Fire Emblem: Fates

After Fire Emblem Awakening was supposed to be the final game in the franchise, Nintendo decided to keep the series going after seeing the sales of Awakening. So, after the Fire Emblem arc in of itself is complete, what is this game offering and does it feel like a stretch to something that is already done? For the sake of this review I will review ALL three games of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, Conquest and Revelations. Keep in mind that I have played previous entries in the franchise, so I won’t be able to review it from the perspective of a new player. I will mention other games, including Fire Emblem games, so that people sharing the same experiences will have something to relate to. Since I don’t intent to write a novel about this, I will cover the similarities beforehand.

The story always starts off with your playable character Corrin (you can give him or her a different name if you want to). He’s a Nohr prince in training, but also someone who has been locked up in the castle for all his life for reasons he doesn’t know. One day, Corrin and his siblings Xander (the crown prince), Elise, Leo and Camilla are summoned by their father King Garon. He deems Corrin now worthy to fight for him and, as a test, demands that he kills Kaze and Rinkah, two prisoners from Hoshido. Corrin refuses and, with the help of his trainer and retainer Gunter, helps them escape. In order to restore his honor, Corrin has to check out the situation of a fortress near the bottomless canyon. Gunter and Garon’s henchman Hans accompany him during the journey, but as they see the fortress being occupied by Hoshidan forces, Hans suddenly storms into the enemy army, provoking an all-out attack.

After the battle, both Gunter and Corrin are surrounded by Hoshidan soldiers until Xander and his troops arrive. Corrin and Gunter want to retreat but Hans destroys the bridge the two are standing on, causing both of them to fall into the darkness. Corrin gets saved by Lilith, an astral dragon that took the form of Corrin’s personal maid as thanks for his help when he found her as a heavily wounded child and nursed her back to health. The then unconscious Corrin is found by Hoshidan forces. When he wakes up, it is revealed that Corrin is actually a Hoshidan prince. Not having any memories of it, Corrin decides to stay with the Hoshidans for a while. His mother Mikoto decides to officially have a celebration for Corrin’s return but it’s not a happy event. The sword Corrin received from his father explodes, killing his mother and many others in the process. Lost in rage, Corrin awakens his ancient dragon blood and transforms into a dragon, only to be barely contained by Azura’s singing, a kidnapped princess from Nohr.
All siblings cross blades with each other soon as both sides engage in a battlefield. At this point, Corrin has to make the decision:
Shall he join Hoshido and claim his place as the prince, avenging his mother? (Birthright)
Will he join Nohr out of love for the only family he has ever known? (Conquest)
Or will he refuse to join either side? (Revelations)

I won’t spoil the plot any further, you may think there are many spoilers here but all the described events happen within the first hour of the game, the real story begins after the decision.
I personally feel like the introduction is rushed though. The game assumes we can relate to Corrin and his Nohrian siblings but they don’t make us feel the connection. There is some charming dialogue but we needed more intimate (not sexual) interaction. While it certainly gets going much faster than previous Fire Emblem games, I personally never minded the slow start of previous titles, I rather enjoyed it since it gave me a chance to get a view on the world I’m in and connect to all the characters.

Before we head into each story individually, let’s cover the gameplay similarities.

I will cover only the fundamentals of the gameplay. Fire Emblem is a strategy game in which you control each unit of yours individually in a turn based top-down view RPG. You can select units, move them around, have them do special actions (like pushing other units, talk with allies, pair up with them and much more), use staffs to heal or curse enemies and they can attack enemies. Before you attack an enemy, you’re presented with a screen in which you select the weapon and you’ll see how much damage you’ll do, the chance of missing and the percentage of a possible critical hit. Since there is also a weapon triangle system, you have to consider which weapon is more effective against the weapon the enemy uses (sword beats axe, axe beats lance, lance beats sword / magic has it’s own triangle as well). When two or three units stand close to each other, they’ll bond if they fight together assuming they are able to bond in the first place (if they can have conversations with each other, then they can bond).
Of course, the strategic position of your units is what decides your victory or loss. You can also let your units pair up, but while in Awakening the units could talk to each other on event fields and fight together, pairing up only brings stat boosts and additional defense power with it. The partner in the background is unable to attack and that’s something I really disliked, as it took away from the flexibility of strategies as well as taking away the some of the fun that this mechanic previously had.

