Fire Emblem Fates marks a first in the history of the series – a multiple game split. Think the original Pokemon Red and Blue, but with the caveat that the games are actually entirely different. With two distinct titles being released to retail, and a third (fully-fledged!) title being released digitally, it’s safe to say there is a lot of content in this new entry.
But a big question at the forefront is likely this: what of the quality?
Fire Emblem Fates Birthright, the easiest of the three and the version geared the most towards the players who started with 2013’s excellent Fire Emblem Awakening, was the first version of Fates that I played. Partially because I wanted to ease back in, and partly because I had heard Conquest, the second, harder path, had a much better (but equally harder) game design. While I chose Hard in Awakening AND Birthright, my early verdict was that Birthright was already harder than Awakening ever was, but in a very good way. Put simply, Awakening could be broken into two very early on through abusing a central gameplay mechanic. That mechanic still exists in Fire Emblem Fates, but it has been refined to where I can not see much wrong with the new form.
This mechanic is called Pair-Up. It involves placing two units together granting them the ability to move as one and assist in battles. In Awakening, both units fought, you gained extra stats, and there was a chance of the backing-unit to block attacks on the forefront unit. This along with a few spells that granted the ability to heal after combat meant you could send out one Paired Up unit and beast entire chapters. In Fates this is not the case, as there are two “forms” of Pair-Up. The original, where two units take the space of one, is now known as ‘Guard Stance‘ and it will grant a (predictable, workable into strategy) chance to block an enemy’s attack. The other form is known as ‘Attack Stance‘ and it involves placing two units adjacent each other. This will cause them to fight together, both dealing damage in any battles they get in… with one restriction – if a team is in Guard Stance, they can NOT receive attacking assistance from any adjacent units. Basically, there’s more strategy to be found in our Strategy RPG. Great, no?
If you’re not liking the sounds of the above paragraph, be it that it sounds too complicated or you simply want to enjoy a laid-back game, worry not. Fire Emblem Fates has you covered in all difficulty compartments. Adopting the ‘Casual Mode’ from Awakening, players are given a way to remove the series’ trademark permanent-death feature if such a thing doesn’t sound enjoyable. But this time you can go even further with a new feature known as ‘Phoenix Mode‘ – a truly easy way to make for a more casual experience. In Phoenix Mode, losing a unit means very little as they will spawn back in at the end of the turn. While I never played with either of these, I can definitely see the appeal. Not everyone wants to stress out over their time spent with games, or waste their time resetting a failed run of a Chapter. Some just want to follow a story (though I will speak more on that a bit further), or enjoy seeing characters interact. On the other end of the difficulty spectrum, you still have ‘Classic Mode’ which involves permanent character death, Hard difficulty, and the aptly named Lunatic difficulty. All of these carry their own challenges, and they’re rewarding to play through.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Fire Emblem Fates Birthright carried over with it another remnant of Fire Emblem Awakening, one that will be more upfront than the more technical Stances or rather standard difficulties. And that would be the same win condition in nearly every map – Rout the Enemy. Or in common English, kill all the bad guys. I was always under the impression that Awakening was so easy and… bland – which is the wrong word, as I loved the game, but I’ll use it in this case to make my point – because the objective was always to Rout the Enemy. That’s not actually true at all. The issue which lied with Awakening that has been fixed quite a bit in Fire Emblem Fates is Map Design. I spoke on this a bit in my early impressions of Fire Emblem Path of Radiance, actually. (Link will open in a new tab.)
The maps in Fire Emblem Fates Birthright are all excellent. With very few exceptions, I can say that I always had fun playing through them. Strategical choke-point filled areas, open fields, map hazards, races against a clock for extra rewards and lots more; there is a large amount of Map Design variety on offer. All balanced, too!
I believe a large part of the over-all game balance also falls to another change in the series aside from the maps. The removal of weapon uses (well, except for Healing items). All weapons are now unbreakable, and instead grant their own bonuses or even drawbacks. This means that you’ll want a few weapons for each member of your army to cover multiple situations – as opposed to the days of old where you would never want to use a Bronze Sword when you have this Silver Sword that is better in every possible way. It’s incredible how much more engaged I was with Fates.
