One of my most vivid memories of my childhood was the Christmas of 2003. I was 12 and my parents and family somehow convinced my grandfather to get me a video game, and seeing how old fashioned he was, this was a feat. As I opened my Christmas present, my smile grew as I unveiled a game I had seen on commercials the last few months. It was a fantasy game for the Game Boy Advance, called Fire Emblem. I thanked my grandpa, and immediately put the cartridge into my GBA to start playing. I remember some things from that year in my childhood, things like friends leaving, having my first real kiss, my first girlfriend; a lot happened that year. Even with all those things, the most vivid memory I always had was my time with that game. Lyn, Hector, and Eliwood were my childhood heroes, and I always went out to the backyard to reenact the story piece by piece. That was the start of my fandom and love with the series, and since then I made it one of my missions to either find emulations of the classics to play, or watch playthroughs of the classics so I could understand the series fully.
When Fire Emblem: Awakening came out a few years back, I played through it about 10 times. After enjoying it so much, I’ve tried (and I think succeeded) to get all my friends to hop onto this series as fast as possible, as at the time of Awakening’s release, the franchise was dangerously close to coming to an end. Poor sales and a small overseas fan base had only left pockets of diehard fans like me, so when Awakening became a hit I was overjoyed. With a large fan base now invested in the franchise, Nintendo announced last year that the next entry into the series would be their most ambitious yet. Fire Emblem Fates (Fire Emblem If in Japan) would have 2 separate versions, and a third edition released a few weeks later. As a die hard fan I was largely skeptical of this idea, as it sounded like a bit of a cash grab. Now that I have played one of these editions, FE Fates: Conquest, I’m starting to get an idea of if my fears were right or wrong.
**Aqua's (a character in-game) alternate music for Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest**
The story has always been an important staple of the franchise for me, as I always thought of it as your reward for progressing through the sometimes grueling levels. In Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, the story has an interesting premise. You are a Royal child born of the nation of Hoshido, yet when you were a child, you were kidnapped by the warring nation of Nohr. You are raised in Nohr thinking that you are a daughter of the King, and siblings of his children. Through the course of the games first few chapters, you then find out the truth of your Hoshidan heritage. This all comes to a head, when your Nohr foster siblings (who love you dearly), come to find you, and the two opposing armies clash. Do you choose your blood family, or do you choose the family you have been raised with? If you picked up a carbon copy of Conquest, siding with your foster family of Nohr is your only choice. Playing through Conquest, I found that ultimately siding with Nohr, despite having to abide by the actions of your despotic foster father, proved to be the more just choice. When I listened to what Kody said in his review of Birthright (see next post below), it does seem that choosing your blood relatives seems to be the easier choice, and not just because it’s the easier game. Your character constantly goes through self-doubt, and because you are working to change Nohr from the inside, you have to make tough choices in order to ensure a bright future for all. Your foster family is also on your side, and they are not just evil copies of foot soldiers enacting the will of your evil father. They care for you, and they care for the future of Nohr. They all want to envision their country to be a proud, yet peaceful one, and it's largely only a few bad apples in power that make Nohr the villainous warring country it is. By the end of the game I was satisfied, though I think King Garon was ultimately a fairly formulaic villain. I also could have done with way less of Camilla (your eldest foster sister), as she is the anime stereotype that’s way over sexualized. It’s the type of character that gives anime a bad rep in the eyes of most western audiences, and I really hate when a character keeps those tired stereotypes going.
