I decided to write a review of Fire Emblem Fates today, a little ahead of the game’s release in the West. It is mostly written as a review to other FE fans (so gameplay is a given and only differences/new things are mentioned), but I do try to write it somewhat in a broader way for those who may be interested in the game but have not played any of the others.
I divided it into several sections, as the games do differ in their gameplay and story. So, I cover the three paths in addition to the general game. Note that this is actually based on Fire Emblem if (as it’s known in Japan), so I do not discuss localization differences. That will be at a different date later on after I play the Western release.
I do discuss story, but have managed to keep it spoiler-free (and with some references to what is already shown in promotional media, but not too much).
For reference, I am a long time FE fan (since FE7), I played this game back in June/July, and wrote several in-depth summaries of each path and some of the DLC, a chapter guide, a menu translation guide, and finally, a character guide.
A final reminder that some things in reviews are inevitably going to be value-judgements. Story, especially, for instance, is really a “matter of taste.” I would hope this is common knowledge, but apparently is forgotten by others sometimes…so please, when reading about story flaws and upsides, remember that it is just the humble opinion of one writer and maybe a few other fans. It may give brief guidelines on what to expect of the story, but the final opinion should always be formed by you after playing it.
As you can imagine, the process of writing this review took a lot of time (and passion!), so if you are feeling generous, then…Please donate! It helps fund future projects!
I hope you find this rather long-winded review useful in some way.
General (All Three Games)
The 14th game(s) in the Fire Emblem franchise, released in June 2015 for the 3DS. Featured the unique aspect of having multiple routes to choose from. It expanded to a meta-choice where the player has to buy the version they choose to side with, with the ability to download the other as half-priced DLC. There was a limited edition that featured both paths and the third for free download at a later date. The theme was that of “East vs West” (referring to the aesthetics of medieval Europe and medieval Japan).
The multiple versions on separate cartridges (akin to Pokémon) is certainly new for the series. Unlike Pokémon, however, the different paths are very different from each other, with their own stories, maps, themes, and characters available. It is a rather questionable decision in some ways, especially for fans who wanted all three in one (physical) cartridge but missed out on the limited edition of the game. It may be a good tactic for casual players who are slightly interested, or those that do not really plan on seeing it “all.” An issue I have seen others have is that they can fit the two versions in one (as evident by the limited edition), but do not. I recall seeing a lot of hope that the western release would have it on a single cartridge and the disappointment when it was confirmed to be two versions. A personal issue with this system is discussed in the story section of the conclusion, though is not one view that many share.
Graphics: The graphics are very much like that of Awakening. There are new sprites for the new classes in the game, and feet (a major trait that was missing in the previous game) seem to have returned on the character models. The character artist is Yusuke Kozaki, making a return from Awakening as well, meaning the art is reminiscent of Awakening as well. If one liked Awakening’s graphical style, than they will like this game’s graphical style. If not, then perhaps not. It is as simple as that. There are several CGI cutscenes in the same style as Awakening as well, differing by the path you take.
Gameplay: The core Fire Emblem gameplay mechanics from Awakening return, though there are now some notable differences. The “pair-up,” for instance, now has an “offensive formation” and “defensive formation.” Offensive formation allows for both members to attack if they are standing side by side, but likewise makes one more vulnerable to attack. Defensive formation (where the teammates pair up like previous games) makes them unable to do multiple attacks, but they guarantee no damage will be taken by follow up attacks by the enemy.
Another notable difference is the revamp/combination of the weapon and magic triangles. While they were separate before, they are now combined. This means that swords AND a type of magic are strong against axes AND another type of magic. Before, using magic on a physical weapon would make them neutral in terms of bonuses to each other, but no longer.
A main feature of this game is “My Castle” which features a free-roam castle town that the player can make and customize as they see fit before every chapter in all the modes. All the buildings do different things, such as a forge to enhance weapons, an armory to buy weapons, a jailhouse where certain enemies can be captured and made to work for you, etc. There are many ways to enhance a unit before the next map, such as feeding them for temporary stats boosts. Supports also happen here too. It essentially replaces the pre-map battle preparation stage. There are online features as well, where you can invade other player’s castles with a team, likewise get invaded. A lot going on here, and seems to be quite a welcome change to in-depth mechanics as well. Of course, there were controversies from some of the other functions of this place, such as the infamous “petting game” where you can rub and stroke the faces of your units to build support level, or the fact a hot spring exists for “fan service,” but it does go to show just how much variety exists within the castle itself. Really, it could have its own section, but this is sufficient for the purposes of this review.
