Initial Release Date: February 19, 2016
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Platforms: 3DS (reviewed)
Fire Emblem, now somewhat a mainstream success, continues the turn-based strategy with Fates, which is further broken into three expansions – Conquest, Birthright, and Revelations. For this review, I played through Conquest.
Fire Emblem Fates is broken into three branching story lines between Conquest, Birthright, and Revelations. In Conquest, you decide to stick around with your family in Nohr instead of defecting back to your “birth” land.
When you get to the branch in the story, you get a choice based on what games and/or DLC you have loaded onto your system. Since I only had the physical Conquest cartridge, I only had one choice.
Before this critical branching structure is the build up to said divergence. Your character is finally freed from his castle isolation by his father, and you meet your siblings and begin to learn their various quirks. Half the fun of Fire Emblem is triggering the dialogue interactions between the characters.
Things move a lot quicker post-branch choice. In Conquest, it means coming to terms with choosing to stay with Nohr, which is a bit awkward as they are framed as the villains in Fates.
I don’t want to spoil too much, but the basic gist surrounds the avatar’s inability to reconcile his father’s harshness with his seemingly innate goodness. While the avatar wants to bring the kingdoms together and forsake war, the Nohrian King wants to annihilate everything in his path.
While it was interesting seeing the story play out from the “evil” side, it did seem a little awkward that the avatar has such a strange relationship with his family. He seemingly adores his father, whom he has barely met. His siblings have much better depth, in their parallel struggle to follow the patriarch against their moral inclinations.
Overall, the story’s conclusion was a bit easy to foresee, but did give the player some satisfaction. While I was not impressed with the overall plot, I enjoyed the characters and watching their interactions. In the end, I was interested in seeing how things played out in the other games, at least story-wise.
As with the story, Fire Emblem Fates branches into different gameplay styles depending on your choice. In Conquest, you are stuck with the “traditional” Fire Emblem formula where you move from chapter to chapter, without the ability to grind in between chapters (as opposed to Awakening).
However, in between chapters you are dumped into a castle HQ. Here, you can run around and interact with your army, collect items, and upgrade your base. Upgrading your base has multiplayer implications, but also gives access to things like the weapon and armor shops.
Just as in previous titles, your units bond via dialogue, and if they are compatible, they can marry have children. This is probably the most interesting mechanic for me, as I really like to try and optimize the units, or come up with some interesting combos for strong or unique offspring.
With your units and respective offspring, you enter each chapter battle. The intro and outro of each of these missions progresses the story before the the actual battling starts.
The battle system is the tried and true grid, turn based battling system we all know and love. You deploy what units you desire (although sometimes you have to choose certain characters) and move them like chess pieces to achieve whatever the objective is. If you are new to the series, the basic premise is very similar to Final Fantasy Tactics where you get a turn to move all of your units, and then pass the turn to the AI who counterattacks. Rinse and repeat.
Weapon counters remain in the game, and some new classes are introduced as well. Once a unit has gained the requisite experience and level, the can upgrade to their advanced class, just like previous titles.
For some reason, I did not get as engaged in switching up my characters classes back and forth as I did in Awakening. Perhaps this has to do with the inability to grind in Conquest, but I was disappointed that their was not a larger pool of experience to really develop the full range of units.
Overall, the game gave more of the traditional Fire Emblem experience. The battling is satisfying and devilishly tricky. Nohr has its own unique classes (as does Hoshido) which add more strategic depth, as you don’t just battle a mirror image of your own army.
While I enjoyed the basic gameplay mechanics, I couldn’t get over a certain lack of excitement I had in Awakening. Again, I attribute this to possibly favoring the grinding style over the straight story. While Conquest’s lack of grind increases difficulty, I suppose my enjoyment really stems from grinding my characters into unique killing machines. Birthright would probably be the best branch for me.
The graphics are decent enough for what the game needs. Notably, the characters now have feet, so that anomaly from Awakening has been remedied. The battles look as good as ever, although I turned them off after awhile as I was tired of seeing the same ones over and over. The animated cutscenes were superb, and in Conquest really help build up an important moment.
Without a true overworld map, I did not get sucked into the world or get a feeling of progression in marching towards the Hoshido capital. While the base building adds a unique layer to the game, it didn’t add to the atmosphere and I didn’t do too much multiplayer to make it worthwhile.
The expansion angle was, to me, an odd choice. I understand Pokemon has had success with the formula (as have other titles), but those are very much the same game, but with unique Pokemon per game. Fire Emblem gives very different experiences in each.
In a way, this is a really good thing – those who prefer one style over another get a choice. Looking back I really wished I went with Birthright, so I suppose I should have read reviews beforehand. I really wanted to get the special edition that contains ALL expansions onto one cartridge, but they are hard to find and quite expensive. Why not make more of these?
Overall Fire Emblem Fates was more turn-based tactics goodness, but failed to reach the hype of Awakening. Each of the expansions offers a unique way to play through the same story, while also maintaining a depth of customization (although still short of other “Tactics” titles).
The Conquest story was different, and gives a glimpse into the “bad guys” while building interest for the other games. The presentation is standard for the series, with some voice acting for the litany of dialogue and banter between the characters.
Overall, the game just lacks that little something special. I put some of this on my choice of expansion, but it was still a nagging factor. While Fates does a lot of good, it doesn’t reach the level of excellent.
+Branching story and gameplay style
+Tried and true turn-based grid
+Layers of customization with classes and children
-Multiple games increases cost
-Conquest lacks ability to grind
Total Score: 6.5/10