Disclosure ‐ This review was written by a member of our community: Thomas Levett and formatted by Lauren McLean! Thanks Thomas!
With Fire Emblem: Awakening having made a tremendous impact, offering something for series veterans and newcomers alike, it was no surprise another Fire Emblem title was to be hot on its heels. Fire Emblem Fates was born from expanding on a small decision in the very first Fire Emblem game, where you could visit one of two villages and recruit a new character, but afterwards the other village closed its doors to you.
The element of choice remains throughout the game, and the ramifications of your decisions will be felt no matter what you do. Somewhat ironically, the overall game is split into two titles with the alternate route, as well as a third path, available via DLC. Some people have dubbed the games ‘Fire Emblem Red and Blue’, but the split is actually more akin to The Legend of Zelda series’ Oracle games, Ages and Seasons. With a lot of expectation being built, and most people ignoring the array of potential controversies and just wanting a new Fire Emblem game, how does Fates stack up?
There are several ways for series newcomers to get into the game, such as modes which allow defeated units to return, and they are available on all routes. While perhaps the split could have been executed a little better, overall it’s a pretty sound idea and allows people to shape their experience as they wish, without ultimately missing out on the whole story. Birthright is intended for said newcomers, being a bit easier and having opportunities to grind for experience and gold. Conquest is for series veterans, with limited resources, a broader array of objectives to complete in chapters and more difficult enemy AI.
Each nation also has unique classes; some are straight-up classic classes, such as Nohr’s Cavaliers and Hoshido’s Sky Knights (formerly Pegasus Knights), others are twists on existing classes – Hoshido’s Oni Savage is a version of Nohr’s Fighter – and some new ones make their way into the game as well. Weapons also change their appearance depending on the route you take; Hoshidan weapons are traditional Japanese ones, like katanas, naginatas and shuriken, while Nohr uses the traditional Western-style weapons which have dominated the series. Hoshidan weapons also offer stat modifications, while Nohr’s can offer slightly more power at times.
“Regardless of which version you choose, though, characterisation in the game is excellent.”
The game does seem to favour Birthright – Hoshido’s path – a little more, generally providing more noble characterisations and righteous motives, and offering a straightforward ‘defeat the bad guys and save the day’ path. There is a greater sense of definite and focused resolution in the Hoshido path avatar’s manner, and they come across as very kind and just compared to many Nohrian characters. Their story is a traditional good versus evil path, but it does have some focus on moral ambiguity. Generally, though, Hoshido seems to be favoured as ‘in the right’ a bit more.
By contrast, Nohr’s path of Conquest has many more grey areas and explores the moral ambiguity of war with greater efficiency. The consequences of the avatar’s attempt to be kind and benevolent are explored in greater detail, and also tested much more due to the more malevolent individuals in the Nohrian court. The plot is also a bit deeper than Birthright, although some aspects are not handled as well as they could be; questions will arise about the characters’ interactions with the Nohrian King, Garon, and debate will rise about how much of the promised reformation from within actually occurs. The plots aren’t outstanding, but they are solid enough and Conquest is still an interesting departure from the typical Fire Emblem story.
Regardless of which version you choose, though, characterisation in the game is excellent. The game makes you feel a bit of regret for your choices regardless of what you do, and these feelings can increase as you play through each route. Completing one path and beginning another can leave quite an impact, as you’ll see very different sides of each character you encounter. Perhaps this was specifically designed to leave subtle reminders that war results in the deaths of a lot of good people, no matter which side they’re on.
Experiencing the characters for yourself is quite a joy. At first glance, everyone has specific traits and mannerisms which help define them: Nohrian Princess Elise’s retainer Arthur is a brilliant homage to Western-style heroes, complete with a very strong code of justice and, for a bit of a twist, comically exaggerated bad luck; while the Hoshidan Oni Savage, Rinkah, is stoic and aloof, preferring to follow her tribe’s customs and refrain from interaction with outsiders, but is a helpful ally who will warm up to people with enough prompting.
