- Release Date (NA): February 19, 2016
- Release Date (JP): June 25, 2015
- Publisher: Nintendo
- Developer: Intelligent Systems, Nintendo SPD
- Genres: Tactical RPG
I haven't played a Fire Emblem game since Path of Radiance on the GC. Having heard the controversy surrounding this game, I had to try it out and see how it holds up for a near-beginner to the series.
Amongst the cries of censorship, homophobia, and Nintendo of America's tyranny, and with a stunning lack of breast sliders and girlfriend-petting mini games, does Fire Emblem Fates shine through the cloud of smoke surrounding its release?
No doubt, most of Nintendo's player base has heard about the controversy surrounding this game's localization. And considering just how long it took to bring this game overseas (and it STILL hasn't arrived in Europe), you can imagine that a significant amount of the game was changed, for better or worse. I can happily report that not only does the game manage to present a spectacular story in our native English, but also that I noticed nearly zero translation or localization oddities within the game's presentation. This game is a true thriller from start to finish, certainly for me as a new player but also for veteran players of the series.
Conquest or Birthright?
At Chapter 6, the game forces the player, Corrin, to choose to side with one of two warring kingdoms: the kingdom of Nohr, which has raised Corrin ever since childhood but whose king stole away Corrin as a child, or the kingdom of Hoshido, which claims to have originally given birth to Corrin and therefore is the Corrin's true family. While a player might be tempted to spend a while mulling over this choice in his/her head, the version of the game that you buy determines what choice you will make. The Birthright version of the game sees Corrin siding with Hoshido, and Conquest with Nohr. Revelation is a third DLC version which has not been released as DLC yet but only comes with the $80 special edition, which includes all three games.
I find this version system to have significantly weakened the impact of this decision, as unless you shell out an extra $20 for the reduced price of the other version of the game, you can only really pick one path. Most players will go back and play the second path afterwards anyway. But what is important to note is that this system doesn't work like it does in Pokémon. Each version is an entirely different game featuring entirely different battles, characters, stories, etc. Only a few characters and battles are the same between versions, making buying the second path a good option. The first 6 chapters are the same between versions as well.
Birthright is a much better option for new players; not only are the battles less challenging than Conquest's, but it provides free opportunities between battles to grind for gold and experience. Conquest only gives you these opportunities during story missions, so you can be thrown into a situation in which your characters are underleveled and unable to complete a battle. Conquest is much more like a classic Fire Emblem game. However, Conquest provides a much more richer and fulfilling story than Birthright, as the player must both work from within a corrupt kingdom to help bring back the righteousness of the characters and manage his/her backstabbing family as well. Conquest builds on the battle skills from Birthright, so the best option is to play Birthright first, then go back and play Conquest. They are both worth your time, to be sure.
Fates gives you a huge number of difficulty options at the beginning of the game, which can be lowered, but never raised. The first option pertains to the actual difficulty of the game and has three settings: normal, hard, and lunatic. Hard is most comparable to a normal Fire Emblem game in terms of how hard enemies hit and how much actual strategy is needed to win. Lunatic is for insane people who don't like winning, and normal is best for beginners. The second option pertains to what happens to characters after they fall in combat. The three settings are: Phoenix, Casual, and Classic. Phoenix mode revives characters shortly after dying in a battle, casual mode revives characters after the battle is over, and classic mode kills characters permanently. Classic mode is how most other Fire Emblem games operate. I played on Normal and Classic, which I felt created a nice balance in difficulty. Personally, I would never choose casual or phoenix because permadeath creates a classic Fire Emblem experience and provides most of the challenge in this game.
If you've ever played a Fire Emblem game (or any tactical RPG), you know what to expect in terms of gameplay. The player starts with all his units concentrated in one area of the map. These units can move a certain range and attack once per turn, and once the player has moved all of his units, it is the enemy's turn to do the same. A battle is won by completing a certain objective, be it kill all enemies, defeat a boss, seize an area, or other strange objectives. Units can pair up with each other; the supporting unit in the pair gives stat bonuses to the attacking unit and has a chance to block enemy attacks. Pairing units builds a relationship between them, and unlocks support conversations between them.
