3 years have passed since the global success of Fire Emblem Awakening. No surprise then in saying that Fire Emblem Fates is highly anticipated by RPG fans all over the world. Not only this, but this time they have 3 different games to consider.
Fire Emblem Fates Birthright has two particularities. The first thing is that it gets a purely Japanese design. Whereas Fire Emblem Fates Conquest offers your regular western heroic-fantasy-inspired jobs and weapons, this episode innovates completely in that aspect by including weapons from Japanese history. Axes don’t exist and are replaced by sticks, spears are naganitas and of course, swords are katanas. As for classes, samurais and ninjas fight alongside merchants and onmyôjis (sorcerer, kind of). Big novelty of this version, the Phoenix Knight is a flying unit equipped with a bow : a trump card of high strategic importance you’ll want to make the best use of! There’s also a brand new maid class (or butler for men) that exists in both versions. Despite her peaceful and polite look, the maid is a real murderer! A change of universe achieved with great mastery and it gives the player a real pleasure of discovery.
The other big thing of Fire Emblem Fates Birthright is that it’s more accessible than its counterpart. Like Fire Emblem Awakening, you can look for a random encounter on the world map a level up your characters as you see fit, or search for some gold (which is theoritically impossible in Fire Emblem Fates Conquest). The victory conditions are also fairly straight because most of time, you’ll just have to wipe out all the enemies, or beat the enemy general in rare cases. This version is extremely generous for war funds and items : you never lack gold and items meant to boost characters’ stats are rife. Last advantage and maybe the biggest one, healing scepters have a reach up to 2 squares instead of one, which is wonderfully convenient to keep your healers out of enemy archers’ reach.
But do not be fooled by its “easy version” status. Even here, difficulty has been raised a lot compared to Fire Emblem Awakening. Opposing units sometimes possess unbelievable strength, making assaults really complicated. An average unit can survive one or two confrontations, but not three. A character taken on its weak spot is likely to be killed at once. The support system is of course still here but it has be rationalized : you have the possibility to form an attack duo or a defense duo. The attack duo allows two characters to strike instead of one, while in the defense configuration the second character will cover the first from time to time, nullifying the damage. In both cases, characters that have a high level of friendship together will boost their evasion and critical rate. A very rich and well-thought system but be careful, because your opponents will do exactly the same! All gives Fire Emblem Fates a way ore exciting challenge than its predecessor, i.e. battles that will make you sweat and that’s the best thing that could happen.
Let’s elaborate on Fire Emblem Fates Conquest a bit. Yes, it’s harder, it’s freakin’ harder. The pressure you feel in this version is something else, the challenge is overwhelming. The objectives do change from Fire Emblem Fates Birthright but not that much. True, you have a couple of missions with a limited number of turns or a very tense defense mission, but that’s about it. Most of the time, it’s still beat the boss or wipe out the enemy forces. No, the big difference is that the enemy units really mean business : in some places, even my characters with the highest defense attributes needed a miracle to come back in one piece. The strength of the enemies in the second part is just insane, and they have some crazy weapons, and they receive reinforcements all the time… And yet I haven’t mentioned the high-range, multi-target ballista, or the flying units that double their area of movements, or the fuckin’ bastards who GO THROUGH YOUR DEFENSIVE WALL! (Horrible, the motherfucker went straight to Aqua and one-shot killed her with a headbutt). In classic mode, it drives you crazy in no time. Now I think about it, you were probably told that gold and experience were limited in Fire Emblem Fates Conquest. That is WRONG : DLCs that respectively allow you to level up at wish and collect gold do work with this version, and you’ll probably need them.
The end is less idiotic than Fire Emblem Fates Birthright, but the story in a whole is no better : the main character will stick to fighting in honor and stuff, while his/her brother and sister keep asking to massacre everyone like a kid deprived of its toy. It is ridiculous and embarrassing. That said, I do recommend this version given how intense the maps are.