There is also the introduction of the “Dragon Pulse” mechanic, which allows any of the royal siblings or blood-relatives to alter the chapter maps in certain ways, such as creating a bridge over a cliff, or deploying spike traps in certain zones. The enemy is able to utilize this mechanic against you as well.
Supports remain mostly the same, with marriage between opposite genders of the same generation (with the exception of two same-sex options, though with the player only which produces no offspring). The difference is the father determines the child this time, rather than the mother (the case in Awakening). The mother determines the hair color among a few other things.
There is more of a limitation on promotional classes this time around too for the regular units, giving a more limited range on promotional possibilities compared to Awakening.
Lastly, there is a new difficulty mode: Phoenix Mode. Phoenix Mode allows your units to respawn at the start of the next turn where they had fallen, very different from Casual Mode, which would allow the units to come back at the end of the chapter, and the opposite of Fire Emblem’s Classic Mode, where a unit remains dead or unusable for the rest of the game. Phoenix Mode is implemented as an easy way for someone to see the game’s story without getting stuck due to difficult gameplay. Difficulty can be changed, but only downward (Classic > Casual > Phoenix and Lunatic > Hard > Normal). They are on different scales, so you can change Hard Classic to Hard Casual. However, Phoenix is only available with Normal difficulty.
MyCastle introduces a way to prepare your units specifically for a new map, such as increasing resistance when they will be faced with a lot of mages in one chapter, or defense if more muscle-bound foes in the next. There is a lot of planning in advance. Combine this with the new weapon triangles that add depth to the strategy in the sense that one has to plan to account for more than a single weapon type. Along with the pair-up revamp, you now have unit positioning in proximity to the other as an important factor as well. The addition of the Dragon Pulse also can either help or hinder one depending on how it’s used. Depending on the path you take, there are also varied map objectives (beyond elimination). So, in a strategic sense, there are a lot of improvements and functions to make the game more in-depth than its predecessor.
Music: It differs by path, which was a nice effect. But before the path split as well as general events, there are some nice songs. A notable example is the game’s theme song, a vocalized song that Aqua/Azura sings that is also essential to the plot. Beyond that, from the serene menu theme to the dramatic and mellow, the music is really well done. There were several different composers on board, from those who had worked on Monster Hunter to other Intelligent Systems games (such as WarioWare), all overseen by original series composer Yuka Tsujiyoko. It makes sense, considering the different song styles on the different paths.
Story: The story was mainly drafted by manga artist and writer Shin Kibayashi (known for Getbackers among other things), based on a loose plot by Kouhei Maeda (director of the previous game and involved in the series for a long time now). The premise is essentially a prince/princess that is born in one country, raised in another, and is faced with a choice of choosing their blood relatives (Birthright) versus the family that raised them (Conquest) The rest of the game is the fallout and consequences of that choice.
An unfortunate side effect to a split story system and execution in this game is the lack of resolution of some plot threads that are implied/answered in alternative paths. This poses an issue for players who may have only one copy of the game, and lack the time/money to invest in a different path to get these answers. For instance, some things left unresolved in Conquest are revealed in Birthright and Revelation, but not the other way around. Please note, again, that this is based on the Japanese version. Whether or not the localization manages to address these issues in their respective path remains to be seen. I will assume they will not either, however.
Characters: A quick mention of characters due to Fire Emblem’s emphasis on them. As one can imagine, the Hoshido side has quite a lot of characters that share an eastern aesthetic, and the opposite for Nohr. There are characters that come with you regardless of what side you choose, though are Nohrian in aesthetic too, likely due to where the protagonist is raised. There seems to be the usual character archetypes, but a few others that are more unique to the world, and with specific loyalties that makes for tighter relations and characterization. Supports (discussed earlier) return to explore the characters more in-depth, though some S supports remain feeling a little forced, like in Awakening.
