I couldn’t help but feel saddened as I ejected my Fire Emblem: Awakening cartridge from its long-time home in my 3DS. After so many adventures in Ylisse, could Fire Emblem: Fates possibly compete? Will I care about my new party like I cared about the Shepherds? And the thought of me loving a character more than my dude Donnel is nigh unthinkable. To be honest, my expectations for Fire Emblem: Fates were unfairly high, but I was absolutely blown away.

Initially the offerings of Fire Emblem: Fates can be quite confusing with two full retail games and a digital one coming soon after. Regardless of whether you buy Birthright, Conquest, or Revelation, they all fall under the Fire Emblem: Fates umbrella. The first six chapters are identical in all three versions at which point players are presented the choice on how the protagonist, Corrin, should align himself (or herself) amid two warring kingdoms. Should Corrin side with his birth family the Hoshidans (Birthright), his foster family who kidnapped and subsequently raised him (Conquest), or should he side with neither (Revelation)? The answer to that question which path you should pursue in Fire Emblem: Fates. While that decision is yours to make, there are many cues in those first six chapters that indicate which order they should be done. Some cues are implicit, like story pacing making one side more desirable. Other cues are much more explicit, like the game telling you outright that your chosen path may contain spoilers, or may be more difficult for new players.

Fire Emblem: Fates improves upon the already impressive standard that its spiritual predecessor, Awakening, set in 2013. Intelligent Systems has the tactical role-playing game genre down to a science and Fire Emblem: Fates has done an incredible job at making the mechanics simple enough for new players yet complex enough for series veterans. Weapon types once again have an edge over others, but this time they’re color coded to make it even easier to remember. Swords and magic (red) are superior to bows and axes (green) which are superior to spears and shuriken/daggers (blue) which are superior to swords and magic. It’s simpler than my awkwardly worded explanation, just picture Charmander, Bulbasaur, and Squirtle and you’ll be fine. The Dual system from Awakening has been modified as well. Whereas before paired units would both attack and defend in unison, now paired units will defend together but only the primary will attack, and adjacent units attack in unison but will not defend each other. This new risk/reward trade-off adds a whole new strategic element to each battle, especially considering enemies can utilize the same strategies!

MyCastle; photo from Kotaku

Two major additions to the series are the MyCastle area and Dragon Veins. MyCastle acts as your hub in between missions in lieu of the map we had in Awakening. Here you can interact with your party, foster relationships, shop for weapons, items, and even party members! There are a plethora of buildings that not only provide leisure activities like betting on arena matches but also provide bonuses for when your castle is under attack. That’s right, you can attack other player’s castles and defend your own for some extra experience. Or if you’re not a warmonger like myself you can just visit castles to say hi and get resources not available at your own castle. Dragon Veins on the other hand, add a whole new strategic dimension to each battle. Dragon Veins are placed sporadically throughout a map with various effects like whipping up a windstorm to slow airborne units, filling a river with rushing water to cut off movement options, or causing damage to distant units. These Dragon Veins can only be activated by those with royal blood whether it be Hoshidan or Nohrian. Having royal units near Dragon Veins can mean the difference between victory or defeat in close conflicts.

For my first playthrough of Fire Emblem: Fates I decided to try Conquest. Despite the story clearly building toward a Birthright path and the game outright saying it is harder to earn gold and experience in Conquest, I did not think I’d have too much trouble. But sure enough, after a handful of missions I found myself snatching victory at the last possible second, with countless mission restarts along the way. Players like myself who prefer the classic play style, where a character death means they’re relegated to cutscenes or die outright, have a grueling path laid before them in Conquest. As I compare my game save data to the activity log on my 3DS, I determined roughly 33% of my time spent playing Fire: Emblem Fates has been redoing missions when a character dies that I’m not ready to say goodbye to yet. Despite tackling some missions over twenty times, I loved every second of it. I relished the challenges that Conquest threw my way, making each victory all the sweeter. While I have no problem with the time it’ll take me to conquer Conquest, for the sake of a timely review I started my Birthright playthrough after I got a good feel for Conquest’s offerings. Birthright delivered on its promise to have more gold and experience opportunities with challenge maps that appear in between missions if the player desires. I found these maps incredibly useful when trying to improve weapon skill on a specific unit or fostering relationships between a pair. Aside from the addition of these challenge maps, Birthright and Conquest played the same. As I played both Conquest and Birthright I was constantly reminded that characters I was meeting and fighting with in one path, would never cross with me in the other path save for boss encounters on the battlefield. I already have multiple relationships planned for my subsequent playthroughs when I switch Corrin’s gender. Revelation provided a whole new challenge. As it turns out, when you reject offers from two warring kingdoms, they’re not exactly happy about it. There were times when I found myself fighting both Hoshidans and Nohrians on the same battlefield. Eventually, however, players who take the path in Revelation will benefit from not taking a side and will be able to interact with party members from both kingdoms. While you may be hesitant to spend so much money on Fire Emblem: Fates across the three games/paths, rest assured that Birthright, Conquest, and Revelation are each a full-fledged Fire Emblem game in their own right.

Fire Emblem: Fates has everything past fans of the series love about Fire Emblem while also providing a fantastic entry point for newcomers. I’d also be remiss if I did not mention the gorgeous cutscenes and amazing soundtrack. Aside from the somewhat confusing multitude of games, I can’t find a single part of Fire Emblem: Fates that I wish had been improved. A staggering wealth of content, compelling stories and characters, and clean, polished gameplay make Fire Emblem: Fates a must-buy for 3DS owners and fans of tactical RPGs alike. Regardless of which path you choose, whether or not you pick up Fire Emblem: Fates is a no brainer.

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