Release date: February 19, 2016
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Fire Emblem Fates has been on just about every strategy RPG fan’s radar within the last year or so, with enthusiasts of the genre patiently anticipating the next title in the series to re-immerse themselves in a world with such beauty and intrigue equally spread between its gameplay and characters. Now with the long wait coming to an end and with essentially three new and different experiences being released at once, it’s finally time to see if the wait was worth it. Does Fire Emblem Fates build upon on its predecessors in all the right ways, or was it fated for failure?
One of the biggest changes Fire Emblem is seeing with this new entry is the split paths you can take after a certain point in the story. It only happens one time, but the decision you make completely changes what kind of game you’ll be playing. After spending a few chapters with each side learning about their goals and locales, you are presented with the decision to pick who you’ll continue your battle with.
I won’t get into too much detail about what changes, as discovering it for yourself is part of the fun in seeing your outcome, but what I will let you know is that picking a side means you’ll have completely different party members, different difficulties, and different scenarios you wouldn’t find in the other side. Each side has its obvious pros and cons, in both its people and morals, so picking between Nohr and Hoshido isn’t as easy as it sounds on paper. Also note that there is a third path you have the option to go down (Revelation), however this path suggests you play through both the Hoshido and Nohr stories first. That means the biggest contenders are between Hoshido (Birthright) and Nohr (Conquest).
One of the biggest differences between picking a side is hands-down the story, and how the plot between the versions contrast and intervene in ways you wouldn’t expect them too. Thankfully, each version still tackles equally large ideas and themes and does so effortlessly, with lots of great moments of high stakes and interesting exposition. The writing in Fates is top-notch, and is filled to the brim with metaphors and symbolism that’ll keep you invested just as much as it’s fun combat system does. You’ll meet dozens upon dozens of unique party members, each one possessing their own quirks and stories, which means the writers had a lot to take on. I can confidently say they did an excellent job, but I just wish Birthright and Conquest didn’t share some exact plot points, as due to me playing Nohr immediately after finishing Hoshido I found myself being forced to sit through the exact same scenarios with little changes. This isn’t found too often, though when it is it takes me out of the moments for a bit. Overall, the stories in each title are still incredibly strong tales with so much to love and enough twists and turns to keep you playing through the 15 hour story mode. It’ll ruin the fun if I talk too much about them and how the contrast, so that’s as far as I’ll go.
Each kingdom found in Fates feels very much alive and filled with incredibly deep characters littered across the land, in large part thanks to the My Castle feature. Finding out more about these characters and growing more attached to the world is easier than ever. Between the numerous battles you’ll endure through the story, you can take a break by running around and customizing your castle to your liking by adding crop fields, stores, and even an arena. There’s more to it than just placing down pretty scenery for bragging rights, too, as each building you set is fully functional – meaning you can make your hub world work just the way you need it to. Whether you want to spend your time upgrading the stores to offer the best variety of weapons, upgrade your fields and mines to gather the most resources, or just simply make your town cute as heck, you can. You can then share your castle online and even partake in battles in others castles around the world for various rewards, so there is a incentive to keep things looking fresh.
The relationship mechanic is deeper than it’s ever been in the series, with your avatar being able to build relationships and eventually marry nearly anyone from the opposite sex (along with some same-sex marriages!), and each relationship you build in hand helps you in battle. Once you’ve found your perfect Fire Emblem partner, in addition to having great advantages in battle, you can now visit them in your home periodically throughout your journey and be greeted with moments to “Bond”. These mostly consist of them embracing you before making a comment about love, but sometimes you’ll be presented with events where you get to wake them up or customize their clothes. It’s a little bit weird for my personal tastes, but if you ever desire to blow on your 3DS microphone to wake up a 2D animated character, its there.
Outside of marriage, most relationships consist of four stages, and with each stage you enter their bond deepens resulting in better bonuses on the battlefield. There’s also an insane amount of dialogue and lore found within the conversations you partake in, and even after your character is married they can still bond with other people. You will lose yourself for literal hours watching how every character interacts and how their children turn out. It’s important to note that every conversation shared between characters is completely different, meaning it’s hard to be bored when all these unique scenarios are being thrown at you.
Not last but definitely not least, the combat in Fates remains largely unchanged from what people expect in a Fire Emblem title, but what has been added and changed thankfully all work in the games favor. In Awakening, there were often times a problem where if you pair two strong characters together on the same panel and keep them together, they were practically invincible as each character not only had defense boosts, but each one were given attack boosts as well, plus, the one in control of the pair is the only one who can take damage. This time around, they changed it up by it less of a viable tactic to keep them on the same panel, with defense boosts being given to characters sharing the same panel, and attack boosts were given to those in corresponding, but never can both be given at the same time. This forces you to strategically place strong units and weak units within a close range and pairing them up when it works best. An addition that was made is a feature called “Dragon Vein”, which allows people with Royal Blood to step on a space and alter the environment in ways such as breaking bridges, creating stone walls, and melting frozen lakes to prevent people from walking over them. By using these special spaces, you can completely change the tide of a battle. Other changes from the formula include elements such as weapons don’t break anymore and each panel has its own arena when fought in (simply cosmetic). When all of these features come to play, it makes it feel like the natural progression from its predecessors this series should be heading.
Fire Emblem Fates provides an enthralling story with thought-provoking ideas, along with an ever-evolving combat system that could be as basic or as deep as the player wants it to be. Even once you’ve finished the story, there’s still so much to do and discover, like marrying each unit and recruiting their children, improving your castle to its fullest capacities, and leveling your party to become a force to be reckoned with. It’s not very often when a game of this caliber rolls around, and it’s even better knowing that once you’ve finished one part of Fates you’ve got yet two more to play through. For those of you like me who have been eagerly anticipating the newest Fire Emblem title, the wait is over, and Fates does not disappoint.
Fire Emblem Fates is just about everything we ever could’ve hoped it to be. Great stories, better characters, and a fun and never overwhelming combat system all blend so well together to create just about one of the best games the 3DS has to offer. If you’re a fan of Awakening, you will no doubt fall in love again with this new entry. Although, if you can, purchasing both Conquest and Birthright your first playthrough to make the decision more personal. Even if you can’t, with just one of the three released titles in your hands you still have hours of content waiting to have you falling in love.