Support is perhaps the biggest element of this game. Supporting one unit with another can give you huge combat bonuses, including stat boosts, the ability for a character to become a different class than his/her normal path, marriage, and children who can assist in battle as well. Picking characters to pair up is extremely fun, as the support conversations between characters are hilarious and there are just so many to be had, encouraging playing the game multiple times and building up multiple relationships in order to build your characters in any way you want. The way in which relationships factor into combat and story is truly unique and is one of the best parts of this game if not the whole series. There really is no need to look up guides on how to build characters, simply because there are so many options and players should really just choose relationships based on how they feel battles should go.
It's easy to see the amount of refinement shown in this game's combat system (after all, it's had plenty of time to evolve throughout the series). Gone is the system of weapons breaking over time (except staves), a system which really only cause annoyances more than anything else. Unique new classes really underline the huge variety of ways to play this game. Each defeat makes you want to keep playing and try new strategies, and the game keeps you on the hook the whole time. As many others have said, and as I could see from my experiences (albeit limited) with the series, this is the best Fire Emblem has to offer in terms of engaging and addicting gameplay.
The stories of Conquest and Birthright are drastically different in terms of both content and style. Birthright takes more of an ancient Japanese approach in terms of how people look and act and in terms of architecture. Nohr is an obviously darker story, featuring less sincere characters and a medieval Gothic style.
Both versions feature an excellent story regardless of their styles. Corrin's choice, being the center of the story, brings up many misgivings as Corrin is forced to abandon members of his family, and try to find someone to trust in as he/she is constantly surrounded by people whose intentions remain unsure. However the parts where the story shines is not in the overarching narrative but in the individual relationships between characters. There is a large amount of effort put into making each and every one of these relationships feel important and special. It's tempting even to just read the support conversations online.
This game's battle cinematics are easily controlled and customized by the player. There are buttons on the touch screen (which also correspond to physical buttons) that slow down, speed up, pause, play, and reverse animations in battle, and options to disable or skip them entirely. This kind of control is necessary in this type of game and is polished very nicely. If you're frustrated and just want to finish a battle, you can speed up or skip animations to your heart's desire, but if you want to see that critical hit animation one more time, you can slow down, reverse, and enjoy it.
There are several beautifully rendered CGI cutscenes, which really bring out the full technical power of the 3DS's engine, and they are some of the most beautiful cinematics seen on the 3DS yet. However, these few shining moments are brought down by some of the obvious design flaws and shortcuts taken in other areas of the presentation. Battle sprites are 2D and look like they just jumped out of the Famicom, some cutscenes use the ridiculous doll-like models like the ones from Bravely Default, and above all, there is a huge ghosting issue which creates an obvious double image if any amount of 3D is enabled. This ghosting amplifies the poor lighting as well. It's a real shame because I would have liked to be able to enjoy the 3D on a game that was supposed to be in, you know, 3D.
The music isn't amazing either, as it's either too quiet or too repetitive to pay any attention to. However, the voice acting is great, as there are some fully spoken lines as well as little sound bytes at the start of each set of dialogue that amplify the emotions of whatever text is displayed. While none of these elements are too great on their own, there are moments when they all synthesize and come together in a beautiful fashion.
What We Liked ...
- Excellent and polished battle mechanics
- Gripping story including thousands of support conversations
- Certain amazing 3D cutscenes
- Engaging relationship system
What We Didn't Like ...
- Lazy battle sprites
- Poor lighting (including ghosting issues)
- Repetitive music
GameplayAs far as tactical RPGs go, this game has about the best and most polished elements you could ask for, making an addicting experience that works well as a portable title, and has an amazing relationship system with tons of content. The multiple difficulty options allow easily customizable difficulties which are friendly to new players and veterans alike.
PresentationCertain aspects of the presentation are totally nailed, like the story, whereas others, like graphics and music, leave something to be desired. That said, there are moments when all of these elements shine and give the player a bone-chilling experience.
Lasting AppealWith three different versions and thousands of support conversations, as well as a long story with tons of side missions, this game easily provides 100+ hours of fun, lasting gameplay.
out of 10