Disclaimer: this review is primarily based on the Birthright version of the game, so differences from both Conquest and Revelation will be evident. Spoilers for the story before Chapter 6 are to be expected as well.
A game so divisive in the months leading up to it’s release and the second title post-revival in the Fire Emblem series: Fire Emblem: Fates. Does it live up to it’s predecessor which literally awakened the series once more or is it fated to be a disaster? Let’s find out.
Despite Fates going the Pokemon route and having three versions across the entire experience, the story is identical for all before the version split. Birthright and Conquest have some similar story elements after the split, though.
A brief synopsis: the kingdoms of Nohr and Hoshido have been at odds with each other for a long time. The story begins in medias res, portraying the Avatar for this game(Corrin) standing alongside some units from Hoshido in battle. Shortly afterwards, the story shifts to a few days prior, where Corrin is residing in Nohr. A series of events eventually lands them in Hoshido, where they learn several things from the wealth of characters in the kingdom, including a mysterious dancer named Azura and Queen Mikoto, who is revealed to be Corrin’s mother.
Nohr’s ruler, the evil King Ganondo-sorry, Garon, kidnapped the orphaned Corrin as an infant after killing their father, which is why Corrin was raised in Nohr. Corrin also learns that they possess the ability to turn into a water-based dragon after a traumatic event which involves the death of Queen Mikoto via assassin. After some time, the story shifts to the battle mentioned earlier, where Corrin chooses whom to side with, causing the version split.
Depending on whether you have the extra path DLC/Special Edition or not, you’ll be locked to the path corresponding to your version of the game. In the case of this review, it is Birthright. Siding with Hoshido makes Corrin an enemy of Nohr. Throughout the adventure in Birthright, Corrin travels across the land, meeting new faces, old friends turned enemies and killing a bunch of people in self-defense in a story about treason, sacrifice and a huge mystery about why the kingdoms can’t live in peace, and the opposing side’s attempts to say that Corrin’s pacifist ideology is an impossible feat.
Without spoiling the plot from there on out, it is a far more serious story than the last game, whose story was relatively standard for an RPG. The emphasis on emotional moments is hammered in relatively early starting with Queen Mikoto’s death, and it only escalates from there. Though that’s not to say the story doesn’t have humor, it’s just limited and reserved for side material such as supports.
When compared to Awakening in terms of quality, the narrative for Fates annihilates its predecessor. Without elements such as time travel, which can ruin a story without proper handling, the story for Fates is much more consistent as a result. Not perfect, yet improved.
From an aesthetic standpoint, the game gets things right starting from the main menu. You’re given the option to get the opposite version and Revelation from the outset if you want to do that, start a new game directly from the Branch Of Fate(the version split chapter), do multiplayer battles and miscellaneous options such as DLC management, SpotPass activation and presents.
Character creation has been taken a step up from Awakening. Instead of the bland menus, every option menu barring hair color and extra facial features resembles this:
There are circles across the board to determine what one would want. Every quadrant is different and gives more of an idea to what an individual player is looking for, so it’s more intuitive compared to the menus of Awakening, giving a better idea of what the player wants.
Visually, the game is top-notch. The game runs perfectly with a consistent framerate with or without 3D enabled. The character models have seen a boost in quality(with the marvelous addition of feet), the backgrounds are very detailed, and the character sprites are about as good as those found in Awakening. The voice acting is around the same level as Awakening as well. Characters properly emote their lines in the given context and don’t sound out of place or forced, thus giving a natural feel(and as usual, has amusing voice actor allusions for the trained ear, such as Albert Wesker being Gunther).
On a related note, while seemingly obvious, Corrin’s voice actors in Super Smash Brothers for both genders carry over to Fates as part of the customization, so anyone who enjoyed their performances need not worry. Even for those who disliked them, Corrin is much more subdued(and serious) compared to the Smash performance, so if the hamminess was a turn-off for you, it’s not here.
Gameplay-wise, the formula from Awakening has carried over with tweaks. If you know what was there, you’ll find a largely similar setup here.
New to Fates is the Dragon’s Vein; by standing on a glowing tile with either Corrin or specific characters, an event can be triggered which alters the map in a particular way; filling rivers to prevent ground units from crossing, causing landslides to damage enemies and turning a limited amount of tiles into healing spots are just a few of the events possible. Using these effectively is key to tipping the scales in your favor, as the difficulty has been ramped up from Awakening, making tactical thinking more necessary. In Birthright’s case, the design of the maps resembles the former game, but enemies have gotten stronger to compensate for this, particularly on higher difficulties. As a personal recommendation, Casual/Hard is, in my opinion, a good balance between challenge and fairness to those who aren’t confident enough to tackle Classic mode; challenging in it’s own right but giving more leeway for mistakes. The second half of the game can still be tense as the challenge is ramped up significantly.
