Developer: Intelligent Systems/Nintendo Software Planning & Development
Medium: Digital/3DS Card
The popular strategy RPG series, Fire Emblem, is back with not one, not two, but three new games for the 3DS. For those that haven’t been following Fire Emblem Fates, it can be a bit confusing as to which version to purchase and even the best method to do so. Unlike Pokémon games that always release with two different versions, but have the same story campaign, all three versions of Fire Emblem Fates have different (but connected) stories, maps, and campaigns to play through.
At retail the game released in three forms: Birthright, Conquest, and the Special Edition. Birthright has you playing the side of the Hoshido, Conquest has you joining up with the Nohr, and the Special Edition includes both versions, plus a third quest line called Revelation where you don’t team up with either side. Revelation will be made available via the eShop as DLC on March 11 for those unable to obtain the Special Edition. Keep in mind that the best way to purchase these games is either all digitally, or by buying one copy on cartridge, and the other two digitally. The main reason is cost, since once you purchase a physical or digital copy, you’re able to download the other two versions for $20 each, making the grand total for all three $80. Which version you want to start with is totally up to you, but the general consensus is that Birthright is the easiest of the three and is the closest in gameplay to the prior game, Fire Emblem: Awakening. Newcomers to the series may want to start here. It’s what I did.
Birthright begins in the Nohr Kingdom. You play as Corrin, a young prince (or princess) who has led a very sheltered life away from the public. You soon realize that your father, King Garon is not a very nice guy and in fact he’s a very ruthless leader. Very early in the game you discover that you were stolen away as a young child and have been raised in the Nohr Kingdom as one of them. Your entire life has been a lie and the family you’ve come to know and love are really the bitter enemies of your real flesh and blood, the royal family of the Kingdom of Hoshido. After the sixth chapter you make your final decision to choose which side you will fight for. Birthright makes you choose the Hoshido, and Conquest will have you pick the Nohr.
If you’ve played a game in the Fire Emblem series, you’ll be at home with the mechanics in this one. If not, it’s very similar to other strategy RPGs, such as Shining Force and even shares some of the same DNA of games like Disgaea and Final Fantasy Tactics. You’ll have a group of allies that you’ll move around on the map one at a time. Each can move a set number of squares, and each has a specific attack range depending on the weapon he or she has equipped. For example, a sword will attack one square away, but an arrow can reach two squares away. This becomes even more important when you consider that the game implements the weapon triangle system, whereby specific types of weapons are stronger or weaker depending on what the enemy is packing. A general rule of thumb is that swords and magic beat axes and bows, axes and bows beat lances and knives, and lances and knives beat swords and magic. You don’t have to memorize this because if you move your ally and select to fight an enemy, it will show you the projected outcome of damage given and taken as well as an up arrow or a down arrow to illustrate if the weapon you have equipped is the best choice. There’s room for chance though, so the projected damage given and taken can vary, especially if your character completely whiffs a blow.
Similar to Awakening, there are a bunch of additional battle mechanics to consider. If you battle alongside an ally, he or she will lend some help. This will increase those two characters’ affinity for one another, and eventually they’ll level up and become more compatible. You can also double-up two allies onto one square. The lead character will do the attacking and the covered unit will be safe from enemy damage. Keep in mind that the enemies you encounter have the exact same tactics at their disposal, and the AI is rather smart. I was playing one round where I had an enemy down to 1 hit point left and he retreated to a nearby magician who healed his wounds. They also are very keenly aware of where your weakest fighters are on the map, and aren’t afraid to target them to gain an advantage.
One aspect of the game that has been vastly improved upon is the time it takes to get in and out of battles. Like all previous Fire Emblem games, when you initiate a fight, the screen transitions from an overhead perspective to a close-up of the battle. This time around the screen quickly zooms in and the two sides immediately engage. There isn’t any loading or pauses; it just smoothly flows, creating a very cohesive scenario. The music helps this along as well. Instead of shifting to a different song every time a battle is initiated, the map music continues to play, albeit with more bass and guitar riffs, creating a more exciting dynamic. While some gamers may not even notice this tiny detail, I found it helped keep me immersed in the battles at hand. Everything is so snappy and fast, and can be sped up even more by holding the A button down. There was no reason to turn off the battle animations, which you can still do if you want the battles to go by even quicker. I left them on because I love the visual flair.
Dragon Veins are new to the series. They allow royalty who have dragon blood flowing through them to tap into the veins on the battle map to change the environment. For example, early on you’ll come across a map where there are huge mountains of snow with enemies on top of them. Obviously the enemy has a vast advantage as they’re above you. If you find the Dragon Veins you can use your turn to activate them and the snow will melt, leveling the playing field. Another early scenario allows you to dry up a river so you can cross it. These are entertaining enhancements to the maps that can be used as you see fit.
Also new to the franchise is the castle feature whereby you build your own fortress that can be visited by others playing the game via StreetPass and SpotPass. As you begin the castle is an empty and desolate place. Winning battles will earn you points that can be spent to upgrade the facilities with new buildings, increasing your team’s offense and defense. You will be able to build a weapons shop and a rod shop to purchase new items. Your castle will also have certain types of food and resources, which is randomized. Just like in Animal Crossing, you can visit other players’ castles and collect items that aren’t available in yours. This will then allow you to upgrade weapons in the smithy or create new concoctions in the mess hall. This mode was far deeper than I anticipated, and is one more way to spend many hours playing this game.
The audiovisual presentation in this game is phenomenal. There are high quality animated cinema scenes that are fully voiced with fantastic 3D effects. The 3D really shines on the battlefield with everything looking gorgeous and little visual touches that really make this game shine. Enough can’t be said about the music in this game. It’s all fantastically orchestrated and many of the tracks feature short musical cues from the main theme song that really tie everything together. You simply must wear a good set of headphones to really appreciate this amazing soundtrack. The acting is great, with the only disappointment being that the entire game’s dialog isn’t voiced, as was also the case in Awakening. It’s not a major flaw, but some may find it distracting.
Fire Emblem Fates allows for you to play the game how you see fit. When it comes to difficulty you’ll have three choices: Normal (for series beginners), Hard (for experienced players), and Lunatic (for those seeking a challenge). On top of that you will be able to select your preferred game mode: Phoenix (fallen units quickly return to battle), Casual (fallen units return in the next chapter), or Classic (fallen units die, so each decision counts). The original Fire Emblem always featured permanent death for any character that died in battle. With Fates you can take it a little bit easier by choosing one of the other two options. I’m not ashamed to say I’m playing on Casual mode, as I was time constrained to get this review written, and I’ve never been a big fan of the possibility of putting hours and hours of work into a character’s progression only to have him or her die, wiping out all of my progress. Granted, the options exist for every type of player, and that’s fantastic.
I haven’t played Conquest or Revelation yet, so I can’t make direct comparisons to them at this point in time. However, Birthright is an engrossing experience that will keep even the most veteran gamers busy for many hours on end. The story made me feel attached to the characters even if it’s not the most original one ever told. If you’re looking for a deep, challenging, and rewarding game that will captivate you for hours on end, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is the one for you.
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