Fire Emblem Fates is a turn based strategy game made by Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SP, and released on the Nintendo 3DS. It’s the latest in the Fire Emblem series, and has introduced a few new mechanics since the first release. Although Fire Emblem Fates was released as a single title, it is technically three separate games. Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. Birthright is the easiest of the three, holding the players’ hands throughout the whole game. Conquest is the unforgiving counterpart, most reflective of the series’ classic style. Revelations is somewhere in the middle, offering some extra opportunities for gold and experience, but not on par with Birthright. Being a player of the first Fire Emblem ever released on the GameBoy Advance, I have always had a fond affection for the series, which peaked with my experience in Sacred Stones. And while playing Fire Emblem Fates, I was pleasantly surprised.
The storyline of Fire Emblem Fates is unique to the series, but in many ways, is the same story we have seen in every Fire Emblem game to date. There are two kingdoms, Hoshido and Nohr. The player character (male or female depending on your choice.) was raised in Nohr and treated as one of their own. But the Player character begins to question their loyalty to Nohr when they learn that they were actually born in Hoshido, and were kidnapped at a young age.
Which loyalty you take depends on which game you play. In Birthright, the player chooses to side with Hoshido, and hunt down the king of Nohr to end hostilities. During Conquest, the player chooses to side with Nohr, and create a war path against Hoshido. Finally, in Revelations, the player chooses to side with neither, and go their own way, in turn learning the true nature of their existence.
This is all very compelling and the opening chapters of the game really put effort into showing the relationships between you and your Nohrian “siblings.” It does a great job of creating an actual dilemma, and the relationships you formed will weigh heavily on your mind. The downside to this, is that the side you choose is determined by the game you buy, so research the game a little before you decide which game to buy.
Although Fire Emblem Fates does a good job of laying out the story in a compelling way, there are very little other aspects that are different from every other game in the series. The main character has a unique sword, they learn a personal truth that helps them to realize their potential, and they overcome a great evil that scourges the land. This is the same formula that has been done in every single Fire Emblem game since the first, and it seems to work well. Even in the Conquest when you side with the “bad guys,” your character is still good at heart, working to create peace. While I can’t blame the developers for sticking to their strengths, they lose points for originality.
Much like the story, Fire Emblem games haven’t introduced much in the way of gameplay since the original. There are a few new features however, like the dual battle system, that allows your units (and your enemies’ units) to attack with two characters at the same time. This means that one character can boost another character’s stats when beside each other. The higher the support rating, the higher the boost. The support system itself has remained mostly the same, but now if your character reaches maximum support, they can marry the other character and enable special cut scenes when they spend time together in the private quarters.
This brings me to the next new feature in the series, the “castle” feature. “My Castle” now allows your party to spend time outside of battle, and allows the player to build shops, an arena, and even a hot spring. This is a nice gambit, and watching your units interacting outside of battle is a nice bit of world building. It also allows for a new mechanic, in which the player can pit their units against opposing players in a castle invasion minigame. You can also add defenses to your castle to hinder other players in their efforts. This is a nice time killer, but ultimately just serves as a distraction from the real core of the game.
The gameplay on its own does its job well. Each battle, you can place your units, manage your inventory to give units optimal weapons and items, and manage the support conversations between them. The greatest strength of the gameplay is its simplicity. Each turn you can move your units once and decide whether to attack, heal, trade, or hold their ground. This is mixed up by the fact that certain weapons are inherently better to others. Swords beat axes, axes beat lances, and lances beat swords. While the simplicity is the best attribute of the gameplay, enough is done to diversify it that you won’t get bored easily.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics of Fire Emblem Fates are done well for a 3DS. The game does a great job of utilizing the full range of the 3D function. The cinematic cut scenes are also well done and look great, but they are sparingly used, instead resorting to the classic usage of two or three characters talking against a background image. But overall, the graphics are good enough that you can see the customization on your character, and the cut scenes won’t strain your eyes either.
Much like the gameplay, the controls are simple. Inventory management, screen scrolling, and base management all revolve around the R and L bumpers, along with the A and B buttons. However, the X and Y buttons are rarely utilized, and could’ve been put to better use. In addition, there is very little optimization of the menu system as a whole. You are often forced to scroll through the entirety of lists to find a single item. The analog stick takes some of the burden off of this, and overall it doesn’t detract too much from the game as a whole.
As I’ve said before, the difficulty you get depends on the game you buy. If you want a nice easygoing experience that you can take your time on, then go with Birthright. If you want a challenging, unforgiving experience that resembles the more classic games, then go with Conquest. For something that does a little of both, then choose Revelations. In any case, the difficulty can range from challenging to nearly impossible, depending on what difficulty you choose. This game can be a walk in the park or a run up a muddle hill depending on what you want.
The Fire Emblem series has evolved overtime in terms of its replayability. Once the campaign is finished, you can continue playing battles in the same maps over and over until your characters are leveled up completely. There is enough in the game to make you want to replay it (not counting the DLC or alternate versions of the game.) The story won’t offer you any additional content, but you can choose different specializations for your classes, or choose different romances between them.