Or, to be more accurate, games as for the first time in franchise history there were two games we could choose: Conquest (Anya Oukoku) or Birthright (Byakuya Oukoku). Unlike the Pokemon series though, outside of the first 6 chapters, the content of each game is different, from maps, to weapons, and to its story, which revolves around you, the player.
Just like New Mystery of The Emblem and Awakening, you play as the avatar, default name Corrin, and can choose between male or female, but unlike those two games, you play someone who is of royalty — but who’s royalty? You’ve been raised as part of the Kingdom of Nohr, which is shrouded by night and by your siblings while being isolated from the real world. When it was time to branch out and explore what it’s like out there, you get captured by your enemies from the Kingdom of Hoshido. But instead of being executed, you learn that you’re actually related by blood to Hoshido’s royal family. Now what? Well, you have no time to actually think about which side you want to take — you have to choose between the family that raised you or the family that’s truly yours by birthright. And that decision ultimately shapes what happens to both kingdoms, for better or worse.
The lead up to the decision works. Nohr is painted as pretty great but with one of the worst — I mean in actual concept — evil guys/fathers in Fire Emblem history in Garon, it’s just dark and they hate the Hoshidans. Then you end up getting attacked by your own people in Nohr — so that makes you wonder about what’s going on there. Hoshido’s real advantage is that there’s no darkness, just light, and that they don’t control monsters. That’s it. The obvious advantage, being blood related, I found to be irrelevant because what it really comes down to is you have siblings that love you but the ruler of Nohr hates you/doesn’t care for you/is something bad, and you’d have to prove something is off with him. After all, you don’t know anyone in Hoshido, and you already have one brother who hates you. So, in that department, I think Hoshido could have used an extra chapter to establish why Hoshido would be a better side to take than Nohr, rather than because you’ll have extra work to do in Nohr.
But ultimately, it still works. You still have to make the choice that’s best for you, and I do like that.
From this point forward, I will get into what I didn’t like about all 3 games (I haven’t mentioned Revelation, but I will explain the 3rd path later), then explain why this is still a worthy edition to the Fire Emblem line. While they are separate games, I will make clear distinctions on which path I’m talking about. So, let’s get into what I don’t like.
In Fire Emblem Fates, the biggest problem is the lack of player choices. Remember when Iwata (R.I.P) mentioned in the first trailer that there would be more player choices than in previous Fire Emblem games? This is simply not true. You only get to make one decision in each game. Now the game could have certainly changed from its announcement, but I would have loved to be able to make my own decisions for certain parts of the game. As I’m the avatar of the game and thrust into a leadership role, it would have been cool to decide whether or not to get rid of that imp Zola in Birthright or to go save a character, rather than it being story forced. Not everything should be decided by the player, but considering you’re playing as a character who has been living in isolation, it would have been cool to make choices based on information gathered and the situation at hand.
Simply put, I think back to Path of Radiance. Ike was forced to take command of the Greil Mercenaries after his father was killed, and he had Titania and Soren to give him advice, and while some were small in decisions (like having Volke join the team), you did make choices, or the narrative felt right in that game. There’s nothing like that in either route in Fates, where you got gameplay explanation, and that’s it.
Which leads to the story telling in each game. It’s hard to overstate some of the issues with the story of Awakening, which, if you weren’t attached to some characters, was hardly great. That’s why Iwata mentioned they had Shin Kibayashi, a prolific manga artist, work on the script for this game. Here’s promise #2 that was actually kept…and also broken.
For Conquest, this is actually a very unique storyline that prior games never had — there’s no evil dragon to face off at the end, you’re trying to change the culture within, etc — so it definitely works from what Awakening was, with no time travel to save the day. It’s kind of a mess though, particularly in the middle. Considering what the story has you do, to essentially turn against it to try and expose who your father really is makes Corrin’s actions inconsistent and try hard. I can certainly understand that facing Garon head on would be bad because of how strong he is, but the method chosen is pretty weak and could have been handled logically.
