I know a lot of folks are reviewing Fire Emblem Fates as three separate games, but I opted not to do that because 1) let’s be honest, they’re not THAT different and 2) I don’t have enough to say about each one individually that I couldn’t summarize the differences in a paragraph or two. Rather, I’m critiquing Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations as one package. So, if you’re really not sure where to start or are debating about getting all three, you’re in the right place.
If you’re not in the know (and I wouldn’t blame you if you weren’t, because it’s rather confusing) but Fire Emblem Fates exists in multiple versions. All three are the same for the first six chapters and once you reach that point, you’ll be given a choice. This choice dictates how the rest of the game progresses and thus which of the three versions you’ll be playing. If the choice conflicts with whichever version you bought, it will prompt you to purchase that particular route from the eShop. It’s kind of a novel idea in a way, but the execution isn’t quite what I was hoping it would be.
Before I get too ahead of myself, let’s talk about the narrative for a moment. As you begin Fire Emblem Fates, you’ll be asked to create your protagonist (who Super Smash Bros. fans will identify as Corrin). There are two main kingdoms in the game known as Nohr and Hoshido, and Corrin is the prince of the former. During a skirmish with Hoshido, Corrin is captured and revealed to actually be a crown prince of Hoshido at birth who had been abducted a young age. And thus begins the turning point. Do you side with your birth family in the war despite having no memory of them? Do you remain with those who raised you, despite being the instigators of the conflict? Or, do you regard them all as your family and opt not to take a side at all? It’s actually more difficult choice to make than it might seem, making for a great jumping off point for different story possibilities.
The game likes to recommend that you play through either Birthright (side with Hoshido) or Conquest (side with Nohr) before delving into Revelations (side with neither). And I completely understand why. While the former two have bittersweet conclusions, they spend more time developing the characters, leaving you to focus fulfilling the true ending in Revelations. This is reflected in how the game is sold as well. While the Hoshido and Nohr routes are sold as full priced carts, the third has to be purchased as $20 DLC (the cart you didn’t buy can be bought for $20 through the game as well and as Mark found out can ONLY be accessed through the cart upon purchase). If you were fortunate enough to get the Special Edition, all three are accessible on one cart, but as is par for the course for Nintendo, good luck getting your hands on one for a reasonable cost. Confused yet?
For someone looking for the classic Fire Emblem style plot, Birthright definitely captures that essence. There’s something off about King Garon from the beginning of the game, so by siding with Hoshido it’s pretty much established that you’re fighting on the side of good. And things progress in a way that you might expect. There are some twists and turns along the way, and you get to know your fellow teammates. It’s all around a good time, especially for newcomers to the franchise.
Conquest is a little more interesting simply because it deals with much darker themes. Corrin is forced to do a lot of inhumane tasks in order to prove loyalty, but struggles internally with the aftermath of such actions. The downside to this route is it’s far more difficult to find the characters likable when they seem unfazed by the moral ground that they’re standing on. It’s a little disturbing that a number of them recognize that killing civilians is wrong but seemingly struggle very little against doing so simply because it is what was asked of them. Especially the Nohr children who one would think would have enough clout to speak up, but rarely do.
The road that leads to the “true end,” Revelations, gets pretty interesting in that since you’re not siding with either side, you’re forced to build up your forces from scratch. Things are far less predictable as well, plus quite a bit of information is revealed about the proceedings that isn’t acquired from the other two routes. The downside of this, of course, is that you’re required to play the game multiple times to get these “Aha!” moments. Something that is seemingly minor at first, but it isn’t until you lose motivation halfway through your second playthrough that it dawns on you.
That’s really the biggest knock I have against the plot to this game. Each one is a standalone adventure that benefits from information given from taking other routes. However, many of the same things happen in each path, not to mention you’re fighting some of the same battles, just on a different side. Intelligent Systems tried to design a plot that encourages you to play through it three times, but in pacing each route to the length of a full RPG, they’ve discouraged repeat plays for all but the most hardcore of fans. I doubt most people who play Fire Emblem Fates will even bother playing through Revelations because they’ll be burned out from one of the other two, and that’s a shame.
There are other differences between the various versions aside from the plot. The missions found in Birthright consist primarily of straightfoward objectives like routing enemies or defeating bosses, plus there are plenty of opportunities to fight battles outside of the main chapters, making it the perfect entry for newcomers. Alternatively, Conquest introduces scenarios where your characters have to escape from insurmountable odds or defend for a certain number of turns. There are also no opportunities to grind experience between fights unless you purchase DLC, making it the go to for veteran FE fans. Revelations manages to hit the middle ground between the two, though it’s unlikely to be the one players try out first anyway.
The gameplay should be instantly familiar to franchise veterans, though it has gotten some notable tweaks. Things progress by alternating between two phases: one for the player and one for the computer A.I. When it’s your turn, you have an opportunity to move all of your units and attack any within range. Depending on their range, they may counter attack, though the game will give you an approximate outcome of the skirmish (assuming that a critical hit isn’t landed). Units abide by a rock-paper-scissors style ruleset, so swords are strong against axes, axes against spears, and so forth. Unlike prior games though, weapons don’t have a set number of uses before they break. Rather, when a character’s weapon skill is high enough to use a specific grade weapon, they can continue to use that weapon as much as they want without worrying about purchasing another. The downside is that some of the better weapons may lower certain stats as a tradeoff for hitting harder. Certain characters have access to map points called Dragon Veins what may alter the terrain in some way, such as adding healing points or stopped water flow, which is a neat strategic addition.
