Developer: Intelligent Systems
Release Date: February 19th, 2016
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Time Played: 54 Hours
Concept and Execution:
The Fire Emblem series is known for forcing players into making difficult decisions. The newest installment to the series, Fire Emblem Fates, is no exception— the first of these decisions happens before even buying the game, as the title is split into two different main campaigns, Birthright and Conquest. Though the initial chapters of both games contain the same content to build the contextual background, each campaign branches out into a completely separate storyline that depends on which family, either Nohr or Hoshido, the main avatar chooses to side with. But wait—there’s a third option! The Revelations DLC just arrived on March 10th, 2016 in the United States, which allows for the protagonist to take an alternative route to finding peace, that doesn’t force you to choose one side over another.
Yes, technically players do need to purchase three individual pieces to get a singular, holistic game experience, but the varied content makes it worth it. Rather than being simple reskins of each other, Birthright and Conquest have separate narratives, characters, and mission objectives. They overlap enough to maintain the needed connection without being repetitious. I was initially hesitant when hearing about Fates’ split. However, when thinking about both the triumphs and criticisms of the last game in the series, Fire Emblem Awakening, it really does make sense. There was no winning for that game—for veterans, the simplified system and mediocre storytelling caused disappointment, while at the same time, the attention to the character relationships and support systems redeemed it to an extent. For newcomers, that installment in the series was the standard. With this in mind, Fates makes everyone happy (Intelligent Systems was, you know, intelligent). For casual fans, Birthright offers the same system as Awakening; it is much easier to grind for experience, there is more time to build support relationships, and the mission objectives stay relatively constant—kill the enemies. It is the much more forgiving title; you have plenty of time to explore different support relationships without a sense of regret. Unless, of course, you rush through the storyline and accidentally perma-kill characters when you didn’t think they could die. “I’ve made a mistake” is my Fire Emblem catchphrase.
This is especially relevant in application to Conquest, in which your decisions have a much heavier impact. The key to success is being decisive; without scouting opportunities to get extra experience, there’s no room to change your mind once you’ve made a decision. The sense of importance your decisions have make this feel like an older Fire Emblem game. However, there are a lot of characters, and getting to know them all in one playthrough really isn’t an option. I found that once I had crafted a solid team, trying to switch one member out for a new one usually didn’t work, especially with the varying types of mission objectives, ranging from defending an area to making an escape before time runs out. Even without getting to make big roster changes, the different objectives made each battle feel like a new experience.
Regardless to what side players choose, Fire Emblem Fates delivers the experience that it was expected to. Each decision ultimately does matter—thinking strategically is essential to crafting your experience.
Concept and Execution Score: 24/25
Though Fire Emblem Fates still features the Classic difficulty mode in which characters will permanently die if they die in battle, which many argue is the only way to play the game, or a less-punishing Casual mode, in which they will respawn at the end of a battle, this title introduces Phoenix mode, which magically revives your character the very next round after they kick the bucket. It takes out any sense of consequence in the game, which is a key part of Fire Emblem. Although there are battles in both games that are difficult, I can’t imagine a situation where I would really want to use such a mechanic, as it devalues any sense of sacrifice players make. At least in Casual mode, if a player decides to throw a weaker character or two in the line of fire as necessary sacrifices for the greater good, the player still has to manage through the fight with fewer fighters. For a game that emphasizes strategy so strongly, having this way to coast through the story doesn’t feel right.
And while Phoenix mode seems like an oversimplification of the game, other mechanics in Fates have been complicated—the most prominent being different types of Seals, which allow players to change a character’s class. While Awakening featured two seal types, one to change into a promoted class and one to make a lateral class change, Fates has a total of six different seal types. Each functions a bit differently, and only some can be used in certain scenarios. For example, Offspring Seals can only be used to promote a child to one of their parent’s promotion classes. At times it’s difficult to determine what is best for who, and even when is best to use the seals. They definitely do add a lot of power, but getting to know how to use that power takes some time and experimentation.