Battles themselves are handled similarly to Awakening with a couple of tweaks. Zooming in and out of fight scenes is now done seamlessly via zoom-in as opposed to Awakening’s use of a black fade-in/out to make the jump, so it feels more like a real-time transition. Speaking of battles, two big changes were made to combat stemming from weapon durability and the weapon triangle. For the latter, the rock paper scissors format has been switched around; Swords and Magic have an advantage over axes and bows, axes and bows have an advantage over lances and hidden weapons. lances and hidden weapons have an advantage over swords and magic. As for the former, previous games had weapons degrade with each turn they were used. In Fates, this has been removed. While a far cry from the rest of the series, it does make things a little easier in regards to micro-management when there are many units on the battlefield. Note that this only applies to offensive weapons; supportive weapons such as staves still degrade and break, so keeping an eye on whatever clerics are present in battle is still important lest your source of healing is killed. In that aspect, the combat is considerably more streamlined than the previous entry.
Replacing the overworld from Awakening is My Castle, attained shortly after the version split. Put simply, it’s a hub world where all of the extra activities can be done, such as shopping, minigames and supports. It’s also highly customizable in different areas, such as name(for online interactions), your assistant(who acts as the castle manager to relocate, build and destroy buildings), the theme(one of several physical layouts that varies with route) and even the background music. While we’re at it, the overworld is technically still there, but it’s different. Instead of a map you walk around on, Fates has reduced this to a drop down list of every available mission and the option to change difficulty should you want that. For mission navigation, the change is a welcome one. Grinding in Birthright, for that matter, is done by spending gold to scout for armies in previously visited maps, though they also appear automatically as one progresses through the game.
Overall, the core gameplay has been fine-tuned in all of the right places. Familiar to those of the previous game while introducing new aspects that blend in well.
The multiplayer aspect of Fates isn’t very deep, but it exists. It’s possible to visit other players’ castles to gain materials and battle them for a chance at recruiting one of their own or buying a skill they may have equipped; however, these battles are AI controlled as opposed to the player, and have the units in positions set by players themselves. There is a proper multiplayer mode accessed from the main menu, which plays out like a standard battle but with a reduced team size and a 5 minute time limit for making moves due to being human controlled. These battles, unlike the previously mentioned ones, don’t affect a save file in any way. The inclusion is nice, but it feels like more of a distraction than something you would do constantly.
As teased before Fates‘ release, amiibo are compatible with this title. Currently, this extends to the first four Smash series Fire Emblem amiibo in Marth, Ike, Robin and Lucina. When tapped, the character is summoned into the game world, where they’ll spout unique quips when talked to(Robin in particular makes several Smash related references), and can be fought to recruit them to your roster. It’s no easy feat, though, so come prepared if you try.
DLC returns for Fates in two flavors: extra maps and other paths. The former is identical to Awakening’s handling of DLC maps, being extra missions to complete accessed via a separate gate in the mission select, sometimes giving a bonus for doing so, such as extra gold or a unique class/weapon(one future DLC will even grant the opportunity to recruit series veteran Anna to one’s roster). Other paths are exactly what they sound like: obtaining the opposite path you didn’t buy; note that this only applies for non-Special Edition versions of the game. For Western players, the third path known as Revelation does not become available until March 10th, 2016(tomorrow) unless the Special Edition was bought, which had it immediately available.
On a related note, this by extension adds a lot of replay value for Fates as a whole. Between each version there are around 27 chapters; those seeking a complete experience will likely sink well over 90 hours within the entire product. Individual routes on their own can also be lengthy to a lesser degree with extra Paralogues for child units, DLC and multiplayer.
Fire Emblem: Fates has managed to trump it’s predecessor in all of the right ways that join together to make it a solid experience even on it’s own merits and effectively a straight upgrade. The main story alone is quite the task to finish, and after that there is plenty to do with DLC maps(with one free map known as Before Awakening, taking place, well, before the events of Awakening), other routes(including the upcoming Birthright), and multiplayer. Despite all of the controversy surrounding it’s pre-release, it doesn’t detract in any way from the fantastic product that is Fates, regardless of the version you’re playing. Easily one of the best 3DS titles this year.