You’d be hard-pressed to find a Nintendo franchise as red hot as Fire Emblem right now. What started out as a pipe dream thanks to the appearances of Marth’s and Roy’s characters in Super Smash Bros. Melee has turned into much more than a cult-following with characters making appearances in games like Project X Zone 2 and the upcoming exclusive, Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE.
The release of Fire Emblem: Awakening on the 3DS a couple years ago exceeded expectations and is now regarded as the definitive entry to the series. Its successor, Fire Emblem Fates, is even more of a behemoth with two separate versions on store shelves featuring differing paths in its epic story, making this Fire Emblem the most involved one yet.
What Is It?
[Editor’s Note: This is a review of Fire Emblem Fates as a whole, so expect to see comparisons of Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations in the review content.]
Fire Emblem Fates is the next chapter in the on-going Fire Emblem saga. You take control of Corrin, a youth taken in by the Nohrian royal family during the ongoing war with the Hoshido clan. Early on in whichever you game you choose to play, Birthright or Conquest, you find out that Corrin is actually a Hoshidian by blood, and you’re left with the choice to fight for the Hoshidians (in Birthright) or for Nohr (in Conquest).
On the Hoshidian side, it’s natural to learn more about Corrin’s origins while also learning about Nohr’s evil king. Of course, on the Nohrian side, it’s tough to leave the family that raised you, especially since the majority of Hoshidians believe you to be a future traitor.
Lucky owners of the Special Edition version of the game have the luxury of making a choice, as both the Birthright and Conquest paths are in the upgraded cartridge. It also includes the third path, Revelation, which is actually (a $20) DLC to those that don’t have access to the now rare Special Edition version. Revelation is meant to be played after completing either Birthright or Conquest, as the game allows you to choose neither Hoshido nor Nohr when it comes to the sixth chapter’s big decision.
Once you get beyond that, it’s typical Fire Emblem fanfare. Be warned though, as Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is easily the more difficult of the two as enemies in the turn-based battle system are a whole lot more aggressive than in Birthright.
Why Should I Care?
If you’re looking to ease yourself into the game, especially if you haven’t played Fire Emblem in a while, you’d be best advised to play Birthright first. In Birthright, players actually have the ability to grind their units to better prepare for the challenging chapters ahead.
Fire Emblem being difficult should come as no surprise as the debate to playing the games “the right way” is still as strong as ever. The game has always been known for its “permadeath” feature, a former series-defining feature where any death suffered in the game was permanent. Awakening had the option for character deaths to no longer be permanent, and this is the same case with Fates. I’m not going to go into which option is superior, but it’s worth noting that I initially started playing through Fire Emblem Fates with Conquest, and I decided to play it on Casual Hard (no permadeath), and it’s definitely not a decision I regret.
In addition to the enemies in Conquest being a lot more aggressive, it doesn’t really offer players a chance to build their characters much because unlike Birthright, optional sidequests are few and far between. This creates less opportunities for veterans to raise grossly inexperienced characters and adds even more of an emphasis in really understanding who to use for each situation. It’s an even bigger case for Conquest, as I noticed that most of my success in that game came with hardly moving my characters anywhere. Conquest is really more of a game that relies on defense than Birthright is.
As far as new features Fire Emblem Fates has to offer, it’s all really in the homebase. In between chapters, you get to hang around your fort which allows for customizable upgrades such as shops to buy and sell gear in, as well as the opportunity to grow crops, and even build facilities for your army units to make use of. The idea is kind of like the bases from Pokémon OmegaRuby and AlphaSapphire, except you’ll find yourself having to protect them from enemies, and there’s actual required gameplay to be had in them. You even have the option of looking around in full 3D, so for the first time in the Fire Emblem series, you have the option to freely walk.
Making an expected return are the support conversation features in the game that lead to marriage. Like Awakening before it, marriage results in offspring being born that you eventually get to add to your party, often with juiced stats that easily make them favorable over most characters in the game.
Prior to the game’s U.S. release, it was often reported that a “petting” minigame during support conversations was removed. While it’s indeed the case, it doesn’t really affect gameplay anyway. In fact, since they still keep characters blushing while you can look up and down at their art, it all still feels awkward and unneeded. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo might have been better off just removing the aspect entirely. Now it’s guaranteed meme fare.
What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?
If you’re not a Fire Emblem fan, Fates isn’t going to do anything to change your mind.
But if you are a fan of the series, it shouldn’t take much time to think about it. Fire Emblem Fates is fantastic, and Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation are each worth playing. If you’re new to it, though it’s better to start with a previous entry, you might want to start Fire Emblem Fates with the Birthright quest because it’s definitely the more approachable one. With all of Birthright‘s optional content, players can take anywhere between 20 and 30 hours to finish the main story the first time, whereas Conquest can easily take upwards of 30 hours both because of its sheer challenge and the fact that there aren’t many routes to take. Revelation, which many will pass off as just optional DLC, is big in its own right as the first playthrough can take well over 20 hours depending on how much you struggle–but it should be cake if you got through Conquest. Put together, this is quite the experience featuring well over 80 hours of gameplay. Yes, about six to nine hours is organic because the games don’t show their differences until the sixth chapter, but you’ll develop new strategies when playing the game anyway, so you likely won’t be replaying every chapter the same way you did last time.
If you can only get one game first (because finding the Special Edition at cost is like finding gold at the end of a rainbow), it really doesn’t matter which one you get. Just know that Conquest is significantly more difficult to Birthright and should only be the starting point if you’re a masochist.
Fire Emblem Fates probably won’t receive the accolades that it predecessor got, but make no mistake about it. Fire Emblem Fates is everything Fire Emblem: Awakening was and more, and to many, it’s the best game on the 3DS. Fire Emblem Fates could easily replace it.