Everyone can relate to one or more of the characters – my own manner resembles the Dark Mage Nyx in a way, while a friend shares many personality traits with the Diviner Orochi. The higher level of character interaction, generally undertaken in the My Castle area – a customisable fortress, building on Awakening’s Barracks, which allows you to acquire resources, build and upgrade many facilities and access internet features as well as interacting with allies – gives a greater sense of comradeship than in many previous games. While some interactions were taken out due to issues with cultural differences regarding them, it is still quite heartening, and the animations for each character are superbly done. Each character’s unique manner will shine through as you get to know them.
“You may find interactions with your character’s spouse to be surprisingly heartwarming, as everyone shows their love in their own way.”
Support conversations also help to further build information about, and interactions with, the characters, as well as helping you in battle. It’s worth building up as many as you can; some will be played for laughs, while others have more serious and reflective moments. Coupled with My Castle, it only adds to the depth of character and enhances the game’s emotional bonds.
The marriage mechanic from the previous game returns as well, and there’s even a gay option for each side, although the localisation did cut out each one’s unique same-gender S support (marriage rank) conversation, which is sad. You may find interactions with your character’s spouse to be surprisingly heartwarming, as everyone shows their love in their own way. Admittedly the game’s use of children characters is nowhere near as solid as it was in Awakening, but luckily the otherwise identical mechanics can make them very useful units in their own right – and gives you a greater selection of allies to know and trust.
As a final touch on character, the voice acting is generally quite good. Fittingly for his hero motif, Arthur’s voice is gloriously over the top and full of proclamations about justice; Setsuna’s reflects her calm, detached and somewhat spaced-out manner; and Hinoka’s slightly rougher and tomboyish tone contrasts nicely with her Nohrian counterpart Camilla, whose voice is motherly and borderline seductive. Some of the voices may not seem to fit as well, but there are good reasons for all of them being so and they add a little bit more to the game.
Given everything that can happen across the paths, you may well be more inclined than ever before to keep your characters alive. Trust me, it’s worth it; Fates truly excels at characterisation.
Next up, we see how the gameplay stacks up. While many elements play out the same as Awakening, such as the combat mechanics, support conversations, and in Birthright, the skirmishes on the world map, many new things have been added. The way each path plays out is different; Birthright is more straightforward, with the objectives generally being to defeat all enemies or a boss; variations appear only occasionally. Conquest, by contrast, offers a variety of objectives, such as defending or reaching certain points, and often with a turn-based requirement. This ties in to Birthright mirroring Awakening and offering an easy way to enter the game, while Conquest plays more to series veterans. Conquest also requires a bit more careful planning, especially on the harder difficulties, while Birthright is a bit more lenient.
The Pair Up system from Awakening has been revised into a Stance system; two characters side by side deliver additional attacks in Attack Stance, while two paired up use Guard stance to both ward off these attacks, and build up a gauge which allows the main enemy unit’s attack to be blocked. As before, supports provide advantages to a lead unit, but how they affect them depends on the stance taken. Attack Stance offers improvements to Hit, Avoid and other combat parameters, while Guard Stance boosts the lead unit’s stats based on the support unit’s class. This change was distinctly necessary, since Awakening’s Pair Up offered significant advantages; it also adds to the strategic choices in battles. Enemies can use these as well, so players have to be especially careful in case their units are overwhelmed.
The class changing mechanic has also been altered; levels do not reset when changing classes, but any skills a character could have learned from their new class will be learned as they level up. Each character initially has two classes they can use, but more can be acquired by building supports with other characters. Ultimately, these changes may take a while to get used to and work around, especially if you push for optimal skill sets, but they offer more options for strategy and planning as well as being somewhat less game-breaking.
“The character model animations are excellent too, often reflecting a character who uses said class…”
The weapon triangle has been revamped as well, with two weapons in each section; swords and tomes beat axes and bows, which beat lances and hidden weapons, in turn beating swords and tomes. Weapons also have a greater effect overall; each one affects the wielder differently, but in exchange for this, they have unlimited durability. This is not unknown to the series, having appeared before in Fire Emblem Gaiden (literally, side story) – which was the second game in the series, and a Japan-only release. While some of the effects can make using higher-ranked weapons a little annoying, it does add to the overall depth of strategy as well as allowing you to finally use the most powerful weapons in the game without worrying about breaking them.