Even with a few missteps, Fire Emblem Fates, definitely has added some awesome stuff—like same-sex relationships! However, your choices in that regard are pretty limited, even if it is a step in the right direction. There’s also potential to marry your siblings, though the details are a bit… hazy. Regardless of the pairings you make, the support conversation dialogue is varied and entertaining. It doesn’t feel like a chore, or a basically mandatory dating sim, to pair characters together. These relationships can also be strengthened outside of the battlefield in the new My Castle feature, which gives players their own customizable base to buy buildings that offer equipment upgrades, or bets on arena battles, or even a Private Quarters where players can bond with allies or change their hair. It also adds a multiplayer aspect to the game; after upgrading your own castle, you can initiate a battle with their castles, in which winning brings its rewards. Though this portion of My Castle doesn’t appeal to everyone, the buildings themselves within your base are definitely worth upgrading as the game goes on.
Mechanics Score: 21/25
I’m relieved to say the characters have feet! They’re still pretty small, but at least they exist. While the character models look pretty similar to Fire Emblem Awakening, the designs of Fates do have more defined features, straying away from the disturbing lack of them in the last title. No longer will players be distracted by the obvious fact that something was missing. Feet aside, the character designs themselves are one of the strongest highlights of the games. In Conquest, characters from the Nohrian family are influenced by more European styles in contrast with the Eastern character designs of the Hoshidan family in Birthright. The designs are further reflected through the unique class types in each game; while Conquest features Knights and Wyvern Riders, Birthright has Samurai and Ninjas. To make it even more clear that these families are completely different from one another, the Nohrian kingdom is associated with the dark, whereas the Hoshidan is associated with light. While reflected in the characters, this idea is more heavily seen in the area environments of the game. Specific areas on the map are reached in both games— where the kingdom of Hoshido has open fields, Nohr has dark and desolate woods. While the general theme of the concept doesn’t really do a whole lot, the way in which the different locations affect strategy is definitely prominent. In an area, such as the Forlorn Woods, which is flooded with roadblocks and varying terrain, it’s much more important to strategically plan how to move each of your units.
However, the overall aesthetic is best represented in the animated cutscenes. By no means are they a new addition to the series, though their quality seems to improve with every title. The animations themselves are paired with well-done voice acting and a great score. The game’s soundtrack was composed by Hiroki Morishita and Rei Kondoh, who were responsible for the score of Fire Emblem Awakening, as well as Takeru Kanazaki, Yasuhisa Baba, and Masato Kouda. The main theme of the game, “Lost in Thoughts All Alone,” which is sung repetitively by the Songstress character, Azura, is voiced by Rena Strober—though I personally prefer the Japanese version by singer Renka. It is a very pretty and melodic song, but hearing it so often in the game becomes tiring. I don’t often try to skip dialogue, but it got to a point where hearing the beginning of the song had me instantly pressing ‘A’ as fast as I could.
As one of the dominant strategy game series, players have certain expectations of any new additions; Fire Emblem Fates manages to meet them. Though from a general aesthetic standpoint there haven’t been major leaps and bounds in the overall quality, the game still delivers enough to maintain its status.
Atmosphere Score: 23/25
Fire Emblem Fates has a lot to offer. Splitting into different titles, and further, types of gameplay, allows for it to be completely accessible to everyone—the inexperienced to seasoned veterans. While each piece of the game can and does act separately on its own, they also build on each other. Perspectives from each side offer more information to give a complete narrative. While completing one side of the game does feel like a fully-formed experience, there’s also plenty of room for players to want to know more. Since the player is forced into choosing a side between Birthright and Conquest, it’s obvious that the perspective will always be biased. The playing order of the games also affects a player’s perspectives. Find someone that started with the title opposite of you; you will almost assuredly have an argument as to who is in the right. There may even be a point where you call each other Nohrian or Hoshidan scum. That’s okay! Play the other side of the story, and you might understand more of where they’re coming from. Or, with the release of Revelations, you’ll realize that everyone is probably wrong.
The general point is, the setup of the game creates a space for conversation and debate for players—outside of the game. While some titles’ value is gained primarily on an individual level, that is not necessarily the case here. It’s the fragmented narrative that is completely memorable; until everything is pieced together, players have room to speculate. The integration of thought into its frame makes Fire Emblem what it is.
Entertainment Value Score: 24/25