When Fire Emblem Awakening was released the series was feared to be on its deathbed. Sluggish sales had led Intelligent Systems to believe that Awakening would be the last in the series. Instead of becoming the Fire Emblem swansong, Awakening reinvigorated the series and expanded the player base. Fire Emblem Fates now stands to propel the series even further and expands upon what made Awakening so great with multiple epic story lines and a new castle system allowing players to build a personal stronghold and participate in versus battles.
In Fates you take on the role of Corrin, or the avatar, which can be customized to represent the player through the storyline. Unfortunatly Corrin has very few customization options to choose from. Short or tall, slim or slimmer. You can can get a little crazy with the hair but it’s limited to varying degrees of wild and wilder. You can also choose to be either male or female, while this will impact with whom you can have a relationship, in a bold move for Nintendo, you are capable of having same sex relationships in the game. They can also produce children.
Like most strategy RPGs you will participating in missions from a bird eye perspective navigating your units across 3d maps broken up into grids. When you have a unit take an action on another unit you will zoom in and can even go into a first person perspective of the unit you are controlling. In a break from strategy RPG tropes position adjacent to the enemy does not always provide you with a significant tactical bonus. If you get behind an enemy you will not become overwhelmingly powerful. The real strategy is in moving your units and deciding who to pair them with and who to leave them adjacent to for additional support. If you move two units into the same space they can pair up and the second unit provides a statistical advantage to the main unit. Additionally while in combat if you have a unit immediately adjacent to you they will offer further support. If you are attacked they will help defend. If you are attacking they will attack with you, although not at 100%. You can get multiple attacks in a single turn out of one unit this way.
As units work together, either paired up or adjacent on the map, they earn amity towards one another. This will grant them the ability to have support conversations after the battle has ended. These support conversations will strengthen the bond between the units and strengthen how they interact on the battlefield. Also paired units can get to the point where they are able to learn skills from each other, take on their partner’s class, and even get married and have children. The strategy in Fates isn’t just about where to move your units. It also boils down to who to move them with. Establishing which units to pair to cross promote skills and create offspring with the best of both parents can be a min/maxer’s dream. These multiple levels of strategy tie together and create a rewarding experience. Besides the strategic importance of these support relationships the conversations between the friends and lovers as their relationship grows can range from the touching to the boarding on the absurd. In one such conversation Setsuna informs the avatar that she gets caught in animal traps all the time when the avatar finds her stuck in a boar trap.
In addition to the solid strategy elements found in Fates there is an epic story that has three different paths a player can take. However, they present themselves as two separate games and a DLC. Players can choose to purchase either Birthright or Conquest to start, then download Revelations for a third story path once they reach chapter 6. In Birthright you choose to rejoin your birth family and fight against your seemingly tyrannical adoptive father. In Conquest you stay with your adoptive family and fight against your birth family. In Revelations you choose to not side with either but instead try and bridge the gap. For this review I played Birthright. This is considered the easiest of the three. In Birthright you are allowed to explore between missions and this allows you the opportunity to take on non story related maps and grind for gold and experience. In Conquest you are not given this opportunity as frequently and can find the game more challenging because your characters can feel under leveled. Revelations is supposed to fall between these two in difficulty. You can also adjust the difficulty down while progressing through the campaign if you become stuck. While classic mode remains as the setting that has the negative effect of permanent death to your characters you can also play on casual, which brings your characters back to life after each battle, or you can play on phoenix which brings your characters back to life after each turn.
A welcome addition to the series is the personal castle feature. In this area you will be able to place different buildings and statues as you accomplish goals and missions in the game. These buildings can then provide buffs to your party. There are also equipment venders, bath houses, and even an arena that you can fight and wager items at. Besides decorating and spending time in your castle you can visit other players’ castles too. These castles also act as a map that you can fight on. Players can challenge other players to fight on their castle and if they win they can learn a skill from their opponent or have a copy of the opposing players join their party. Also by visiting other players and gifting them accessories you can build up relationships with the other player. If they return the favor and give you accessories over the course of a few days a child will be born called a bond unit.
Unfortunately it is little things like the bond unit and advanced character class progression that show one of the minor weaknesses with this title. The tutorials never explain what is all available to you in your castle and in some of the game systems. Some of the systems are not intuitive and without knowing that you should be able to do something you may never actually do it. Players should not be required to do an internet search to figure out how to take advantage of all of the my castle features at their disposal when this is a system they could spend hours daily.
Poor tutorials and questionable monetization practices aside Fire Emblem Fates is a strong title that sets the gold standard for what a strategy RPG can be on a mobile device. With three divergent story lines the game has plenty of replay value and with multiple difficult settings it is approachable by everyone from the most hardcore sadist to the ultra-casual.
This review was conducted with a digital copy of Fire Emblem Birthright that was provided by Nintendo’s PR.
Gameplay: 9 | Multiple layers of strategy working in tandem create a memorable experience. Addition of personal castle adds unique multiplayer experience to the series.
Visuals and Sound: 9 | While small the over world character models are unique and distinguishable. Combat character models can appear fuzzy at times. Over all the game looks great. Original anime vignettes are charming.
Polish: 8 | Great experience. Additional tutorials on advanced character improvement and skills acquisition would serve to make a strong title stronger.
Longevity: 9 | Replay value is extremely high on this game even within a single story due to different pairing options between units and my castle feature.
Value: 6 | Fire Emblem fates has been split into 3 separate games. Birthright, Conquest, and a digital only Revelations. Each of these “titles” shows the story from the protagonist view if you take different paths. These did not have to be separate titles and will cost you at least $80 for all three. This is not the first game to have a split release but it also should not be encouraged. This does not include the DLC map pack that will release one map a week for 10 weeks and costs $18. That pushes the total for the game plus DLC to just under $100.
- Intriguing story
- Deep strategy systems
- Personal Castle
- Split into two games
- Not enough tutorials