Fire Emblem Awakening wasn’t supposed to be a smash hit. It was a swansong, a final curtain for a beloved Japanese franchise that had never managed to enjoy the same level of love and respect in a western world of instant gratification and season passes running wild. But for some reason, a handheld strategy game with a top-notch story, lovable cast and tactical decisions that required the precision of a safecracker to get to grips with, finally hit it big.
Awakening wasn’t the final act in a franchise that had been around for decades. It was a reinvigoration of the series that made fans hungry for more. And that’s just what they’re getting, with a three-course meal as Fire Emblem Fates pulls a Pokemon and splits the narrative across a trio of distinct paths, building on the groundwork that Awakening had cemented.
And that’s what the first part of this new saga is. Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is essentially Awakening with a Japanese influence and a new cast, a different side of the same coin. And I’ve got no complaints with that decision. This time, players take a front row seat to the action, as war breaks out and lines are drawn between two royal families: The Nohrian invasion led by the bloodthirsty King Garon who rocks a beard that would make ZZ Top quake in fear, and the noble Hoshidan forces who are fighting to restore peace to the land.
Pick a side, make a hard choice and live with the consequences, as Fire Emblem Fates is heavily focused on family matters this time around. The beauty of this story is that there’s fifty shades of grey thrown into the morality of the conflict. While the kingdom of Nohr may have picked a fight with the rest of the world like some sort of medieval Axis army, the Hoshidans aren’t exactly completely innocent either.
It’s a tale of parallels and what ifs, balanced in part by another superb supporting cast. Lethal ninjas like Kaze and Saizo who have history with Nohr that needs to be settled. Long-lost siblings such as Hinoka and Takumi who may not be too pleased to see their lost relative back in the fold. Shape-shifting Kyubi Kaidan who happens to be so cool that it borders on being illegal.
Note: We’re splitting this review in two parts. From here on, we’re talking specifically about Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright.
Collecting a vast crew of seasoned soldiers and mercenaries is part of the charm of Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright. Keeping them alive, is the other soul-crushing half to this equation.
Fire Emblem has always been big on building a rapport with your comrades in arms. Of fostering trust and a bond, that works to your advantage in the tactical turn-based strategy setup. And while the option to turn it off is present, the game has a massive impact when played with a permadeath option on. Think sending in troops to soak up enemy fire so that you can position yourself to a better position is a good idea?
Think again, as a wasted member of your extended family takes a history of victories and relationships to the grave when you play for keeps. It’s heart-breaking stuff, to see a trooper ride off into the final sunset thanks to some tactical blundering on your part. All that effort, that hard work of setting them up and turning them into a badass, wasted. Of never finding that true love for your pal.
Birthright is however the easier option of the two. It’s meant to ease you into the grid-based strategy of Fire Emblem Fates before you turn the difficulty up to eleven with Conquest. Infinite opportunities to grow, level up your character and learn how to position your power players on the battlefield are present. There’s also the rather nifty new “My Castle” system, a hub which simulation-happy players will adore as they customise a base of operations with shops and fortifications, fending off invasions from the offline and online realms.
The combat itself hasn’t changed at all since Awakening burst onto the scene. You’re still positioning your troops, exploiting your terrain and pairing up soldiers with the best possible brother-in-arms that you have available after fostering a bond between them. Doing so buffs your party, but the kicker here comes in the form of new Dragon Veins.
Environmental modifiers that can only be activated by a specific bloodline, these battlefield mutators can build bridges, clear the field of hazards or pepper the terrain with hazards. They have a bigger part to play in Conquest, but they’re still handy additions that keep the gameplay from becoming too familiar.
Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright is anything but a radical departure. It’s a primer with an open and shut story, that doesn’t need to fix what isn’t exactly broken. As a first dip for anyone who missed out on 2013’s handheld strategy masterpiece Fire Emblem Awakening, it does the job and then some, easily demanding dozens of hours of attention focused on tactics and marriage counselling.
Last Updated: May 5, 2016