Back in 2013, Nintendo released Fire Emblem Awakening for 3DS. When this was announced, I was pretty excited. I hadn’t played a Fire Emblem game since 2005’s Path of Radiance, which I loved. I sought out Awakening at launch. At first I loved it, but it didn’t take long to wear thin on me. Some decent characters helped the game along, but the plot was a snoozefest for me. I ended up just skipping a bunch of Paralogues (extra chapters in the game) to just finish the game and move on.
Fast forward to the announcement of Fire Emblem Fates (Fire Emblem If in Japan.) I was not a huge fan of splitting the stories into 2 games (technically 3, if you include Birthright, Conquest, and the download only path Revelations) but I thought I’d give the series another try. Awakening wasn’t TERRIBLE, just boring, and I hoped they’d get it right with another try. I was wrong.
(I’m not going to discuss any localization issues in this review other than what I felt directly affected gameplay. That’s an entirely different article.)
Let’s start with the story. The plot isn’t entirely unlikable, but there’s nothing special here. Your avatar (Corrin, for the purposes of this article) was abducted at birth by the kingdom of Nohr. You were raised as a Nohrian and taught to hate Hoshido. Near the beginning of the game, Hoshidan troops steal you back and reveal to you your birthright (ohoho) and take you back to Hoshido to introduce you to your actual family. While you are there, terrible things happen which were set in motion by you (presumably as part of a plan by your evil Nohrian adoptive father) and war erupts between the 2 kingdoms. On the battlefield, you are made to choose: stay with your birth family, who are set up as being the obvious good guys, or go back to the family you’ve known that are painted as complete evil. First of all, why anyone would choose Nohr at this point escapes me. You CAN choose Nohr in Birthright, though the game constantly reminds you (and rightfully so) how terrible King Garon is. If you choose Hoshido, the game does show you that your former siblings aren’t terrible and some of them even help you out. The whole thing felt very forced to me, especially since you’ve known both families for approximately ten minutes before being forced to choose. The story does not improve, and is basically just a vehicle for “I’ll kill my father and reunite my family.” There are no twists aside from the occasional sacrificial character, which meant nothing to me because I connected with none of the main cast. (Remember, I played the Hoshido side because the game doesn’t really want you to do otherwise. I can’t speak much for the Nohr side.)
As far as gameplay goes, this is classic Fire Emblem, albeit on the extremely easy side. I played on Normal, in Classic mode. Classic allows you characters to die permanently if they fall in battle. There is a Casual mode which lets them come back after battle is done. I did not lose a single character in my playthrough, except in one Paralogue. The battles use the same rock/paper/scissors system with weapons Fire Emblem has had for many years, and it still works fine. However, weapon durability is now gone, meaning that weapons do not break no matter how much you use them. This breaks a huge part of the strategy, As you used to have to decide whether using the powerful, can’t-miss weapon was worth depleting durability. Not so anymore. The powerful weapons remain indefinitely.
On a related note, I amassed a huge amount of money in this game, but since my weapons never broke, I literally never spent a dime of it. At all. I did not need the money and I’m not sure why it was even included in the game. Sure, you can buy restorative items and such, but I can count on one hand how many times I actually needed said items, and most were in the final battle. You can buy accessories and such, but they are purchased with resources rather than money, so the money still doesn’t matter.
Speaking of resources, the game includes a castle mode. This is your base of operations between missions. You can upgrade the castle to include shops, resources to farm such as beans, jewels, etc, an arena in which you can bet resources on fights, a hot spring (which is useless unless you just want to see you character in a towel), a lottery shop which gives you random items, and your personal quarters. I had the most fun with this mode. I loved building up my castle and defending it against invaders. Don’t worry, the invasions don’t happen unless you choose that mission. But if you do, you can position your troops to defend it, place puppets that act like additional troops, and set up ballistas and such that certain characters can use in battle. You can also be invaded by people online, and invade their castles as well. It’s a fun little respite from all the boredom provided by the game proper. You can also raise your dragon, Lilith, by feeding her resources to make her stronger, but I’m not sure why. She did literally nothing in any invasion battles I fought. I had her to level 45 and nothing. She’s a decent character though, so I dutifully brought her dinner each day.
Now, let’s talk about those personal quarters. This is where the infamous “face-petting” minigame comes into play. Throughout battles, characters can build affection towards one another by fighting alongside each other. This let’s the grant bonuses to each other, and allows you to see them develop relationships through the support menu. This is important, because those bonuses really help in battle. It is also important because characters that achieve S-rank support marry and produce a child, which can later be used in battle through a ridiculous plot device. I’ll come back to that later. The face-petting was a way to further those bonds outside of battle, but Nintendo removed it for the West because it was apparently just too weird for us. I’m in the camp of “good riddance” myself, but they didn’t QUITE get rid of it entirely. Now, you go to bond with a character and you have to stare at their face while they blush and say some cringe-worthy line about how they like spending time with you. This becomes far more awkward once Corrin gets married. It’s just plain WEIRD, and I’d rather they have gone all the way with removal than leaving in what is honestly more awkward and cringe-worthy than touching faces. It’s one of the first times I’ve felt like a creep playing a video game, and I’ve maxed every Persona social link there is.
I’m going to toss a caveat in here, because there were moments that made me smile. Two of the side characters, Kagero and Orochi, are some of the best written characters I’ve encountered in quite some time. Kagero is a ninja, and Orochi is a diviner (a dancer that uses tomes to summon animal spirits.) The two are childhood friends, and their support path is just adorable. I found myself playing extra battles just to get their support rank to the max. They were definitely the highlight of the game.
Graphically, the game is fine. The cutscenes are really well done. Maps are represented by small sprites of the characters, some of which look so similar it’s hard to tell who they are at a glance. In battle, the models are a bit blurry but they are well-animated. Not much else to say here. They get the job done.
Overall, Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright was a huge disappointment to me. I’ve been told that Conquest addresses several of my issues, especially the difficulty, but at this point I doubt I’ll bother. I’ve spent too much money on this series on 3DS as it is, and I don’t think I can continue to support it. For modern Fire Emblem, the closest I think I’ll get going forward is buying the GBA games on Virtual Console.
Overall Score: 60%