If your unit dies, it’s dead forever. However, starting with Awakening only the classic difficulty will cause this. There are two different kinds of difficulties in this game: The difficulties themselves (beginner, advanced, brutal) set how tough the enemies and their AI are going to be, while the other difficulty option that you’re presented with is meant for the death-behavior of your units (Pheonix – All units that are killed respawn immediately / Casual – All units that die respawn after the mission is completed / Classic – All units that die stay dead). Units that are important to the story will stay alive, but won’t fight with you anymore assuming you play in classic mode.
Fire Emblem is also known for being extremely difficult. Trust me when I tell you: If you already play “normal” you’ll be challenged (at least if you play with classic) but playing on brutal will make you want to destroy the 3DS. The sudden spike of how hard the game becomes is ridiculous. Luckily, you can, before every new mission, turn down the difficulty but you will be unable to raise it again. So you either have the choice of the game being an enjoyable walk in the park while listening to awesome music, or be the bane of your existence that makes you want to torture and burn the game. If you’re new to the series then I recommend you to play on classic and normal, you can always tone down the difficulty (nothing to be ashamed of here, seriously) but it’s good to get a grip on what makes this game a Fire Emblem. As each and every unit is a fleshed out character you really don’t want to let them to die.

After you chose your path, your “hub world” will be a castle in an alternate realm. This is your castle and you can customize it to some degree, like what buildings you want to have, where you want to place them and what the general atmosphere of the castle should be. There are also optional missions in which you either recruit new units or your castle is attacked (all the destroyed buildings respawn after the attack though). You can do some more stuff in your castle like moving around freely within the castle, visit your different buildings (in which you can do stuff as well) and read the one-liners of your units. If you decide to leave your castle, you’ll enter the world map. However, this one is different from Awakening in a way that you can’t see your path in the world, which is also a shame since the world map of Awakening added this feeling of a long journey while Fates doesn’t really seem to want that, but more on that later. Here you can select your missions, enter the online mode (visit different castles) and play DLC missions.
Your characters, as long as two characters can reach the S-rank with each other, can also marry. Once they’re married they will have children. The explanation for that is bad though. Basically: Mommy and daddy love each other a lot so they have sex and have a child immediately, even though they are in the middle of a war and nine months don’t just pass away like that. All parents sent their children (after they are born) to the other realm in which time flows much, much faster. I don’t really mind this but seriously, while it made sense in Awakening, having it here is just nonsense because the game just assumes that babies pop out after the marriage and grow up in one second in the outside realm, which, judging by the way parents and children talk to each other, open up even more plot holes.
I really enjoyed the child mechanic in Fire Emblem Awakening but, even though some of my favorite characters are the child characters here, I think they should have left it out here as it seems like nothing but fan service. We have an overwhelming amount of characters as it is and we really didn’t need more, we needed less. It is a nice touch seeing the parents interact with the children, but the entire mechanic feels uncomfortably shoved in, especially with its balance problems (besides not making sense).
You see, the children paralogues scale according to the parent’s max. level. What that means is e.g. the level of the father is rank 1 level 18 while the mother is rank 2 level 13. This is a huge difference but the real problem here is the child itself, as all children always stay the same level, max. level of rank 1. Meaning that if you try to do some paralogues near the end game, when all enemies are pretty much almost at max. level of rank 2, you will either face an incredibly hard time or have no chance to succeed at all as the child dies before you can even get the chance to recruit it.

With that out of the way, let’s say what all versions did and did not pull off well:

Some dialogues feel forced and some of the characters are basically the same as previous Fire Emblem characters, which is a direct consequence of making a game mostly aimed towards fan service and trying to fill it with “new” characters that are essentially 1:1 copied from the past. While that shouldn’t bother you if you don’t play Fire Emblem a lot, it feels like the developer tried to shove more characters into our faces but in return, quite a few characters can’t reach the previous quality of character writing in Fire Emblem games.
The castle system is also heavily underdeveloped and the entire “defend your castle” stuff is not resulting in anything, it leaves me with a heavy desire for a real-time strategy Fire Emblem game though.
However, the gameplay is very dynamic, it takes what makes Fire Emblem great (even if I think that some mechanics have been made worse) and gives it its own twists. All campaigns are different from each other and each has a playtime of 15-40 hours. The music is also generally really good.

With all of that out of the way, let’s head into the strengths and weaknesses of each version now.

Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright

There are some gameplay differences while fighting for Hoshido. Instead of magic, your units use spirits. There are some visual differences like instead of swords the units use katanas, instead of lances they use naginatas etc.. Your world map receives a big change though. You can spend money or wait a few hours without playing the game to unlock “challenges”, in which enemies appear on already beaten maps, giving you experience and gold. Since this can be HEAVILY exploited (challenge maps always give you more money back than what you spend) the game felt the need to balance itself to that. The end result is that your units don’t gain as many experience points to level up and the difficulty spike between the main chapters is sometimes off the roof.
What does that mean exactly? It means that, unless you play carefully or focus all leveling on only some very few characters, your units will be, at some point, not strong enough for the challenge to come, especially on the highest difficulty. In short: You will have to power grind, initiate challenges and get as much experience as you are ready to invest time into the game, as only a few level ups can decide the outcome of a mission. I hate grinding in a game and it’s annoying here as well. There is also only one song for challenge maps, which isn’t memorable and it can get really annoying.
It doesn’t help that every single mission you do consists of “kill all enemies” or “kill the boss” without even one exception. It gets stale and something that I don’t like in any game if nothing new is introduced to the player. Where are the sieges? Where are the escort missions? Where is the variety in general? Am I playing even playing Fire Emblem here?
The story isn’t a bomb either. You can see all plot twists and surprises coming from a mile away in combination with cheesiness at times. The final chapter is, even though the game kills off a few characters, kind of boring and many plot elements are not explained at all.
I need to clarify this though: There are two good kinds of “no explaining”, the one kind wants you to speculate and you like to speculate since the game gives you many hints but never clarifies on what or why certain events happened. Basically the endings become philosophical questions themselves if we want to exaggerate. The other kind of “no explaining” is the bad “we don’t really have an answer” or “we don’t know either” one, which is the case here if you play Birthright only. The other two versions explain the loose ends (with a few holes here and there) but on its own, Birthright doesn’t have good story telling and that’s a shame.
In my opinion, even the soundtrack of Birthright is lackluster in comparison to the other campaigns. It felt, for the most part, not engaging and was only “there”.
Birthright is definitely one of the weakest if not THE weakest Fire Emblem I have played. The gameplay is mostly good but there are decisions that are unsuited for such a high quality series and drag the game down to territory which is barely even mediocre anymore.

Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest

For the campaign with the weirdest premise, Conquest proves to be much more similar to previous Fire Emblem games than Birthright. Nothing much has changed between this and Birthright though. The world map is now strictly linear with the exception of one side quest, child side quests and a handful of castle invasions. In return, units bond and gain experience much quicker which also results in a good difficulty curve. Don’t assume that this game is easy though, it’s more difficult than Birthright and good luck if you plan on keeping everyone alive on classic difficulty. That being said, there is one feature I dearly missed and that is the bonus experience system from other linear Fire Emblem games, which makes it possible for low-level units to catch up and even out your team. The fact that this feature is missing is a HUGE problem as you’ll most likely spend most of the campaign only using the same characters the entire time and every newcomer won’t have a chance of catching up, it’s a big design flaw that previous entries did right.
Bonding is also more difficult as you have to kill as many enemies as possible for your team to become strong and getting the S rank takes quite a bit of time. The problem: The amount of enemies are limited so you have to find a balance between bonding units and letting the right units gain experience points. The initial reward for this were supposed to be the children but, as I explained earlier, that mechanic is deeply flawed in of itself and it’s even more obvious in this campaign.
I completed Conquest in around 15-25 hours thanks to its linear nature and the thankfully missing grinding. The soundtrack was also more enjoyable in this “episode”, even though some tunes still play too many times. Other than that, there isn’t much to talk about other than the mission structure and the story. Missions don’t only consist of “kill the boss” or “kill all enemies”, for the most part at least. We have some variation here but I’m still wondering into which game all the other objectives went. All variants here, with the exception of “get away as fast as you can” are just other forms of “kill all enemies” or “kill the boss” which is, again, a damn shame and you will grow tired of it really quickly.
The story is better but in terms of plot twists, it’s pretty much identical to the ones of Birthright. Most of the same characters or their equivalents die (or, if they won the fan service selection, the next best thing) and there are still basically no answers at all, which is frustrating to see. I had really high hopes of what Fire Emblem could do with three versions that show different results depending on which path you take. You could have told an awesome story but instead we get a new skin of the same story we’ve already seen before, despite Conquest having a much better beginning. A few maps from Birthright are also used again, which forces me to raise the question: Why do we have different versions to begin with? And why does it start to feel like the entirety of Fates is fan service? Why does it feel like greed was a more important factor than delivering a fulfilling experience? Or perhaps I’m just too annoyed at the wasted potential, at devolving the franchise in terms of mechanics or the bad story of BOTH campaigns so far.