-Graphics and Animation
Fire Emblem has had many different iterations of battle animations, but the idea of it has largely remained the same. Characters square off side by side, and execute the attacks that were predicted to happen once the battle takes place. Introduced to the handheld versions for the first time in Awakening, Fates carries over the 3D battle sprite animations. This was a big change from the 2-D sprites of older Fire Emblem games, but a welcome one for the most part. The battle animations and attacks in Awakening were decent overall, but one thing that was criticized heavily was that the sprites had an odd habit of missing their feet, as well as having attacks that looked kind of boring overall. With Fates, sprites finally have feet! Yay!!! Animations for the attacks themselves have also seen a stylistic upgrade as well, as now there is more variety in the way specific units attack and use the weapons they have equipped. It’s a huge improvement for me especially, as I always missed the stylish 2-D animations of old. My only complaint with Fates are the spell animations. They still feel a bit tame overall in the imagination put behind them. I miss the days of old where I could have my badass Sage unit consuming the entire screen with his awesome fire magic, and seeing the magic stones he uses to cast pop out of his cloak for the ultimate devastating finish. As a final note, I have to give extreme credit to the team who did the cut scene animations for Fates. The team continues the standard of excellence from Awakening, and all of the cut scenes look gorgeous on the 3DS. The other thing to note is that the load times are extremely fast on the new 3DS, but still consistent and smooth on the old ones, too. My girlfriend has an older model, and it still ran really smoothly for her as well.
From its inception, FE Fates: Conquest has been pitched as the more traditional experience for players. Conquest would feature the removal of a few things in FE: Awakening that broke the difficulty of most maps in many ways. FE: Awakening allowed players to fight hordes of 'Risen', undead armies, whenever they popped up on the map. There was also a DLC map available, that allowed you to just constantly replay the level until you maxed out your characters. Being able to max out your characters before actually facing enemies took out any sort of difficulty during battle. You could make units that were essentially gods, and had no risk of losing. Strategy is an essential element in the earlier Fire Emblem games, and FE: Conquest makes that a priority, as the ability to grind is practically removed from this game. Yes, there are a few Paralogue missions and ‘My Castle’ (I'll speak on this shortly) invasions that allow for experience gains outside the main story, but they aren’t re-playable. As FE: Birthright allows for grinding through Scouting, Challenges, Paralogues, and Multiplayer battles; Conquest is the quintessential Fire Emblem strategy experience.
Another huge difference from the alternate games is in FE Fates: Conquest’s map design. Objectives vary from the typical “Rout the enemies” experience, and maps are designed with greater emphasis on careful unit placement. These maps also bring to the forefront, what might be Fire Emblem Fates biggest change: Dragon Veins. Dragon Veins are unique tiles that can only be used by units that have Royal “Dragons” blood, so pretty much either family on the two opposing sides. These Dragon Veins have a variety of effects ranging from: Acid Rain, drying up bodies of water, removing rocks that open up new lanes of combat for your units, creating pillars to traverse over canyons, and special healing tiles to heal units that are in the area of effect. These Dragon Veins prove very crucial to how you play Conquest, especially in the late game. The last few chapters introduce these in a micro-managed sort of way, and if you aren’t careful, you can find yourself in a world of hurt, fast. Ultimately; these Dragon Vein spaces do their job well, and I for one really enjoyed this new addition to Fire Emblem’s map design.
As well as Dragon Veins, Fire Emblem Fates also introduces changes to the paired unit option. Introduced in FE: Awakening, this concept was very polarizing, as there was hardly any downside to pairing units together. Increased stats for the main units, the ability to have the partner unit add additional attacks, and the chance to even nullify enemy attacks meant that these units became super units that just wreck the battlefield. Now in FE: Fates, they have changed it so that if you pair units together they can’t grant additional attacks, but still do gain the increased stats and the chance to defend enemy attacks. If you want the additional attack from a friendly unit, put them side by side, and overwhelm the enemy, but you lose the increased stats perk and the ability to defend. This creates a new way to think about how to pair units up, who to use for defense, and how you want to control the areas of the map. If that’s not enough of a change, enemies can also do this as well! This is really great as it also adds a layer of caution to how you play. No longer do you have the arrogance to simply walk down with a unit and attack groups of enemies together. If you do, you’re an idiot with no foresight, and you will be punished rightfully so.
