I played my first Fire Emblem game in 2003, and it instantly became one of my favorite series. Moreover, alongside Advance Wars, Final Fantasy Tactics Advance, and the Super Robot Wars franchise, it helped make turn-based tactics games my new favorite genre.
In a mere two days, the latest entry in the series, Fire Emblems Fates, will release here in North America for the Nintendo 3DS. Here’s a rundown of what you need to know before you make your purchase.
So these are those guys from Smash Bros, right?
Yes and no. Corrin, your player avatar in Fates, was recently made available as a new DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. However, as much as you may like Corrin (or Ike or Marth or Roy or Lucina or Robin) in Smash, don’t go into Fire Emblem Fates expecting a madcap multiplayer fighting game. Instead, it’s a story-heavy turn-based strategy title.
And turn-based strategy is…
The best thing in the world! Seriously, though, imagine your favorite fantasy RPG–a classic Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest, if you will. Now, rather than a massive overworld map with tons of random encounters, imagine if the action instead took place on a series of smaller, gridded battlefields. Each side moves his characters in turn, and, when they come within range, can initiate combat. This also opens up the gameplay for larger parties, additional support options, and–you guessed it–deeper strategy.
Ok, but what was all that talk about the “petting mini-game”?
Well alrighty then–let’s go there! In the original Japanese iteration of Fates (released last year), there was an option included where potential paramours could be invited back to your quarters between combat missions and “petted” on the face and neck using the 3DS touchscreen to build up affection. Romance and marriage aren’t exactly new elements of Fire Emblem gameplay, and this “come on over to my place” (RIP Teddy Pendergrass) element is still there in the domestic release. The petting option, however, has been removed.
A rather questionable component of the game’s treatment of support character Soleil also got the axe. Basically, in the original release Soleil was a lesbian who gets extremely nervous around “cute girls.” As the game continues and the player character converses with her–these support conversations are very important in Fire Emblem both within combat and without–an option eventually opens up to spike her drink with a powder that makes her perceive other characters as the opposite gender. This can ultimately result in Soleil falling in love with a male character, and, if you ask me, is even weirder and potentially much more troubling than a little face pokin’. Either way, both have been excised from the US release.
So they cut out all the objectionable stuff for the American release?
That’s really dependent on your own personal sense of what is and is not offensive. Sure, the petting and magic straight girl potion were removed, but there are still elements of sensuality throughout Fates.
As I said, you can still invite characters to your house in the game’s castle-building simulator to try and make a love connection, and, even though they don’t coo when you touch ’em, you are treated to a close-up of their head and torso, so there are ample opportunities to ogle bosoms if that’s a thing you’re into. Speaking of which, a number of the support characters–particularly Corrin’s adopted sister Camilla–are fairly sensualized in both their design and vocalization.
And that’s not even taking into consideration that the title is crazy violent. I mean, while it’s never bloody or graphic, Fates is a game about warring empires, so opportunities for death, destruction, and mayhem abound.
TL;DR Fire Emblem Fates is rated T by the ESRB, specifically for “Animated Blood, Fantasy Violence, Suggestive Themes.” I understand that lots of kids enjoy Super Smash Bros. and may simply want to pick up this game because they have grown fond of the included Fire Emblem characters, but this is a very different game designed for a very different audience.
Duly noted, but what exactly is this game about?
Ok, now we get to the really good part! Outside of the turn-based combat and vibrant fantasy world, there are some things that old fans have come to expect from Fire Emblem: amnesia as a plot device, people who are actually dragons, one or more characters afflicted by a mysterious ailment, evil emperors. Yeah, Fates ticks all those boxes–and so much more.
Fire Emblem Fates tells the story of Corrin, a young prince/princess of the Hoshido kingdom who was captured and raised in isolation by the rival kingdom of Nohr. On his first mission for his adoptive father, King Garon, Corrin comes face to face with his blood relations–his mother and siblings–as well as Azura, a Nohrian princess who, like him, was taken from her rightful home.
It quickly becomes apparent, however, that even this seemingly coincidental meeting was cleverly engineered by Garon, who takes the opportunity to strike a critical blow to Hoshido and its citizens. It then falls to Corrin to make the hardest of choices: does he return to Nohr and serve with the family that raised him, or does he betray them in favor of his blood kin?
It all depends on which version of the game you decide to pick up.
Wait–there are how many different versions of this game?!
That’s actually… kinda complicated. Essentially, there are two different versions of the standard Fire Emblem Fates cartridge: Birthright and Conquest. In Birthright, our hero sides with his hereditary family to fend off the Nohrian interlopers. In Conquest, he (or she) instead returns to the side of his adoptive family, fighting the armies of Hoshido while simultaneously attempting to overthrow the power-mad Garon.