Of further note is the fact hidden weapons – daggers and shuriken – drop the enemy’s stats on hitting; this coupled with the fact they have the same attack range as tomes can make enemy Ninjas or Maids/Butlers, which use said weapons, annoying to confront, especially when the Attack Stance comes into play. However, your own dagger and shuriken users can turn the tide as well; careful use of these on the right opponent can give you a distinct advantage.
Skills make a return as well; each character has a unique Personal Skill. These vary in usefulness; some, like those of the game’s four princesses (Hinoka, Sakura, Camilla and Elise), will be very helpful, while others can be a little gimmicky, but all of them offer a strong connection to their owner’s personality. Each class, whether base or promoted, learns two skills; again, these vary in usefulness, but adapting these skills is a significant benefit and will definitely help you throughout the game. Many skills from Awakening return, while others have been created specifically for it. There is not as much room to experiment with skills and class changing as there was in Awakening, but taking the time is worth it.
Overall, it can be said many of the gameplay changes were necessary, while the elements which worked were kept – a refreshing change, given the tendencies of series like Pokémon to shift ideas around at the drop of a hat. Some aspects will get a little bit irritating at times, I will admit that – especially if you wind up in a situation where the phrase ‘ninjas as far as the eye can see’ is not an oxymoron – but the quibbles do not significantly detract from the experience.
As for the other aspects, the game looks amazing graphically. The same artist from Awakening, Yusuke Kozaki, designed the characters and his work is as detailed as ever. The outfits for each character look brilliant, and are re-created as well as possible for their in-game models. The proportions for said models look a little more realistic too, compared to Awakening – the notable inclusion of recognisable feet was something of a running joke for fans during development – and each character has subtle differences in height and physique, reflecting their actual designs. In addition, DLC chapters offer some amazing official artworks.
The levels look beautifully designed as well, and the developers have really shown their work on the battlefields. Whereas Awakening used set battlefields based on the overall style of the area in which you were battling, Fates actually zooms in on the specific tiles upon which a character stands, using the area proper as the battlefield. This can also be seen to an extent while roaming the My Castle area, and it’s a remarkable display of attention to detail.
Each class has its own specialised outfit, though everyone has a specific variant of each one. The custom styles of the two royal families are well-known – Camilla’s appearance alone is said to have been a major factor in drawing people to Nohr – but others generally have their own signature styles, such as Charlotte and Arthur both using unique Fighter-class outfits, or the colour stylings of Saizo and Kaze’s Ninja outfits.
The character model animations are excellent too, often reflecting a character who uses said class; it can be amusing to see the serious and withdrawn Nyx using the Sorcerer class’s exaggerated battle animations, which best suit the extremely theatrical Odin. The movement is quite fluid and graceful, especially noticeable on some of the showier attack animations. While graphically and artistically the game excels, I didn’t find myself getting into the soundtrack as much; there has been a lot of work put into it, especially in making alternate variants of tracks based upon the path you chose, but I haven’t always wanted to stop and listen to the music. To me, Awakening’s music made more of an immediate impact, especially the tracks ‘Don’t Speak Her Name!’ and ‘Id (Purpose)’. However, I am certain the soundtrack will grow on me, so I honestly can’t mark it down because I haven’t really invested in listening to it. On the other hand, I do acknowledge that the decision to base many tracks on the game’s signature theme, ‘Lost in Thoughts All Alone’, can be a bit repetitive once you start recognising the motif. Overall, though, the aesthetics of the game are generally exceptional and possibly the strongest part of the game.
So, with all those elements examined, a summary needs to be made. It must be said, some of the elements of Fates are not handled as well as they could be; this isn’t a perfect game. It is, however, a very solid entry and builds quite well on the success of Awakening. The graphics and characterisation are definitely its leading points, and the gameplay is next. The plots can suffer a bit at times, but overall there’s enough depth and ambiguity, especially once the third route pieces everything together, to help it hold its own in the long run. It’s definitely a game worth picking up and experiencing for yourself.