However, the game becomes so unforgiving that is doesn’t really seem made to be played in classic mode anymore : I had to reboot the 3DS more tiems than for all the past Fire Emblem games combined! Maybe I was just tired, but the some positions are awfully difficult to hold. My feeling is that Fire Emblem is getting increasingly closer to standard tactical-RPGs like Disgaea. Not only this, but some bosses also use the ryumayku (see below) which can severely damage several of your units, or even your entire team. Moreover, the game has the bad habit to have you play two chapters in row without saving, that is to say 2 or 3 hours of risky play. Too much is too much, I draw my joker card : casual mode, which allows you to keep fallen allies after the battle, can be used as insurance when the maps drives you mad. Not to mention the fact you can save whenever you want, too. Fire Emblem Fates also introduces a Phoenix mode absolutely astonishing to look at : your dead character comes back immediately on the square he has fallen with full HP! A blatantly ridiculous option that makes game over… impossible!
Fire Emblem Fates overhauls the armory and finds a different balance. This newest game introduces assassin’s weapons and their Japanese equivalents, shurikens. This brings certain changes in the triangle of weapons, and spell books and bow are also part of it now. You therefore have 6 types of weapons, divided in 3 color codes for more readability : blue weapons are strong vs red weapons, which themselves are stronger than green weapons, the latter having an advantage on the blue. Other revolution, the weapons do not wear down anymore (except healing scepters), but receive some positive and negative effects. It makes the inventory a lot easier to manage as you don’t need to go to the armory every 5 minutes. When you get a weapon, you have it for ever. Besides, there never has been that many weapon in the series, because very special and rares ones can be randomly found at the base. Still, weapon doesn’t disappear because you’ll have to consider a large array of possibilities when choosing your gear. For example, the steel naganita gives a small boost of defenses : ideal to have it equipped when you need to withstand an enemy offensive. On the other hand, the silver spear is very powerful but causes some stats to diminish after the turn, so it’s best to use it when enemy counterattack is not likely to happen. In the same way, some weapons modify speed and evasion, so your strategy actually begins here, in making the cleverest use of the various options.
Other novelty, Intelligent Systems’s latest game lets you wander within some lively and recreational headquarters called My Castle. You can have all sorts of buildings erected, some very important like the armory where you can acquire better, and the cantina where you can boost your characters’ stats for one chapter. Many others are purely for fun, like the library where you can listen to the soundtrack and re-watch cutscenes, the accessory shop, the hot springs etc. The place is also the center of the multiplayer via Streetpass because that’s where you’ll battle others players’ teams. You can also set traps to slow the progression of invaders. More peacefully, you can also pay a simple visit to your neighbour, use their installations and pick some of their ressources (which very often gives exclusive items). Don’t put too much faith in this picture though, it is impossibe to move while in third-person view.
Building and improve structures has a cost : one or more points (given after each map) of what is called ryumyaku. This concept, which could be roughly translated as «Dragon’s vein», is of utmost importance in Fire Emblem Fates’s universe since it allows the main characters to modify the topography of the environment to their advantage. There are countless ways to use it : activate/deactivate traps, create a typhoon to block air units, change sand into grass etc. A brilliant innovation which further adds to the strategic side of the title.
A little word on amiibos. My Lukina figure worked like the following : I had to speak to her thrice (and complete a map in-between, each time) to have her join the party. Her stats were not really sufficient (I was past half-game) but her progression margin is superior since her growth doesn’t stop at level 20. Therefore I do recommend to use your amiibos as soon as possible if you want to get the best of them.
