I’ve never really liked Warriors, or Musou, games. They’ve always come across to me as mindless hack-and-slash games that rely more on simplicity and spectacle than they do any sort of deep or especially engaging combat. Fire Emblem Warriors hasn’t done very much to change my opinion on the mechanical aspects of the game, but it may have helped me understand and enjoy them better.
While I’ve not been a Warriors fan, Fire Emblem is a series I hope especially dear – and the union of disparate franchises here is exemplary. Of course, it’s a trick that Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s Omega Force has pulled before in the Legend of Zelda-themed Warriors game Hyrule Warriors. As successful as that pairing’s blend of action and fanservice was, it’s indubitably more sophisticated and better fitting, largely thanks to Fire Emblem’s own tales of warring empires.
Narratively, the game’s a bit silly, but its inanity is borne out of a necessity to mash as much fan-service in as possible. Predictably, it’s a temporal and dimension-hopping tale of evil men and monsters, of portals and quests to bring heroes together for a great, demon-vanquishing good. It all becomes a little zany, but it seems the only real way to have newcomers Rowan and Lianna on the same battlefield as Shadow Dragon’s Marth and Caeda, Awakening’s Chrom, Robin and Lissa and Fates’ Corrin, Camilla and Ryoma. While characters from those three games make up the bulk of the roster, a few others show up as NPCs.
The core Warriors gameplay remains intact. You’ll spend most of your time running about the battlefield hacking and slashing your way through hundreds of enemies at a time, employing easy-to-use, but impressive attacks and combos that fill the air with bodies, before unleashing a special attack capable of devastating entire armies. You’ll have to defend your bases and forts and keep allies alive, while trying to push through the enemy’s ranks as you make your way to their own bases, defeat enemy generals and key enemies, or fulfilling specific other mission conditions. It may be mindless hacking and slashing, but there’s an oddly satisfying flow to it, as the repeated strikes against a seemingly infinite horde of infantry invoke a zen-like state.
What elevates Fire Emblem Warriors and stops it from just being a Warriors game with a Fire Emblem skin draped over its bones is how well mechanics Intelligent System’s games have been transposed. The most obvious inclusion is Fire Emblem’s weapons triangle, where some weapons offer a slight advantage over others. Swords beat axes, which beat lances, which beat swords – – a bit like a very point game of Rock, Paper, Scissors. Outside of the triangle lie the usual magic weapons and bows, but they’re a little tangential save for the fact that bows will just shred flying mounts to bits. It means that you’ll very likely avoid areas populated with enemies who have weapons that would best yours. Thankfully, it’s shown quite clearly on the map which areas in which you’d have a disadvantage.
That map, with its instantly familiar pixel art is ripped straight from fire Emblem, and allows you to deploy a team of four characters and issue orders to them not just before battle, but during missions as well. It adds a welcome strategic and tactical layer to the game, which requires that you regularly pause the game for an overview of the battle at large, and order specific units into specific scenarios where they’ll be at a weapons advantage. Fire Emblems pair-up mechanic comes through as well, letting you merge two units to increase their effectiveness in battle, improving their affinity and statistics. Pairing with an axe-wielder may increase your strength, while pairing with a magic user may increase magic defence. When paired up, characters also gain dual defence and a dual attack along with a paired up special attack that can lay waste to your enemies. The decision to pair up – and indeed, who to pair up with – is incredibly important, and can backfire in situations when you might need all four of your heroes in different points of the map. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending) those relationships don’t really amount to anything tangible, as there’s no marriage and no offspring. A waifu simulator this is not – but you’ll still be carefully selecting your team for the best outcome.
Importantly, you can switch to control any of your deployed characters at will, while your previous character becomes AI-controlled, with their actions governed by a menu toggle between being aggressive or defensive. You can command your squad on the battlefield by simply selecting and dragging them to areas, contextually giving them orders and having them attack or defend. While competent and reliable when it comes to taking over forts and defeating generals, the AI isn’t especially reactive, so you’ll likely be switching characters regularly – especially as the mission requirements and win objectives shift. It all becomes incredibly, terrifically tense. While beating missions themselves isn’t too taxing, doing so with all of its win conditions and side missions can become a juggling act.
Characters can of course level up, and that’s accompanied by the familiar chime from Fire Emblems past. There’s also a deep skill tree system that uses materials gleaned from battle to unlock new skills, moves and abilities. Using an especially rare item allows players to undergo a Class change, which allows for new attacks and offers a significant stat boost.
Once the story mode is done, there’s a history mode (a little like Warriors’ usual adventure mode) that lets you re-enact famous battles from Fire Emblem’s history. It’s expansive, increasing in scope and challenge (and something you’ll need to play through if you want all of the rare class change items). If the story mode takes a dozen hours, there’s at least three times that to be spent learning Fire Emblem’s history.
On top of that, players can also play the game cooperatively, using a pair of Joy-Cons or any two other Switch controller configurations. It neatly splits the screen horizontally, letting two players hack and slash their way to victory. The frame rate does take a bit of a hit, but not enough to significantly impact gameplay.
There are a few annoyances though. During missions, fire Emblem stalwart merchant Anna pops up on the map to sell a bauble, but there’s usually too much happening to bother visiting. When she leaves, her disappointment is grating. For some reason, there’s repeated voice-over whenever you upgrade anything on the skill tree, and when you’re upgrading fifteen attributes on seven characters, hearing the same sentence repeated a million times is enough to make you want to stick forks in your ears. Fire Emblem fans may also take umbrage with the cast, wondering why their own favourites aren’t in the game – and also why so many of the ones that are, are apparent stylistic clones.
A few minor niggles aside, Fire Emblem Warriors has exceeded my admittedly low expectations. It’s a smart pairing of two franchises that ideally shouldn’t be together, but have come together as a compelling, and unusually zen action game.
Last Updated: October 18, 2017