Fire Emblem was a niche series in a niche genre for many years until 2013’s Fire Emblem: Awakening seemed to bring the whole franchise to the west in a massive way like never before. Although that title was intended as a swan-song, the success of it globally made a sequel rather inevitable. But it’s never quite as simple as it looks, with the release of Fire Emblem Fates taking place in a rather interesting way.
What we call Fire Emblem Fates is in fact 3 separate releases, subtitled Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation respectively. They can be purchased separately, with discounts available for digital purchases once you own one title already, or in a collector’s edition with all three versions packaged together. This isn’t some Pokemon deal – the three different versions of Fire Emblem Fates all add up to one story, so love it or hate it, if you want the full picture, you’ll need to get them all.
It works like this – Your character (customizable) is named Corrin and is the prince/princess of a Kingdom called Nohr, along with several brothers and sisters. After an initial mission gone wrong, you are found by the royal family of the nation your family is at war with, named Hoshido. They inform you that you are in fact their long lost sibling, stolen from them when you were a child. When your family from Nohr come to rescue you, you have three choices, depending on which version you have: siding with your true family from Hoshido leads to the campaign for Birthright. Siding with your adopted family from Nohr leads to Conquest. Refusing both and seeking a third option leads to Revelation, and the “true” ending. However, the story is designed that you play both Birthright and Conquest before making your way to Revelation.
The first two versions have some differences, with Revelation mostly combining them. In Birthright, Hoshido is an Eastern-themed area, and as such, your units and warriors are katana-and-ninja focused. You are also free to battle as often as you want, making leveling up and grinding possible. Your side is the more narratively “good” side, but it’s not so clear-cut as that. In Conquest, your home is very European knights-in-big-armour focused, and you have limited fights to take part in, making the whole experience more tactical and more difficult on average. Your side is also the more ambiguously “evil” side for much of the story.
The best way in which this division works is in the character interactions, which are fleshed-out amazingly. Close friends and family that you bonded with in one playthrough will ruthlessly attack you in another, forcing you to have to take them down by force. Add in the complex marriage system, and you might well find yourself going up against a former spouse. By the time you get to Revelation, almost every character from both sides is recruitable, making it so much more satisfying when you can save everyone this time.
The marriage system from Awakening returns – after teaming up with a specific party member on the battlefield enough times, you will receive humorous and heartwarming dialogue between them that eventually leads to marriage. Each character can only marry once. Through time portal shenanigans that you shouldn’t question too deeply, you receive the chance to recruit the child of that union as a fully grown warrior. The child’s appearance and abilities change based on who their parents were, meaning that a true minmaxer has the chance to practice their own idea of eugenics as they grow their perfect army. However, there is some touching humour in seeing a child arrive that for all intents and purposes appear to be the same age or older as their parent.
I’ve said all of that and haven’t even touched on the gameplay yet. Well, it’s a Tactical RPG in a classic vein, with a rock-paper-scissors system in place between different weapon types for your different classes. Classes can be changed in multiple ways, either upgraded, switched according to personality, or by your spouse’s. There are varying difficulty settings – the “true” Fire Emblem experience is to enable perma-death, which does indeed feel like the way in which the game was meant to be played, but if you don’t want all that fuss, you can dial it up or down until you’re in for hell, or just there for the story.
Some of the elements of gameplay can feel obtuse – particularly the level up and ability growth system, but it’s very rare that you will be left in a situation you can’t resolve. The story is functional and driven primarily by the great characters involved. You will find a favourite, I promise you. The graphics are surprisingly great at times, and the cutscenes are a real artistic treat. I got the Fire Emblem Fates collector’s edition, which cost about as much as a full PS4 or Xbox One game these days, so if you can find one, I recommend getting it. Otherwise, just find the version that appeals to you most. This game is great for clearing up a mission whenever you have a break in your day, and the character interaction system is addictive, to say the least.
Games like Fire Emblem Fates prove that the 3DS is possibly the most successful game system of this generation, for good reason.