The Multiplayer element got a significant boost as well, with the ‘My Castle’ component of the game. This adds the ability to create your own unique base that you use in-between missions (much like how it was used in FE: Path of Radiance), to chat with your characters, buy weapons, manage inventory, and check your character's growth. In addition to these concepts, your base also becomes a place that you can use online as a sort of waiting room for battling potential rivals. You can visit other people’s bases, and request to fight their team one-on-one in either their base or yours. This proved to be rather enjoyable, and if you build your base accordingly, can be very strategic in how well your team can defend your base. You can block off routes to the throne (the area an attacker needs to seize to win), and add all sorts of traps and weapons to enhance your defensive capabilities. It really hints at something grand they could have done, so I wish there was slightly more variety in this regard as it’s really fun to fight your friends. If you are playing on classic mode, don’t worry, as any units that fall in battle are not lost forever.
With all of these positives I have mentioned, I do have to list two negatives…. The first is the capture command. This is an ability that a few unique units gain, that allow them to capture a defeated unit and put them in your prison if you have one built. After a time, you can eventually bug them enough or offer them a bribe. Since you can only use this on Joe-Schmoe units, I kind of find it to be a waste. If you’re playing on lunatic difficulty, I guess it would give you an edge as you would be able to distract enemies and make them sacrificial pawns, but that’s not what makes Fire Emblem great. The allure of Fire Emblem is fighting with people you have gotten to know, not faceless guy #85. If they had evolved this ability into something to maybe capture bosses for example, it would be way more compelling, kind of like what they did in the older Fire Emblem game Thracia 776.
The other addition I find to be horrible, if not insulting, is Phoenix mode. New to Fire Emblem Fates, this mode allows fallen units to return to the game 1 TURN LATER. At least Casual mode has the damn decency to keep fallen units off the map! This is a complete bastardization of any element of strategy or difficulty, as now you can throw your undead legion against the enemy without any thought of reprisal or remorse. It’s essentially a game mode I can only see small children enjoying. Avoid this mode at all costs, as it completely destroys the gameplay that makes Fire Emblem iconic.
-Sound and Score
As always, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest lives up to the standard that’s been set. Scores and themes of epic proportions convey and ferment the drama and battles that unfold before you. If I had to put it on a tiered scale of enjoyment, I’d put it right below Awakening, which is below the excellent score for Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance. Nothing seems to get close to topping the Fire Emblem for GBA though. Everything Into Dark and the Black Fang Theme still remain among the most badass songs of all time, and that entire game begs for a full orchestrated remaster at some point. The sound of all attack animations sound great too, and with few exceptions, the character voice actors all sound great.
With everything I’ve said above, I confess myself a bit torn on how I feel about the final product of the game. In a way, I think it’s due to the fact that it isn’t the final product of the game. There are still two versions of the game still out there for me to play, which apparently leads to some grand finale we get in the final of the three versions: Revelation. Is this as much of a cash grab as I thought? No. I did get the Special Edition, which means I have access to all three versions on the solo cartridge. Altogether it adds up to about $90.00 with taxes, and it’s hard for me to recommend this to most consumers. For Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest, I can at least seal my approval for that solo outing itself. It’s a game for die hard Fire Emblem fans, but is also malleable enough that if you know how to play a turn based RPG, you’ll feel right at home. The final verdict for Fire Emblem Fates as a whole is still out though, and in about two weeks I’ll discuss this with two other people I played alongside with. By then, we will know once and for all if this was an intelligent new way to market the game, or if this was just nothing more than a recycled experience that you play three times over. I'm hoping for the former, as I don’t want Fire Emblem to be marred by an experimental selling tactic. The way we play and consume games is changing, so we need to be ready to tell the market what works and what doesn’t with the one thing that matters most: cash.
Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest is an excellent venture for the Fire Emblem faithful, and is a great reminder of what a strategy based RPG should be. The only faults are a silly baby (Phoenix) mode, unfulfilled Capture command, and its high bar of difficulty. If you are new to the series, I’d still recommend Fire Emblem: Awakening as your point of entry, or at least turn on Casual mode. I’m used to banging my head into a wall when my units miss on a 95% hit chance, immediately being killed a turn later. Some may not be used to that systematic abuse however, so proceed with caution. The final fate of Conquest (pun intended) will eventually lie into the completion of Fire Emblem Fates as a package however, so head back in about two weeks when we will post a full cast on Fire Emblem Fates as a whole.
See you then!
Review written by Anthony Tyson on 3/3/16