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: Conquest is essentially Awakening with a German 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: Conquest.
Where Conquest really differentiates itself however, is in the fact that this side of the same game is harder than an Adamantium enema. It’s a side of the conflict that is designed to break you, a pull-no-punches experience that is Fire Emblem at its purest. And it succeeds with every mission, as death is a constant reminder of just how terrible war is, especially if you’ve got the permadeath option on.
Hell, my plans to run through Conquest in as old school of a manner as possible were quickly derailed, as a few battles in and I was fielding an army of scraps after having lost some of my best soldiers to a craftier and more cunning enemy. Just like Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright, the core gameplay comes down to strategy and bonding. But here, every move feels even more vital than before.
It’s chess with actual players, where every move matters. Every single step forward, every attack, every weapon chosen. EVERYTHING MATTERS. And there’s no option to pad out your player levels with a few quick challenges either. Outside of a paralogue that pops up when you sire a new child, Conquest is a straight forward march across 28 chapters of misery and heartache as you fear that every battle may in fact be your last.
And for a game that offers less, Conquest somehow feels more valuable than Birthright. That mingling of combat and relationships feels more pertinent, an idea to foster bonds quicker instead of building up a harem of waifus and seeing which one suits your fetish best. Fire Emblem at its best has always been about building up that support, and Conquest manages to make it feel even more valuable than ever as love blossoms on the battlefield.
All the other Fire Emblem aspects are still there: that turn-based style battle arrangement, the rock-paper-scissors weapon arrangement of cause and effect. Like I said, it just feels deeper than ever before when you have more on the line. Conquest may not have side missions to play around in, but the core campaign feels far more involved thanks to trickier map design, challenges and Dragon Veins playing a larger role in victory or defeat.
These environmental hazards can make or break a player, and when combined with missions where you have to survive hordes of Hoshidan forces as the clock ticks on, makes for some good tactical opportunity. Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest plays a lot looser in this regard, often hitting the player with multiple objectives that have you making some really hard choices along the way.
The Nohrian tale has a bigger impact, moments that’ll hit you in the gut along the way thanks to characters entering and leaving the scene. I was properly heartbroken when halfway during the game, my homicidal bride Peri fell in battle. Heartbroken I tells ya. A Phoenix mode was available, to revive units after every turn, but that stripped away the impact of every decision that I’d made so far in Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest.
Despite there being less to do, I still felt like Conquest was the better game of the two. While Birthright can be challenging when the difficulty is dialed up, it’s still meant to be a primer for Conquest. And Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest addresses this gap in content with better missions, better stories. I loved the cast, I fell in love with a collection of pixels on my screen and I felt awkward when my foster sister began developing a crush on me.
Leaner but meaner, Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest managed to conquer my heart.
Last Updated: May 5, 2016