Sibling? Or sworn enemy? “Fire Emblem: Fates” sets families against each other.
You’d be forgiven for thinking Nintendo had decided to rip a page out of the money-grubbing Pokémon games playbook with the latest Fire Emblem entry, Fire Emblem: Fates. Splitting the sprawling storyline into two separate, seemingly full-priced games called Birthright and Conquest? How very Hollywood blockbuster.
But once you’ve plunged a few chapters into this deep and dark turn-based forest, the decision makes perfect sense — and in fact adds an entirely new level of interest to what’s already one of gaming’s best franchises. You’re cast as a hero tied to and caught between the warring royal families of two neighboring nations: the ninja-like warriors of Hoshida and the knightlike scions of Nohr. In an ultimate nature-versus-nurture twist, you’re forced to pick a side — Birthright follows the Hoshidan side of the story, while Conquest tracks the Nohrian perspective. Whichever you choose, the characters who were, just minutes ago, your relatives, friends and confidantes are now suddenly your sworn blood enemies. Ouch. And that’s just one of the Shakespearian twists that shapes the storyline.
Fates shares no small number of similarities with its predecessor, 2012’s excellent Fire Emblem: Awakening, and we’re not just talking about the turn-based strategy play structure. There’s an unintentional mini-game here where players can determine which new character is the 2.0 version of one that appeared in Awakening. And yes, there are a few serious clunkers here; Arthur, the beefy retainer who feels like a cheap knockoff of Patrick Wharburton’s Tick, is the worst.
But there are also surprising and fun new features, too, cribbed from other Nintendo franchises. Between main story missions, you’re tasked with creating your very own castle, complete with buildings that sell weapons and dinner-based power-ups, and locations where you can come back daily to collect and mine resources, a la Animal Crossing. In a stroke of the game’s trademark sense of wry-ass humor, there’s a building with a sage who’ll level hilarious Bachelor-like pronouncements on the burgeoning relationships between your units.
Because yes, the awesome social engineering aspect of the Fire Emblem games is back with a welcome vengeance. Frequently paring up particular units on the battlefield is the key to building trust, combat bonuses and eventually love and marriage, which then leads to a new generation of units to recruit to your cause. Exploring the conversations and cut scenes between character pairs is one of the most touching and rewarding parts of the game.
Birthright is where the series noobs should whet their swords and staffs — it’s easier to pile up experience points, and it’s significantly less punishing than Conquest, which offers exactly zero strategic quarter to your units, even in the earliest chapters. Not only do enemy units make frequent use of the unit-pairing function that used to only offer your side combat and defensive bonuses, but the missions all but dare/force you to abandon your smart and sensible defensive approach for an all-out frontal attack. In more than one mission, advancing quickly is the only thing that prevents waves of enemy reinforcements from ruining your army’s day ... but it also opens your forces up to ranged attacks from speedy archers and mages. Talk about your double-edged sword.
Buying one of the games at full price gives you the option to buy the other at a discount from Nintendo’s eShop. Whether you invest in both sides of this epic tale or make a singular choice, the story’s final ending won’t be learned until you buy something else: A $20 DLC pack called Revelation that’ll become available in a few weeks. A little mercenary? Sure. Luckily for us, this is a story and a game that’s worth every penny.
Fire Emblem: Fates Birthright and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest are each rated Teen and are available on the Nintendo 3DS for $40.