This is where players can buy new items, further build their support, and even earn resources to put towards forging weapons together or buying new accessories. Some of the buildings are merely just for fun, like the bath house, while others are there to improve character stats like the mess hall. It makes for great character development as well as all characters take turns rotating jobs, making it fun to see one go from chef to prison guard. This mode in itself can grow quite addicting and can have hours spent just making the castle efficient. Add the fact that players can visit other player castles and take resources from them, and even fight them in their castle, and this is practically a full game in the game itself. Players can go through the game without doing much with My Castle, but there are huge benefits for players that do.
There are downloadable chapters that players can play as well, though mostly for a fee (stay tuned as we have a Map Pack 1 code to give away to one lucky reader). These typically can be used to get more money, more experience, new weapons, or just provide fun story content. It’s worth noting that just because these are downloadable chapters, it does not lower the stakes. Fire Emblem will still take no problem in permanently killing off a character that falls in battle, even if fighting in a battle that isn’t part of the story. This goes for invasion battles as well, as certain points of the game, the player’s castle will be invaded by enemy armies. There are a lot of similarities between the three versions of the game, but there are also a lot of differences.
Starting off with Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, this is the game that is recommended for players new to the franchise. Battles are typically easier, there are more options to gain experience for training characters, and most characters in the story tend to be of the nicer variety. After choosing to side with Hoshido, the player must live with the fact that the family their character grew up with will view them with vile disdain, being branded as a traitor. It’s unfortunate, but Hoshido accepts Corrin with open arms, offering a cast of characters that tend to be more cheerful, encouraging, and in some cases, a little overconfident. Of course as an individual that spent most of their life in Nohr, some characters take longer to earn their trust, but overall the relationships seem very honest and realistic.
Birthright is considered to be the closest version to Fire Emblem Awakening, offering a decent challenge but given a bit more freedom to experiment and play with various characters. Given the feudal Japan style, weapons and classes are given a slight variation than what players might be used to, given katana instead of swords, animal spirit scrolls instead of elemental magic, and with classes like Samurai and Kinshi Knights. The Hoshido music is appropriately themed and the aesthetic of their country is very fitting, which even carries over into the My Castle mode.
The maps in this version are pretty straightforward, typically involving going across with an army and taking down a boss enemy, the map clearing once all enemies are defeated. There are some occasional changes, like battles where the odds are entirely against the player and tasks them with escaping the map before being overwhelmed. The designs are varied but simple enough for beginners, and even veterans can still have fun while they breeze through to get the story details they need for the other games to put all the pieces together.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright offers a strong but simple story, so it’s a great place to start between the three versions. Some characters might have questionable voice overs, though the characters themselves are still fun and work well with the support conversations that players will have the option to see throughout the game. Being the easier option still doesn’t mean characters won’t die on players, so the new Phoenix Mode can help rectify that for newcomers. Regardless, with an easier option makes for a fairly quicker playthrough, which is good for players that wish to play all three versions quickly.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright Score – 9 out of 10
Moving on to Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, this was meant to be the more challenging entry. No longer is the player given the option to grind out for experience, having to choose their army carefully to focus on who they wish to train throughout the game. Since the game only has a set number of chapters, it gives for a lot less room for swapping characters out and sort of forces the player to play with one set army in mind. Obviously, new characters will be recruited throughout the game, so changing characters will have to be merely strategic for the battle ahead.
Choosing the side of Nohr, Corrin decides to go back to the family that the game starts out with, severely hurting the birth family in Hoshido, but some players may have no problem making this choice. Despite the land being ruled by the presumably evil King Garon, many of the characters in Nohr that can be recruited still have a good heart and act within reason. This does not excuse everyone though, and especially after playing Birthright, some of these characters can feel like they’re putting on a fake show after seeing how willing they might be to kill Corrin in that game (though the same could be said vice versa in some situations).
The medieval European visuals and weapons may be what traditional fans may be used to, and the difficulty is clearly catered to them as well. Conquest was made to challenge players into thinking ahead, choosing the right strategies, and not taking chances on any given move. With enough thought, players will feel extremely satisfied when completing chapters, and it will really test the brain when trying to keep everyone alive.