Birthright offers an easier, more straightforward campaign, while Conquest ratchets up the difficulty as well as the drama. However, there is a third (downloadable) option entitled Revelation; this path sees Corrin reject both families and strike out to uncover what great mystery truly lies at the heart of the rival kingdoms’ longtime animosity. Fans are encouraged to download the two alternate paths at a sizable discount–$19.99, as opposed to the original game’s MSRP of $39.99–and explore all the facets of this already expansive title.
There’s also a special edition game targeting Fire Emblem diehards that includes all three paths on a single cartridge, as well as a gorgeous 80-page art book and Fates-themed carrying pouch. Retailing for $79.99 (or $63.99 using Amazon’s new Prime incentive program), it’s the definitive version, but, sadly, it sold out quickly online.
And lest I forget the Fire Emblems Fates GameStop bundle. Priced at $279.99, this one nets you Birthright, Conquest, and a New Nintendo 3DS XL with an exclusive Fates design. You can also scoop up the New 3DS XL on its own for $199.99 via Amazon.
How is this one different from the previous 3DS title?
In addition to the already discussed My Castle mode–in which you can not only romance suitors but also customize the surrounding village and fend off invaders via StreetPass–Fates brings a lot of new features to the table. Most obviously is a change from the more traditional western fantasy of previous titles to Fates roots in Japanese culture and mythology. This influences the overall visual representation and music of the title, as well as the addition of new weapons (shuriken, katana, naginata) and classes (maid, butler, oni savage). Characters of royal blood also have access to a new Dragon Vein ability that allows them to alter the battlefield at specific points on some maps.
Another notable difference is a third difficulty mode. In addition to the game’s Classic Mode of play–wherein support character perma-death is a constant threat–and the more forgiving Casual Mode that sees characters flee a battle once their health has been exhausted, Fates also introduces Phoenix Mode. In Phoenix Mode, fallen characters can be revived on the next turn.
The game even forgoes the old limited-use weapon system for all armaments save special assets like healing staves. Rather than having a weapon break after a set number of uses, most instead can be used an unlimited number of times, but this comes at a price. More powerful weapons negatively affect the holder’s stats, essentially lowering things like Defense or Speed while bolstering attack damage.
Is Nintendo even bothering with the 3D elements anymore?
Yes, and the developers at Intelligent Systems have done a phenomenal job on Fates‘ visuals. The opening cinematic is nothing short of breathtaking, and the depth afforded by the 3DS to its cut-scenes make them equally inspired.
While the 3D may not offer a lot on the movement map, it combines with an adjustable camera system to make the combat even more frenetic. (Though, admittedly, sometimes this title does rely a bit too much on the old Vaseline-on-the-lens effect to simulate the speed of battle.)
Is there any amiibo support?
Yes, and it’s an easy way to bring those other Smash Bros. favorites into your game, albeit in a limited capacity. You can use your amiibo to lure Marth, Lucina, and the rest in to your village in My Castle mode–they may even bring you a special item!
What about newcomers? Is this a good starting point for Fire Emblem newbs?
In truth, I’m rather torn on this issue. Fire Emblem: Awakening was, from its straightforward character generation to its single cohesive narrative to its tightly tuned approach to gridded warfare, a great on-ramp for new Fire Emblem players. And Fates is no Awakening.
In fact, on some levels, Fire Emblem Fates is the antitheses of Fire Emblem: Awakening. Awakening told the story of a man (or woman) desperately trying to avoid hurting those he cares for most–whereas in Fates that outcome is practically guaranteed from the onset.
Mostly, though, I think that–particularly as a longtime fan–Fates perhaps didn’t seem as Fire Emblem-y as I had anticipated. In its more eastern cultural leanings, its deeply multifaceted storytelling, and even its departure from the classic limited-use weapons system, Fire Emblem Fates is something new. But, just like the reboot of a movie franchise or a continuity shuffle in a comic book never invalidates the media that came before, the new slant of Fates does not tarnish all the amazing Fire Emblem titles that I’ve loved in the past.
Now that all that’s been said, I can honestly state with that Fire Emblem Fates is its own thing. Moreover, it is several things. If you are a returning fan looking for more of that perfectly punishing fantasy combat you found in the previous entries, Fates can give you that. But if you’re a turn-based strategy novice in need of a fun and forgiving first tentative step into the genre, Fates can be that as well.
Fire Emblem Fates tells a number of stories in any number of ways, with the common denominator being its exquisite production values and finely tuned combat. Whatever distinct brand of handheld adventure you seek, it can very likely be found on this same little cartridge.
Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America