Fire Emblem: Awakening was my introduction to the Fire Emblem series. I had skipped out on the prior versions due to the whole “permadeath” option I had heard so much about. Having a character die in the game, to which they are no longer part of the story, was an option I wasn’t too keen on. Sure, I’ve played games where main characters or side characters die, but those were almost always scripted events, and usually not by a choice or mistake I made in battle. I ended up giving Awakening a shot after hearing I could disable this feature and enjoy the game to its end with my whole cast of characters. I enjoyed Awakening immensely, and was excited for the future of the Fire Emblem series.
Right out of the gate, I’ll let you know that Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is incredible, and this review will focus solely on that version. Taking the Pokemon route this time around, Fire Emblem Fates is split up into 3 different versions, each following the story of the warring factions of the Hoshido and Nohr provinces. Currently, Birthright and Conquest are available to buy physically, with Revelation available on Nintendo’s digital eshop March 10th for a discounted price. Note: If you own just one of the titles physically, you can digitally purchase the opposing factions’ story at a discounted rate via the same eshop method.
I’ve never been a huge fan of turn based games, but Fire Emblem Awakening had such well written characters and such an interesting way of showing off its gameplay that I was hooked right off the bat, and Birthright, at least for me, surpasses Awakening in almost every way. As deep as the mechanics and gameplay go, Fire Emblem at its core is a game that mixes chess with an anime dating sim. You’ll find action on the battlefield, as well as find love or friendship, and should those relationships blossom, you’ll recruit the offspring of those characters to join your party due to some time manipulation/dimensional nonsense that doesn’t really get fully explained here, at least in Birthright.
The characters of Fire Emblem are what stand out for me. While I love the battle systems and the visuals, the characters themselves are why I enjoy this series so much. It’s hard to talk about some of them here as who joins you and who doesn’t can come off a bit spoilery, so I’ll leave it to you to discover your favorites. Birthright has a great cast of characters that you’ll get to know quite well, even if some of the more interesting ones seemed to be exclusive to Conquest. Characters will have discussions about ice carving, tea making, the value of art and one character that talks in almost nothing but Haiku’s. These moments kept me wanting to learn more and more about them as I would discover more fighters. You can level up the friendship rating between characters in a variety of ways, but pairing them up during fights is easily the most effective, and it also can boost your attack and defense as well based on the inactive units stats. Pairing up the fighters puts one of them out of harms way having the forefront character take the abuse. This is essential during harder difficulties when you don’t want a character to die.
Birthright and Conquest both share the first few chapters of the game, where you must make a choice to which faction you wish to follow. This will more than likely be the same thing once Revelation releases as well. I did feel, however; that the build up to me making the choice was let down by the lack of time I got to know each faction. I felt that there just wasn’t enough build up to make that choice really have the impact it should have. Also, if you only own one version, or both of them physically, you can only make the choice that is printed on your cartridge. The ideal way to benefit from this ‘choice’ is owning one version physically and then downloading the other via the eshop digital store. After you make that choice then the remaining game is devoted to that faction, its story, and its cast of characters.
You’ll start the game as Corrin, a young noble that can either be male or female, and you can call him or her whatever you like. You’ll start the game on the Nohr side and then through a series of chapters, you’ll learn about your history with the Hoshido clan. Birthrights faction, the Hoshido are a ninja/samurai race of an honor bound people who want peace in the world. While Awakening allowed you to traverse a large map by moving your character around from location to location, Birthrights journey is made through a menu of locations. You can scout an area, for a fee, and then explore the challenge that awaits you. I used the scouting feature often and by the time I approached the last mission, I had every child that could be born in Birthright, and almost every one of my fighters at a fairly high level. Because of the freedom that Birthright offers, it’s safe to assume that this is the far easier version of the 2 games currently available, as Conquest, from what I have seen, does not allow you to roam outside of the DLC maps or the story.