In terms of characterization, some of the main characters are better done by others, depending on what path is taken. A prominent example is the player character (Corrin/Kamui) who seems to do a bit better as a character on the Birthright path compared to Conquest (where other fans have put them to being nearly unbearable).
Overall, characters on the darker Nohr side seem to be better done as they often have more grievances to work with in that more unfair society. From those raised in slums to the city interior, which often gives for more interesting back stories and motivations. However, the Hoshido side does deal with political intrigue between different factions and groups outside of the Hoshido central area, which too can lead to some interesting backgrounds.
Birthright (Byakuya Oukoku / White Night Kingdom)
Gameplay: This version was advertised as one that focuses more on gameplay elements from Awakening and is generally intended to be easier for newcomers and casual players alike. It is as advertised, with map objectives that are straightforward (eliminate all enemies, eliminate the boss, etc). The classes are mostly new ones compared to previous games, due to the Hoshido having a Japanese flavor to their units, having Samurai (as opposed to a myrmidon in previous game) for instance. The path still includes new elements like the Dragon Pulse and revamped pair up mechanics, but they make little difference to the easier difficulty. There is also a world map that allows you to fight on skirmishes to grind experience and money, a feature like Awakening, though is more menu-based rather than actually roaming said world map. One can take their time to build up a strong army with whatever character they want at their own pace.
Music: As one can expect, this path has many Japanese elements in its music. From the base preparation to the battles themselves, one can feel the synchrony between the eastern-like aesthetic along with music. A nice feature, really.
Story: Birthright was said to have a more “classic Fire Emblem story” in comparison to other paths. It certainly did. While there are not many twists and turns along the way, it still manages to get that Fire Emblem vibe across rather well, with less contrivances than what Awakening was slammed (by some fans) for, and with a few more emotional moments to at least keep the interest of some players. There is less left unresolved on this path than Conquest. I personally enjoyed this game’s story the most out of the three versions.
There are issues to the story as well, but not as many that have been criticized by fans compared to Conquest. I may cover these as a later date, however, but remember that these story bits in reviews are not really meant to be taken beyond the opinions of many others. Form your own opinion and see how you like it, it is certainly enough to keep you motivated to play, which is an essential objective for stories in games. It will answer more questions that it raises rather than Conquest which unfortunately does the opposite.
Conquest (Anya Oukoku / Black Night Kingdom)
Gameplay: This version was advertised as much harder than Birthright and Awakening, focusing on more complex strategic elements and varied map objectives. This version was indeed harder in every way compared to Birthright, intended for veterans of the series who already know the ins and outs of the game. It will make for a fair challenge for sure! Unlike Birthright, there are no skirmishes between maps, playing like some of the classic games that were simply chapter to chapter. That means limited experience and money available, adding to the challenge. One must pick the units they will likely continue to use, as opportunities to raise everyone will be very little. The classes are those more familiar to Fire Emblem fans too, which makes sense given the medieval western aesthetic that was present in the previous games too.
Music: More of a focus on medieval western music here, and it was quite well done at that. Things like the battle preparation song really have that folk vibe to them, and you fit the aesthetic quite well. It may sound like a repeat of the Birthright commentary, but that is basically what it is, but now fit to the vibe of the Nohr.
Story: Conquest was promised to be a darker path with more intrigue and a focus on twists and story. Unfortunately it did not exactly live up to some of those promises. While it certainly is “dark” in a way, a lot of strange contrivances occur to ensure that a dark event happens without any real emotional investment in them. Some characterization (such as the player character specifically) are what this path has been slammed for by fans familiar with the path. It is rather hard to talk about without spoiling things, so I do not provide them here. I may cover them in-depth at a later date, but, basically, things that could have been darker are solved in rather easy ways, and the player is usually excluded from this “darkness” while being (painfully) naive with little development (as are the complaints as far as it goes among fans). There are multiple story threads that are left unresolved, leaving the player to either play the other paths to get answers, or to look it up, which may be quite unsatisfying.