Birthright is about the opposite end of the promise, though it’s more a case of staying with what was successful than anything groundbreaking. Awakening was a success not just because of its marriage options, but with casual mode and how accessible the game was compared to other FE games. But the story is definitely a problem since nothing of real consequence takes place in this path, and some of the deaths, which are part of the story, are stupid. I don’t see anything bad with the story, but chances are you’ll remember one or two things from it that’s for sure.
I’m actually not a fan of what’s happened to the weapon systems…most egregiously in Birthright. For standard Fire Emblem games, you’d have weapon durability, which meant you could only use a weapon a certain amount of times, which meant managing resources was important. You’d also have the rock > scissors > paper > rock system where axe > lance > sword > axe. This time, bow, magic, and knife were added to the system. You’d think it’d be easy to remember how the properties work there since they’re assigned to one of the three weapons above, but remembering them was actually hard — was sword better than the bow, axe against the knife, etc? Sure, I admit that I should have memorized it better, but I’m letting you know I struggled with it. The lack of weapon durability seems great, until you play Birthright and realize aside from tomes and staves, which do have a limit, it’s pointless. You make a ton of money in that game, but chances are you’ll just be spending it on stat boosts once you get the weapons you want. Then since they don’t run out, there’s no reason you’ll be losing money fast. The forge system feels lacking compared to the ones before it. I actually was confused by it at first, and mostly don’t see the point in it.
Some of the maps in this game are odd — I can tell IS experimented with a good amount of them, and some didn’t work. The biggest is definitely the one map where you had to “break the ice”. It just doesn’t make sense, and while that particular map wasn’t challenging, it was a chore, and not very fun.
Finally, my biggest negative is the Deeprealms. Lemme tell you, it is garbage. Straight garbage. In Awakening it established a clear and plausible way to get children. Genealogy of the Holy War had the most plausible way for story establishment. I can’t even begin to fathom how someone could look at integrating children in Fates at Intelligent Systems and believed it made any sense. It’s kind of sad how integrated they are.
Now, since I’m about to end the negative portion of the review, I should get Revelation out of the way. This is the 3rd path, the one where you choose neither side, as DLC. I do have some good things about it, but that’s mainly because I very much am a fanservice guy. Crossovers are my jam, and in this case, bringing both Hoshido and Nohr is a thing. But it feels unfinished. Later chapters seem odd when you view it, and the overall narrative is unsatisfying. With the amount of characters from both paths available, you simply aren’t going to be able to use them all, and that’s disappointing to an extent.
The gameplay of Fire Emblem has never really changed since its debut on the Famicom in 1990. Instead, ways to make it better for each iteration has surfaced instead. How do you create a new challenge for players when it comes to units? You add a weapon system in Genealogy of the Holy War. How do you simplify a game for not only a modern audience, but one for the handheld system? You calculate the math for the player in Binding Blade. How do you celebrate returning to consoles? By restoring skills that began in Geneology of The Holy War for the Tellius series (Path of Radiance and Radiant Dawn).
So, the biggest question with Fates would be how could it make Pair Up, the new gameplay mechanic in Fire Emblem Awakening, better? As interesting as it was, it was hard to know when you could attack twice or whether or not you would block the attack, and the enemy couldn’t pair up, so there’s definitely a balancing issue there. Well, the first thing you do is identify how to attack and how to guard, and Fates solves that with ease. Now I can determine whether or not I’d want to gang up on a faceless or if I’d want to have two people pair up in order to eventually build up a meter before facing the boss. I also have to consider where my units are or the enemy’s strength, since they can also pair up as well.
That’s significant, because this greatly improves the gameplay aspect of Fire Emblem. Now you have to figure out where a unit is, if that unit’s far enough away so he can’t pair up with an enemy that is in your range, and also if your unit behind you has a long range weapon because that axe wielder won’t attack the person in front, he’ll set himself there for the bow wielder to snipe you and then attack after that. You combine this with the maps, and you have levels where you can’t just brute force your way out, or even try to run away, and it’s fun because you have to come up with a solid strategy to get your units out alive.