As I mentioned above, Fire Emblem is indeed a chess game mixed with an anime dating sim, and the chess parts of it are just as good here as it was in Awakening. Each ‘piece’ you have on the grid based battlefield has a wealth of information within it like attack, defense, luck, magic, movement and more. As you level up and change your class, those ratings will change dramatically. Each turn will see your entire force, or what you choose to use, attack or set up defenses. You’ll then take your turn attacking, finding treasure or interacting with houses to free or protect people trapped inside, often being rewarded with a new item or gold. Units mainly attack, protect, heal or defend. If you are lucky, your character will counter the attack and dish out some damage in return. I’ve had one character with a single hit point left, counter 4 enemies back to back to help me to victory. The action can get intense and depending on the difficulty you play it on, death can mean death or just until the start of the next round.
Weapons work off a triangle system: swords and magic > axes and bows > lances and hidden weapons > swords and magic and so on.. The game gives you a clear view on what the outcome of a battle may entail and shows you the weapon match-up stats between you and your foe. Each character also has abilities that are good to pay attention to, like knowing a character will heal each round if close to other fighters, and some characters have an ability called ‘Rally’ where it will boost some stats. You can also affect the battlefield using Dragon Veins, interactive spots on the map that will rise or lower water, freeze water to ice or drop rocks in lava to allow you to traverse across. Inventory is minimal to each character as you have 5 slots to equip weapons and items. I felt that 2-3 weapons, a healing item and filling the remainder with stat boost items was a good fit for each fighter. One feature that is not present here as it was in Awakening was the breaking down of weapons. Your weapons will last forever, but a healing staff, for example, can run out of charges and break.
There is a wealth of classes here in the game. Bow Knights, Wyvern Riders, Great Knights, Outlaws, Songstress, Dark Knight, Strategist, Maids and so many more. I always found something new I could do with my characters to change them up and explore new options. Once I turned one character from a regular Archer to the Sniper, I felt that I could do far more devastating attacks with my bow skills. They went from being an OK fighter to one of my best.
Visually the game is really well done. Character artwork is stunning, the animated cutscenes are gorgeous, and the 3D has a level of depth that is just incredible to take in. Even The music is really well done, however; that song, and you’ll know which one, starts to get old real fast. It plays a nice part later on that will get you really pumped for it, but it almost wears out its welcome midway through the game. Characters have small amounts of dialogue, but usually it is just basic things like names and the odd comment or phrase here and there.
If you own the Amiibos that feature the Fire Emblem cast, you can interact with those characters in game and eventually have them as playable fighters. They won’t impact the story or anything like that, but it’s a nice touch of Fan Service that goes a long way.
Another new mode that is heavily used in Birthright is the Castle mode. Early on in the game you’ll gain access to a ‘Create a Castle’ feature. You can set up a variety of shops and interactive elements that allow you to customize your fighters, boost friendships, and have access to more dialogue. There is also an arena where you can bet some items to earn more of that type. The castle feature is ok, but didn’t win me over. You can visit other players castles and do battle in them, and you’ll earn items and other bonuses by doing so. You also have a personal quarters area that allows you to boost your individual friendships with other characters. You’ll be treated to some incredibly well done character models during these moments. You’ll find later on, once you marry, that your spouse will join you in that area. You are then treated to some incredibly awkward moments here where you’ll blow into the mic or have to touch their face to wake them up. It felt as though the personal quarters section wasn’t as fleshed out as much as the rest of the game is and I only used it to gain bonuses and boost friendships.
I had high hopes going into Birthright after playing the remarkable Fire Emblem: Awakening, and I was not disappointed. While the ‘Create a Castle’ section, at least to me, felt underwhelming, the remainder of the game is spectacular. The cast of characters, their stories, their children and the near flawless combat system is why this game is as good as it is. If you have played the Fire Emblem games or just want a good character driven experience, then Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is fantastic and totally belongs in your collection. I cannot wait to jump into the other 2 versions and see how each game plays out differently.