In terms of story, Fire Emblem Fates really fails. For a reason I won’t spoil you here, your character is related to both royal families. This brings a rather awkward tone to the scenario in a whole, including «villains» that are in fact good guys, so they never seem aggressive or evil and can’t be taken seriously. Dialogs often turn like a lunch break family argument… Bosses never die and just retreat pathetically, to return a couple of chapters later. In the same way, let’s stress that you can no longer «talk» to an enemy unit to have him/her join you. In Fire Emblem Fates, any recruitable-looking character must be defeated and will leave the battlefield as if nothing had happened. To play the opposing characters, you have only one solution : buy another version of the game. We can only lament that this long-lasting feature in the series would be ditched for marketing and profit reasons. Beyond that, the main story is neither deep nor is it coherent, with a lot of disconnected chapters to inflate the duration of the game.
Another disappointment is the lack of dubbing : as the series took off economically speaking, we could reasonably expect more this time than bits of phrases here and there. It’s really a shame because the Japanese voice actors have been very well chosen, it would have been cool to listen to them more. Sad for you unlucky guys, you won’t listen to them at all. Side conversations are as good as ever, sometimes fun, sometimes moving, they perfectly translate the variety and the genius behind the character design, which once more will drive everyone happy. Still, those who weren’t convinced by the story in Fire Emblem Awakening surely won’t be satisfied here.
Despite being one generation behind the best PSVita games, Fire Emblem Fates is quite OK technically speaking given the efforts made by the developers to offer a superior rendering compared to Fire Emblem Awakening. The character modeling is still unappealing (faces are especially ugly) but animation has been refined to the maximum. Combat scenes show lots of little details, movements, gestures so good that you never have enough of it. The soundtrack adds to the art tour-de-force : numerous background or combat musics have a beautiful heroic or dark feeling in them. I’ll mention 正義は此処に (seigi wa koko ni), which brought me to tears. Better yet, the rythm accelerates when a battle begins, reinforcing its emotional power.
While Fire Emblem Awakening was introducing a bit of fan-service, Fire Emblem Fates goes full moe and sexy. Besides characters created in that aim (Camilla, Elise, Sakura, etc.), the game has cut-scenes and a mini-game 100% kawaii. It’s all about patting the characters’ head, like in Pokemon but here it’s actual humans, of both genders and various ages. Also, the accessory shop allows you to gaze at your characters in inner clothing.
But all that is nothing compared to the big surprise hidden in the game : this Fire Emblem directly borrows Senran Kagura’s costume break! In fact, you randomly receive rare weapons that can tear off the clothes of the enemy unit in case of advantage in the triangle of weapons. The character you face will have to keep fighting in underwear! Needless to say, given the censoring frenzy at Nintendo’s these days, those features will need a miracle to stay untouched in the western version. But let’s be serious and talk about the main point of this «trilogy».
The Cold War had the non-aligned, Fire Emblem Fates has Invisible Kingdom. This 3rd DLC only scenario changes everything in the flow of events because your character will choose neither side and flee almost alone. From there, the player will have face both kingdoms and convince them to form a great alliance to defeat a common threat, the cruel Invisible Kingdom. In fact, the traditional format of a Fire Emblem. It’s far better than Fire Emblem Birthright (the narrative of which is sluggish and the ending awful), and probably what should have been done from the very beginning instead of dividing the story for financial purposes. It’s still pretty far from the glorious narrative we had back in the GameCube/Wii era but we’ll have to make do. Invisible Kingdom has other qualities like its maps, which are astonishingly clever : one for example is fully covered by ice, and you have t break the ice to progress, the war fog comes back more or less, and another one will have you create clones of your characters who reflect every change of status! (note : after finishing both base games, quite some of those are rehashed). Including all the characters from both versions, all the second generation characters and side missions, Invisible Kingdom clearly is the canon story of Fire Emblem Fates, making the base games almost useless and certainly obsolete.
Fire Emblem Fates is exhilarating both by its near-perfect tactical gameplay and its artistic merits. It’s like drugs : it gives an immense pleasure you want to enjoy for ever. Lucky you, because, you have something like 150 to 200 hours of play to discover its universe completely. It is very unfortunate however that it had to attempt some marketing wizardry, which completely ruined the story.