Do not let the above discourage you from playing this path for the story, however, as they are complaints that may not affect your own experience. If you are one that cares a lot about story and have been looking forward to Conquest due to story, there may be some things to brace for that may disappoint you, however. It will motivate you enough to keep going, but some unresolved threads may leave one feeling a little empty in the end.
Revelation (Invisible Kingdom)
Gameplay: This version falls somewhere between Birthright and Conquest. It has some varied objectives, but none that are as difficult as Conquest. However, it certainly feels more difficult than Birthright, yet retains skirmishes between maps for the experience and money grinding opportunity. A notable feature is also getting all of the characters and classes from both paths which improves the variety and available options for the player significantly. There are some difficult levels, but also easier levels to balance it out to being in between the two.
Music: The music on this path seems to be more enigmatic and mysterious. There is no real location-based sound to it (unlike the above two that are easier to determine). It certainly remains quite dramatic however, and almost plays out like an opera or a stage play.
Story: Revelation, or the third path (DLC), is a path that answers questions that are left unresolved in Birthright and especially Conquest. The story gets rather focused in one setting for the majority of it, and feels slightly different than the other two. It attempts a dark theme too though execution is poor considering the lack of anything that is really emotionally investing. But it is DLC (included for limited edition, though adds to its price as a result), and is mostly to give players answers they were looking for in the other two paths. It is unfortunate that the answers remain behind a “pay wall,” essentially, a complaint among some fans.
In conclusion, the game makes a number of improvements over Awakening, from story and execution to gameplay. Compared to older games in the series, fans can find some aspects they liked in older games (map to map transitions in Conquest rather than a free roam/skirmish map in between), as well as aspects they liked in the new games (Awakening’s art style, skill system, etc). The game falls short on promises to Conquest having a darker story with more twists and turns, but it does live up to the promise that there is some story focus with nice moments and clear consideration given to story as the game was being made. Far from perfect, the attempt still shows, and the game should be praised for that much, heading in a better direction in some ways.
Though, the other aspects that carried over from Awakening are more polarizing (marriage, children) and may not be considered a “better direction” that people are hoping for, so by this I mean in comparison to Awakening rather than, perhaps, the series as a whole. But there is no real “right” answers to that due to the support either camp has.
The two versions give something for everyone in that sense. I assume fans will be buying both versions regardless, but assuming they had to choose one, the objective of Birthright for newcomers/Awakening fans/more casual fans and Conquest for more “hardcore”/fans seeking a challenge should hold true.
Specifically, if you are a Fire Emblem fan looking for a more classic Fire Emblem experience with difficulty and variety of map objectives, Conquest is for you in gameplay and characters, and Birthright in story. If you like in-depth strategy, then any path should work with the revamped mechanics, but Conquest will offer the most strategic variety.
If you are a newcomer to the series, I highly recommend Birthright first. If you are one that prioritizes story over gameplay, I recommend Birthright, though its story looks better after you experience Conquest. And, unfortunately, resolves much more than Conquest.
I did not list recommendations for Revelation because it is a DLC only path (available without additional money spent to limited edition buyers only, though considering the LE is $80, you essentially paid for it anyway), and so is inevitable that one would have to choose one game or the other in order to play it. It is slightly unfair that one must pay slightly more to get the few answers that could have been included in the paths that needed them, but I suppose as a tactic to get one more invested (literally) in the story, I suppose it makes sense they may have done it this way. But, it does hurt the individual game (Conquest)’s story as a result. I only note this here because I am one that really enjoys stories in video games, so this is for those who may be like me in that sense that may feel left out in the rain as a result of some of these stranger decisions. For those who care about gameplay, too, this path offers them every character and every class, meaning maximum support pairings that are otherwise unavailable on other paths, too, locking even optimal gameplay behind the DLC wall.
UPDATE: Even official reviewers give Revelation the highest score as the result of the above being the most “rewarding” part of it…
I do not give scores or anything, I figure reviews are better meant to just give an impression that goes beyond a mere numerical value where so many things can go wrong in assigning one. So much goes unsaid in that little number!
I am open to any discussion or questions you may have for specifics, however, so feel free to ask below so I can better answer your questions. As a result, however, note that spoilers may be in the comments! Please feel free to state your own opinions and such, I really do not mind, I welcome all discussion. : )