…Ok, it depends. Obviously, Awakening introduced Casual mode, but Fates has Phoenix Mode, which I can’t see why it exists unless you want a lot of supports or you’re gonna go play Lunatic. As you can tell, I haven’t touched Phoenix Mode. I think casual is enough. But whichever one you choose will influence how you play. After all, you can’t be reckless in classic mode, or else you’ll be resetting a lot.
Another criticism of Awakening was the maps — you either had to defeat the boss or seize the castle. Well, you had one game that did it — Birthright — and one that played to past Fire Emblem games — Conquest. It’s hard to overstate how great both were. Conquest is where you get variety, so in addition to the above you’d have to play defense, you’d have to escape, etc. The added challenge was resources, as you have little. That’s why every unit you use matters, and it might be better to decide early on who to use, as grinding is not an option unless you do the online portion of the game. That’s why every weapon or stave you buy matters, since you won’t have too much funds to spend. I think it’s a bit too little, at least compared to last Fire Emblem games, but just about everything you do matters in Conquest.
Birthright however, not so much. You will have battles outside of the main path, and you will have plenty of opportunities to make money. Weapon management isn’t nearly so stressful, and most importantly, the battles are Awakening-like. The only reason why it’s not a major problem is because the battle system is improved, so even if you’re grinding, it’s not a big problem. And I liked grinding a lot in Awakening, so grinding in Fates is nothing, but with different units you can use on different playthroughs and higher difficulty levels, replaying both games is something that is definitely a thing.
The soundtrack for Fire Emblem games are usually good to great, but even I feel long time composer Yuka Tsukiyoko stepped up plenty in Fates. Maybe because it’s three games, or she had a lot of time, etc, but there’s so many tracks that I keep listening to over and over and over again. Both No Justice versions are great (I do prefer Hoshido’s version), Dark Wastes is both dramatic and timed perfectly, Those Who Visit is an excellent preparation map…I definitely feel like this was a great soundtrack, and you’ll find plently to enjoy and love.
Ok, remember when I said I was done being negative? Well, I do have to bring this up: integrating My Castle into the story was a mistake. It just feels out of place even bringing it up. I’m just saying, if they can come up with the horribleness of the Deeprealms, then something similar should have happened with My Castle where it’s just a throwaway thing you say when you get to a certain point in the game.
But, the actual doing this in My Castle is fantastic. You have stuff you can do outside of the main quest, from arena battles to building your castle, to visiting other castles and getting resources, to even battling opponents as well. It’s refreshing to take a break from the main quest to do stuff like this, and I find it good. The options are plenty. Combine that with the number of characters, the classes (and on a separate note, talk about breaking tradition: this is the first Fire Emblem to have a male Pegasus Knight and Troubadour, and first to have a female Fighter.), you’ll have plenty of things to do in these games.
So, the last thing I will talk about is the localization, which I find ranges from mediocre to excellent, and considering the amount of text in this game, it’s probably for the best. For me, there can be reasons why you can’t purchase a game, but as I’ve essentially married myself to this franchise, there was no amount of text changes or controversies that was gonna stop me from picking this up. It’s a feeling that is hard to explain. But the bottom line is, if I don’t support this product, it could all end. Awakening might have been it, and as I find myself not interested in most games anymore, it’s not a franchise I would be willing to lose.
Now, it doesn’t mean it’d be exempt from criticism. I would first argue that the face rubbing has no place in Fire Emblem, but at the same time, it’s weird to just simply keep it in a half state, which is what they did. Either keep it all or cut it all. Sometimes compromise is good, but often times its not. The current version is intensely boring. Based on the activities you do with your spouse, I would have hated the full version really quickly. But you might as well have kept it in. Or cut it. This half measure is bad.
But yeah, I have little to complain about. There’s still me attempting to play as Female Corrin and seeing things from that perspective from a support standpoint, there’s still the difficultly levels, trying new skills, trying new characters from each playthrough, etc. And again, both games have different maps, with Revelation in between. So who knows how long I’ll play them, but they will be played…just like all the other Fire Emblem games I’ve played.