Conquest, while having a deeper and more complex plot than Birthright, does suffer a little bit from unusual character decisions, but these decisions only seem unusual if Revelations was played first to show the other choices. Keep in mind it is suggested to play Revelations last of the three games, though if for some reason Conquest gets played after, the player will have a lot less surprises to look forward to. Luckily, the story is still strong, and the characters and support conversations alone are enough to redeem most issues. Conquest can even be argued for having the more original cast of characters, giving fun characters like Arthur, as well as three characters that actually are from Fire Emblem Awakening under a new alias.
Given that this game focuses on creating a greater challenge for fans of the series, it tends to get more creative with the battles as well. Despite taking away opportunities to gain more experience, the maps tend to give different ideas that make things still reasonably fair, like using the wind to manipulate both the player and the enemies, or even defending specific points during an attack. Maps are much larger, offer more ways to complete them, and tend to provide just the right advantages to both sides so that it doesn’t seem cheap. Despite this, luck is still a huge factor in completing missions, as risks won’t always pay off. If a bad move goes south, the player may find themselves starting the chapter over so they don’t end up losing a unit.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is the stronger of the two main games, as the deep story, strong characters, and overall satisfying difficulty make it great for series veterans. It may not be welcoming to newcomers, but at least for the ones that wish to experience it, they can still lower the difficulty to enjoy the story. All is not what it seems with Conquest, and even more is revealed when players take the plunge in the final title, Revelations.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest Score – 10 out of 10
Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations was released later as a downloadable version of the game, unless of course players owned the Special Edition that had it already on the cartridge. Marked as the story that reveals the truth behind all the mysteries in both Birthright and Conquest, Revelations is truly an excellent way to uncover the answers.
Giving Corrin the choice to pick neither side, this opens up the third option that pulls Corrin and others over to the land of Valla, a land that seems straight out of a dream. Characters from both games can be recruited into the army, uncovering the big threat that looms over the continent. Without spoiling too much, it’s best to say that Revelations answers a lot of questions that would be raised upon completion of Birthright and Conquest, and as the story moves on, it really picks up when players gather more characters from both sides. It’s great to see the chemistry of these characters that normally wouldn’t interact, and to see just how they overcome their differences has a great payoff.
As far as the map design goes, Revelations has entirely different maps that combine the best of both Birthright and Conquest. Players will have straightforward battles as well as the more creative designs with more complex conditions. Also like Birthright, players can grind their experience again to train their characters to have more flexibility than they would in Conquest. Given a more diverse set of characters also gives the player a lot more options to pick from for their army, so players are encouraged to find the team that works not only well for them, but for the situation at hand.
The difficulty rides a fine line between Birthright and Conquest, giving a medium challenge that can still be adjusted for players that want a cake-walk, or for the players that prefer to make things more difficult. Fire Emblem Fates is probably the most flexible game in the series when it comes to difficulty. Other than difficulty, Revelations also provides a very surreal presentation as it has more of a magical environment element, making it feel truly different than the other two versions.
One other nice thing for Revelations is that My Castle allows players to use both Hoshido and Nohr buildings, giving them a bit more flair to their custom fortresses. Even just having the mix of characters can be a bit nice for providing a unique experience for players that Streetpass with a Revelations game. It truly feels like Revelations was intended to be the middle road of the three games despite being the intended finale of the games. It makes for an excellent standalone entry, but it really ties both Birthright and Conquest together.
Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations Score – 10 out of 10
Overall, Fire Emblem Fates is a strong entry in the series. It might be a lot being spread out in three games, though luckily two of the three can easily be downloaded for about half the price of the first game. Fans that managed to get the Special Edition got all three games in one, roughly the same price as the three games bought separately. The game features another strong cast of characters that players would want to keep alive, and one little twist in this game is that there will be characters that will die as part of the story unless a support is built between them and the main character. Clearly this game encouraged building up supports and by not knowing who the character is, it can help the player explore relationships just to keep the whole army alive.
Even if players decide to stick with just one version, it’s difficult to not want to know about the potential of the other stories. Having all the choices in one game makes for a very replayable experience, especially given the marriage mechanic with parents being able to provide different stats based on their partner. It’s unfortunate that the Japanese voices couldn’t make it in this game, as some players will want to play without the English voice overs, though most characters sound alright in all honesty. Despite this, the music and sound design is still excellent, and each game sets a different mood for the locales very well. With a stronger presentation, a great set of stories and plenty of hours of fun tactical combat, Fire Emblem Fates is worthy of being among the best games of the series.
Final Score: 10 out of 10