Having units positioned next to each other will build up their support rating. The higher the rating, the more of a stat boost they get if they are attacked, though they may lend a helping hand while on the offensive as well. Hitting S rank with another party member will effectively result in marriage and potentially open up a mission to recruit their offspring into your army. In other words, clumping up your units is key to success in a lot of cases.
New in this entry is a castle that exists in a sort of pocket dimension that will allow you to prepare for your next encounter between battles. I loved this addition, as it reminded me of titles like Suikoden that granted you an opportunity to build up your castle from the ground up as you progressed through the game. The difference this time is the additions are not static; you are free to build and upgrade facilities as you deem necessary. You can even demolish and move things around if things are inconveniently located, and aspects such as the style of the castle to the music being played while there are all customizable. All the typical amenities are available: shops for purchasing new equipment, blacksmith for upgrades, and even a bath house for… just hanging out with your team. Corrin has private quarters for bonding with teammates, particularly your S rank spouse if you have one. In the Japanese release, there was a minigame where you could pet their face using the touchscreen, which was scrapped in the western release, though you can still poke them if they’re sleeping or blow on the microphone to air dry them if they had just taken a bath. I suspect the face petting was taken out because western audiences would find it bizarre, though what’s left is still pretty strange if you ask me. There were a number of support conversations altered in localization, including an instance of two characters discussing how many people they had killed being adjusted to a series of ellipses. I honestly could care less, but I know some folks despise these sorts of alterations in any form.
If you have friends that play the game, you are free to visit their castles and utilize the facilities if they’re more built up than yours are. You can even attack their castle to see how well the defenses hold up. While minor, I did find it fun checking out how others structured the castles and leaving little comments for them on how they did. Especially considering how lackluster the social aspects of Fire Emblem: Awakening were. Similarly, if you StreetPass folks with the game, you can enjoy similar benefits.
Regardless of which version you opt to start with, there are multiple difficulty settings and the option to turn off permanent death for your characters if they fall in battle. To further open up the series to those not well versed in the genre, a new Phoenix mode is selectable, which will revive any fallen party members on the player’s next turn. While this does make it virtually impossible to lose, it certainly is nice if you hit a wall and just want to see how the plot concludes.
Between Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations, there is already a ton of content if you average about 30 hours per playthrough. But it doesn’t end there. After the conclusion of the tutorial chapters, the Dragon’s Gate will open up, which allows the purchasing and downloading of DLC. There is a free scenario up for download as of this writing, plus you can purchase Map Pack 1 to gain a series of new maps and characters that will be released in the near future. If that sounds like a season pass to you, that’s because that’s essentially what it is, and the number one implies it will be the first of several. I personally find what’s already available plenty of content without any additional purchases. Heck, just one route would’ve been substantial enough for me. And let’s not forget amiibo functionality for those that not only own either a New 3DS or the separate reader, but also the Fire Emblem amiibos; arguably the hardest ones to find. Scanning them will summon the respective characters into your world, unlocking a battle with them that ultimately concludes with them joining your cause.
While the presentation hasn’t improved substantially over its predecessor, it can at least trumpet one major addition: the characters now have feet. I also suspect that the developers are especially proud of this enhancement on account of many of the major characters wanting to run around barefoot. I was especially perplexed by Corrin. You’re wearing a suit of armor, but don’t even bother to put shoes on? I give Azura a pass since it fits her character class in a way. The soundtrack is pretty great, not to mention it has an expansive setlist. The English dub is pretty solid as well, even though the characters don’t really say much beyond a few set phrases. The animated cutscenes have a few lines of dialogue here and there, and the party members have a few blurbs they’ll often repeat when invited into Corrin’s personal space. The Japanese voiceovers didn’t make the cut though sadly.
Included in the Special Edition, aside from the all-in-one cart, is an 80 page art book, which is quite a bit larger than the preorder bonus offered for the prior game. There’s also a carrying pouch for your 3DS, which as I’m commented on in other reviews and unboxings that I’ve done, I find wholly unnecessary. But considering it’s the same price as buying either Birthright or Conquest individually and downloading the other parts piecemeal, there’s really not too much room to complain. A soundtrack would’ve been a rad inclusion though.
Despite my criticisms of it, I do love Fire Emblem Fates such that it will likely land near the top of my favorite games of the year. The gameplay is rock solid and it’s one of the few turn-based strategy games that I have enjoyed consistently over the years. I especially love the new castle building mechanic and feel that it brings a touch of Suikoden that, really, any RPG could benefit from. Being able to check out other player’s castles by way of StreetPass and the internet takes it up another level. I just wish the three route structure wasn’t handled the way it was. It’s confusing to distinguish between the versions, especially if you don’t know what choice you’re going to make until you get that far. Plus, each route is way too long to maintain the motivation to see through the other paths. For those looking for a ton of content for their money though, Fire Emblem Fates is a wise investment.
Short Attention Span Summary
Fire Emblem Fates is split among three different versions: Birthright, Conquest, and Revelations. The way the game is designed, it pretty much expects you to play one of the first two games followed by the third, if not all three. The problem with the design is that most players will burn out before getting that far, leaving you with only part of the whole story. This isn’t to say that you don’t get a complete tale by only getting through one version, because you do. There just really should’ve been more of a concession made for repeat players besides skipping tutorial chapters. That said, the gameplay is as addictive as ever, made better with a castle building mechanic that allows players to position structures where they please and even visit those made by friends. Bottom line: the Fire Emblem Fates Special Edition is the ideal way to go since it gives you the whole experience on one cart, but if that’s out of the question, newcomers ought to go Birthright while veterans stick to Conquest. Regardless of what version you pick though, you’ll still wind up with another excellent entry to a long running franchise.