I don’t like strategy games. They require too much patience and planning; that just isn’t my style. But there are exceptions to every rule, and the exception to this one is Fire Emblem Awakening. As hyped up as the game was, I had little interest in it. Like many Western gamers, I learned about Fire Emblem from Super Smash Bros. and while I was intrigued, the strategic nature and permadeath kept me away from the series. As people kept talking about Awakening, I learned that you could turn off permadeath in this entry and that there was an easier difficulty level. So, despite being terrible at strategy games, I jumped in. Fire Emblem Awakening ended up being one of my favorite games on the 3DS, mostly for its characters and the interactions between them. Needless to say, I was excited when the sequel was announced.
Before going on, I should note that Fire Emblem Fates comes in two different versions: Conquest and Birthright. In addition to telling different stories, the versions also have different levels of difficulty. Birthright, which I’ll be covering here, is the easier one. There is also a third story available as DLC – Revelation – which is somewhere in between in terms of difficulty. If you download the game, you’ll get to choose your path once you reach the point where the story branches. Either way, additional paths cost $20 each. We’ll get to what this means for the story, but it is a steep price.
Fire Emblem Fates plays just like previous games in the series. It’s a turn based strategy game, with battles taking place on various maps. Your side and the enemy’s side are made up of various units with different classes that give them different abilities. Some are mounted and can travel very fast, some do a lot of damage up front, and some are better for healing or other non-fighting abilities. You select each unit on the map and decide where to send them. Should your unit end up adjacent to an enemy unit, the camera will zoom in and show the battle with detailed 3D animations.
This is pretty much how Fire Emblem has always been, but there are a couple of notable tweaks. The Casual mode from Awakening returns, turning off the series’s trademark permadeath for less experienced players. This time there’s also a new mode called Phoenix, which has fallen units return immediately the next turn. This takes just about all of the challenge out of the game, so I wouldn’t recommend using it, but it’s nice that there’s an option to let you continue the story even if you get hopelessly stuck.
The story of Fire Emblem Fates focuses on the player’s created character, who by default is named Corrin. Some players of Awakening will be happy to learn that there’s not quite an equivalent of Chrom in Fates; Corrin is the one main character. They are a prince or princess of Nohr, one of two large kingdoms currently at war. Fate eventually leads them to the other kingdom, Hoshido. Ultimately, Corrin must choose whether to support Hoshido (your only choice with Birthright), Nohr (your only choice with Conquest), or neither (with the DLC-only Revelation). And that’s pretty much all I can say about the plot without spoiling anything.
Suffice to say that while the storyline isn’t as solid as that in Awakening, it does a very good job of keeping the player invested. The only real problem is that by the end of Birthright, you’re still left with a lot of questions and it doesn’t feel completely satisfying. Clearly the goal is to entice players towards Revelation, which is a cheap ploy. Furthermore, playing the third story reveals some rather convenient excuses for this to be the case. There have been games in the past that require you to play through them multiple times to get the full story, but usually you don’t have to pay $20 extra for subsequent branches. But Birthright’s plot is at least decent enough that it doesn’t feel like a waste of time to beat it.
As was the case for its predecessor, what really carries Fire Emblem Fates for me is the wide range of characters. Throughout the game Corrin will interact with the Nohrian and Hoshidan royal families, their retainers, and various other individuals living in the two kingdoms. Character personalities often seem one-note at first, but having units team up on the battlefield will unlock support scenes which further develop the characters and their relationships.
As in Awakening, characters can even become couples. These couples will sometimes have children, who will then join your team as playable characters. The way the storyline makes this work is a bit of a cop out, but to be fair, they couldn’t really use the same explanation as in Awakening. Most of the characters are interesting enough that you really want to see how they interact with each other, and they serve to bolster the story into something that can actually be quite emotional. And if you aren’t a fan of the deep strategy gameplay, that’s where the game will live and die.
There are actually more opportunities to experience character interactions than in previous games thanks to the new hub area. Here, you’ll find your character’s private quarters, where you can interact regularly with your character’s spouse and other allies. There’s also a hot spring, the purpose of which I don’t really know, but it can lead to some interesting interactions. This hub is also where you’ll find shops and multiplayer options, among other things. Once you get used to it, it’s nice to have everything in one place, and you can even customize it. It’s a nice way to play around with things between battles.
While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor, Fire Emblem Fates is an excellent game. The gameplay is classic Fire Emblem, meaning solid strategy and multiple ways to male characters team up. The story is pretty good too, managing to be quite emotional at times. And of course, there’s an excellent cast of characters. It’s just a shame that you can’t use all of them if you just get one version of the game. I appreciate the branching narrative, but especially since some chapters are pretty much identical between versions, the price is a bit steep. If Fire Emblem is your kind of game, Fire Emblem Fates is a worthy addition to the series. Just be prepared to miss a fair bit of the story if you just get one version.
Almost a reawakening
Gameplay - 8/10
Story - 7/10
Challenge - 10/10
+ Interesting characters
+ Solid strategy gameplay
+ Decent plot
- Story split between three versions
- Not a lot of gameplay variety