What makes things all the more incredible is that I was not playing this game for a story. Reasoning being that the story is… well… it’s bad. It’s really bad. The A to B plot points are weak, the character interactions (in the story – important distinction made on this in a second) are lousy, and the over-arching plot is laughable. In other words, this title managed to hold my attention for five dozen hours without any worthwhile story. A true testament to the quality of the gameplay, if I do say so myself.
The characters on show in Fire Emblem Fates Birthright are a likeable enough crew. I wasn’t too fond of the cast early on, and was yearning for more of what I remembered from Awakening. But with time and more acquaintance with the new characters, I ended up liking them quite a bit. I don’t think they reach Awakening’s cast as whole, but they were fleshed out enough in some excellent Support Converations to where I can look at the box arts and name them all. Not because I played the game with them in it, but because I feel at least a bit invested in them as a character.
Speaking of Support Conversations, said feature is something that was very present in Fire Emblem Awakening. While on the battlefield, certain units can grow closer to each other. Between chapters to be accessed on the menu is a ‘Support’ tab. This is where you check when anyone grew close enough in the last fight to share a “Support Conversation” between one another. This is where your characters will be fleshed out. Not in the game’s story itself, but in hundreds of lines of dialogue between other characters. This also loops back around into the gameplay, as you can wed your units. Doing so will grant you access to entire Paralogues (side-chapters) in which you recruit the children of any two wedded characters.
When not reading Support Conversations or taking part in a strategic battle, you will likely be spending your time in a new sort of “hub area” known as ‘My Castle‘. Here you’ll find all sorts of small things to do that ultimately loop into the gameplay. Different items to collect for use in forging weapons, a chance to speak to your units for a multitude of things (like obtaining random weapons, items, or raising affinity/stats), or building and re-arranging your Castle’s buildings to make your own map that you and others can do battles in online. There’s also smaller things that you can do which have no effect on the game itself, but are simply cool additions to have.
The overall visuals of Fire Emblem Fates are rather great for the hardware. Like all other Fire Emblem games, each battle transitions you into a different view than that of the overhead 2D map. In Fates, you get an actual 3D view of the area you’re battling in – even going so far as to show things like Ballistas in the distance if there is one on the map near where the fight is taking place, or rubble if you’re fighting where a building once stood. This is much more consistent than what Awakening had. Also characters have feet now. This sounds like a strange point unless you played Awakening. But it’s very real. Trust me.
Musically, Fire Emblem Fates Birthright is drastically different from the bombastic style of Awakening before it, and even Conquest alongside it. The more eastern-influenced region with whom you side with in Birthright – Hoshido – carries with it a very Japanese-sounding soundtrack. Lots of flutes and strings. It was certainly a joy to hear initially, but without any “set-piece tracks” I find it just wasn’t as memorable as Awakening’s. It was not bad, either, I just prefer the different styles found in the other games/paths.
So, after playing through Fire Emblem Fates Birthright and taking some time to put thoughts together, what is my final verdict? Get the bad out of the way first as to end on a positive note: The story is bad. The characters in Birthright are likable, and Support Conversations are still excellent. The game as a whole is an absolute must-play for 3DS owners. The gameplay is, plain and simple, fun. It’s engaging. The quality in the game is high, even with there being three game’s worth to buy, you can tell no effort was cut in an attempt to maximize sales.
I can’t recommend Fire Emblem Fates enough if you’ve any interest in the Strategy RPG genre. Fire Emblem Fates Birthright also makes one of the best entry points if you’re not certain on how you like the genre. The challenge is variable, and even tweakable to an extent halfway through the game. The game can be enjoyed by anyone without fear of hurdles or challenges to overcome just in learning. And if you like what you play? You can try playing on the harder, challenging modes. You don’t want to miss out on this one.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright can be purchased physically or digitally for $39.99 MSRP, or downloaded as an additional path (as an add-on to Conquest) for $19.99 through the in-game shop.