Fire Emblem Fates: Revelations

Fire Emblem Revelations is what I would call the actual Fire Emblem Fates experience. In terms of difficulty it’s closer to Conquest and there are more music tracks to motivate. There are lots of new maps and map reusing is kept to a minimum this time and if they’re used, they’re used vastly different. As this is the version in which you basically get almost every character from both Conquest and Birthright, that means that the character dumpster is larger than ever before but the conversations are more interesting, thanks to different viewpoints from both Hoshido and Nohr. The story is finally worth being called an actual story, even if the plot twists are seen coming from a mile away (gee I’m really not sure who the traitor is, certainly not that one character from 30+ other characters that you can’t have any conversation with at all). This version tries to explain the plot holes of the other “editions” but these sometimes seem a bit too vague and far fetched, even for a fantasy game and you keep wondering: Suddenly side characters from the other two versions display abilities and knowledge that could have helped immensely in the other two campaigns, so why didn’t they use any of that? Before you ask: No, you don’t have to play either Birthright or Conquest to understand the story, meaning that this is actually the only version worth playing and that the entire premise and promise of Fates of delivering an awesome story that you can only fully understand by playing all parts of it is simply a lie. I have to criticize this. You have to buy either a mediocre or outright bad campaign for a lot of money in order to be able to buy the actual story. Great job, it worked, I really dislike it.
The same problems are still here though: Too many objectives that are identical to each other even though it’s not as bad as Birthright, thankfully there is no power grinding unlike Birthright even with an open map, the castle system is still not used to its full potential and while you can place the most important buildings from both Hoshido and Nohr, there are still too many features missing and some content is locked to the individual campaign like the cow farm. Again: If Fates has shown me one thing then that Fire Emblem seems to have a potentially better future (perhaps in a spin-off series) as a real-time strategy game, because everything else has taken a huge step backwards in terms of the quality standards of previous titles.

The graphics look pretty good and the different camera angles that you can use during combat are a highlight. The 3D effect during the well made cut scenes looks fantastic. The overall technical execution is flawless, I didn’t have any problems at all. It makes me want a big budget Fire Emblem for consoles, with more cut scenes or perhaps a Fire Emblem movie or series in this art design.

What is this game doing good for its genre?
A ton of content, three campaigns having a playtime of 15-40 hours each, over 30 individual characters all coming with individual dialogue trees. There is a marriage and child mechanic, tons of strategic value, the core gameplay is fun, the castle system is a neat new feature, the soundtrack is very good and Revelations has a story actually worth playing. The rendered cut scenes look great. Two individual difficulty settings each consisting of three options make for great replay value. Revelations has a very good ending that ties up most of the holes and all endings give each character a send-off.

What could have been improved?
Why do Birthright and Conquest even exist? I mean except of locking away the actual game for company greed?
The child mechanic is fan service in its purest form as it doesn’t make sense and is unbalanced. The new gameplay changes are mostly inferior to the previous games, the problem is that this could have easily been prevented by doing everything that Awakening did and including the things that they missed out on so far, like the high-ground combat of Radiant Dawn or what about armor changes? That’s an idea with which you can further build out the gameplay and make it more complex, especially once that idea is fully integrated into the huge potential the team-up mechanics have.
The story is extremely predictable, despite an engaging beginning and the Revelations campaign. I would argue the best part of the story is the beginning before the campaigns start, that’s saying something.
The castle system isn’t even close to being used to its full potential and leaves a lot to be desired. Actually, you could make an entire Fire Emblem game by defending your castles while you still have to conquer others (offering a whole new dynamic and possibilities for mission design).
Almost all the missions consist of “kill all enemies” or “kill the boss”, making this one of the most bland consecutive mission designs ever seen in a Fire Emblem game.
Birthright features power grinding and Conquest is missing the bonus-experience system from previous titles.
Many characters are identical in characteristics to previous Fire Emblem games, in addition to all versions having way too many characters to begin with. Bigger doesn’t equal better and Fire Emblem really needs to tone down on characters or make a feature, in which you control groups of characters or designate different characters to different (non-playable) duties, like one character is assigned to gather information, some are tasked with capturing enemies while nobody is looking or kill enemies that try to escape, get hostages and delay the movement of enemies etc.. If you really need to have so many characters then build the game around it and don’t waste effort and space by just throwing in more, it feels out of place and hurts the experience.
The soundtrack is good, but doesn’t live up to the exceptional Awakening soundtrack. In short: Fire Emblem Fates had potential and could have been so much more, but lost itself by trying to add too many unnecessary things, blunt fan service and overall questionable decisions.

To summarize:
If you want to play Fire Emblem Fates, play Revelations and Revelations alone, the other two campaigns aren’t worth it. The music of Conquest was the best of the three campaigns in my opinion, but this game is making steps in the wrong direction.
It seems they wanted to go for more and more characters as well as focusing on fan service, but they should be moving in the opposite direction as many characters here are identical to previous characters in the franchise, not only in characteristics but also in looks. Many new mechanics are heavily underdeveloped like the castle building (which leaves me with a desire for a Fire Emblem RTS with a few of Battle Realms’ mechanics), the personal quarters and freedom of choices. The story is, in theory, basically begging for individual player choices and it would have made an over-the-top cliche story into something better, but seeing as every campaign is badly told except Revelations…
Newcomers and certain other people will probably love and praise all the versions to heaven and beyond and call it the perfect game, however, as someone who played some of the previous games and hoped for a fun experience, this game feels like three steps backwards while moving one step forward. Nonetheless, this game is perfectly playable with tons of content and lots of strategic value, I’m just not very fond of it.

6

(7 for Revelations)
(6 for Conquest)
(4 for Birthright)

For Fans

-M

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